What's Wrong With Your Resume?

Is your resume doomed to end up in the trash? Maybe, if it includes any pet peeves from headhunters. Here, six key resume mistakes to avoid and how to fix them.
By Anne Fisher  (Fortune.com  12-02-2002)

If you're looking for a job, you know it's tough out there--and you need every advantage you can get. "Your resume is the primary marketing tool that advertises who you are and what you can do," says Mike Worthington, head of ResumeDoctor, an online consulting service. "If you're sending out resumes and haven't gotten much response, the reason may be that your resume is an inadequate marketing tool."

And how do you know if your resume is lacking? Funny you should ask. In an effort to pinpoint what makes an effective resume--and what does not--ResumeDoctor asked more than 2,500 recruiters in North America to describe what is wrong with most of the resumes that cross their desks. Unfortunately, in this job market, as one survey respondent told the researchers, headhunters are "looking for a reason to exclude resumes, not a reason to include them." Yikes.

A short list of recruiters' top complaints follows with suggestions on how to avoid making the same mistakes. Full details of the poll results are available at the ResumeDoctor.com.  

1. Poor formatting. "If a resume is not formatted properly, it is immediately thrown in File 13 (in other words, the trash can)," says Mark King, a recruiter at MRI Atlanta. "When a resume is over-formatted with multiple type fonts, heavy graphic trickery, 'ghost' backgrounds, and so on, it raises hell with the input process," adds Bob Lee at Management Recruiters in Jacksonville . "If we receive a good candidate with a poorly formatted resume, we fire off an e-mail asking for a simple Word document in (.doc) or (.rtf) format."

Suggestion: Why not do yourself a favor and send it that way in the first place? Two tips: 1) In Word, don't use headers and footers to list your contact information. Headers and footers often get lost in conversion--and you do want to be contacted, right? 2) To see exactly what your resume will look like as a text file, paste it into Notepad. You can make any necessary adjustments there before sending it on its way.

2. An introduction or statement of objectives that is too general. "A general objective is a good way to have your resume tossed out immediately," says Gayla Moore of Taylor Recruiting in Austin , Texas . "Candidates often state that they want to be with a great company that values its employees. Well, guess what. Everybody wants that!"

Suggestion: Instead, she says, "use this top piece of real estate to really sell yourself by creating a headline. Don't be shy. Come up with one powerful sentence or phrase to 'grab' your reader. Tell them who you are and what you do." This headline can, and probably should, be customized to match the job description and "hot buttons" of each recruiter or employer.

3. Burying, or not including, important information. Many recruiters say that candidates often leave off critical skills and qualifications--for instance, holding a security clearance or being bilingual in Spanish--or bury them so far down in the resume that the recruiter won't see them.

Suggestion: "Job seekers must be aware that recruiters receive hundreds of resumes a day and spend only about ten seconds skimming each one. No recruiter has time to play Sherlock Holmes or guessing games to figure out a candidate's background," says Mike Worthington. "This is why it's imperative that, if you have the qualifications for a particular job, you grab the recruiter's attention with that right away. Don't make him or her hunt for it, or the chances that you'll get called are not good."

4. Resumes that are too long. "If a candidate can't communicate the information in two pages or less, there's a problem," says James Cox, managing director at MES Search in Smyrna , Ga. "If you are from academia, do not list every publication or journal paper you have ever presented," adds Worthington . "My record as a recruiter was a 62-page resume from a former professor. It got a few laughs in the office and then went straight into the trash."

Suggestion: Your resume should showcase only your most recent accomplishments, going back five to eight years and certainly no more than ten. For employment before that, create a brief "Previous Employment" section that quickly lists titles, companies, and dates.

5. Applying for a job for which you aren't qualified. Be sure to read the job description carefully. If the requirements are "must have U.S. citizenship and ability to obtain top security clearance," don't submit your resume if you need H1B sponsorship. "When someone submits a resume for a job for which he or she is obviously not qualified, the person reading it resents the waste of time," notes Steve West of Management Recruiters of Atlanta West. "This resentment does not help to start a good relationship with that recruiter."

Suggestion: Says Jennifer Baker of Inter*Link Technology Solutions in Daytona Beach , Fla. : "Candidates who may not have direct experience in a particular area may still be a good match. However, such a candidate has to go the extra mile and explain in specific terms why she still believes her background makes her a good fit for the job." Don't expect the recruiter or employer to figure it out for themselves. They won't.

6. Personal information not relevant to the job. "Recruiters do not need to know about your age, height, weight, marital status, sexual orientation, religious or political affiliations, or hobbies," says Worthington . "They are trying to fill a job, not match you for a blind date."

Suggestion: There are exceptions. If for example you are applying for a position as a computer programmer at Burton Snowboards, and your hobby happens to be snowboarding, by all means mention it. "In a case like this your hobby offers value to the employer," Worthington says. "Your familiarity with the snowboarding lifestyle and industry could open the door to that all-important first interview." Cowabunga!