Burn Your Resume

The most successful people in the world don't need resumes. They don't have to pee in a cup and take personality compatibility tests.

It’s pretty hypocritical for someone who wrote a book on resumes to advocate burning them. But wait, it gets worse: I’ve even given workshops on resume “do’s and don’ts” where I talk about the rules of the job search game. If people spent as much time marketing their skills as they did acquiring them, they’d be better off. At its best, the resume can present your skills in a compelling light and serve as a door-opener.

But mastering the resume only gets you so far. You can be a pro at the employment game and still get trapped in pink slip culture, forever chasing jobs with companies that hire and fire with impunity. I know people who are obsessed with building their resumes. But credentials don’t make you impervious to setbacks.

When the IT job market collapsed after Y2K, the higher-level managers drew the shortest straw. Sure, programmers took pay cuts; many were forced into new fields entirely. But for managers (the ones with the sterling resumes), switching fields was not an option. They had invested too much time in their career path already. You could understand why they didn’t want to dust off a desk in the back of a real estate office and start dialing MLS listings.

Resumes are a passport through a problematic market. But if our skills require employment by an outside institution, then options are limited. Consider the case of a CIO (Chief Information Officer). The job title sounds sexy enough, but only certain companies have such a position. “CIO” looks great on a resume, but if your company sends you packing, you could ride the pine for three to six months until something else comes along.

I’m not recommending that we hover in a state of professional mediocrity to avoid getting caught too high up the ladder. But the most successful people in the world don’t need resumes. They don’t have to pee in a cup and take personality compatibility tests.

So how do we get there? By now, you know my answer. We get there by developing income-producing assets of our own – things that might not even go on our resumes because we don’t want to intimidate our next employer. But we should always have a side project going that could take us to the promised land. Or if not to the promised land, then at least to “just say no”, a pretty cool place where you have the economic clout to say “NO” to any employer that crosses the line.

Most people don’t have the power to say “no” to a new client, no matter how annoying or demanding. We are deer in the headlights when management corners us with the ol’ “can you stay late this and finish this?” Understandably so – you can’t draw lines in the sand unless you are prepared to walk. Developing an “asset mindset” means investing in our own dignity – not necessarily so we can stick a middle finger in our boss’ face, but so we can negotiate favorable terms on any job we agree to.

For most managers, it’s second nature to wring the last drop of productivity from those who work under them. When you have the strength (and options) to push back, you’ll be surprised how many managers not only respond to that kind of firmness, but actually respect you more for not taking their guff – especially if you can show them how “less is more,” how you can make a more powerful contribution with less sticky notes on your plate.

The other day, I updated my resume. It’s a habit I can’t seem to kick. But I look forward to the day when I can pile ‘em and burn ‘em. So what about the hypocrisy of giving workshops on resumes and then mocking their worth? My best excuse: if you plan on inventing a new game, you still have to master the current one. Learning how to promote yourself in the existing job market goes hand in hand with developing assets on the side. One relates to current cash flow needs, the other to longer-term solutions.

Now that I’ve poked holes at 401ks, home ownership, and resumes, the end result should be a better argument for the importance of an “asset mentality.” The goal was not to scare people, but to point out that the things most of us fall back on aren’t going to provide a very soft landing. There’s more to cover: we need to look more closely at “taking assets to market,” and we also need some strategies for dealing with the adversity we will face during the asset development process. A hard look at the value of formal education is also in order.

Want to buy Free From Corporate America or see reviews of the final published version from readers like yourself? The printed book is now available on Amazon.com with product reviews.

You can also get a discounted version of the final book in eBook (PDF) format, or you can pick up a copy on the Kindle. The published version of the book is significantly enhanced from the web version available on this site.

2 thoughts on “Burn Your Resume

  1. Thank you for your insight. My job choices have not supported the value I believe I can offer and you have inspired me to approach my career development in a new way.

    If you have other articles that would address the following topic, please advise:

    I used to be in positions to make significant contributions to major decisions but failed to do what I needed to do to stay in that realm. How can I get back to the level where I function best?

    Specifically, I was in strategic communications for major corporations and high level elected officials.


  2. Thanks Trish.

    Your questions are broad and the answers are probably hard to provide based on what little I know about you. I would recommend reading everything I have shared in this book, because different parts of your question get attention in different chapters.

    But a few comments:

    - Obviously I don’t really recommend corporate management careers in this book, but I do acknowledge some people feel drawn to these environments. Some chapters address how best to function in this setting. The key is to make sure you brand yourself as an expert in your industry, perhaps based on more speaking engagements or books or even a blog – this gives more job security than just helping one company grow.

    - Another key is to make sure you save some money on the side and start putting it into income generating assets of some kind.

    - A third key may be to try to maintain some level of consulting work in your specialization as opposed to just working full time for one employer. This broadens your expertise and provides more options to turn to if/when you hit a dead end with your main job commitment.

    There is no one boilerplate strategy that works in all cases, but having a big name reputation in your field, consulting clients on the side, and assets generating income for you and building up some cash reserves – it’s hard to question these tactics. That’s why I always say put more faith and attention in your own plan and less faith in particular employers.

    I hope that helps.

    - Jon Reed -

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