Blog # 2: The Ethics of Resume Writing

Although one might tend to think of the resume as a relatively stable genre of business communication, research shows resume writing practices–like all communication practices–are influenced by a variety of contextual factors.

This resume departs substantially from a conventional format that emphasizes text and narrative, in favor of a more visual presentation of information. Considering that it appears to be targeting to graphic design professionals, however, that departure from the norm is possibly a strategically effective one. (Image “Resume Infographics” used courtesy of a CC license by Bart Claeys on Flickr)
For example, discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion, national origin, disability, and age are all illegal in the U.S. pursuant to federal law. Employers are, therefore, prohibited from requiring disclosure of such information on a job seeker’s resume or application. In addition, job applicants themselves may go to great lengths to avoid voluntarily disclosing any of these traits to potential employers. Because of the history of discrimination in the U.S. against people of color, women, religious and ethnic minorities, immigrants, older applicants, and the disabled, many applicants feel–with some justification–that intentional and unintentional discrimination still persists in hiring practices in spite of the law. Thus, for instance, research shows minority applicants might use a relative’s address instead of their own in order to avoid an employer’s potentially negative views of a “racially identifiable” neighborhood, or they may omit “affiliations with organizations known for pursuing social and civil rights goals because those could hint at activism and undermine the team-player image of predominately white corporations” (Davis, Muir 41).

In contrast, in China a different set of cultural variables has given rise to a very different set of resume writing practices. Thus, as recently as 2011, Chinese job applicants regularly included “detailed personal information, including gender, date of birth, hukou, and more” in their resumes. Research also confirmed a rising trend among applicants to include a photograph in their resumes or applications, as well as a “self-evaluation section which deviates from the traditional Chinese practice and the popular American practice.” (Li 275). Within a single culture, the resume form can vary from industry to industry or profession to profession. So, where a one or two page resume is the standard for most non-academic job applicants, for those seeking a faculty appointment at a college or university, submitting a CV (“curriculum vitae”) of five pages or more is not at all unusual.

Understanding how resume writing has evolved to fit particular contexts can be useful when one is attempting to follow suggested best practices and “target the content” of a resume to fit a particular job description (Willmer 7). While resume templates can be a helpful place to start, they should not be used as a “one size fits all” solution for what is in fact a complex rhetorical problem. Using the language of a job description to identify and describe one’s qualifications is arguably becoming even more important as non-human readers increasingly perform a screening function in corporate HR departments and in web searches of online profiles (Amare, Manning 35-36). Consequently, current textbooks often advise “students, essentially, to copy job ad language directly into the résumé as a list of keywords and also to construe their résumé as a marketing tool, where no account is given of the difference between ethical and unethical marketing strategies” (Amare, Manning 36).

As important as it may be to ensure one’s resume gets a good look from prospective employers, representing one’s accomplishments and qualifications truthfully is arguably just as important. Research suggests, however, that applicants often tend to suppress or overlook ethical considerations about truthfulness in favor of “selling” their qualifications. In a survey of 357 students to which 211 responded, Amare and Manning discovered “there is widespread acceptance of an ethically questionable use of keywording, although how many students actually commit résumé fraud in any form is debatable.” Of the students who completed the survey, “[m]ore than 50% (n = 107) of the respondents stated that they would use keywords in their résumés to hit the robot’s eye, even if those keywords did not necessarily reflect their actual job skills and experience.” Amare and Manning go on to cite additional evidence suggesting the incidence of fraud may actually be much higher, including one 1996 study that found 95% of recent graduates were willing to engage in at least one factually false statement in order to get a job, and 41 per cent had already done so” (41).

Posting: Group 2

Commenting: Group 1

Categories: Resume Writing, Ethics

For this blog post, consider how ethical and contextual considerations should influence your self-representation in a resume or job application. You could take a position on what obligations an applicant owes to a prospective employer and to the other applicants against whom she may be competing. You could offer an argument about how resume writing conventions need to adapt to conditions in the current marketplace, or discuss how and why resume or job application conventions that are normal in one professional context–the performing arts, for example–might be inappropriate in another professional context–such as the law. You might also discuss issues relevant to U.S. citizens seeking jobs abroad, or to international applicants seeking jobs in the U.S. Consider the questions below (or similar ones you create) as starting places as you craft your post:

  • Given the current highly competitive job market, is it OK to “bend” or “stretch” the truth, if you know you will do a good job, even if you lack the requisite experience or credential?
  • Who is harmed in a situation where an applicant lies to get a job, but nevertheless turns out to be a great employee?
  • Is it dishonest for a woman to use her initials or a nickname and omit other markers of gender in order to avoid discrimination on account of her sex?
  • Do employers have a responsibility to verify an applicant’s qualifications or credentials before inviting her to interview, or should the applicant bear the sole responsibility for ensuring her resume accurately reflects her qualifications and experience?
  • Is it fair for U.S. employers to apply U.S. standards and conventions when evaluating international job applicants?
  • Is it fair for international employers to apply their own local standards and conventions when evaluating job applicants from the U.S.?
  • Should international corporations doing business in the U.S. be required to adhere to U.S. non-discrimination policies when hiring international workers who will be staffing offices, warehouses, or manufacturing facilities located in the U.S.? What about when they’re hiring U.S. workers who will be staffing offices, warehouses, or manufacturing facilities located outside the U.S.?

In your Blog #2 post, you need to take a focused position about the role ethics and context should play in your technical communication process rather than taking a scattered approach (which would happen if you simply wrote a few sentences in response to each question). Please carefully read and follow the guidelines and posting information for this blog. You can quote from additional articles you read as support for your position. You should include specific workplace examples to further support your argument. Make sure to document your sources.

Sources Cited

Amare, N., & Manning, A. (2009). WRITING FOR THE ROBOT: HOW EMPLOYER SEARCH TOOLS HAVE INFLUENCED RÉSUMÉ RHETORIC AND ETHICS. Business Communication Quarterly, 72(1), 35-60.

Davis, B. D., & Muir, C. (2003). Resume Writing and the Minority Student. Business Communication Quarterly, 66(3), 39-51.

Li, X. (2011). A Genre in the Making—A Grounded Theory Explanation of the Cultural Factors in Current Resume Writing in China. IEEE Transactions On Professional Communication, 54(3), 263-278. doi:10.1109/TPC.2011.2163354.

Willmer, D. (2009). Writing a Resume That Stands Out. Certification Magazine, 11(9), 7.


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