Job experience: Train robber - honestly!

It seems you can't pick up a newspaper or listen to a news broadcast these days without hearing about massive layoffs somewhere. The result is a buyers' market where labor is concerned, allowing employers to take their pick of what seems like a gazillion applicants for any one job.

Job hunters are certainly aware of the competition, and they know they have to find ways to stand out from the crowd. Many applicants make sure they catch a recruiter's eye the easy way, by inflating their resumes, which is my polite way of saying that they lie.

On the surface, their reasoning seems sound: Consider Polly Perfect, who opened a soup kitchen for the needy at age six, graduated from MIT at 12 (summa cum laude, of course), and, in the 10 years since graduation, has won a Nobel prize. Then consider Dan Dullard, who played pickup baseball games at the nearby playground, flipped burgers after school, then went on to a state university. Since graduation, he's held one job. He's been a good employee, always doing his job to the best of his ability without complaint. He'd still have the job, but he's been laid off.

Who's going to get the interview?

Most job hunters — if not recruiters — would find the answer easy. So, by one estimate, about 50% of job hunters try to make themselves into Polly Perfects. That 50% estimate is about three years old (I'd guess it might be a bit higher now with the increased competition for jobs), and I suspect that, at this point, plenty of folks are muttering to themselves: "Ethics, schmethics, I need a job!"

Knowing what to do about the outright liars is easy. But what about applicants who are truthful, but…?

Take Mike Rowe, star of the Discovery Channel's television show Dirty Jobs, for example. Among the jobs he's tried since the show first aired in 2005: salmon carcass counter, poo pot maker, owl vomit collector, bloodworm digger, pigeon-poop cleaner-upper, and snake wrangler.

Now, I don't know about anyone else, but if I got hold of a resume with that variety of jobs listed, I'd certainly call him to come in for an interview. I wouldn't care what job he'd be applying for, I simply couldn't resist the chance to meet someone who wrangled snakes and collected owl vomit.

Interesting jobs aside, Rowe is a television personality. Certainly, he's done all those things. But if he lists those jobs and neglects to say they only lasted a day or a week — or however long it took to film the show — would he be lying? And how would I feel as a prospective employer to find out he'd kind of hedged the circumstances, figuring he'd talk his way out of any difficulties in the interview?

I think a lot of applicants do something similar. A guy I knew in graduate school was a prime example. On his resume under job experience, he proudly listed "train robber."

And, he wasn't lying. Well, not exactly.

He actually worked one summer at one of North Carolina's tourist attractions. The main event was a railroad ride through the Wild West during which the train was attacked by Indians (the place is obviously not politically correct) and robbers. When my classmate applied for the job, he was given his choice of roles. He picked train robber because the robbers got to stay indoors. The Indians had to attack from outside, no matter the weather.

I once asked him if he really thought it wise to list "train robber" as one of his job titles. He laughed and said he was sure he'd lost a chance at a lot of jobs because of it, but he was also sure he'd gotten some interviews from employers who were simply curious. Besides, he said, if an employer was not curious enough to ask and didn't have enough of a sense of humor to find it even a little amusing, he didn't want to work for that company anyway. Wise man.

I'm not really sure what the moral is, unless it's caveat emptor (buyer beware), but keep an open mind and a ready sense of humor when looking for that perfect employee.
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