Writing a resume is a tough project. Paring your career down to a few wispy action oriented sentences requires you to be able to distill your experience in a way that retains some elements of truth. The first hurdle involves having a clear grasp of your strengths and weaknesses.
Your self-concept is a story that you tell yourself about the way you fit into the world. It is composed of experiences, reflections, memories, dreams, and accomplishments. It is a mental picture of who you are.
Who Are You, Really?
It is very hard to know whether your view of yourself is accurate.
Social science offers a general rule. ‘Self-perceptions of competence are generally not tightly tethered to actual performance. To be sure, self-views have some validity.’ While there is a relationship between self-concept and reality, it’s not that strong.
A variety of factors make it hard to see yourself clearly. Generally, people tend to hold very positive views of themselves. On average, they see themselves a being above average. This generic overconfidence seems to be a characteristic of humanness.
We all tell ourselves stories in which we are the hero. Rationalization steps in to help us overcome spots in which we feel vulnerable. The resulting confidence is an asset when we are selling ourselves to an employer. It is not an asset when we are trying to scope out areas in need of improvement.
Under normal circumstances this gap between self-concept and reality only matters in a few circumstances. It really affects any conversation about your job performance. Believing you can do more that you actually can leads to ‘overpromising and underdelivering.’
It really becomes a problem when you are trying to describe your experience for broad public consumption. For most people, writing their resume is one of the hardest projects they take on. The disconnect between self-concept and reality can produce feelings of dread as you shape the document to create the best possible impression.
Cognitive dissonance is the feeling you get when you have conflicting attitudes, beliefs or behaviors. It is a normal part of moving between cultures, organizations, jobs, or living circumstances. It is the sense that something is wrong caused by times of transition.
This is a long way of saying that it is very normal to experience real discomfort when writing a resume. Internal conflicts between your beliefs about yourself, the realities of your performance, and the requirements of the next employer are not easily resolved. Distilling the angst and actual experience into a few salient lines is harder than writing good poetry or great advertising copy.
Your Resume Versus Your Reality
In the end, most people feel at least a little uncomfortable about the difference between their resume and their reality. It is just an extension of the fundamental problem with self-appraisal. Seeing yourself clearly is challenging. Seeing yourself as others do is even harder.
And still, you have to get the resume done.
I’ll talk about the process of getting clear in a coming article. For now, know that resumes don’t feel finished or inherently accurate when you are done with the project. It’s one of those places where good enough is the working standard.
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 Dunning, David. Self-Insight: Roadblocks on the Path to Knowing Thyself. Psychology Press. New York, NY 2005 p.5 psypress.com