my employer gives terrible resume advice to low-income people

A reader writes:

I intern at a nonprofit organization that assists low-income community members with resumes. My supervisors provide us with very limited autonomy during the resume development process, and each resume we build must follow the style guidelines of our organization. We are required to have all resumes checked at least twice by a supervisor prior to submission, and we are disciplined if we do not make the changes recommended by management.

I don’t pretend to be a resume expert–I’m still finishing up my BA–but some of the edits my boss asks me to make do not seem in the clients’ best interest. For instance, my supervisor requires that every bullet point answers how the task was completed. This makes sense in certain instances (“tracked expenses using Microsoft Excel,” “communicated with security guard via two-way radio”), but my boss takes this principle a bit too far. When a client was employed as a janitor, my supervisor wouldn’t approve the bullet point “cleaned toilets and mopped bathroom floors.” She expected that the client write “cleaned toilets using toilet brush and Chlorox, mopping floor with industrial sized bucket…” There is no such thing as “unloaded new merchandise on shelves.” This should become “unloaded new merchandise on shelves using upper body strength” according to our management.

On a similar note, I’ve gotten in trouble for not including a “why” statement in every bullet point. When I wrote “supervised preschool students on playground,” my boss asked me to add a rationale (“to ensure children remain safe”). What exactly does this clarify? I find myself wondering if it’s really necessary to take “counted change” and add “to ensure the customer received the correct amount of money.” Isn’t this a given?

My boss is also very rigid about including at least three bullet points for each position description. I once had a client with an occupational license and asked why it wasn’t included on her resume. She responded, “I had it on there, but {boss} told me I needed to add more bullet points to the job I held back in 2008 so I deleted it.” Is the three bullet points rule so important that it’s worth leaving off training/certificates directly relevant to the opening?

Each appointment in our office is only an hour long, and if we can’t complete a resume during one session, then the client may need to wait several weeks to get additional resume assistance. By that point, it’s likely the job has been filled. So many clients are losing out on opportunities because my boss won’t give me the final go-ahead to submit the resumes. When I share my concerns with management, they assure me these rules are in place so our clients can stand out from other applicants who spent less time refining their resumes. What is your take on my supervisors’ philosophy? How on earth can I help them consider the opinion of a lowly intern?

Your boss sucks and your organization sucks.

The rules that your organization is making you follow for resumes are ridiculous. They’re not strengthening people’s resumes in the way they’re being applied, and their rigidity shows their total lack of understanding of what actually makes a good resume.

But it’s not just kind of weak advice — it’s actually actively harming people. Lines like “unloaded new merchandise on shelves using upper body strength” are going to result in eye rolls from hiring managers. It’s going to move these applicants to the bottom of the pile, by making them look naive and a little silly.

Removing occupational licences to create more room for this kind of BS is going to result in people being rejected for not being qualified.

And the whole thing is creating a huge opportunity cost as well, by not giving them resume advice that would actually help.

Hearing that they’re doing this to low-income people who are searching for help makes me want to cry.

It’s professional malpractice, and in this particular context it’s particularly screwed up.

Can you drop this internship and get out of there? You have the good sense to see that what they’re doing is awful. Don’t stay if you have options.

(And can you let me write to whoever oversees this work and point out what they’re doing to clients? I’d seriously like to.)

{ 189 comments… read them below }

  1. Nerdling*

    This is absolutely infuriating! OP, I hope you seriously consider letting Allison write to the organization, because this is horrible. Good luck finding another internship, and good job on following your instincts when it comes to figuring out whether this advice is good or bad.

    1. Beancounter in Texas*

      +1,000 – Alison needs a superhero cloak on her icon for this post, or at least for an update post if she’s able to give good guidance.

    2. AMG*

      If this place is that bad, an internship from there won’t do you any favors, so I agree that it is probably time to move on. Do it gently and explain why, and hopefully Alison can reason with them.

      I would also add that a letter from Alison to the board would be helpful, because the person overseeing this work has as much brainpower as a parakeet and can’t be counted on to understand why her actions are so harmful.

      Please send us an update!

      1. ZSD*

        “An internship from there won’t do you any favors.” Can you imagine the references they’d give her? “Yes, she assisted our clients with their resumes using a pencil, keyboard, and no analytical skills in order to ensure that the resumes would get our clients jobs.”

        1. afiendishthingy*

          hahaha! But, sigh. Good for OP for recognizing how flawed the approach is… I hope Alison can talk some sense into them.

          1. Ash*

            Don’t you mean:
            I just laughed, using my mouth, vocal cords, and respiratory system, to show that I found the comment amusing and the process ridiculous.

            Because without a rational no one could possibly get the joke.

      2. Jill of All Trades*

        “because the person overseeing this work has as much brainpower as a parakeet”

        I think this is an insult to parakeets :) I’ve never heard of one working so hard to do something so badly.

        1. squirrel*

          that *is* an insult to parakeets! i can’t say i haven’t had stupid ones, but right now i have a little girl budgie who examines any new object or area very scientifically before making a final judgment on anything. it’s fun to watch her try to get out of a holder at the vet because she goes through every piece and area methodically. i think it makes her cuter. :D

      3. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees*

        “an internship from there won’t do you any favors” UNLESS OP needs an internship (any internship) to fulfill a degree requirement and could possibly screw up their graduation timeline by not sticking this one out.

        1. Nerdling*

          That’s a good point. I really hope it isn’t the case, but it could be. In which case, bless the OP for having a very long internship ahead of them…

    3. Jeanne*

      Organizations like this are usually government funded or non-profits with a board. Someone with oversight power needs to be told. Are the people required to come to you to qualify for unemployment or welfare or other benefits? Then a report to legislators might be appropriate. Please tell Alison so she can help. This is disgusting.

      1. Bunny*

        Oh gods, this. If any of your clients – even a small portion of them – are mandated to attend sessions with your organisation, then you absolutely need to report this.

      2. Ms. Lemonade*

        I did employment services (resumes, also cover letters, interview prep, job coaching generally) for a nonprofit working with refugees. It was funded by government grant, and while there wasn’t a ton of guidance, I also had a fair amount of flexibility – I mostly advised people based on reading this site religiously! (It was my second job out of college; I wasn’t the most experienced person, but for $24k/year, you’re not getting that.)

        Anyway, on accountability: sometimes grants let orgs set their own metrics; sometimes they don’t. Typically our grants had a mix of process metrics (how many client appointments did you do per month, how many resumes did you write), and outcome metrics (how many people actually got a job after working with you.)

        Sounds like maybe this org has all process, or else doesn’t care about hitting their targets.

        Oh! Ad don’t count on the board to set you straight. Ours was HORRIBLE. Mostly just one woman – she was head of the finance committee, which mostly meant she read over my grant drafts and fucked with the punctuation; she didn’t understand our clients’ needs; and she was incredibly dismissive to staff.

  2. Kat A.*

    This sort of thing makes me so frustrated.

    OP, I hope you’ll let Alison contact your managers and explain reality to them. Please!

  3. Student*

    If you have the time and enough passion for this cause, you should start up a competing nonprofit.

    1. mdv*

      Great idea! I bet you could get a few companies on board to sponsor start-up costs, and recruit a bunch of other students to help do a *way* better job than these people!

  4. Jo*

    If the sex club post wasn’t enough, now we can be sure: it’s WTF Wednesday. We have WTFs to spare.

    OP, your organization is horrific, and you’re a champ for writing in about it.

  5. Muriel Heslop*

    Thank you for writing, OP! Please let Alison contact your managers! As someone who works with low-income people to find housing/employment – PLEASE! This makes me want to punch someone and I am a lover, not a fighter.

    Good luck with your next internship – and kudos to you for spotting lunacy where it lives.

  6. DL*

    If this is the non-profit I’m thinking of, there are local affiliates within a national umbrella. If this is the right one, I wonder if it’s worth talking to the national org.

    The affiliate I volunteered for put people into the resume coach role with almost no training (the training was aimed at the other image coach role). If that’s also the case here, I think offering more training to volunteers and less supervisor by the supervisor would help solve the problem.

      1. Kelly L.*

        Supervision by the supervisor using supervisory skills, so that employees are supervised. ;)

        (Gah! Your workplace is awful, OP.)

        1. IWorkInSockFeet*

          Supervision by the supervisor, acting in a supervisory capacity using supervisory skills, so that employees are supervised under supervisors supervision.

            1. Robert Columbia*

              * Supervised employees using supervisory skills to ensure employee supervision.
              * Wrote performance improvement plans for employees using pen and paper to ensure adequate evidence for termination of employees.
              * Monitored supervisor’s station using desk, chair, and Dell personal computer running Windows 8 64 bit and Internet Explorer 11 to ensure supervisory presence at the work site.
              * Performed spot checks using eyes with binocular vision to confirm correctness of employee work to ensure organizational goal success.
              * Attended meetings using suit and tie to maximize team effectiveness.

              1. annonymouse*

                Too many bullet points!
                Can’t you follow simple instructions?
                It’s THREE for EVERY job!!!

                You also left out keyboard and computer in the employee improvement plans
                “completely screwed the people we are supposed to help to keep the job market “pure”.”

                You are so fired!
                And don’t you DARE try to use your own judgement, insight, knowledge and common sense to make a sensible resume. The job pool needs to be kept pure from you too! You have to use THREE BULLET POINTS!!!!

  7. NickelandDime*

    Op, I agree this is awful. Have you considered finding another internship? I’m sure you aren’t the only one that knows this place is a joke, and I would hate for this to reflect badly on you. And I just pray that the word gets out about this place and people stop going in there. Aside from the silly resumes, you have to be johnny on the spot with applications these days. Job applicants don’t have weeks to wait for this foolishness.

  8. Shannabelle*

    Wow. How do organizations like this exist? I wonder if they have been successful with placing someone at a job. I got so many bad resume tips from my university whose sole job was to prepare me for the workforce; I can’t imagine an organization focusing exclusively on this and succeeding.

    1. Joey*

      by no one ever measuring their performance. Or probably more likely measuring the wrong things. I bet you money they say “we’ve helped x low income people with their resumes”

    2. IWorkInSockFeet*

      How do organizations like this exist? I am gonna guess taxpayer money through government grants.

    3. Leah*

      The suckiest part is that this organization has clout. So even if their friend/relative says, “What? Don’t mention upper body strength on your resume!” they might (reasonably) say “But such-and-such organization told me to.”

    4. Anonymous20*

      Yes, to this as far as the university career services. I have been to university and DOL and the advice is generic and rarely helpful. Also, I have never received a job interview/offer after going to either place. Yes, it upsets me that a place that is supposed to help people does very little to do so this goes for university career services and the place the OP works for. As someone who is struggling daily to find a viable job this behavior is despicable!

  9. ThursdaysGeek*

    My granddaughter is at the ‘why?’ stage, so when I see quotes like “to ensure children remain safe” and “to ensure the customer received the correct amount of money.” I want to know why for those reasons too. There’s always another why.

    1. HeyNonnyNonny*

      Counted change using hands and brain-thinking to ensure the customer received the correct amount of money so that they wouldn’t get mad at me.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        Because I don’t like it when they get mad at me. Because their yelling hurts my ears. Because the decibel level is too high and the little hairy things inside the inner ear lay over too much. I don’t know why! I don’t have a degree in physiology specializing in human hearing!

        1. Liane*

          Because I haven’t yet gotten around to emailing AAM asking if it’s professional to Jedi Mind Trick customers with stuff like “Of course, the change is correct”

  10. BRR*

    I hope the op lets Alison write them. My only concern is if the op needs a reference.

    They can add a bullet to their resume, “overhauled resume assistance program by writing to knowledgable hiring manager.”

    1. NavyLT*

      I think you mean “overhauled resume assistance program by writing to knowledgeable hiring manager using brains.

    2. PurpleMonkeyDishwasher*

      You guys, you forgot the why!

      “Overhauled resume assistance program by writing to knowledgeable hiring manager using brains and fingers (0r voice) to send email in order to ensure that people organization was supposed to be assisting received actual useful assistance”

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        Why? I mean, obviously that’s not a question they are asking, or else they would realize that receiving useful assistance is a reasonable goal, and perhaps one they should have.

  11. TCO*

    What’s especially frustrating is that it seems like many of your clients are applying for pretty low-skill/entry-level jobs. At that level, one job opening could get 50 applicants, all of whom have the basic ability to clean a toilet or stock merchandise. The way to stand out is to display your professionalism, track record, and savviness. These terrible resumes are having the opposite effect–they’re arriving late, they’re written in a way that makes the applicant look out-of-touch with the working world, and they’re obscuring the credentials that might help an applicant stand out in a crowded field.

    1. _ism_*

      In my experience, hiring managers don’t even solicit or expect resumes for jobs of this nature. An application form, drug test, and background check are considered and if a resume is handed in along with all that, it gets ignored at best and an eyeroll at worst. I’ve heard out of the mouth of a hiring manager, “Rosa Nunez, 20 years experience in janitorial services. LOL. If she had 20 years of experience she’d know she doesn’t need a resume for this! Next!”

      1. _ism_*

        And of course in my rock bottom years I was applying for retail and janitorial jobs myself. I had a special version of my resume that played up my physical skills and played down the fact that I am well educated. I never got called to interview. So then I started experimenting with submitting my REAL resume to those kinds of jobs, and I still didn’t get called to interview, but I *did* get a couple of calls from hiring managers asking why I was applying when I was clearly way too qualified.

        1. Anonymous20*

          The overqualified issue from HR is really frustrating. I always want to yell, its obvious why I am applying because I need to eat and pay my bills! I worked at a cafeteria and all my coworkers kept asking me why I was working there when I had my Associate degree(at the time) and I just said it was a good job. It essentially asking people why do we work? It’s obvious or maybe not? Sorry, as you can tell the ‘overqualified’ thing is hot issue for me because when I was getting interviews, I was hearing it over the years.

  12. EmilyG*

    The rigidity is really bad but there’s a kernel of good advice here which I needed when I was younger. Instead of saying my job was to build mobile apps, and then a list of things I know like Ruby or CouchDB, I got the advice to put those things together to show hands-on accomplishments using tools that are relevant to the employer instead of just a jumble of things I might’ve touched once or twice. E.g. “Built mobile app for iOS using Objective-C and SQLite.” This advice was just as useful to me as the idea of putting measurable achievements instead of duties (“processed invoices and implemented a new process resulting in a 10% higher rate of on-time payment” instead of “process invoices and stapled things”).

    This organization seems to be applying this principle in the wrong place and in a very silly way; your boss seems to have no understanding of context! OP, kudos to you for your thoughtfulness and scruples, I’m sure they’ll serve you well in the future, even if that’s at a different employer than you have now…

    1. Steve G*

      I think it only makes sense in the example you gave, of doing something highly analytical or coding or IT related, because saying “developed complicated queries to mine databases with 1M line items” is a very different thing depending on if you use SQL or just do them in Access.

      1. Stephanie*

        Yeah, that shows you know accomplish something in that specific coding language. Cleaning a toilet is cleaning a toilet.

        1. EmilyG*

          Oh, yeah, that’s what I mean about the boss having no sense of context. But I think even in a more physical job, it could apply! In my current building we have people who clean the special floors with huge machines or change lightbulbs in a high atrium. “Cleaned floors using SuperBuffMaster8000” or “performed maintenance using 30 foot lift” might be real things to include, if you knew the trade well enough to know what’s special or requires training. But OP’s boss doesn’t seem to know enough about toilets to know whether cleaning them is special task!

    2. AnotherAlison*

      This was my impression, too. I felt like the OP’s boss was taking the advice to show competencies rather than tell what you know to a weird place. Like Stephanie said, cleaning a toilet is cleaning a toilet. Maybe if someone was responsible for toilet cleaning & received high ratings on customer surveys, that would be a differentiator, but I don’t care if you used Clorox, Lysol, or even Windex. (Because, seriously, if I owned a fast food franchise and could find someone who wouldn’t be a lazy ass about cleaning toilets, I would hire them. My son told us how someone left a poopy diaper in the play place where he works, and he wouldn’t pick it up.)

  13. the_scientist*

    Ugh, this makes me physically ill. These individuals who may have limited literacy skills and little or no experience with resume-writing presumably think they are taking a big and important step in getting themselves “back on their feet” or started in their career by using this organization’s services. And instead they are being screwed over and don’t realize it. This is just so horrible on so many levels- I think professional malfeasance is a really accurate description for this behaviour. I’d also add “negligent” “unethical” and “idiotic” to the description. OP, unless you need this internship to graduate, I think you should leave- even then, you should go back to your school and explain that you’re witnessing seriously unethical behaviour and see if there’s anything you can do to get out. And please please please 1) let Alison write to them and 2) send an update!

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Make this into a petition and I will help you circulate it.
      These people are in position of power to make or break people’s lives and they are destroying as many lives as they possibly can. May karma get them.
      This is paid for with taxpayer money? What an outrage this is not the kind of help taxpayers want or need. We want people getting effective, real help. This is merely lining the pockets of a few people who run this program, that is all it is.

  14. Dana*

    That’s so sad. The conspiracy theorist in me wonders if someone isn’t getting a kickback for keeping people coming back to their crappy organization and continuing to not find jobs by being sabotaged. I seriously don’t know how people could be doing this in good conscience.

      1. De Minimis*

        Yeah I wonder if it’s a thing where they are evaluated on the number of encounters with the clients and not on results. Could totally see that happening.

        But I’ve seen a lot of bad resume advice from people who should know better. I don’t think they are deliberately giving bad advice, but they may not have a genuine interest in helping people find work either.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      It’s not farfetched at all. Think about it logically: unemployed people need to exist so the nonprofit can exist.

      When I first interned in the 1990s, a friend interned with a mental health agency. Her big boss didn’t think prevention (except for suicide) was a priority and never wanted to put forth any staff/money towards it. After all, if people had access to effective prevention, then that agency wouldn’t need to be funded.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Must be the same folks that I know of. These folks thought that allotting $25 for groceries per week was enough. I guess they believed that not having enough food each day had nothing to do with mental health issues.

        1. Zillah*

          I never get stressed or depressed about money, especially not when not having it impacts my ability to eat. Not eating also doesn’t make me stressed or depressed. And definitely eating cheap junk food rather than more expensive healthy food doesn’t make the nonexistent stress or depression worse. What a preposterous idea!

      2. Jake*

        This kind of comment really bothers me. I’ve worked as a volunteer and/or board member for several charities and I’ve never encountered this attitude. Most people who work for orgs that help others genuinely want to help and recognize that our ultimate goal is to create a world that no longer needs us. Viewing the poor or under-represented as a means for job security is a really ugly attitude and I sincerely doubt that a significant portion of charity workers think that way.

        1. Florida*

          If the organization gets a lot of government funding, which can be based on headcount not results, they might not be interested in getting people jobs. There is a nonprofit in my city that has a federal contract to give away TTY phones. These are available for free to anyone who is deaf or hard of hearing. The organization gets paid per phone they give away, so they go into low income areas and give away phones to anyone who wants a free phone, whether they are deaf or not. They do this to make money. They know its wrong, but they do it anyway.

          Do I think a significant portion of charities work this way? Absolutely not. But, just like doctors or cops or financial advisers or ministers or any other job in the world, there are good and bad people in every profession, including nonprofits.

          That said, I don’t know that that’s what’s happening in this case. I think this guy probably thinks he has good job searching advice. Maybe he read it in a book somewhere, or learned it from a career center. Maybe he even used it one his resume, and it worked in one fluke situation. Who knows? But he probably thinks it is good advice. I think this is more a problem of ignorance, not bad intentions.

    2. MaryMary*

      I wondered the same thing. Or not a kickback, necessarily, but that the organization’s success measures are number of resumes reviewed, or number of individuals whose resumes were updated. Not number of individuals placed in jobs.

    3. Jamie*

      I had the same thought as Dana – this is beyond being wrong and smells like active sabotage. I refuse to believe anyone implementing these rules thinks this is helpful.

      Incompetence is one thing. When incompetence hurts people who are particularly vulnerable it’s heartbreaking.

      1. Artemesia*

        It could well be, but it could also be not very bright, very bureaucratic people working to rule and not having the sense to adapt. Give a dull person with a set of rules a little power and there you are. Especially in writing resumes if that person has actually no experience with hiring or even much with job searching.

        1. vox de causa*

          Yes, I agree. I’ve seen too many people who don’t have the courage to make a judgement call, so they insist on following the “formula” even when it doesn’t make sense.

          1. Cordelia Naismith*

            Yes. I think this is exactly what’s happening. There are instances where this kind of construction makes sense, like the tech example someone posted upthread. So this particular supervisor heard this advice somewhere and either didn’t fully understand it or just doesn’t want to make judgments about particular resumes (because recognizing and adapting for individual circumstances is hard and requires a lot of extra work, especially if you have to do it over and over with hundreds of resumes), so they insist the so-called formula be used every time, and think they’re giving good advice.

            I think sometimes a deadly combination of laziness and stupidity can cause more harm than active malice.

    4. Blurgle*

      My tinfoil hat is worse: I wondered if they were getting funding *because* they failed, so their data be used to “explain” that poor people supposedly looking for work are really just entitled and lazy, because none of them get jobs.

  15. Ann Furthermore*

    Ugh, this is terrible. OP, please let Alison reach out to your management. It sounds like input from an outsider is the only thing that might make them change their approach.

    It’s just so asinine. “Cleaned toilet using toilet brush.” OK, thanks for clearing that up, because I thought maybe you’d cleaned the toilet with a cashmere sweater. Really, WTF?

    1. Steve G*

      And I hope the examples given were just examples to begin with…because if someone is a janitor, I hope they are helping the person come up with more meaningful bullet points, such as these, and not just stating the obvious, like in the OP’s letter:

      “Worked with purchasing to source longer lasting light bulbs to decrease maintenance/replacement costs”
      “Installed more recycling bins to decrease our trash output/hauling bill”
      “Assisted with maintenance tasks – lighting plumbing work, polishing/maintaining hardwood floors, etc.”

      1. AnotherAlison*

        But really, IME, most janitorial jobs require a job application, not a resume. They may have to fill in experience and skills, but are janitorial jobs so competitive that people need to show specific accomplishments? I am not one to diss the maintenance field, but we used to own a cleaning company, and if you were breathing, had a car, not on drugs, and showed up on the first day, you got the job. (Now, for an operations manager/janitorial manager or something, yeah, that would be nice to see, but not necessarily expected because it’s just not the norm where those candidates are coming from.)

        1. Anx*

          I think janitorial jobs are pretty competitive.

          I will be honest; I didn’t plan on being a janitor. Nor did I want to make a life-long career of it. So yes, I would have probably eventually moved on if (IF) the opportunity arose after the fact. But I really wanted to work as a janitor for a few years instead of cobbling together part-time work.

          I looked into larger companies, hoping that I could work in janitorial services for a few years, and then maybe transfer into another department.

          I have had jobs with janitorial aspects, worked closely with housekeeping staff in others, and have studied epidemiology, environmental science, chemistry, and microbiology. I had a health inspection license. I tried for years and never got a call back.

          Many of these jobs accepted resumes. Some cover letters (but they didn’t ask for them, they just had a button on their application system you where you could attach one).

          Also, I know a few friends who are trying to get hooked up with housekeeping jobs. Better hours, better benefits, and better pay than what they are currently doing. And while those benefits will probably dwindle over the years, they’d be less likely to be replaced by software.

        2. Development professional*

          Just because their past experience listed on the resume was janitorial doesn’t mean the new job they’re applying to is. It could be for something else.

        3. Jamie*

          I’ve gotten resumes for very entry level factory jobs – not janitorial but similar – from agencies that work with this demographic find employment. It seems to be SOP – then if they come in they fill out the application in person.

          I had several come from one agency with the same form letter which had literally Dear “” in all.

          I did shoot the director an email to tell them to either check their mail merge before sending or replace with Dear Hiring Manager because that was not helpful. Also the form letter sucked started out with the same objective to “use my skills to assist your company in blah blah”.

          It doesn’t make it any less horrible, but any hiring manager who gets more than 1-2 of these will see a pattern and assume it’s an agency giving horrible advice.

        4. AnotherAlison*

          Alright, I can agree this is how it’s done now. Y’all put me in my place. 10 years ago, no. But why?

          It’s like having college degree requirements for entry-level clerical positions. Doesn’t hurt to have people in those jobs with 4 years of college, but it’s not always necessary, either.

          And sure, not all janitorial positions are created equal, but given that this particular center is catering to out-of-work low-income people, I would not expect the clients are getting much more than the more basic, entry level work.

        5. Blurgle*

          School janitorial jobs can be competitive in areas where school janitors are unionized and fairly compensated.

    2. Stryker*

      No, see, it shows that the applicant’s not vindictive! The resume could’ve said “cleaned toilets with my idiot supervisor’s toothbrush,” after all.

  16. AMG*

    You know, I would take some of these resumes and provide feedback on them if I had the contact info. I’m not Alison, but I am an AAM fan and my resume isn’t half bad. Just sayin’…

    1. BRR*

      There was a similar discussion once reguarding cover letter help. While such a great idea there were concerns over monitoring the quality involved and connections to aam.

  17. Amanda*

    Yikes. I would have said that the advice of showing achievements, not just job duties, still applies, except that the management of this particular organization might then interpret that as, “Excelled at unloading new merchandise on shelves using Hulk-like upper-body strength.”

    I really, really wish there were a way for the OP to tell these people something along the lines of, “The organization generally suggests X, but what I’ve found more helpful is Y”–except doing so might be seen as insubordination or something and negatively affect the OP’s internship, if the OP isn’t able to leave. I’m thinking even a “cheat sheet” of tips the OP put together to hand out copies would have to be vetted by the boss. :(

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      “Excelled at unloading new merchandise on shelves using Hulk-like upper-body strength” is actually a great line. I’d enjoy seeing that on a resume.

      1. Stryker*

        Only if they’re willing to get angry at the interview and demonstrate for me. I’d have swim trunks nearby as a courtesy.

  18. HeyNonnyNonny*

    OP, are the clients the ones submitting the resumes to the jobs? Or does your organization do it?

    If the former, I see no reason why you can’t come up with two resume drafts for each client, one for the job and one for your boss. It would also be a good learning experience for them to see how some things work and some don’t.

    1. Sadsack*

      If the boss finds out, OP may be canned. I suspect word would get out that the person at the agency gave someone the agency-approved version and then a better version on the sly because the agency-approved version sucks. OP can’t really tell her boss that she gave the client the boss’ version as an example of what not to do, if she plans on staying at this job, anyway.

    2. buddleia*

      I was thinking something similar. I wish there was some way that OP could give these crap resumes to her supervisors while still providing the clients with a better resume, but I got nothin’.

  19. OriginalEmma*

    If OP is doing this internship for credit as part of their university studies, they may be penalized for leaving early. HOWEVER, in this case, I feel like you can present a strong ethical case for leaving to your internship supervisor if need be.

    Your internship program should be aware that this organization is not only bad for its clients, the experience is bad for its interns. Bring this up with your internship program coordinator or supervisor! Good luck, OP.

    1. Gandalf the Nude*

      Speaking as someone who had to leave an internship early (for health reasons, not ethical ones), the university probably wouldn’t waive the requirement, just grant her a Withdrawn instead of a Fail, and she’d have to retake it next semester. If OP’s in her last semester like I was, it could end up delaying her graduation, and not everyone can afford that. My alma mater was at least nice enough to count the hours I spent at the first internship, and I was able to work very briefly at the second one to make up the difference, but I still had to sleep in my car for a week.

        1. Gandalf the Nude*

          (Almost a week late) The second internship extended past graduation, forcing me to stay in town without a place to stay. No, they wouldn’t let me stay in the dorm an extra two weeks.

  20. Recruiter*

    This makes me wonder if the former model* who wrote “Modeled clothing using arms and legs” worked with your organization.

    *Not like high-flying fashion model, like 19 year old who’d done some local work. Her resume made me genuinely sad.

    1. Sadsack*

      So her torso and head were not involved in the modeling? Interesting…perhaps she was modeling gloves and pantyhose.

    2. Omne*

      This might not be as weird as it sounds. I went out for quite a while with someone that was a hand model. I also found out there were other specialties like foot modeling(shoes), glasses, hair, cosmetics, hats, lingerie, accessories etc.

      Think about all the various ads you see where only part of someone’s body is visible. I think this is actually much more common with younger local models.

      Her explanation might have been written a little odd but it does tell you more about what type of modeling she did than just the term “modeling”.

  21. AllieJ0516*

    If nothing else, I’d print out a copy of Alison’s answer and leave it on someone’s desk. This is so bad. Malpractice, indeed.

    1. LillianMcGee*

      I second this. Print your letter and Alison’s answer and put it in the CEO/Executive Director’s inbox. If they are truly doing their job, they should appreciate the feedback and act on it.

      Barring that, I wonder if the org does exit interviews? If so, OP should take any opportunity to provide feedback about the org’s programs. At my org, intern feedback goes straight to the ED.

  22. LizNYC*

    Wow. Just wow. And how awful. The sinister (but well-meaning) side of me would want to slip these clients pieces of paper with AAM’s URL for “how to write a resume” and tell them to ignore any advice offered by this nonprofit.

    I wonder what the resumes of the people who actually work at this nonprofit look like. Why aren’t those formats also OK, since all of those people working at this (ridiculous) nonprofit were obviously hired there? It just defies *all* logic.

    Also: Nanny for 3 children. Watched children with my eyes and foresaw verbal disagreements with my ears.

    1. Zillah*

      Yes. If the OP wanted to be more sneaky, she could even just say something like:

      “Oh, and one last thing – there’s a great job advice blog called Ask A Manager. I definitely recommend going there to check out what she says, too!”

      But seriously, these people are THE WORST.

  23. Kay*

    As an aside, I actually found AAM because I was in a very similar position (Employment Specialist working with people who had vision loss) and I was positive that there had to be other ways to write resumes. I had so much more success when I started using Alison’s advice.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Did you use Alison’s advice to write your resume or to write other people’s resumes? (or both?)

      1. Kay*

        Both! I actually paid for a review from Alison on my own resume, but I implemented a lot of what she suggested for my clients.

  24. Anonsie*

    This is so infuriating. It’s the big thing people don’t understand about the capacity to upward mobility: you are limited by the knowledge available to you, and the fewer your initial resources in life, the less knowledge (and poorer quality) you’re doing to have access to. You don’t have a framework of experience with which to assess which sources are reliable, and even places and people you should be able to trust are often incorrect themselves. You can have all the smarts and gumption in the world and it’s not going to get you anywhere if no one can teach you how to write a resume or get a decent internship or finance your education or interview well.

    1. Nerdling*

      Precisely. That’s what makes this do infuriating. These people are profiting on the backs of truly disadvantaged folks instead of helping them!

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        But, it might also be the blind leading the blind — they may not know any better either. They are teaching as best they know, unaware that they are teaching wrong. And unable to see their lack of results.

        1. Jamie*

          But the responsibility rests somewhere. Whomever is at the top of this non-profit should have standards in place – QA controls in a real sense – to make sure their service is useful. This is actively harmful and if the supervisors truly don’t know any better then management had no business giving them this authority.

          1. Jaydee*

            There are a lot of non-profits that aren’t very good at what they do, just like there are a lot of businesses that aren’t very good at what they do. A lot of people have an issue they care about and start up a non-profit without fully researching the best practices in that area. Or they may get off-track because of bizarre requirements of a funding source.

            One thing that I would suggest that hasn’t been suggested already would be to go above your supervisor’s head. Talk to the executive director about your concerns if possible. If that doesn’t work, talk to the board of directors. If these methods are truly institutionally entrenched, you might not get anywhere. But if not, the ED and board are the ones with power to change things.

    2. So Very Anonymous*

      Exactly. This is terrible. Those resumes won’t be taken seriously, and it’s a huge disservice to the already disadvantaged to mislead this way, knowingly or not.

    3. Jamie*

      Really well put. It’s so easy to forget there are whole segments of the population who can’t just go to any one of a number of relatives and ask them to look at their resume and get solid advice from people who have hiring experience. It’s bad enough without services actively giving you additional disadvantages.

  25. Prismatic Professional*

    This crushed my soul a bit. :-/ At least in my organization, we have guidelines but a great deal of autonomy. I’ve started making AAM strongly preferred reading for my clients. OP – please know there are non-profits out there who don’t do active harm to low-income job seekers! I’m so sorry this is happening, thank you for writing in to AAM and alerting her to this.

    I’m actually tearing up. :’-(

  26. Cath in Canada*

    What are some options if the OP can’t leave without jeopardising their graduation prospects, and can’t let Alison write to the boss without identifying themself (e.g. if they’re the only intern the organisation has right now)?

    I’m thinking that compiling stats of the % success of your clients compared to other applicants to similar jobs might be one way to build a case to management, if you have access to those numbers. Or getting a hiring manager who’s received some of these resumes to give feedback to the boss saying how terrible they are and that they harm applicants’ chances.

    Good luck, OP! I’d love an update on this one.

    1. Artemesia*

      I have supervised interns and I would be sitting down with my intern supervisor about this unethical practice and asking for their guidance in meeting the university requirements and also not being complicit in this.

      It is heartbreaking that poor people scrambling to better themselves are being undermined by the people who should be helping them.

  27. MaryMary*

    I used to volunteer with an organization who found difficult to employ individuals (mostly ex-cons) jobs. I disagreed with some of their resume and interview advice, but it was never incompetent. For example, the woman who supervised resume creation told participants not to put a degree on their resume until they graduated. I’ve always been told to list the degree with your expected graduation date (Teapot State University, Bachelor of Arts in Design expected May 2015). However, I also could see that with the population involved, May 2015 could easily become December 2015. And then May 2016. And then… So I didn’t argue with what program participants had been taught by the full time staff.

    But OP’s organization is awful. This is so sad.

    1. Jeanne*

      I think the date the degree is expected is only relevant when you’re in your last semester or similar, when you are 99% sure you will graduate.

      1. NutellaNutterson*

        But at least list “currently enrolled in AAM’s Teapot Design certificate program, Chocolate Spout specialization.”

        For so many employers hiring at entry level, it’s about seeing that you’re doing *anything* consistently and reliably.

  28. IWorkInSockFeet*

    Could this be intentional deceit rather than Olympic-size incompetence? Does the organization get paid per placement, or is the funding based on the number of warm bodies who attend the counseling sessions they provide? People who get a job quit using this type of agency, but the chronically unemployed return again and again and again.

  29. Not So NewReader*

    An update, please, OP.
    I think this is a good example of major work problems that a person can encounter. How often does this happen? You take a job and find out much more is going on than you ever bargained for. Then you realize there are core issues that are radically wrong-wrong-wrong.
    I hope you find a way to report this or link TPTB up with Alison, OP. The organization is basically a sham. They do not care of people get placed in jobs or not and meanwhile the people have no idea what is going on behind the scenes. But, if you chose not to do any of that, I don’t blame you and I hope you just get away from this internship. It’s not a loss to leave it.

  30. Annaliese*

    I’d like to think this was an isolated problem at one misguided organization, but it’s not. I was on the receiving end almost identical advice from a local non-profit social-services center. As a long time AAM reader, I knew it was crap and disregarded everything they said. I feel terrible for the clients that place sends out job searching so wrongly prepared.

    1. Artemesia*

      When I read this it reminded me of the ‘behavioral objective’ fad in education where objectives are written to be measurable and the tools used are specified as well as the standard. The basic idea is a good one; people should be thinking ‘what do I want this student to be able do as a result of this instruction and how would I know they can?’ And most people just shift their objective writing to active verbs. I have also seen some excellent work on how to measure things like ‘understanding’ or ‘knowing’ or ‘thinking’ that are not always visible and to do it in sophisticated ways. The tendency of course is to to teach for trivia since that is easy to measure. So here we want to focus on measurable achievement and the advisor is grinding this out in stupid senseless ways, just as a slavish use of behavioral objectives can trivialize the work. A good kernel of an idea that has been grossly misused.

  31. MaggiePi*

    Or stay and secretly hand out AAM info to anyone who will listen. If you’re not there to save them no one will be left to actually try to help!

  32. Amber Rose*

    Alison, if you write them a letter, please share. If not the whole letter, maybe a snippet?

    OP, please let Alison give them the telling off they need so badly. Those poor people with their ridiculous resumes. :(

  33. KathyOffice*

    This makes me so angry and sad. And the messed up thing is this has effects beyond the people getting horrible advice from this org. As someone that grew up in a lower income community, a lot of community/non-profit orgs are seen with suspicion and not used by people because they expect to get this kind of substandard help. The people in these communities aren’t stupid; they’ll know they’re getting bad advice, and that distrust will spread. And that could lead to them not reaching out for help from the orgs that actually would benefit them.

    Good on you OP for noticing it and speaking up. If anything, just be honest with the people you’re helping, and tell them what changes they can make to their resume once they get home and away from your manager.

    1. nicolefromqueens*

      Unfortunately I think another factor is at play: maintaining the bureaucratic protocol instead of focusing on the alleged mission of the agency.

      I work for huge local government (kind of) where protocol trumps everything, including common sense and at times, getting the job done.

      It looks like OP’s supervisors are more interested in keeping their jobs than helping others get theirs.

  34. So Very Anonymous*

    I now want to rewrite my c.v. indicating that I teach class sessions “using an instructor podium and projector but also sometimes pacing around at the front of the classroom and writing things on the whiteboard using my arms and using my hand to hold a marker specifically designed for whiteboards.”

    Would I need to include that I sometimes drink coffee while I am doing this, using my hand and arm to lift the coffee cup (usually paper) to my lips and then swallowing with my esophageal muscles? Or is that just too much detail?

    1. So Very Anonymous*

      I shouldn’t make fun of this, I know. I can joke about this because I know better; what’s sad is that someone who doesn’t, may not be able to question this kind of thing. Terrible stuff.

      1. Lols*

        Going to try this again. Disregard my duplicate down thread, please!

        “Proficient in the use of the coffee machine, which I operated by inserting the ground coffee that my girlfriend gave me because I can’t afford good coffee, then pouring the water, pushing the red button, waiting for the coffee to percolate, choosing a mug, adding stevia to the mug by tearing the packet open with my hands, pouring the coffee from the carafe, adding rice milk to it, stirring it with a spoon held in my hand, then placing the mug on my desk without using a coaster, and proceeding to grade papers with the cheapest red pen I could buy during the Back to School sale”.

        1. So Very Anonymous*

          3-page long paragraphs for any task involving…. gasp…. multitasking… >:S

        2. Ž*

          you forgot the “because” clause. you really need to give the potential employer insight into why you’re operating the coffee machine in the first place. i mean how are they supposed to know it’s because you want to make a cup of coffee if you don’t help them out? They’re not mindreaders, sheesh.

  35. Sara M*

    Alison, are you familiar with CAR statements? I’d bet money that this is someone who attended a conference or seminar, learned about CAR statements, and then proceeded to mangle and misapply the concept so it became ridiculous.

    I’ve been using CAR statements for a long time and they are amazing–when done well. (Actually, I think you saw my resume a few years back when we were talking in email.)

    But CAR statements when mangled like this? Absurd. And it makes me angry on behalf of these people who really need good resume help. :(

    1. Leah*

      Yeah, I have seen how adding how/why you did things can make a resume jump to life. Sometimes, even both of those can help. However, it’s not always possible and that’s where this supervisor missed the point. It’s not a magic spell.

    2. FD*

      Oooh, I bet you’re right! I can see how someone could totally miss the point of that and produce this.

  36. Jill of All Trades*

    I would really like to see the resumes of these supervisors. They can’t have ever gotten a job with resumes this bad. And OPs resume didn’t look like their standard when she applied for the internship. I would also like to know if the staff (other than the OP) is representative of the population segment they’re working with.

  37. Lols*

    Proficient in the use of the coffee machine, which I operated by inserting the ground coffee that my girlfriend gave me because I can’t afford good coffee, then pouring the water, pushing the red button, waiting for the coffee to percolate, choosing a mug, adding stevia to the mug by tearing the packet open with my hands, pouring the coffee from the carafe, adding rice milk to it, stirring it with a spoon held in my hand, then placing the mug on my desk without using a coaster, and proceeding to grade papers with the cheapest red pen I could buy during the Back to School sale.

    1. lowercase holly*

      pushing the red button with your finger. jeez, they’re gonna think you use your nose or something.

  38. Leah*

    This is one of the few times that I think you should work your way all the way up the food chain including the Board ONCE you have recorded specific instances where this was a problem as well as any written policies or conversations you have (if their oral, take notes later including when/where/who). This may sound drastic but that’s because it is a drastic situation. There is serious harm coming to your clients.

  39. AnnieNonymous*

    This almost sounds like an active effort to keep a certain demographic down, like those pregnancy crisis centers that hem and haw until it’s too late for the girl to get an abortion.

  40. Confused*

    Alison, if you write to the organization and hear back, I’d love an update on what they have to say.

  41. stellanor*

    I kind of want to send in all the resume advice I got at this fancy graduate career advice seminar and see how horrible it is, because I suspect it’s dreadful…

  42. V.V.*

    I wish this place was the only one who did this. As part of past unemployment claims I have had to use my state’s resume builder to create and publish my resume. The template is outdated and adds alot of unnecessary information, but if it’s not used, it is much more difficult to get approved, and you risk being disqualified.

    I have gone around and around, but it’s been made clear that nobody is interested in changing a “tried and true method”. Having discussed it with workers lower on the totem pole, some agree it’s lame, but unfortunately they aren’t paid to have an opinion.

    I finally stopped complaining because I have other resumes and rarely apply for jobs through their site.

  43. nicolefromqueens*

    I think maybe their logic is something like:

    there are dozens (or possibly hundreds) of applicants for each open entry-level/low-skilled position. a human being can’t possibly read each of them in most cases, so all of the resumes are being filtered by a bot. so the more “buzzwords” in the resume that match the posting, the more likely that the resume will make it through the filters.


    all I got

  44. Jack*

    The longer the job seekers stay with the non-profit, the more funding the non-profit gets.

    I remember back about 10 years ago, I lost my job and was preparing to take a job outside the country in 2 months. My son was with me so I decided to apply for TANF and food stamps for the two months. They sent me to a non-profit for job advice. It was a faith based organization that consisted of a super small church in a strip mall. I had no doubt the church existed to get government money for a job placement service.

    I swear, they existed for other purpose than to get government money. They were horrible at placing people in jobs. It basically consisted of opening up the classified ads and having some uneducated ex gang member office worker call up jobs to get you an appointment. They didn’t allow you to search for your own jobs, only the ones they found for you. The only jobs they placed people in were McDonalds type jobs and they were slow to do that. More money.

    1. Robert Columbia*

      * Placed people in McDonalds type jobs using newspaper classified ads, telephone, and voice mail system to ensure job seeker success.

  45. TalleySueNYC*

    Well, with this one:
    When I wrote “supervised preschool students on playground,” my boss asked me to add a rationale (“to ensure children remain safe”).

    I can see that there might something of value to add:
    –did the adult simply wait around in case someone got hurt (“to provide care in case of injury”)?
    –did the adult encourage children to play certain games (“to direct activities and suggest games”)?

    But you just need to describe what you did.

    I once rewrote a resume for someone who’d worked in campus food services, and she thought she didn’t have much in the way of experience. I played up that she had morphed into the person who knew when to reorder supplies, and who did so–that’s huge, that sort of forward-thinking and initiative.

  46. L_A*

    It would have done a lot more for the person to say “unloaded merchandise, scanned serial numbers, sorted alphanumerically, then arranged merchandise according to number code in approved storage location”. That shows the ability to follow more complex instructions.

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