A while back, I posted “Don’t Shoot the Messenger” on points which might be turnoffs to readers your resume. As you might know, I interact with many employers and recruiters. In working with them, I have shared thousands of resumes for some response. In some cases, I forward a resume to be considered for a specific role; for others, I am sending the resume for general reaction to see if the person might be of immediate or future interest. Just recently, I had a chance to sit down with a recruiter who sources talent in the Sales sector. We went through a batch of resumes from job seekers with whom I am working currently. Some of her reactions were really reiterations of points which I presented in my previous post. But, others were a bit different. So, I am taking the opportunity to mention them here. It was really amazing how she was able to size the person up, right or wrong–but mostly right, from a 15 second scan of each resume. While these were the reactions of just one recruiter, I suspect that they are representative of others. It is no wonder that when someone tells me that “I have been sending out hundreds of resumes in the past several months, and I have not gotten many interviews”–that sending the resume which is in front of me does not initiate much interest.
Keep in mind that reviewers of your resume are looking at it through a specific lens. That might be for a specific job that they are hiring for, a job title, or within an industry sector. They make a quick decision of whether the resume is worthy submitting, saving for a future opportunity, or committing it to the circular file or digital black hole. While some recruiters will go the extra mile, most are too busy. And it is not their responsibility is not to give you the specific feedback on how to improve your resume.
The following are some “red flags” on a resume which can drop someone out of consideration before even getting started.
Education Entries: One of the resumes which I shared had varied institutions listed. The list was a combination of online education, what seemed to be part-time, and a track which ended 7 years ago that indicated “Incomplete”. The lesson learned here is that you should only put relevant degrees earned, or those which are in progress (with an anticipated completion date). If there is no degree in the past or in the future, but some coursework, then just state the institution and that very fact.
Are You Online?: Some job seekers make reference to a website which they have built, designed, maintain or otherwise operate. But, if there is no URL listed, that will give the recruiter some pause. If you were a webmaster, then a way of cross referencing what you built or the type of organization you worked for would be of positive value. If you have indicated that you are a blogger and have no name of the blog (with the URL) indicated, then that is a missing piece. If you have a LinkedIn profile (and in most cases you should), that web address should be listed for cross-reference at the top of your resume.
I was the Founder and Owner…: Another observation on one resume is that for many of the roles the person held, he was either the Owner or Founder. This indicated to the recruiter that the guy never really worked for anyone else. So, how could he be able to work in a job where he would have a boss, which calls for different working relationships?
I currently work at JPD Enterprises: If the name at the top of a resume is John Paul Doe and one of the jobs is “President of JPD Enterprises”, that’s a dead giveaway that the guy is self-employed. Similar to that is if the person uses a non-descript company name (without the initials) and indicates a job title of “Consultant”. As Jerry Seinfeld would say, “not that there’s anything wrong with that”. But, when such entries represent a significant portion of work experience, that will often be a concern.
Self-Employed: Similar to the above, a person might come out and identify as “self-employed”. When such entries represent a significant portion of one’s work history, that might be a red flag. The reason for that is that there is no formal oversight over tasks or the requisite accountability that one has when working for an organization. Therefore, any duties performed, accomplishments, or accolades have no corroboration. In addition, like it or not, recruiters will see self-employed that as a code word for “unemployed” with all of the stigmas attached to that. If you have to go that route, make sure to identify business and customer relationships with known corporate entities. Whatever is stated needs to be able to be validated, at least potentially, to be legit.
I’m not following: In some cases, there will be overlapping stints of employment, based on the dates. It is impossible for someone to have two or more full-time jobs. However, the assumption is that unless otherwise stipulated, the job listed is full-time. If a job is part time, it should be specified as such. One way of making the resume even clearer is if there is a separate section for “Other Employment and Activities”. There, part-time employment including relevant internships could be listed.
The Kitchen Sink: I am not saying that every resume has to be limited to one page. Your background may in fact require two or three pages to record. But, you should ask yourself the following. Is this information objectively relevant to my getting a job in this company or industry? The information could be a job previously held, a degree, or even a volunteer activity. The answer to that should not be based on hearsay such as your being head of a high school play has given you the leadership experience to be the COO of a billion-dollar company. In this respect, most recruiters will say that less is more.
The Obvious: One of the most glaring resume issues is short employment stints. While that was addressed in my first post, it is a pattern that recruiters and HR people will always notice. Some people feel that they need to fill every gap, even a couple of months with some job. As impressive as that job might look, if it was only held for a few months or a year or two, the recruiter will hone in on that. In a competitive job market, hiring managers are seeking people with “stable work histories”.
While it is possible to make some adjustments to your resume to obviate one or more of these concerns, it is not always possible to “turn back the clock” and change reality. Even if you try, perhaps creatively, many recruiters are savvy and will pick up such attempts to hide or divert. This might include switching to a functional resume. As such, job seekers just need to “move on”, keep searching, and identify other opportunities which are closer matches. Furthermore, job seekers need to seek out expert advice from people who have been there-done that to identify the necessary experience and training that will be beneficial in being positively seen through a resume.
Finally, here is a message to young people who are either entering the workforce or are early-career. As you “build your resume”, please keep in mind the above points. Ultimately your resume and how you convey what you have done over your work history will elicit various “hypotheses” about you. In this regard, it is a good idea to consult with a mentor who has been-there-there-done-that. You should do that early and often. Your mentor should be someone who has had success in your field of choice and can provide you with real-time information and sometimes a reality check. Relying on hearsay and assumptions from others, as well-intentioned as they might be, can very well be misleading.