A/B Test Your Career Outcomes & MBA ROI

Believe me, sometimes I wake up from a dead sleep – just as an angry mob of HR people, pitchforks at the ready, closes in on me. They’re not happy and I know why. My name is Leah Derus and I’m a resume backdater.

In fact I think I invented the art of the backdate. It’s a conclusion I came to after introducing the the technique to a number of (pleasantly surprised) clients and having scoured Google (in vein) for any mention of it.

Leah Derus - Resume Backdater

Resume backdating is just what it sounds like: circulating your resume with modified information and dates to answer burning questions like ‘Should I go back to school?’ or ‘Should I take this job?‘. Resume backdating provides you with empirical evidence of future outcomes rather than endless conjecture.

In my work as a career coach, resume writer and MBA admissions consultant at fxMBAConsulting I’m constantly mentoring people who, by definition, are at a crossroads in their professional (and often their personal) lives. Before making the decision to get a new job or head back to grad school people try to gain clarity around what their future will look like. ‘Can I really switch career paths at my age? Am I a competitive candidate at HBS?‘ But Clarity isn’t always clear. It’s a product of statistics (when available) and anecdotal evidence (from others who’ve walked a particular path). But wouldn’t it be so much more reassuring if instead of just gaining clarity about your future you were able to gain near absolute certainty?

You’d want to know for sure that you’ll be able to transition to a new industry given your career trajectory to date.

You’d want to know for sure whether an MBA from Duke had the same brand value and could produce the same career results for you as an MBA from Stanford.

You’d want to know for sure that a part-time or executive MBA was actually going to have a positive ROI.

You’d want to know for sure, and you can.

Enter Resume Backdating.

The idea for resume backdating came from my work in online marketing and branding. Before a marketing team launches a new website or goes live with a new ad campaign, they do A/B testing. It’s to ensure that they allocate their time and money to the ad or brand variation that will be most effective. You can do this too – with your resume. This graphic gives you a sense of what traditional A/B testing looks like and how resume backdating parallels it.

ab testing & resume backdating

Preliminary Phase

Decide on what you’d like to test. Let’s say I have a client named Tom. Tom is tired of working in Pharma and would like to switch to a Tech company but to do that Tom thinks he needs the MBA. Tom wants to be sure…should he put work on hold for two years while pursuing a full-time MBA or should he forego the MBA and look for a new job now?  Tom hasn’t interviewed for a couple years and is curious to find out how marketable he is right now. What sorts of jobs could he get if he put his best foot forward with an amazing resume and polished interviewing skills? Additionally, Tom feels pretty strongly that he’d be able to land a Senior Project Manager role at Merck because he has several contacts within the organization. Tom wonders if getting that job at Merck now wouldn’t open up just as many career opportunities for him in three years time as an MBA would.

Step 1: Write an amazing resume (here are some before & after examples of amazing resumes)

In order to measure Tom’s full, future potential he needs to begin with an amazing resume. If Tom were to run this experiment with a half-baked resume, he would get half-baked results. Tom has a lot riding on his resume backdating experiment – he needs accurate results to make the right investment of his time and money. Tom opts for help.

Here’s what Penelope Trunk writes about working with a professional resume writer:

It’s very hard to write your own resume because a resume is a macro view of your life, but you live your life at the micro level, obsessing about daily details that have no bearing on your resume. So I recommend to a lot of people that they hire someone to help them. After all, spending money on a resume writer is one of the few expenditures that will have good return right away.

But some of you will be able to do a decent job rewriting your resume on your own. The first thing you’ll have to do is make some mental shifts. You need to rethink the goals of a resume, and rethink the rules of a resume in order to approach the project like the best of the resume professionals.
Penelope Trunk

Now you might be wondering if this is all some elaborate sales pitch because I help people write resumes so of course I say you need this amazing resume. I promise it’s not. I’m one person and capable of coaching an infinitesimally small number of clients (compared to the number of people reading this). I say you need an amazing resume because I’ve witnessed time and time again how good ones make careers and shitty ones break them.

Step 2: Create Resume Variations

Now back to Tom. We’re going to use Tom’s real resume to create three additional resumes that we’ll use to run our experiment (i.e. using the resumes to apply for jobs and seeing what sort of reaction they generate). Let’s set up our resume variations:

  • V1: Present scenario, no backdating. We’ll be distributing Tom’s current resume but replacing Tom’s real name and contact info with an alias. In this scenario Tom looks for another job now – both in Pharma and in Tech. We’re trying to get a baseline reading and ascertain how marketable Tom is at present.
  • V2: Future scenario, backdating. We modify resume V1 to create a scenario in which Tom was accepted to MIT Sloan’s 2-year MBA program two years ago and is now back in the job market. We’re trying to determine what sort of impact a 2-year MBA will have on Tom’s job prospects.
  • V3: Future scenario, backdating. We modify resume V1 to create a scenario in which Tom takes the Senior Project Manager role at Merck. He works at Merck for two years and is now back in the job market. We’re trying to determine what sort of impact a senior project manager role at a well known firm will have on Tom’s job prospects.

Note: In this example we’ve only modified Tom’s name, email and phone number. To ensure additional anonymity, you may want to modify your current and past employers or schools. If you do that, make sure you look for equivalent firms and schools. For example if you attended a state university…don’t skew your results by replacing it with Yale or Harvard. Whatever changes you make, implement them consistently across all resume variations.

Alias: Choose a new name. Create a new gmail account. Get a new phone number. I like Skype In numbers because they’re available in many countries. You can get a three-month subscription for $20 in the U.S. Another option is to get a pre-paid SIM card. Whatever you do, don’t forget to setup your voicemail and check it periodically.

LinkedIn: Don’t create a new LinkedIn account – how could you? You’re going to have three (or more) resumes circulating. A small percentage of people don’t have a LinkedIn account. The recruiter will assume you are one of these people.

I shouldn’t have to say this, but I will just in case: The following resumes are not amazing ones- they’re simplified examples meant to illustrate this article.

Tom’s Real Resume

Tom won’t be circulating this version to recruiters
Resume V0

Resume Variation V1

Tom’s current resume – using an aliasResume V1

Resume Variation V2

Tom takes two years off work to earn a MBAResume V2

Resume Variation V3

Tom gets a job at Merck and works there for two yearsResume V3

Step 3: Interview & Mine HR Representatives for information

When you land a phone interview you’ll want to know which resume the recruiter has in front of her. So create a log in excel with your three resumes (V1, V2 and V3), the roles you applied to, and the resume variation (V1, V2 or V3) you sent to each job posting.

Sometimes people wonder if they should talk with recruiters at all. You definitely should. In fact, you should forge through as much of the recruiting process as possible. For most people that will mean stopping short of meeting in person.  If you’re lucky you’ll be able to take a string of phone interviews from HR, the line manager and possibly peer team members.

Another reason to interview is that just receiving attention from recruiters is uplifting. A lot of the people who reach out to me are unhappy in their current role or company. Being unhappy (no matter how much or how little) is depressing and when you’re depressed your ability to envision the future gets cloudy. By interviewing you get to taste that future and it becomes both real and realizable.

Now you and I both know that you aren’t going to accept a job offer from any of these companies at the moment. You’re just window shopping. That’s good for you because the pressure is off, but obviously it’s a big waste of time for the recruiter. Luckily the recruiter doesn’t know this. You understand why why they wouldn’t be too happy with me sharing the idea of resume backdating with the whole blessed world – but honestly – who cares. If it helps you feel better – recruiters constantly waste other people’s time. They regularly bring people in to interview to a) make themselves or their department look busy and b) keep an ongoing ‘pipeline’ of candidates. ‘Pipeline’ job postings are basically roles that aren’t even open now (and most people who are looking for a job are looking for one now). If the recruiter likes you they’ll keep your resume in the ‘pipeline’ for three months and then toss it. 95% of the time a pipeline interview won’t result in an actual job.

To see what I mean you can check out Vantage Partner’s Career Page. As I write, they have listings for Analyst, Consultant and Senior Consultant – these are all pipeline postings. They also have an opening for a Director of Talent Management – that’s a real role that they’re actually going to hire someone for in the next 1-3 months. To differenciate between a pipeline role and real job posting pay close attention to the posting’s language.

  • Pipeline jobs talk about the role in general terms. They’re not looking for ‘An Analyst’ (singular) but ‘Analyst candidates’ (plural) Vantage is seeking Analyst candidates with exceptional communication and organizational skills, strong business knowledge, a desire to problem solve and support projects internally and for clients.
  • Real job postings refer to a singular individual that the company is in need of. ‘to hire a Director of Talent Management who’ (singular) Vantage Partners is seeking to hire a Director of Talent Management who will serve as a trusted advisor and subject matter expert on all management and professional development efforts for our consultant staff.

The interview is your opportunity to mine the recruiter for any information that will give you an advantage down the line when you’re recruiting for a similar role using your real resume and name. In particular, find out about the salary range on offer as well as company culture. If you’re on the fence about getting a MBA, Part-time MBA, EMBA, CFA or PMP ask the recruiter what the organization’s stance is on qualifications such as these versus promoting internally based on employee performance. If the recruiter says they prefer promoting internally, ask them for the name of one or two employees who’ve been promoted internally in a similar manner (this is critical). It’s easy for the recruiter to hand you whatever line is convenient for them. If they’re being truthful, they’ll be able to supply you with hard evidence on the spot.

Most people don’t get enough practice interviewing and interviewing is a skill you develop, a muscle you build through repetition. Some people have virtually no interviewing skills at all because they’ve been promoted internally for a number of years. Get help perfecting your interviewing skills. You have options: a friend, a colleague, people from your university’s career office or a professional career coach. Use the interviews as a way to put the feedback you received during mock interviews into practice in the same way that an actor uses rehearsals to perfect his delivery.

This is your opportunity to experiment in an environment where a job isn’t really on the line. Be sure to close every interview with ‘I really love this role because ___. Could you share any reservations you have about my fit/about hiring me for this role?‘ That’s pretty ballsy right? Actually that’s something that should already be part of your interviewing repetoire but I’d wager that 99% of you have never tried it. That’s because it’s scary to say because the interviewer might actually have hard reservations that you can’t overcome (like needing a degree in statistics when you got yours in English literature). But you have nothing to lose. You need to risk hearing those reservations because it’s better to be aware of them than to be ignorant of them. If the interviewer has soft reservations (like having some experience in project management but not as much as the company is looking for) then you need to counter those reservations one by one with pertinent and convincing stories. The recruiter will be impressed. So impressed that they’re going to be really exciting about getting you a call with the line-manager.

Eventually you’ll have to cut ties. It’s easy enough. Just tell them you’ve accepted another offer or decided to remain at your current employer. Then disappear into the ether.

Step 4: Analyze Your Results

This step is pretty self-evident. In Tom’s case he wanted to find out if he should V1) Look for a new job now, V2) Quit working for two years and pursue a full-time MBA or V3) Take the Senior Project Manager role at Merck. All three of Tom’s resumes resulted in phone interviews and he got a good sense of which path could most easily lead him to a role in Tech.

Here are Tom’s results:

  • V1) His current resume produced good results. There were several mid-size tech start-ups that were very interested in him for Senior Analyst and Junior Project Manager roles. These roles are midway between his current role in healthcare and a post-MBA role in Tech. Tom asked the recruiters how their company would envisage his career path with or without an MBA (that’s important!). A few of them expressed that they prefer to promote people internally based on performance and didn’t place particular importance on the MBA. Tom realizes that he could forego an MBA by taking the Junior Project Manager role now and advancing to a post-MBA-level role in 2-4 years time. Once he’s in the post-MBA role in a mid-sized start-up he can jump to another, more well known company (like Amazon, Uber, Microsoft).
  • V2) Tom’s MBA resume was well received and he was interviewed for a number of post-MBA roles at places like Amazon and Uber. Tom felt that the MIT Sloan MBA certainly ‘opened doors’ for him – getting him in front of a number of recruiters from desirable companies. But he still had to work hard in interview to convince them that he was the right candidate. Tom learned an old lesson: a resume gets you an interview and how you perform in interview determines whether you get the job. Tom was happy with the outcome but the idea of foregoing two years of salary and shelling out $150k for the degree weighed on his mind.
  • V3) Tom’s Senior Project Manager role at Merck further entrenched his career trajectory in the healthcare industry. He did get some interest from Tech firms that valued his project management skills because he lead with a persuasive story that about his interest in Tech and how his work in PM would be directly applicable to a Senior PM role. Mostly though, recruiters followed up with him for roles in Biotech and Healthcare (which is an industry Tom wants to move out of).

Step 5: Make a Move

Tom leveraged his newly edited resume to go ahead and submit some MBA applications while looking for a new job. If the right role comes along before he get’s admitted to a MBA program he plans to drop the idea of doing an MBA, invest the $150k in an apartment and take the job.

Wrapping

That’s it folks. I really hope this article was something of a revelation for you. There’s more than one way to be on the career path you’re dreaming of – figuring out the best method requires time, skill and effort, but the insight you’ll derive is priceless. If you’d like to speak with me, feel free to reach out for a free one-hour consultation.

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