Turning the Resumé on its Face

Resumés suck. They suck bad. Somehow, you need to convince a prospective employer that you are, in fact, the right candidate for a job. Or you might be and they should take a second look at you and maybe give you the time of day to put up a phone interview.

You have to convince someone that you are entirely worth the time and effort without ever speaking to them. It’s all got to be conveyed on this little 1-2 page document that gives a snapshot of everything you are and can do professionally.

And you have to do it in a bad economy when people with Masters degrees are also looking for work. Maybe you too have a Master’s degree. That’s okay, you’re still competing against all the rest of them.

The traditional way of building a resumé is to provide a chronological context of every school and degree you’ve received along with every professional role over the last 7-10 years, give or take.

What do you do when you’re in the tech space and the requisite skills are constantly changing? What do you do when your role at the last 3 companies were essentially the same with little deviance in the job description?

Do as I do… flip your resumé on it’s face.

Let’s face it. If a company is going to hire you into a role, they want to know that you’re going to be innovative in your approach to the job and that you’re willing to think outside the box to do the best job you can. If they don’t, you probably don’t want to work for them anyway as they are plainly hiring you to just follow marching orders and that, let’s face it, sucks ass. There’s no place to achieve and rise to the top because you’re just doing things the way you’re told, by the book, all day every day. Sounds like a reason to drive off a cliff, if you ask me.

Let’s provide some context as to how this concept has worked for me for years.

In 1994, I graduated from a private high school in Annapolis, Md. I hated school but I went to a community college and decided not to do any general education coursework, as is typical. At the time, this school was piloting a program that shifted all the coursework from the police academy to the school with only firearms training being done at the academy. This was the county’s idea of slimming the budget. So I decided being a cop sounded like fun and I pursued a bunch of criminal justice work in my first year of college.

I dropped out after a year and pursued other interests.

Years later, I was given the opportunity with little experience to work in a federal data center for a government contracting company. I spent three years in that windowless data center watching my life slip away from me. It gave me a shot though.

As I started looking to move up inside the company, I realized that to do so meant punching some certification cards. I put a few small ones under my belt – enough to get a promotion to work desktop IT support as a contractor for the U.S. Navy. I did well in that role, consistently rating among the highest, knowledgeable techs on that contract.

When that contract expired and I was RIFfed (Reduction in Force), the company scooped me up into a similar role on the corporate side. Again, I was able to perform at a high level and by the time I left in 2006, I was single-handedly responsible for the IT support of 7 offices around the Baltimore/Washington area.

I still had no formal education, so during this time, I went back to another community college and worked toward getting coursework under my belt that would allow me a 4-year degree at some point in the future.

That was until I said, “Fuck it”, and went into the startup world. For the past 6 years, I have worked at or started 3 startups and ran my own consulting business in between (as I still do today). I did some advisory consulting with the Air Force, wrote a book, and even taught some classes at the post-graduate level at major universities including American University. Not bad for no degree.

Today, I still have no formal education. I’m a few credit away from a 2-year degree which wouldn’t be worth the paper it was printed on. When I went back to school, my experience was such that I was teaching the teachers.

I can go into a diatribe about how higher education is broke in this country, but I feel like I would be preaching to the choir. While some of my experience can be translated as college credit, most is ignored despite the fact that, in my field, I am 5-7 years ahead of what they are teaching in colleges today. And while a 4 year degree would be fairly useless to me as the industry is ahead of academia, a Master’s could be quite handy. Sadly I can’t get a Master’s without a 4-year, but I digress.

Coming back to the point about the resumé. I have tremendous chronological gaps if I were to formulate my resumé in traditional fashion. Am I ashamed of having no degree? No. Do I want to highlight that fact? Hell no. It’s unfortunate that America’s HR departments have been trained by buffoons who play to the checkboxes instead of actual skill, but those are the rules we play by.

Instead, I present to you an achievement/skills-based resumé. Instead of discussing formal education or companies that have been worked at ad nauseum, try laying it out to highlight the things you’ve accomplished along the way. I begin my resume with several one-sentence paragraphs that describe achievements I’ve made professionally – not for a company, for me.

I then mention companies I’ve worked at, purely for the sake of context. I also use LinkedIn recommendations I’ve received over the years to highlight what others say about me.

These three steps provide the context needed for employers to decide if they want to talk to me. If I can humblebrag, I usually get phone interviews for the companies I want to talk to and they usually go deep into multiple rounds. I’m still working for myself because timing, pay or perks are off in the end, but I rarely fail to get the attention of someone who I want to work for.

Try this concept. Maybe A/B test between a resumé of the format I’m describing and a more traditional one and see which one gets more traction. It can’t hurt, right?

Oh and here’s my resumé.

Aaron Brazell

Aaron Brazell is a Baltimore, MD-based WordPress developer, a co-founder at WP Engine, WordPress core contributor and author. He wrote the book WordPress Bible and has been publishing on the web since 2000. You can follow him on Twitter, on his personal blog and view his photography at The Aperture Filter.

6 thoughts on “Turning the Resumé on its Face

  1. The skills/accomplishments-based resume is great. Chronologicals suck unless you’ve essentially been climbing the same general career ladder the whole time. As an MBA, I can generally say that higher education is not as important as significant real world accomplishments, and while many company’s HR departments may have to check that box off, they’re probably not the companies you want to work for anyway. Nicely done.

  2. Great post, and I really like what you’ve done with your resume. I really like how you summarize your experience in the first section. I almost feel like the other sections could be trimmed back significantly. Your qualifications really do speak for themselves.

    I haven’t touched mine in… years. I honestly can’t remember the last time I even looked at it — I’ve been asked for one here or there but I always just point them to my LinkedIn profile. Probably time to update it…

  3. How is this different from the concept of a ‘functional resume’? It’s been around for a very long time, but generally used by career changers who are looking to adapt their skills and experience to a position that doesn’t fit their traditional titles. Conceptually, it’s a good idea and can be very telling of what people can / can’t do. It does, however, tend to exclude you from a lot of the openings currently as HR will often screen you out with a resume like this.

    1. It does, however, tend to exclude you from a lot of the openings currently as HR will often screen you out with a resume like this.

      I think you make my point for me.

  4. I usually don’t give my resume to an employer, what I do is display my skillset and sell myself to them and let them know that I am the person they are looking for. Resumes are old, it’s the skills and experience that makes you different.

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