A friend of mine once took a gig recording and editing podcasts for a Big Famous Business Consulting firm. The corporation changed its once prestigious name after a series of scandals irreparably tainted it — which looked especially bad to clients who hired this company specifically to avoid that sort of thing. Their solution (changing the name and hoping for an out-of-sight/out-of-mind response from the rest of the world) seems like the sort of surefire-epic-fail-formula that only feverish corporate hubris could generate, but the weird thing is it pretty much worked. You don’t hear many people badmouthing them anymore. They still deserve it, but they don’t get it.
Speaking of things they just didn’t get: their podcast. I’m not sure what gave them the idea that the general public wanted downloadable recordings of business consultants swimming in a soup of marketing-speak. They must have heard somewhere that podcasting was The Future™, and so their company needed a podcast of their own to prove they were still groovy and hep to the new social-media jive. “Our rad podcast is tubular to the max! Word with your mother!”
Coming from a group of people commonly known as “professionals,” their efforts were shockingly slapdash and amateurish. You might think you could just put two people in front of a microphone, give them a topic and let ’em run wild — it seems to be the MO for many popular podcasts — but such was not the case. Two people participated in the recordings: an executive at the firm, and one of his underlings who acted as the host/interviewer. The executive suffered from a crippling inability to express himself quickly and clearly — possibly due to shyness, but more likely because he knew he had nothing to offer and that evidence of his ineptitude was being recorded. He stuttered and stammered through rambling responses, leaping from buzzword to buzzword in the hope that perhaps one would save him. I do not have audio of the unedited session, but my friend tells me it sounded a lot like this:
“Um…We leverage, uh, core competencies, uh, to, you know, uh, synergize with, uh…strategic…uh…partners for a…proactive…um…win-win situation…with, uh…uh… a long tail that, uh…maximizes the…uh…outside-the-box thinking….and goes, uh, you know, viral.”
If the answer seemed too disjointed, the interviewer would ask for a second take, hoping her subject would do a better job the second time through. But the guy seemed to forget the words as they left his mouth, and would often answer the same question with an all-new barrage of blather that made even less sense than his first attempt.
My friend’s job was to edit these lengthy sessions into brief podcasts, sanding off all the rough edges and stuttering and pausing until all that remained was a high-velocity volley of Newspeak. The dreary and laborious editing process, trying to distill this mess into a seamless and lucid whole, left my friend enervated and miserable. Particularly frustrating was his realization that, even with the hemming and hawing removed, he often could not figure out if the interviewee had spoken an intelligible sentence. It all sounded like bullshit to him.
I find myself in a similar situation. My former employer kicked me to the curb recently. Believe it or not, even in this booming economy, jobs for video game writers in Chicago are in short supply. But I’ve got a house and a mortgage and I’ve come to enjoy not being bankrupt and homeless. So for the first time in my life I have engaged the services of an outplacement company provided by my previous employer, and I’m writing a résumé.
I think a writer’s résumé should be brief, informative, and free of bullshit in any form: wordiness, haughtiness or mendaciousness. I’m trying to edit all the bullshit out. The outplacement company have been trying to persuade me to shovel more in.
They told me I need more “Action Verbs” (their capitals, not mine) and they provided a list, from which they expect me to crib words like “utilize” and “facilitate” and “coordinate” and “prioritize.” It’s a list of words any decent writer learns to avoid; using them is almost always a transparent attempt to fake erudition. When people say “I coordinated an effort to prioritize team morale by utilizing network technology to outsource the creation and delivery of crucial comestible resources within time and budgetary constraints,” what they mean is “I ordered a pizza online” and everybody knows it. No one is fooled by laughably overwrought language. It sounds impressive? To whom?
Adopting a stodgy style for a résumé is not an onerous duty one is obligated to perform as part of the social contract, like wearing a tuxedo to your Senior Prom. It’s more like wearing clown shoes and bat wings to a funeral. You may stand out, but for all the wrong reasons.
They also told me I need a bullet-pointed list of Accomplishment Stories. (Again, their caps.) I’m supposed to list problems my employers faced, the root causes of those problems, the things I did to resolve them and the final outcome (presumably positive — though it would be fun to see Accomplishment Stories that ended with “Company filed for Chapter 11; CEO sentenced to death by firing squad”). To me, this sounds like a whole lot of crap to put in a résumé; I’d rather aim for brevity on the page and save the expanded tales of derring-do for the interview.
They told me the Accomplishment Stories must highlight the ways in which my individual efforts affected my employers’ bottom line — how I made money for them, or kept them from losing money — to prove I am a “value-added proposition.” This is hard to do. Mostly because my publishers/employers usually kept me and my coworkers in the dark about how much money we’d made (or lost). More importantly, game development is a team effort; however many games we sold, it’s impossible to say what percentage of those sales were a direct result of my writing (or VO casting/directing/performing, or music direction, or whatever else I happened to do). Claiming credit for all of them seems dishonest.
I thought about writing: “I joined a small startup with a few other guys; we worked in an attic, had no cash flow, and could have shut down at any moment. An entire industry with billions of dollars invested in sequels and licensed properties stood between us and our dream of creating original work. So I wrote a zombie game that achieved critical acclaim, cult-classic status and moved a US Senator to discuss it on Capitol Hill in a nationally-televised press conference. This game and others I wrote ultimately brought us to the attention of the largest entertainment conglomerate in the world, which spent a lot of money to buy our company and all the intellectual property I had created for it.” Sure, it leaves out a few details. It denies credit to others. It’s smarmy in a way I find repellent. But it’s all basically true. And it fulfills all the requirements of an Accomplishment Story — except for the lack of impressive-sounding Action Verbs and the all-important numbers. Oh well.
Ignoring most of their suggestions, I took another stab at the résumé and ended up with something that looked more polished and had a certain density of information I liked. I sent this revised version to my Personal Transition Consultant (a title that sounds more appropriate for a shrink working with pre-op transsexuals). I included a note explaining that it was difficult for me to quantify my contributions in dollar amounts.
He wrote back to me in the condescending tone one might take with someone who, through a combination of laziness and outright idiocy, had grown to adulthood without learning how to use toilet paper. “You have no idea the revenue you helped generate with your work? Market share growth? Sales figures? Just saying you’re good at what you do isn’t good enough in this marketplace. Need to present yourself as a value-added proposition to your potential employers.”
My PTC also suggested I list “programming and animation” as “Areas of Expertise.” It’s not as if anyone will bother to check that out during a job interview, right? It’s all just a bunch of impressive-sounding words on a piece of paper. Words have no meaning, no value, beyond getting you through the door and beguiling someone into thinking of you as a value-added proposition.
I’m not a value-added proposition. I’m a writer. Words have meanings, undertones, overtones, connotations, and all those things are important to me. Hemingway said a writer’s job is to tell the truth. You want to know how I propose to add value? That’s it.
I’ve put off doing yet another draft because I don’t think this company understands what I do or the industry in which I do it, and trying to fit into their template is like trying to fit a hovercraft inside a phone booth. I’m sure I’ll force myself to do it just to move it off my to-do list and out of my head. But more importantly, despite my inability to meet the lofty standards of résumé experts and join the ranks of their Value-Added Proposition Club, I find myself talking to more people about more ideas and collaborative possibilities than I have for years, and working on things that excite me again. I’m not getting paid for it (yet) but it’s all infinitely more satisfying than watching suits and suckers turn a beautiful dream into a grotesque parody of itself, which is how I spent the last few years. (Pro Tip: if at all possible, don’t do that.)
I probably won’t write many posts like this — I’m hoping to adopt a more spirited style for this site — but there’s a lot of good stuff starting up now that won’t bear fruit for a while, and I thought it might be useful to document a ridiculous thing so I can laugh at it later. Someday, spine-tingling electric beauty will eclipse the few fatuous hassles of the moment so thoroughly that, like a business consultant struggling to string together a litany of hollow hogwash, I won’t be able to remember any of it.