Rocket Scientists and One-Page Resumes

More than a few years ago I was hired to write resumes for some aerospace engineers who’d been working on the soon-to-be-defunct Strategic Defense Initiative.

History lesson: the Strategic Defense Initiative (also known as SDI or “Star Wars” – not the movie) was a missile program launched under the Reagan administration. Star Wars (not the movie) would create a land- and space-based theoretical bubble around the United States that could intercept and repel incoming nuclear warheads, along the lines of the force field generated by Violet Parr in The Incredibles.

Violet-parr-incredibles-photo-450x370-dcp-MF0472521

Except that SDI would protect the entire country. But probably not Canada. Or Mexico. And I’m not sure about Alaska, since it’s connected to Canada and right next to Russia, which is where the incoming missiles would have originated. Alaska might have been sacrificed for the greater good.

Anyway, when SDI was defunded all the engineers who’d spent most of their careers working on it needed help creating resumes that would make sense to anyone needing an engineer who’d spent most of his career working on a one-of-a-kind, extinct program.

One client brought me pages of material about his job. We labored for hours to organize his professional background in a way that would make sense to a potential employer. Eventually we reduced his piece to three pages, including a five-line paragraph describing the TYPES of software he used — not the names of software, but general categories. If we’d listed the name of every piece of software he used in his job, the paragraph would have stretched to more than 20 lines.

Intermittently he asked: shouldn’t this resume take up just one page?

Every time he brought it up, I deflected. I changed the subject. I talked about apples. I talked about fish. I talked about fish eating apples. And more than once I explained that someone at his professional level needed, and should have, a longer resume. That the people reading his resume would expect, and be prepared for, a lot of in-depth information. That many of the people vetting his resume would be members of the bifocal crowd, grateful not to have to read a single-page resume with a magnifying glass.

I made my point eloquently and persuasively.

The next day he showed me a one-page resume he’d produced just to see if he could do it. The margins were less than half an inch. The font was 8 point. The software section basically said “lots and lots of software.” The text looked like this:

.,-..,-..,:’:..::,,::

,’;:’.,-‘”;:”.;’,,-:-;

‘^.;:-::’..'””;:,,-,”;

“;.,.,;;'”‘^.'”;..;,,-

Can you read that? Neither could I.

I tried gently to explain that, while it was phenomenal that he’d managed to fit his entire background onto one page, nobody would ever be able to read it. Nor would they want to.

He admitted that he couldn’t even read it.

We compromised at three pages.

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