Dead Again: The Resume Keeps On Ticking

On May 19, 2011, in HRExaminer, More2Know, by John Sumser

Is the resume dead or not? HRExaminerI’ve been writing about the Human Capital Industry for most of two decades. Over that time, I’ve made a lot of forecasts and predictions. A surprising number of them were right on target. Unfortunately, a fair number were way, way off.

This past month, I’ve been involved in any number of conversations about the future of the resume. The LinkedIn IPO has made that a hot topic. I’m not so sure that the resume is dead.

But, here’s the text of an article I wrote forecasting the imminent demise of the resume.

In 1999.

We’ve been asking people some simple questions recently.

  • Have You Recently Prepared A Resume?
  • How Long Did It Take?
  • Was There Any Pleasure Involved?
  • When Do You Plan To Do It Again?

In general, anyone who has recently created a resume felt like they were forced to do so as a part of the job hunt. It took from one day to two weeks to accomplish. No one liked doing it. Almost everyone would rather not do it again.


Resumes are a baby boom era invention. They require a massive effort and a change in focus. The only people who enjoy creating them seem to found small businesses devoted to the subject. The obscure more than they disclose. They seem to require a kind of behavior that resembles outright lying.

Have you ever seen a resume that said…”In my last assignment, I screwed up the following things…Here’s what I learned?” It very rarely happens. It’s more likely that a resume will describe the accomplishment of an entire team instead of the accomplishments of an individual.

Resumes make their creators feel inadequate. The conventional wisdom says (roughly) “Get it all on one page; Tailor it to each opportunity; Emphasize Managerial Behavior; Show that you took responsibility; Provide evidence of problem solving skills.” Most people, however, don’t spend their time analyzing their track records in terms of how it will look on their Resume. People who do make lousy employees for the most part.

We’re tempted to think that the Resume was designed as a tool to create entry barriers on a market that featured an overabundance of workers and a scarcity of jobs. Because it forces people to characterize themselves in ways that are unnatural, almost no one feels really good about their Resume. No one wants to do it again.

In a labor market characterized by the need for speed, the Resume is an obvious target for reengineering. Given the flawed information that a standard resume contains and the pain it generates, we’re expecting to see relatively rapid changes as the software required to manage non-resume profiles gets better.

  • David Perry

    John – very guerrilla this idea of yours: ”In my last assignment, I screwed up the following things…Here’s what I learned?”

    I know I would read that letter.  Trouble is who has the stones to write that AND the brains on the receiving end to understand the significance?  the resume isn’t dead and likely won’t be for a long while.  Like white socks in the summer they are a comfortable convention. 

    Where most people go wrong is believing it needs to be one word longer that required to grab someone attention and prompt them to start a conversation with you.  The only significant information you need convey is that you know the reader has a problem with “x” and that you can solve it.  simple and straight forward.

    Reminds me of the would be priest writing his final exam at the seminary.  When confronted with the only question on the paper “Explain the significance of turning water into wine”. 

    Initially perplexed, the young pupil put fingers to brow pensively while the others around him wrote feverishly.   After a few minutes he wrote just one line.  Folded his exam paper in half, handed it in and left.  The room was silent the examiner confused until he read what the student had written.

    “The water recognized its maker and blushed.” 

    If you can solve someone’s problem — tell them.  You will have their undivided attention.  Employers hire to solve problems.

  • Kevin Hogan


    As an executive recruiter for the last 30+ years, it is no surprise to me that your mini poll produced the ‘unhappy’ results that it did. Resumes, as opposed bios or profiles, are always written when the person is in a less than happy mind. It all starts with, in capital society, if you are out of work for any reason, you are damaged goods. No matter what the reason, we are not comfortable (happy) until we are under the umbrella of being employed, even if the “job” is bro bono or volunteering. So we sit down and put together our own “history” report. The result is either boring or depressing both to the writer and the reader. Must frustrating of all, we try to express ourselves so ubiquitously that we end up beige at best. Lastly, the writer secretly feels that the resume just may get me my next job. I believe that the resume will never die. However, I believe the reingineering must take palce in the mind of the resume creator, not the resume itself.

    Kevin Hogan

  • John Sumser

    Very nicely put. Thank you.

  • Anonymous

    True, I haven’t applied for a job in 22 years. But when I did, I loved taking the tangled mess of my professional life and shaping and weaving it into a perfect narrative for the target in question showing that I had actually been preparing since infanthood for his very job!?!

    Do you want to take that away from us, John? All these standardized resumes (LinkedIn), universal  resumes (JobFox and Taleo)) and god forbid! the verified resume (20 vendors and nowhere in sight) make me weep for the time when a clever applicant had some tools to even the balance of power.

    Of course a standard, universally XML-tagged resume is something else entirely and dearly to be wished. The end of inaccurate parsing and scanning forever — the reason the HR-XML consortium was first founded. Really too bad that never happened.

  • John Sumser

    Yeah. As you can see , I’ve given up predicting the death of the
    resume having done so erroneously a dozen years ago.

  • Gerrycrispin

    I firmly believe the resume is the first step in a dance. An introductory verbal/written hand shake and little more and, as Bill Kutik so elegantly puts it, a ” tangled mess of my professional life” that he enjoyed weaving to the employer’s targeted position.

    The resume is simply an idea for focused communicating and can not be simply defined as a piece of paper or a digital profile. It will never die and, far from being a ‘boomer invention’ can be traced back in the history of recruiting (along with another idea, the referral), to the beginning of recruiting.

    Whether referencing the Bible, Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography or literally any leadership tome today, the notion of the formal introduction caries with it a resume- fully extended or a simple precis. IMHO  It is necessary and it will never be standardized.

  • John Sumser

    Beautiful, Gerry. The intricacies of introduction, relevance and the nuances
    of relationships make it hard to imagine that a standard precis will emerge.
    That said, I wonder if the other alternative is that the ways to deliver the
    resume will continue to multiply.

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  • Anonymous

    John – I always love reading your stuff, especially when you look back at the predictions and see how they manifest. You always make me think about things from different angles.

    I believe the concept of a resume will never really die, but the form has been evolving over the last 10 years. The advances in technology are actually making the resumes more alive today than ever before. Think about a static document in a resume database – can you get more dead than that? Today the resume is a living entity based on all of the information that is scattered about the internet. 

    I wrote a blog post about this today if you want to read more:

  • jezzieann

     Thanks for your post John, I really enjoyed it! I am currently working to advocate youth rights online however, in a prior life (by that I mean like 3 yrs ago) I completed my Bachelors Double Degree which was a unique conjoint in Information Management & Business (BBIM) which at the time featured the choice of three majors, marketing, accounting & HR. I was the last HR grad on this degree before the HR stream was canned due to a lack of demand. I think the integration of social media and many areas of the human resources discipline will continue to change as we see this digital migration further through our communities and I agree that the form and media that resumes take will continue to change, after all with the rate of job turn over so short now days, we are all in a sense our on little celebrities or brands really – just put a new blog up on our site here

  • jezzieann

    Do not forget the influence of generational differences, what looks to one generation like “moral courage” may actually be ignorance… for example, I have copied for you the intro on my linked in profile, i am 27, you can decide if its stupidity or braveness hehe

    “Graduating from my integrated, double major undergrad degree from
    University of Auckland in 2008, I excitedly & enthusiastically dove
    into this “new” workforce I had to offer. Far from the roles I had
    become accustomed to prior to returning to study, my first management
    consultancy role provided valuable lessons in a very poignant &
    shocking nature. The context itself was rife with cliques and industry
    classics familiar to any “old hand” in the management consultancy world.
    While initially I was guilty of every “rookie mistake”, this learning
    has been an advantage & asset I have carried to the variety of other
    HR, management & business development work & roles I have held

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