The 'dark side' resume

Jan 27 2016 by John C. Read Print This Article

Some believe that Leonardo De Vinci in the 15th century was the first person to write down his experience and accomplishments in a document for external consumption. But however the resume has evolved, it is almost certain that in the past 550 years, none have been written to catalog a person's weaknesses.

Even if resumes end up as works of historical fiction, they still must begin with the truth about who we are and what we've done. And a significant percentage of men and women considered the most effective leaders and role models attribute their success to early failures born of their own weaknesses. A Dark Side resume can help us mine this territory.

Elsewhere on Management-Issues I've written about the importance of critical thinking and reflection on past decisions and 'roads not taken' in our careers. Writing a Road Not Taken resume can be revealing about how we approach these forks in the road and in turn, improving our decision-making process.

But the mistakes we make and the embarrassments we accumulate over time are even more revealing of the truth of who we are. Try writing them down; if an RNT resume is unlikely to see the light of day, the Dark Side resume will surely not!

To get started, write down (you can use the backside of the real one) all those times and places in your work life where the doing or saying of the wrong thing has been career altering. And since non-work accomplishments (college degrees, awards, volunteer activities, etc.) are fair game for resumes, you can include here the missteps and errors in judgment that plague your personal life as well. This will take time, for these occasions are usually suppressed and mostly unprocessed.

Chances are good that what you end up with is a long list of ill-considered decisions; un-trustworthy acts; colleagues, family and friends mistreated; learning opportunities ignored; wrong roads taken and other assorted embarrassments that might extend to arrests, infidelity and the like. Read through them a few times and time-sequence them to reveal patterns and trends over time. . .

Also, since effective resume writing is results-oriented, a quality Dark Side Resume will be explicit about consequences, not merely descriptive of the misdeed. Who specifically has been hurt besides yourself and how badly? How much did it cost you, your employer, someone else? Whose respect or friendship did you lose? How much time in the pokey?

If this exercise has been fairly (and painfully) conducted, anyone past puberty will have a list far longer than a two-page resume can accommodate. This next and final step therefore involves headlining those entries that are the truly major, life-altering, mind-numbing rock-bottom occurrences in your life so far. (Thanks to the whimsy of the Old Testament God we are each apportioned a handful of these.) These are the ones to embolden and italicize! Just for the fun of it, you may slot under these large disasters the lesser failures from the longer list, to show evidence of systemic failure, character flaws, etc.

To what end?

What both the Road Not Taken and Dark Side resumes have in common is the identification of critical events and decision points in one's life, and the critical thinking (or lack thereof) that attended them. On the Dark Side, there is much to be gained in reflecting upon how these disasters happen and what responsibility we each bear for their occurrence. We are conditioned when they occur to run like hell from them; to put them in the past as quickly as possible and leave them there. Yet it is within the fetid and aromatic aftermath of these occurrences that real insight into who we are becomes possible.

Happily, by just dredging up these nightmares and writing them down, the pain and embarrassment of those moments return in full force. Soak in the swamp perhaps for the first time, reflect upon these events, and be humbled by them. It may not help you burnish your credentials, but it will almost certainly hold your fictions in check and, potentially serve as a next step on the road to becoming better at one's job.

After all, many of the great and truly authentic leaders in history cite these periods in their lives as a turning point and the source of the humility they find so essential to becoming their best or better selves.

Whether or not a watershed moment occurs for you, I recommend you then do as I have done, and put this version to the torch!


About The Author

John C. Read
John C. Read

John C. Read served as president and CEO for both Outward Bound USA and SeriousFun Children's Network, Paul Newman's global network of camps serving children with serious illness and their families. He was previously CEO of a $400 million truck parts company, Assistant Secretary, US Department of Labor, and chief economic adviser to the Governor of Massachusetts.