The Debatable Résumé

We spend our years at university sitting for numerous examinations. Then we study for future examinations, stay up all night to finish off coursework, and finally scurry across the campus to get our dissertations bound and submitted on time. The rest of these years is spent drinking an obscene amount of alcohol and getting to know people, most of whom would remain uncontacted Facebook “friends” while the rest would become companions for life.

As we get ready to submit the first couple of coursework items during the final year of university, the career fairs start. All of a sudden, there is an additional workload of trying to overpower the millions of graduate job applications made, refined and shortlisted or discarded every day and to present ourselves in our finest glory in the most pretentious of formats – the résumé.

So, what is a résumé? This word originates from the French word ‘résumé’ meaning ‘summary’. The ‘curriculum vitae’ can be described as a static and detailed account of the jobseeker’s entire career, while the ‘résumé’ is a shorter, more customizable version of it. (Sundberg, 2010) Often, these two terms are used interchangeably, and the end result of a job-seeking university student’s spent hours on MS Word is a marvel somewhere halfway between the two definitions.

Arguably, the first such document ever composed was done by none other than Leonardo da Vinci (Usher, 2016) in the 1480s in a letter to a potential employer to work as a military engineer. It was formatted as a letter, where he listed his engineering and innovative skills in priority order, adding in his artistic skills towards the end. In some of the points he made, he hinted at his scientific inventions as solutions to potential engineering problems he could be asked to solve in case he was hired.

Let’s agree to call this document Leonardo da Vinci’s résumé.

We know Leonardo da Vinci to be an ingenious polymath with enormous contributions to various fields including not just engineering but also art, architecture, music, anatomy, astronomy and cartography to name a few. He felt the need to tailor his application to the then de facto ruler of Milan by diminishing his extensive list of talents to only a subset in an attempt to stimulate the mindset of his potential employer.

Imagine a situation where a fellow applicant, John, had applied with the exact same skill set as listed in Da Vinci’s résumé, where this is the maximum extent of skills of this applicant. Clearly, he would also be a perfect candidate for the job, right?

Let’s assume that John and Da Vinci were both hired side by side. In due course, Da Vinci’s peripheral knowledge gained over the years would provide him with a perspective that John’s adequate knowledge and experience cannot. The originally advertised position, now simultaneously being filled by one overachieving and another adequate employee, as well as the expectancies of the employer has morphed differently for each of them. It is only limited to the skills originally listed in the applications in case of John, but not in the case of Da Vinci. Da Vinci is now expected to use his wider frame of reference to do his job rather than limit himself, while John is not expected to do any more than what he had applied for.

The employer has now probably become potentially unfair to both the employees. John is being passively stunted, and any existence of his intentions to improve himself will now be unexpected and ignored unless he himself takes an active interest in it without concerning himself with what his employer does or does not expect of him. In Da Vinci’s case, the employee is being asked to put in more effort than he was originally hired for.

When we introduce ourselves to someone new, there is at least a static set of things that we feel obliged to mention. This is how we assert who we want to be perceived as at the bare minimum. We do not try to tailor this very first verbal (or electronic) “business card” that we provide to someone who does not know us at all and we do not know either. This minimal set of information is crucial and non-customizable according to us. The first time this person replies to us after this initial introduction, we start to tailor the projection of our personality while simultaneously providing incrementally more information about ourselves in the form of a continued introduction throughout our acquaintance with this person.

A résumé is the jobseeker’s equivalent of that first introduction.

However, we are forced to customize our résumés. Our first introduction to a whole new set of people we could be potentially working with for a few days to a few years needs to be tailored to these people we do not know by default. Is that logical?

Customizing and curtailing our skill set, and potentially ourselves, how are we really getting our best shot at being invited to an interview? A job application, which is supposedly the most important platform to showcase our confidence, is commencing by forcing us to cut our confidence short. Where would we then find the incentive to build up our confidence to give our best shot at the interview if we are actually invited to it?

In the case of fresh university graduates, it is especially more mortifying. They are starting to look for their first permanent position in their chosen industry, which would be the stepping stone to start building their persona in that industry and continuously gain confidence as they go along. Barring short-term internships, these students have not been exposed to a space which they could use to make their mark. And yet, the first step they attempt to take to do exactly that, is expected to be done with self-doubt and total uncertainty in their minds.

So, what can new entrants to the industry do before they reach a point in their career when they are able to apply for a job simply because they want it but they do not need it?

The job-seeking student needs to be aware of what is really expected from their résumé and the part it plays in getting them closer to their dream job. The next step would be to accept the fact that filtering and tailoring the skill set when applying for a job is inevitable. A possible workaround after this would be to spend the required time and effort to tailor each résumé and application and be confident of the subset of their personality that they are projecting in that instance. Another would be to take the risk of an entirely non-conforming but relevant and tailored résumé that would either explosively work or massively fail to be in sync with the employer’s mindset.

Now, roll back.

A university finalist is sitting at a computer about to print out her résumé for the last career fair of the year the next day. It’s more of a curriculum vitae at this point. Two pages. All the text sorted out into a table in MS Word with hidden gridlines. She realized this conformist ledger of “everything I have ever done” was not necessary, and was never going to work.

She had to take her version of a total risk – enough to make the strongest attempt to be different. She had to tailor and yet be entirely herself while doing it.

Fresh blank MS Word document. Two short heartfelt paragraphs, a happy photograph and a splash of colors later, she had created a résumé that skyrocketed her through to the software industry.


Sundberg, J., 2010. CV vs. Resume: The Difference and When to Use Which. [Online] Available at:

Usher, S., 2016. Letters of Note. s.l.:Canongate Unbound.