Augment Yourself, Not Your Résumé

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When I was a kid, my parents taught me that my job was to do well in school so that I could get into a good college. In college, my job was to do well, earn my diploma, and then get a good job. Once I started working, I was told that leaders take leadership training classes and took rotational assignments in areas others didn’t. I, of course, wanted to be a leader (that’s what’s next right?). I started signing up for all these classes that had great names and interesting content but really lacked any application in my day to day activities.

Somewhere along the line, I began noticing that everyone, myself included, were working towards getting bullet points on the résumé. They weren’t focused on the knowledge that came with getting those bullets. They were focusing on “the piece of paper.” It was a means to an end. A check box on a magical recipe for making it to the next rung on the corporate ladder.

There were two reasons I pursued an MBA from Johns Hopkins: 1) my employer paid for it, 2) it was a bullet on my resume. I played right into it. I pursued an MBA because it was free, I had the time, and because it would check off a box and add another bullet to the resume on my quest for corporate greatness. Don’t get me wrong, I did learn something from all the classes I took but the motivation was the bullet point, not the knowledge. Why did I want that bullet? Because everyone said that managers had MBA’s. And management was the next step.

That’s a mistake. (Especially now.)

In our trying economic times, it’s important that you continue to invest in yourself in meaningful ways, not just ways that pad your résumé. Employers cannot risk hiring someone who looks good on paper but performs poorly in real life. They can only hire people who will truly excel and add to the bottom line. While there are exceptions to the rule, I think you cannot go wrong following this mantra in your life – augment yourself, not your résumé.

Take this from Warren Buffet’s 2007 Letter to Shareholders: “Charlie and I are not big fans of resumes. Instead, we focus on brains, passion and integrity.” Considering he’s one of the most successful, gracious, and generous human beings ever, I think he’s worth listening to.

Augment yourself, not your résumé.

(Photo: josephleenovak)

{ 23 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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23 Responses to “Augment Yourself, Not Your Résumé”

  1. I think the good recommendations are especially important. College is a great time to get them.


  2. Sheila says:

    One of the biggest lessons I learned in engineering school is to solve problems and how to be efficient. Oh, sure I couldn’t have “practiced” at a variety of other “problems” by getting my MS degree, but the most important life lesson I learned had already been achieved with my BS.

  3. I agree wholeheartedly, you can also find news ways to “present” your experiences. You can always redesign a resume or reword a bullet point to fit the job your applying for. What you can’t always do is go back an actually learn the skill or experience that actual bullet point.
    Augment yourself and the resume reaps the benefits, as well!

  4. This gets into the whole concept of “personal branding.” There was a great article on the concept in the New York Times over the weekend:

    I wrote about it on PlinkPlink as well (link above). Essentially, your resume is only part of the package now. Apparently, job seekers need to convey their “brains, passion and integrity” through a uniquely defined personal brand of ME to really stay competitive.

    • Jim says:

      Yes, I think personal branding is huge now. I have Dan Schawbel’s new book Me 2.0 on my desk for an upcoming review. Personal branding is really something that freelancers and entrepreneurs have embraced but your rank and file employee hasn’t really been exposed to it, must to their detriment I think.

  5. Michael Harr says:

    I could not agree more with this post. I’ve been self employed for nearly a decade and while college classes really aren’t all that great, I’ve found tremendous benefit from taking everything I see and applying it to what I’m doing. Even watching a movie can sometimes add insights that I didn’t have before. The focus on the content and the application of the content to one’s work is the critical factor in finding lasting success.

    Sure, you need some of the standardized bullet points to gain access to many jobs, but if you haven’t figured out how to apply the knowledge you’ve learned, you’ve learned nothing at all.

    One of my great gripes is with recent college grads that have nice bullets and no skills. They have an attitude of entitlement backed with very little in the way of meaningful experience. As a small business owner, I simply cannot afford to hire someone of this mold. I definitely prefer B and C GPA averages over the honors group. The lesser GPAs seem to have gained more from their college experience than those that chased the bullet point labeled, “4.0 GPA” and “Graduated with highest honors”.

  6. Kevin Cesarz says:

    People race to add numbers to Twitter and Facebook profiles but miss the bigtime value in content created by people too busy to stack their awards. Thanks for the perspective.

    • Jim says:

      Those numbers are just like resume bullets right? Oh 1000 followers or 10,000 followers… but it doesn’t matter, it’s YOU who matters.

  7. My Life ROI says:

    I see people mess this one up all the time. Straight out of undergrad going to grad for an MBA.

    It adds a bullet to their resumes but they miss out on getting accomplishments and experience that would really make them shine.

  8. I earned my MBA over 15 years ago, and haven’t taken another college course. But I strive to continue to keep learning. I guess it’s part of that “well-rounded” thing they talked about in high school. The little things that you do to improve yourself may not show up on a resume, but they add value just the same.

  9. JamesV says:

    I had to respond to this great advice. I strongly believe in augmenting yourself, and not just your resume. Head knowledge, and no people/social/leadership skills is not always good. Plus, I do not understand most 21-30 yo’s getting out of college with $60K+ in debt, and expecting a job paying $25K-$45K is going to get them out of that debt anytime soon. Education is good…but our young adults need to keep in mind how they are going to pay it off quickly as well.

  10. I agree whole heartedly that you should augment yourself and not just your resume. I do think you can do both at the same time. If you plan out your MBA correctly, you can add a great bullet to your resume while taking meaningful classes. I have my eye on a Northwestern MBA program that favors technical managers, specifically within the biomedical field. This is perfect for my preferred career path.

    • Jim says:

      Yes you can do both at once, but too many people do it just to augment the resume and that’s what I think is a mistake. In your case, it sounds like the program is a good fit all around, not just because it has MBA in the name. 🙂

  11. SJ says:

    Yea, thinking bad a lot of things were done in ugrad just for “padding resume”

    In retrospect, it’s double edged if you get called on them =)

    But the “it’s good for you” is harder for ugrads to understand lol.

  12. TStrump says:

    I think it speaks to spending our time doing the things we love, rather than trying to make ourselves employable.
    I used to spend so much time taking classes to get a better job, but I lost out on things that I actually enjoyed doing … sometimes these activities or hobbies could indicate the true career we’re meant to follow.

  13. I’d throw in that many grad schools, especially business schools, don’t WANT you right out of undergrad. The experience that you get on the job (any job) in the years between undergrad and business school is what makes b-school feel relevant and important.

    Also, as a former compulsive resume padder that has since converted, I cannot emphasize enough how different it is to do something for the love of it versus to pad your resume. Staying up all night to write posts or research my blog? A blast. Staying up all night to do homework for a degree I’m not inherently interested in? Not such a blast. You’ll not only enjoy the former more, but you’ll be more successful.

  14. J. Joyce Perkins says:

    A problem with what you’re saying is that without the bulletpoints, you won’t even get your foot in the door at that new job. Nor that promotion, depending on the size of the company.

    A well padded resume is definitely a stepping stone. You can have skill X, but it’s A, hard to measure, even for yourself, and B, who is going to grade that skill? You yourself? Who is going to believe that?

    A well padded resume is a tool to open the door. It’s not hard, but it needs to be done, else you’ll be stuck outside. Once you’re in, what you do, and how well you live up to the claims on your resume is up to you.

    • John Murphy says:

      Hello Joyce, from John Murphy BIOMED 1969-1995
      How are things going in St. Louis, MO. I would love to chat with you. John

  15. Patrick says:

    I couldn’t agree more with you Jim. I hate it when the first thing people say about a course or training is that, “it looks good on your resume”. The whole point of taking training is to learn something, not to put something on your resume. The biggest problem with people putting so much fluff in their resumes that when they go on an interview, they can’t back up what is portrayed on their resume.

    • Jim says:

      Yes, I always see it as a red flag whenever someone says something about a course or training class; why not speak about the merits of the class?

  16. Jessica says:

    I graduated in aerospace engineering four years ago and after a few months in the industry, I was so glad that I didn’t make the decision to go to graduate school right out of college. A small percentage had degrees and out of those, it didn’t seem to make one bit of difference in their job performance (and if you ask me, most of them were the ones that weren’t that great at their jobs to begin with and were looking for a way to ‘get ahead’). In engineering fields, nothing beats on the job training. I will probably never pursue a master’s degree. Now, I will only take individual classes that enhance my on the job experience, like visual basic, for example.

  17. Thank you! You just confirmed my suspicions that my son is the smartest young dude in the world.

    After a decade in the business world, he’d like to pursue a master’s or even a Ph.D. in public administration, but the so-called graduate program the only public university in the nation’s fifth-largest city offers is one of those ersatz night-course & online lash-ups designed to…what? YES! To put another bullet on your resume! His employer would probably cover some or all of the cost. But he says he wants to sit in classes with real professors and actually learn something, full-time, not doze through a night course or online correspondence course after grabbing a miserable dinner at a drive-through.

    Quaint idea, eh? Glad to hear that someone who’s been around the block has the same insight.

  18. All depends on what you’re looking for. Often times the catalyst to a career is an MBA from a great school, and it’ll open doors that cannot (or are more difficult to open) otherwise.

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