Among my case files, one of the strangest entries is that of the Luvorian student, Zulora. He came to my office one chilly autumn day, dressed in colorful linen clothes from his native land, and asked if we could discuss the job search process. Naturally I invited him in and we both sat down to talk. Zulora quickly explained his interest in laws in jurisdictions around the world pertaining to the transport of livestock across national borders and his hope of obtaining an internship with one of the many trade associations in D.C. that track and even influence the creation of such laws. I praised his ambition and asked if we could start our work together by reviewing his resume.
Zulora nodded cooperatively, then swiftly pulled his linen jersey up, over his head, and off.
I was startled when he began to strip, but stunned when I saw him with his shirt off. His chest, and his stomach almost down to his navel, were covered by line after line of Luvorian text. The top line, running across his collarbone, was modest in size; the dark blue characters were about a half-inch in height, except at the end, where several characters had been struck out and slightly smaller characters written above them. Below that ran a much larger line, nearly two inches in height, with letters in the same dark blue ink, but highlighted with bright red shadowing. The remaining text returned to the size of the top line or smaller.
Zulora sat back in his chair, smiling placidly, and he held his hands up in a gesture of display. “What do you think?”
“Is that your resume?” I asked, dopily.
“Of course! Do you not –- oh, of course, you cannot read Luvorian!” Which was true. Like Cyrllic, Luvorian characters looked largely familiar, but were seeded with what looked like odd mutations, so that I would not have recognized even the few Luvorian words I knew.
“Why did you tattoo your resume to your chest?”
“Well,” Zulora explained, a little embarrassed, “this is because I have not done anything truly impressive yet. Except university, of course! Lu U is best university in country! But it is bad form to put school on neck or cheek or wrist. So . . .” He pointed proudly to the line of extra-large colorful characters that split his sternum.
“Ah. No. What I mean is, don’t you have a paper resume?”
“You mean, did I work for a newspaper?”
“No, no. Like this.” I plucked a copy of a resume workbook from my shelf, then flicked through the pages to a sample resume. “Here, see?”
Zulora chuckled. “Oh, no, this is not done in Luvoria. Waste of paper. Everyone has resume tattoo, so why put on paper as well?”
“Wait –- you mean everyone in Luvoria tattoos their resume on their chests?”
“Eh, chests, arms, cheeks, legs. Necks and backs. The really powerful, of course, get the forehead tattoo.”
“Forehead? Why would anyone tattoo his forehead?”
Zulora’s eyes widened, than narrowed suspiciously. “You sure you are career counselor? If you become prime minister of Luvoria or head of Sebura Mechanics, of course you put that on your forehead! You never wait for service anywhere, the rest of your life!”
“Ah, I get it. So the more impressive positions are tattooed onto places that are normally visible?”
“Exactly. These” — he waved a hand over his belly — “are just summer jobs, internships. Not big deals.”
“Maybe. Maybe not. Depends on what you did and what you learned.”
“No. In my country, it is just position that is important.” He traced a finger across his diaphragm. “See? ‘Legislative assistant to Representative Nosnibor.’ Everyone knows this means I answered phones and took notes at meetings.”
“Is that all you did?”
“Pah! If that were all I did, that office would have failed! Nosnibor is good man, but very disorganized. I created a system to make sure everything got done. And I helped him work out some of his position statements to the press. Actually, that work was what led me to study law.”
“Well, see,” I said, holding up the sample resume, “with a paper resume, you have room to explain these things. Your title is important, but it cannot explain everything that you accomplished in a particular position. And, depending on what jobs you are applying for, you might want to highlight certain accomplishments in one version of your resume, and other accomplishments in another version.”
Zulora made a noise like an overused whoopie cushion. “Too much work! My job is my job — here, it’s me.” He pointed to his chest again, and this time I noticed one line, less than half the height on any other there.
“What is that?” I asked, leaning over and pointing so that I was almost touching the unusually slim line of text.
Zulora looked down, then appeared to blush. “Oh, that. ‘Building maintenance.’ Fancy way to say, uh, ‘cleaning person.’ Emptying trash, vacuuming, you know.”
“It was during recession. Very hard to find any work. Had to do cleaning, for family’s sake.”
“Sure, I understand. But, that job wasn’t really part of your desired career path, right? So why add it to your, er, resume?”
“I had no choice. It is Luvorian law. Every job must go on resume.”
“Really? But that’s there forever now. It doesn’t really fit your career story.”
He shrugged. “It was not shameful work. I did what I had to. Besides, it is not the worst job I ever took.”
“What was the worst job you ever took?”
Zulora stood, turned his back to me, and began to unbuckle his belt. As he hooked his thumbs into the waistline of his pants, I realized what was coming. “No! No, that’s okay! You don’t need to show me! I couldn’t read it anyway. Please — have a seat. You don’t have to tell me what the job was.”
He re-hitched his belt and sat back down, chuckling. “See, we Luvorians know where to put the jobs we really don’t want to tell people about. Of course, it means lots of surprises for couples when relationships start to get serious.”
“I would imagine. So, how do you apply for jobs in Luvoria? Do you have to show up and take off your shirt?”
“Please. We are not a backward country. We have internet. We just take photographs of selves in our underwear and e-mail them along with the application.”
“Okay. Okay, that makes sense. But that’s not going to work here in the States. If you are going to apply for an internship, you’re going to have to create a paper resume. You will probably be sending it out in electronic format most of the time, anyway. But it needs to be formatted like this.” I held up the sample again. “Besides, this can actually be an opportunity for you. Think about this: what happens in Luvoria when someone decides to change careers?”
“You mean, like when someone who was in law, for example, decides to become an auto mechanic?”
“It depends. If they start early enough, usually, it can be done. But, if you wait too long, you probably will be in positions that you want to . . . advertise, yes? The tattoo goes on your forearm, back of your hand, maybe even neck or cheek.” He traced a line against his as-yet-unmarked left cheek. “‘Head of tax group, Drobny and Balnibarbi.’ Now imagine going to your local grease shop with that on your face and claiming that what you really want to do is tune engines. Are they going to believe you?”
“Good point. And that’s certainly a concern here, too. But at least with a paper resume, you have some flexibility with how you present yourself. There are different formats you can try — chronological, functional — and you can choose what to emphasize when describing your background. You may not even have to list everything you’ve done, as long as the omission still leaves you with a coherent career story.
“Your past is your past, and you can’t change that. It is part of what makes you what you are. But another part of what you are is the story you are trying to tell — and to create. If people look at you and see only the positions you’ve held, they are only getting part of that story. Your resume — your paper resume — gives you the chance to talk about what you’ve learned, what you’ve achieved, what effects you’ve had, how you’ve added value to whatever you’ve done. And that gives a better sense of what you are capable of doing for your next employer.”
Zulora nodded appreciatively. “I see. I like that. I will try to make a paper resume and bring it to you tomorrow.”
“Great. Take this sample, and copy this format, to start with. We can play around with different styles once you’ve got the basic information down.”
Zulora took the workbook from me and scanned the sample resume. “Hmmm. Education. Experience. Accomplishments and interests. What about horoscope sign and blood type? Desert island person?”
“No. None of those. Do you have them on . . . ?” I waved vaguely at his torso.
“Of course! It is the first line!”
“Well, we don’t do that here.”
“Hmm. I have a feeling I am not in Luvoria any more.”