my boss stole my resume and is applying for the same jobs as me

A reader writes:

I have been working as a contractor since late 2019, for what was to be a temp to perm position. After about a month, I realized I received the bait and switch regarding what I was hired to do as opposed to what I actually was tasked with doing. So I’ve been actively looking for work since January.

I was notified in early May that I was being let go in mid-June. Thankfully, I was extended until June 30. Last week I had a phone screen for a position I applied for — an awesome opportunity for a somewhat niche role in my field (which is the opposite from niche — every company has at least one of me, if not a whole department). I knocked the screening out of the park and they scheduled me for the next round within an hour of hanging up.

About an hour later, I received a follow-up email from the recruiter, asking me if I knew a Diana Trout from Empirical Publishing (I’ve changed names, obviously) because “her resume is almost word for word like yours, both in format and content.” She then proceeded to ask me if I helped her on her resume because in her entire career she has never seen two resumes that look almost IDENTICAL (she put it in all caps). With regard to format, it’s a very particular format that I got when I had a resume writer write it for me about five years ago. But the content? That is 100% mine.

I responded that Diana Trout was my manager at Empirical, and that she was notified of her own lay-off a few weeks following mine. It wouldn’t surprise me if we were applying for the same roles, as I am at least qualified for her role current role at Empirical, if not slightly overqualified. I told her while I didn’t know if she had access to my resume (as she wasn’t my hiring manager), if needed I could have my employment history 100% verified.

Afterwards I was so bothered I reached out to Diana’s manager, initially only asking her if Diana would, in fact, have access to my resume. She confirmed that Diana most likely was handed my resume when I was assigned to her a few weeks after my arrival. And it would’ve been in Word format. since that is how they received it from the agency. We discussed it, I passed along the recruiter’s information to Diana’s manager, and dropped it, at least as far as the company is concerned.

But I’m freaking out. Now my resume is out there but in someone else’s name as well as my own And on top of it, we are clearly applying for the same jobs, so recruiters will certainly notice and possibly penalize us both, and possibly blackball me on top of it, should I apply for future roles. This may sound dramatic, but I feel violated. I should be able to trust that my resume will only be reviewed by a company and their employees, not stolen. I know people pull some things from other’s resumes, but typically with their permission when you’re helping someone else.

Should I inform companies I have already had conversations with to let them know? Also, in submitting resumes going forward, should I put an asterisk or a note stating that I recently had my resume stolen? In speaking with Diana’s manager, she suggested that I change my format — the format that I paid to have designed and individualized. Clearly I won’t have the money to pay to have it rewritten, as long as I don’t have income.

How do I navigate this? Am I overreacting here?

As a final note, I was a little annoyed that Diana’s manager seemed to think this wasn’t a HUGE deal. I am in the business of handling these issues when they came to me (as a part of my job), so I know it very well could be that she is not divulging what she intends to do. But she didn’t seem that concerned that someone in her department stole what is essentially company property for personal gain. In fact, she told me that not only was there not much I could do about this particular situation, but that I can’t really avoid this in general.

Well, Diana sucks.

Copying someone’s resume formatting — eh. Those aren’t typically proprietary and it’s not going to raise serious questions if an employer happens to notice two people have the same format. There are lots of popular resume templates available for free on the internet; two candidates are using the same one isn’t a big deal and happens all the time.

But copying someone’s content? Word for word? That’s not okay. And assuming your content is customized for your own career and your own achievements, it’s also really weird. Maybe your career paths have been so similar that she can legitimately claim the same accomplishments, but in most cases stealing your content would mean she’s also lying about the specifics of the work she’s done. And either way, there’s something especially crappy about stealing from someone she managed.

As for what to do …

I would not start including a note on your resume saying that your resume was recently stolen. That’s going to read as strangely high-drama, especially without people knowing the details about the extent of the word heist. And most people reading your resume probably aren’t reading Diana’s too, so it would introduce a lot of strangeness that just doesn’t need to be there.

What I would do — and you’re not going to like this — is re-write your resume. You don’t need to start from scratch; just change enough so that the two documents won’t look like copies anymore. It’s going to be hard to let go of the words you initially chose (if you’re anything like me, you’re very attached to your words), but there’s usually more than one way to say any given line on a resume and you’ve got to choose the alternates.

You should also find a new template. Resume formatting and design truly doesn’t matter that much unless you’re a designer yourself (and I’m guessing you’re not, since you hired out the design last time) as long as it’s clean and easy to quickly skim. You sound really invested in yours, but I’m promising you that no hiring manager cares that much. Pick one of the thousands of free templates online (avoid the ones with graphics and other clutter), and that’s going to help too.

To be clear, this is unfair! You shouldn’t have to change your resume when it’s yours — you bought the design and you created the content — but the reality is, you can’t make Diana stop using it. If you’re concerned about how her theft will impact you, this is the easiest and most reliable way to ensure she can’t harm you.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t call her out, as well. You can! I wouldn’t rely on it changing her behavior since she’s already shown she lacks integrity, but you have the standing to speak to her about it, and it’s possible she’ll be shamed into doing the right thing. (You just won’t know for sure if she does, so you’ll have to change yours either way.) Feel free to email her and say something like, “A recruiter I’m working with alerted me that she received your resume and it’s an almost word-for-word copy of mine. She was questioning whether either of us had the experience we’d listed, since now both appear fake. I’m not sure how this happened, but it’s jeopardizing the jobs I’m applying for — and will also jeopardize yours, since employers can’t tell which one is the original. If you modeled your content on mine, can you please fix that so this doesn’t come up again?”

As for Diana’s manager’s reaction … you’re right that she wouldn’t necessarily tell you if she was planning to do something, but since Diana no longer works there, she probably figures she doesn’t have the standing to take any action. And she’s right that you can’t avoid people copying your wording, especially if you have similar language on your LinkedIn profile (which anyone can see and pull from). That doesn’t make it okay for people to do, of course, but that’s likely where she was coming from.

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