Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Lies, damned lies, and resumes redux

(I have a feeling I won’t be noticing this year’s arrival of the month of March. I’m not at my best, this week. For all that I’ve kept cats all around my house to make certain I didn’t catch the bird flu, I seem to have caught something very much like an influenza. My head is pounding, my neck aches, my body is wracked with chills, my nose is.... well, you get the picture. A little talk of fever goes a long way. With that in mind, I’ve dug out and reworked an old -- yet fairly applicable to current events -- column of mine, in the hopes that the reader will forgive my staying in bed a while longer, this week.)


Embellishing a resume, as done by the erstwhile CEO of Radio Shack, is not a new practice. In fact, there are seminars and courses offered on how to do just that, for maximum mileage toward a new job. With the job market as cutthroat as it is, the more experience you have,the likelier you are to remain off the dole. If you don’t have experience, you often can’t get the job that will give you some, and, thus, the catch-22 that feeds the lies.

Having been on the hunt for gainful (may I emphasize the word again: gainful) employment for most of my adult life, I know full well the temptation. After all, I like to make up stories. I’m a writer. That’s what we do. I’m not a reporter, a journalist, or even a copy editor. In my heart of hearts, I’m a raconteur. Still, I know better than to tell a whopper when it comes to work, because, in the end, I can’t predict what damage the lie can bring.

So, too, the person who does the hiring has a need to know. Unfortunately, in this litigious society, a previous employer is not allowed to say anything about his former employee except that he once was there, and that he left (or was leaving). This is equally true of schools. The registrar’s office may not divulge a student’s scores to a prospective employer, even if the job is explosive and the former student could not pass the requisite classes. Companies considering hiring are forced every day to play a guessing game about the background of persons who were proven, ultimately, to have baldly lied. Direct questions are not to be answered directly, even if lives may be at stake, because those answers might lead to a lawsuit. It’s not a pretty sight to see somebody on the phone, saying, “I can’t tell you that,” when the question is as direct as, “Did this person ever acquire the skills requisite to do his job safely?” Some conscientious folk have bent the rules a bit by leading their questioners to an indirect answer, but that, in the end, is a good way to lose their jobs, if caught.

There was a good reason for this, once upon a time. Long ago, the system was based on an “old boy” network, and if one of the bosses didn’t like you for some reason (you dated his daughter – or didn’t, for example), you’d never be hired by anybody, because he’d pass the word around that you were plague. Think of it as corporate mudslinging. Enough people got soiled in that manner, they passed a law to prevent anybody from, in effect, warning another company of any potential trouble. Unfortunately, this is largely a tool abused, lately, to the detriment of the working environment.

We have to find a way for employers to find out the truth about the people they want to hire, without damaging the reputations of those who left previous employ for personal or subjective reasons. There ought to be a method of getting to the bottom of a person’s work history without the hiring personnel officer being forced to play “Twenty Questions” with the past employer’s personnel officer. I’m actually hoping that technology will help. If somebody can go on the net and, after only an hour, find out my entire credit history, and , therefore, my pitiable life history, then the same skills and tools might be useful in reassuring me that the next guy they hire to run a project at the Monsanto experimental farm isn’t a pod person with an alien agenda. I’ll be comforted that Hannibal Lecter isn’t the new head chef at the college cafeteria.

Of course, I’ll probably lose my job as a writer, when they find out that I can’t put two words together to make a sentence, and that it’s really my mom who’s doing my homework. But if you tell anybody about that, I’ll sue. And, as long as the courts are willing, I can make it stick. I’ve done it before. It’s right there in my resume.

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