The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It


During the twenty-five years I was in the executive search business, I read a lot of resumés.  I’m guessing the number could have been close to one hundred thousand or so.  As a result, I know a little bit about resumés and resumé writing.

Of course, this was back in the days when people committed their thoughts to paper, typed or “word processed” them with only a limited benefit from “spell check” and then folded this vital document, placed it in an envelope, used the USPS to deliver it and then hoped that the recipient would actually care about the contents of their communication.

People generally share the opinion that writing a good resumé will get you a good job.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  But I can assure you that writing a poor resumé will result in your never being called for an interview for that good position.  Allow me to explain.

My normal efforts to recruit for a specific position were to use contacts with whom I had a good relationship and work through a referral network to identify appropriate candidates for a position vacancy.  Sometimes those efforts would come up short and I would run a “Blind Box Ad” in the “Chicago Tribune” to bring in a new field of potential candidates.

During times of economic prosperity, an ad would generally yield about two hundred responses.  During bad economic times, the number of responses might be three to four times that great.  In either case that was a lot of reading.

If I did nothing but read all these responses thoroughly, I would have had no time to address myself to the ongoing management of my business.  So I developed a system for sorting through this correspondence  to minimize my time devoted to reading them.

I thought of it as the “Goldilocks System”.

My essential view of resumés is that they bear a lot of similarity to a striptease.  They should whet the appetite – but not necessarily be all-revealing.  That is the purpose of a personal interview.  So those resumés which were sent to us that were as heavy as the first volume of The Encyclopedia Britannica normally went directly into the circular file without being opened.

On the other hand, there needs to be enough material for the person reading the resumé to make some sort of judgment about the individual’s background  to decide whether to call him in for an interview.  So those resumés which were so light on information that it was impossible to make a reasoned evaluation were also sent into the wastebasket.

This process reduced the number of resumés by at least thirty percent – which still left a daunting number to be reviewed.

Then I applied the “Precision Factor”.  Those resumés in which I found typographical mistakes (sometimes including the misspelling of the name of their current or previous employers) met the same fate as those which failed my first two sorts.

We were dealing with financial personnel and my logic for giving these resumés a failing grade was that if a person were not correctly able to spell the name of the company that wrote his paycheck, what kind of work product would he deliver in dealing with a corporation’s finances?

I was raised in an era in which we were taught grammar and spelling.  Perhaps it is a personal bugaboo but I still believe that accuracy and attention to detail matter.  (This is one reason that my two year stint working for government resulted in my starting my own business.  It drove me crazy watching slip shod, sloppy work pass for a quality product).

At last I was down to the serious business of actually reading and “vetting” the remaining candidates.  I only wanted to interview and submit to our client those candidates who had the capability to discharge the duties of their new position in an effective manner.  I did not want to waste my client’s time by referring people to them who were not appropriate and I had a sense of professional pride in being able to sort the wheat from the chaff.  After all, that’s why my clients had hired me in the first place.

It is within the context of reviewing candidates’ credentials that I began reflecting on the results of the Presidential election of a few days past.  I wondered what sort of an ad I would write were I retained to fill that position and I came up with the following:


Our country is in need of a new leader to replace our CEO.  The individual we select will have shown a proven ability to be a problem solver, work with a diverse group of individuals, arrive at simple, effective solutions to complex issues, and will have demonstrated a successful track record throughout his or her professional career. 

Our culture requires a person who has a firm grasp of economic, social and foreign issues and will be able to reach out to our diverse citizen base in an inclusive manner.  A strict adherence to our fundamental governing document, our Constitution, is required.

For consideration, please submit your resumé to the citizens of the United States of America.

Perhaps before the general election in 2016, we can offer a crash course to our voters on how to read and evaluate a resumé.  It might produce a better result for all of us.

Certainly, we could do no worse.

Comments on: "FINDING A JOB" (17)

  1. Couldn’t be better said! But what most don’t realize is that only a tiny fraction of the voting population (generally less than 3%) determines which candidates are selected to appear on a ballot placed before the general public. And who chooses them to make that decision for all of us? It is those people, I suspect, who would look at what you’ve written above and laugh. Why? Because their focus, not unlike any other competitive business or corporation, is to single-mindedly advance the promotion and sale of THEIR product…regardless of its relative merit, or the following consequences.

    Of all the people in America who meet the basic requirements to run for President (i.e., age & place of birth), might there not be at least a few more (than these last two) who might have been deserving of further consideration…who we might, in fact, have found to be far more ‘qualified’ and/or desirable? Are those few people who dedicate themselves to the inner workings of a political ‘machine’ (that 3%) really the best qualified of the entire population to make such a profound decision for the rest of us (the 97%)? Who looked at their resumes? Who decided to rely entirely upon their motives…and subsequent judgment? In my view, it is that (profoundly overlooked) process…more than anything…which needs to be changed. But how? Any thoughts? 😉

    • Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughtful comment. You might enjoy reading an earlier post,

      I grew up in Manhattan, though after Tammany Hall had been defeated. I spent most of my adult life as a politically active Republican during the hey day of Mayor Richard J. Daley’s well-oiled and highly effective machine. (That was a lonely experience that truly tried my soul). And I watched as the people of Illinois’s 13th State Senate District, in which I lived, vote in Barack Obama in 1999 – over my objection.

      You are quite correct about the fact that the current system is based on a select, few, inner party “king makers” deciding on whom the voters will be entitled to vote. That system is not only non-eglitarian – I think it is un-American – and worst of all it is unproductive.

      The only way that it will change is if those of us who are politically aware get involved in politics on a local level (as dirty as that sounds and really is) and challenge those who presume authority with fresh ideas and present worthwhile potential candidates who adhere to the sound principles on which this country was founded.

      Like real estate – all politics is, ultimately, local.

      In the meanwhile, I’m going to watch Frank Capra’s, “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington” to help sustain my optimistic spirit!

      Thanks again for taking the time for your comment and your insight.

      • “…all politics is, ultimately, local.” Exactly! And explains, in a way, why most people are so ignorant (and thereby, tacitly ‘accepting’) of the basic dynamic that drives candidate selection…at all levels. Mainly because they have so little in common with the kind of people who are driven by a desire to run–or otherwise control–‘city hall.’ People, in other words, whom they would not think of inviting into their home for dinner. 😉

      • Now you raise a thought – “the dinner test”. Would we have had to deal with Adolph Hitler if someone had invited him to their house for Matzo Ball Soup?

  2. Now there is a bit of truth, my experience in hiring leads me to believe you earned every penny.

    • During the seminars I conducted for people in my industry, I used to explain that they had chosen a field of “sales” that was the most difficult one open to them. As I put it, “The person selling a car or a refrigerator had only one person to convince of the merit of the product – the buyer. The car or refrigerator doesn’t care who owns it. But in our case, we have to convince two people that they are right for each other.”

      Other than earning a living (which I still believe is a good and honorable thing), perhaps the most important lesson I learned from those years in business (or perhaps it is an innate quality that drew me to it) is that I learned how, when dealing with reasonable people, to be able to find a basis for common ground and to negotiate effectively by pointing to the areas of agreement and minimizing those in which they differed.

      That lesson has directed my approach to all my dealings with people and has been my sustaining guidepost for all my life.

  3. I love this post. As always, I find your words wonderful food for thought. AND I found the resume information very helpful! Cheers!
    P.S. I’m so sorry I couldn’t help with the dog poo question. I’m hoping someone will post a comment on my page about it, but it might take a while. That’s a tough one! I’m at a total loss on this one! 🙂

  4. Thanks, Jenn. As to the dog poo, I think I would need an army of worms the size of the back yard – especially when I have the three goldens. Mostly we resolve this by going to the dog park and cleaning up there. I usually use a little wad of paper towels rather than the plastic bags the Park District provides – but that’s as ecologically friendly as I can get!

  5. Seems the resume is a Judas goat…the little goat tethered to a stake and left bleeding so somebody can shoot a big cat or such…

    • The only time I’ve seen a resume help get someone hired was in the area of graphic arts where the interviewer was impressed with the candidate’s portfolio.

  6. Ok; resume gets you past the doorman; then you have to perform…

    Which defines the gap you mentioned re public office, perhaps. The qualities needed for acquiring the job and those needed for performing it are not only not the same, but often not simultaneously present in any candidate…

    Maybe we should just use Powerball? We wouldn’t need the parties!

    • My experience with public service sector employees (based on an adult life in Chicago) is that it is not what you know but who you know. Fortunately for the candidates, the “who you knows” were generally nearly as illiterate as the people who knew them.

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