With yet another high profile resume-fake (Scott Thompson, who was ousted as Yahoo! CEO after four months among accusations that he lied on his resume about having a computer science degree) I am compelled to write this blog post about telling the truth on your website and other biographies.
Whether you call it biography, bio, profile, CV, vita or work history, this document should never have an ounce of fiction on it. No fudging on capabilities and experience, board and community service, education (years, your major, the institutions you attended) . . . simply, don’t say you did something if you didn’t do it.
I read an article in the Dallas Morning News yesterday about a new book by author James Donovan, “The Blood of Heroes,” with the subtitle, “The 13-day struggle for the Alamo and the sacrifice that forced a nation.” Apparently, the Alamo stories that we were taught in K-12 history classes were not true. Davy Crockett was not executed by Mexican hero/despot Santa Anna, and the storied Alamo battle didn’t last 15-minutes, but more like 45 minutes or longer. You might wonder what this has to do with lawyer biographies?
Donovan's Dallas Morning News article started:
“Everyone knows that Davy Crockett was executed after the battle of the Alamo by Santa Anna. Except he wasn’t.”
Donovan, a Dallas author, writes:
“Crockett’s death, and the duration of the Alamo battle, are two examples of how historical events often become encrusted with myth, legend and error, deliberate or not. Particularly before the invention of electronic recording devices around the turn of the 20th century, history was more pliable, especially for those with an agenda — or simply to make a good story even better.”
I love the phrase, “…history was more pliable, especially for those with an agenda – or simply to make a good story even better.” We do this all the time in conversation, subconsciously believing that facts should never get in the way of a good story.
He concludes his article:
“History, like life, may be messy, awkward and embarrassing on occasion, but that’s because it’s about people, and none of us is perfect. Without respect for historical truth, we compromise our ability to grow and improve both as individuals and as a society.”
Too many lawyer resumes include every line of what the person has ever done, spoken or written. Bios should follow the governing clothes-closet management rule: Don’t put one new clothing article in your closet without eliminating something old.
Without such stewardship, the result of this year-after-year layering of data, whether online or on paper, is that your memory fades and you no longer remember if it was true. If there was an error or omission 20 years ago, chances are you are still carrying it forward – simply because you aren’t looking at it that carefully, you can’t remember, and you assume it must be true because it used to be true. And it’s about you, so what’s the big deal?
My company, Content Pilot, is preparing to conduct our fifth research study, “2012 AmLaw 100 Websites: Ten Foundational Best Practices,” where we analyze the websites of America’s top 100 law firms based on gross revenue. The 4th Foundational Best Practice is lawyer biographies. I’ll write more about the foundational attributes of a “best practices” lawyer resume in another post, but the glaring problem we see is that too many senior partners don’t care about their bios. This opens doors, however, for those partners who do care – by comparison, who stand out as relevant, current and subject matter experts in their fields. After all, that’s the goal of your website (and other online sources, such as LinkedIn) biography – come across well enough that you are short-listed for a particular matter. Then it’s your job to get chosen as “the one.”
When your bio is riddled with old information – or worse, lies (a strong word, I know) about what you’ve done – everything else that is accurate is questioned. Don’t risk the reputation damage by being “too busy” to update your resume when your marketing team requests it.
The musical, “A Chorus Line” starts with an energetic number, “I Hope I Get It,” where the auditioning dancers start competing against each other for a job in the chorus. In unison they sing,
“God, I hope I get it. I hope I get it. How many boys, how many girls? Look at all the people, at all the people” . . . Then one dancer sings, “I really need this job, please god I need this job, I’ve got to get this job!”
As it continues, it segues into a lone male dancer singing,
“Who am I anyway? Am I my resume? That is a picture of a person I don't know. What does he want from me? What should I try to be? So many faces all around, and here we go. I need this job, oh God, I need this show.”
So, ask the question: Am I my resume? Take a fresh and critical look at every claim you make – the three-prong test against which your assertion should be judged is: 1) Is it truthful? 2) Is it current? (If it’s not, buyers of legal services may not care about it.) And, 3) Is it relevant? (If it’s not, buyers of legal services won’t care about it.)