perm_identity Forget About the Gaps

by Derek Alger

Published in Issue No. 116 ~ January, 2007

I didn’t have a clue what to write about until I received an e-mail with
a resume and inquiry which prompted me to use my powers of recall to the days
when I first approached the working world with a college degree and no marketable skill. Those were the days when my Sunday morning routine was doing laundry, going through the New York Times classifieds at Dunkin’ Donuts,
when it was still permissible to have a cigarette at the counter with coffee,
and then spending the better part of the afternoon, except for football season, preparing to send letters out to box numbers with my resume, never knowing if any ever arrived, much less were ever glanced at.

As I looked over the recent resume which arrived to me electronically,
I immediately had an idea of what the individual was like based on her listed employment history and educational background, and since I desperately needed help in my efforts to keep PIF going, she seemed like a worthy prospect. But, and I couldn’t help thinking this, who was I to judge a resume? I remembered many so-called do’s and don’ts of resumes, but in reality, I’m not sure any truly applied in real life experience. Still, what do I know, I’m not sure I ever made it past a human resources department in my life to get on to the next stage in the hierarchical interviewing process, forget about actually getting the job.

The one thing I was always struck by was the tacit acceptance by job
seekers and those who hire — the human resource personnel, perhaps better known as professional whittle downers — that everyone, or almost everyone, had gaps on their resumes, but for some inexplicable reason, this could never be acknowledged. Somehow, if one ever had a month and a half of unaccounted time on a resume, it was the same as a confession that one had been lazy, or irresponsible, or just plain negligent.

Rule number one was no gaps on resumes — an absolute, not simply well-meaning

Of course the interviewer knew that there were usually gaps on resumes, and the potential employee was aware of the filled in or camouflaged gaps, usually covered with cosmetic lengthening of time at previous jobs, or non-existent freelance work which someone was willing to confirm. And then, just as important, jobs which didn’t show forward movement needed to be eliminated, causing non-gaps which suddenly became gaps requiring more creative energy to fill.

Okay, so the resume before me had no gaps. The girl, or young woman,
hoping for my approval, had earned an MA in English, listed passable editorial
experience which seemed to be her goal as an eventual career, and yet, she was
working in an incongruous position with a government agency at a low level which was no doubt far below what she was capable of doing if given a chance.
The big break, as they say. Or, actually, a simple chance.

I realized it would be easy to criticize her resume. But I also recognized that since her resume was okay for my purposes, criticizing it would merely be a matter of criticizing it for the sake of criticizing it and would serve no purpose. Sure, I could ask why she listed her educational background ahead of her employment history, but it didn’t matter to me, I knew what I needed, and if I could see it, why couldn’t someone else?

And what about the length? It was over a page. Not much over, but
still over a page, breaking the one page rule, which no one follows unless they decide to selectively or subjectively follow it. Besides, I’ve seen corporate resumes running the length of the short chapter of a book, obviously a case where “less is more” was never learned, or didn’t apply, or didn’t matter because it was presented in an environment in which longest meant the most impressive.

None of the above mattered, though; somehow I knew this girl would be
just fine. Wait, there was no phone number on her e-mail. So what? She had
contacted me by e-mail; no big deal, I e-mailed her and asked for her phone number. An electronic blip and within a day I had her number, a cell phone number, which made me wonder about her job searching experiences compared to mine at a different time in a different world.

When my eight-year-old nephew was five, his fingers were already an extension of a computer keyboard. By comparison, I graduated college without being able to type. Typing, or I should say my lack of typing ability, was the major disqualification during my preliminary job searches. And then, once I taught myself, typing slowly, meaning far too few words per minute, was the next barrier I never seemed to be able to overcome.

The girl whose resume was before me was probably somewhere in the middle age-wise, meaning time and modern era-wise, between my nephew and myself, probably closer to my nephew’s view of the world with all the technological developments and advancements in recent years than mine. There
was no question she had typing ability; and her resume listed her computer skills, far greater than mine, and some I had never even heard of — Microsoft Word, Works, PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook Express, Voyager, Banner, whatever?

I called her and reached her at a university library where she was working a second job, a job she had previously performed while still in college. I was pleased when she felt comfortable enough with me to confess to gaps on her resume. I could identify with her even more when she told me about the various temp services where she used to get work, something I was too familiar with from my initial working days.

I explained to her how on so many of my early interviews, I was simply told I was too overqualified for the position I was seeking, even though I couldn’t do the job in theory anyway because of my poor typing ability.

“Nobody ever told me I was overqualified,” the girl said.

“What were you usually told?” I asked, curious because I knew she had typing skills and computer knowledge, or was computer literate, I suppose a human resources person would say.

“They said I should work light industrial,” the girl said.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“You know, light industrial factory work.”

And that’s what she had done. It wasn’t on her resume, but she told
me about her time working at a battery factory, and how she was laid off, but
then received a reprieve and returned after a spell of unemployment to the battery factory.

I suspect many of us have battery factory work experiences which never appear on resumes. After graduate school, armed with an MFA in fiction
writing, I ended up making price tags in the national headquarters of Toys R
Us, known to me as Giraffe Land. Until I was hired, all the price tags in Toys R Us stores across the land were written by hand in individual stores. So, for about a year and a half, I made master price tags for Toys R Us and could claim in a sense with complete honesty that my work was being read nationally.

Oh well, so the girl whose resume I received and I were not automatic success stories, depending on what vantage point one judges such things. I enjoyed our conversation, though, and I’m happy that she will be working with PIF to help improve it as we move ever onward.

And so, from that unexpected resume, I made a new connection, learned about the existence of battery factories, which I admit I had never thought of before, recruited a new person to help out at PIF, and found the inspiration to write this piece of which you are reading the last sentence.