How do you determine facts vs. fiction in resumes?

With massive lay-offs in almost every industry sector, people are busy finding jobs! Resume writers and career coaches advice applicants to be specific (What was the problem and how you solve it?) and not to give job descriptions or list of positions. One thing they strongly recommend is to “quantify” your achievement.

I like to read patents and resumes. I read resumes posted on-line and find people to do exactly that – “quantify”. We all know that industrial achievements do not come from a single individual but from efforts of many (along the entire value chain). When a sales manager claims to have increased sales by 300% – what S/he exactly means? From $1000to $3000 (easy to do) or from $3 million to $ 9 million (difficult to do). When an egineer or mid level supervisor claims of designing a process/ product/ method which saved company $x millions or cretaed $ x million market, who provides those figures and how do you verify that? We know that changes in industry comes at costs and benefits. I also see, people giving almost a page long achievements for jobs lasting 6 to 9 months, and some are quite astonishing. Either the yard stick for success has shrunk or people have become really good at what they do ! I see people claiming to create market for 100s of millions but were let go!

I also question value of references applicant provides. Everyone will provide references of people they have good raport with. Employers are concerned about legal problems and always ask managers to be careful when they give their name out as reference.

So, my question is – what is the meaning of quantifying achivements for sake of quantifying? How do you screen resumes with such bold claims?

Amit Dharia, Ph.D.

Owner, Transmit Technology Group, LLC, TX

This comes back to a recurring issue that I have with the recruiting industry. It used to be that there was a rapport between a recruiter and a candidate. The recruiter would work as an agent for a group of people and as an agent for a group of companies. They’d come to know the strengths and weaknesses of candidates as well as the cultures and unwritten requirements of the companies. The two of you would work together to determine how best to present your qualifications to the hiring manager. Now it’s just “send me a resume and I’ll forward it”. There are a few of the “old school” recruiters out there. But they’re becoming fewer and farther between.

Recruiting is now such a commodity industry, that it’s created this “tooth-and-nail” approach to resumes. People state accomplishments in the hopes that their “60%” improvement will get them ahead of the people with only a “50%” improvement listed on their resumes. Completing a project 3 months ahead of schedule pushes those meager “completed on schedule” people into the circular file. It’s all about marketing. No product goes to market saying simply “it does exactly what you’re looking for”. Similarly, very few resumes get considered if they simply list skills and experience. They have to have that “Cleans 50% whiter than white!”, “Delivers 20% better than brand X” feel or they end up in the bin.

What makes this worse is that there are so many recruiters that expect you to have a “one-size-fits-all” resume. You have to somehow cram every possible contingency into a single document. For someone like me who has worked in multiple industries, across multiple disciplines and successfully built and run consulting practices (which requires a lot of cross-functional knowledge and skills), my resume ends up reading like a complete work of fiction. Is it too good to be true? No, not really. I consider myself slightly more skilled than the average bear in a wide number of disciplines, but I know that there are a lot of experts who could blow me away in any single area. I also know enough to know what I don’t know and how to surround myself with talented people to fill the gaps.

So, when I have to second-guess what a recruiter may be looking for without knowing anything about the possible job opportunity, company or even industry, the best way to get their attention usually ends up being to bandy around a lot of numbers and accomplishments without a lot of focus on specific skills or expertise. Honestly, I’m more proud of rescuing disasters by the skin of my teeth than I am of pulling off great numbers in a supportive, mature environment. But it’s the big flashy stuff that usually engages the recruiters in conversation. It’s that conversation that allows me to present myself in a more focused manner.

If a resume gets your attention, I’d be more inclined to call the individual on the claims. They should be able to back them up with specifics. How they respond and what skills and knowledge they have to back them up is really what’s important. Selective background checks should be the last step before presenting them to your client. At that point, you can ask specific questions about roles, responsibilities and accomplishments instead of “did they really generate 100M of business?”