As an executive recruiter, most of the candidates we present to our clients are not even looking for a new position when we first approach them. We develop a profile based on the client’s requirements and then go out and find the right people for the job—whether they’re looking for a new position or not.
Consequently, many of our candidates do not have updated resumes available and often have to scramble to pull something together in short order. Because of the quick turn around time, we see lots of suboptimal resumes thrown together by very busy people. One of the benefits of working with a recruiter is that we catch all the mistakes, from the smallest to the most cringe-worthy.
What if you’re not working with a recruiter, though? I get lots of unsolicited resumes as well and they frequently include the same kinds of gaffes that my rushed candidates produce. Send a resume like that to a human resources manager or hiring authority and it may end up straight in the circular file.
Here’s a collection of some of the most common and easily-correctable mistakes that we encounter every day.
1. What’s in a file name?
I encourage people to create customized resumes for each position to which they apply. Depending on their background and experience, some job seekers have several different versions of their resume sitting on their computers ready to go. Normally they have them coded by some system that they understand, but that will seem confusing to anybody else.
If your name is Roberta Smythe but you regularly go by the nickname Bobbi, every resume you send to a prospective employer should be entitled something like “Bobbi Smythe Resume.” A resume called “R_Smythe_Project_Mgr_Resume_V12a_ 07242017.doc” may help you identify it on your computer, but will only get lost in the shuffle in a busy HR Department. Keep your file name simple and easily identifiable as you.
2. A rose by any other name
If a prospective employer is interested in your resume, their next step may be to check out your profile on LinkedIn. For Roberta Smythe, this means that if the name on the top of her resume is anything but the name of her LinkedIn profile, she may not be found. Bobbi Smythe may not be a match, or there may be so many matches that she’s difficult to find.
If Bobbi is now going by her married name, Bobbi Smythe-Jones (or worse, Bobbi Jones) but her LinkedIn profile still shows her as Roberta Smythe, a hiring manager really can’t be faulted for not finding her—and if they can’t find her they may take a pass.
3. Email addresses from hell
For employment purposes, you should always use a professional sounding email address. Something like email@example.com. If your name is taken, you can insert an initial or add a number suffix at the end. Nobody will ever object to sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yet I still get professional resumes that have email addresses on them that look like they’re either from a dating profile or a college sophomore pulling a prank. Employers will take pause about hiring somebody with an email address like email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Or seriously, maybe any address from AOL. At any rate, today free email addresses are available from a variety of sources. Don’t let yours make you look foolish.
4. We have contact
If your resume is a hit, somebody will want to get in touch with you. All resumes should include a physical address, an email address, and a telephone number where you can actually be reached. While it is highly unlikely that any prospective employer will contact you by snail mail, the physical address is important because employers will want to make an assessment of whether a relocation may be necessary, or if the commute is too onerous. If you’re planning a move you should mention that in a cover letter.
It is also important that whatever email you use is one that you check regularly. Likewise, you should include only one telephone number and it should be one that you answer (or at the very least, check its voicemail messages). Again, if you have resumes out in the world you should check your messages frequently. Once a hiring manager decides to talk to you, recognize that he will be talking to others as well. Make him wait at your own peril. Also, never commit the cardinal sin of letting your voicemail box get so full that new messages can’t be accepted. While this may be taken as a sign of busyness, it is more likely to be regarded as a sign that you’re too overwhelmed to handle things effectively.
5. A picture is worth zero words
American resumes should not include photographs. Period. While this may be common in some European countries, it just isn’t done here. It detracts from your overall presentation and takes up valuable space that can be better used to include other information. Please note, this isn’t true of your LinkedIn profile, which definitely should include a photograph.
6. Keep it pithy
Back in the days when resumes had to be typeset and professionally printed, one page was the common standard for length. As costs have decreased, we’ve gotten somewhat lazy in our editing practices and some resumes seem to go on and on for days.
Here’s a dirty little secret, though. Most recruiters and HR professionals have become adept at scanning resumes for the information they want in a matter of seconds. Nobody reads a resume line for line. We scan for what we need and read only the sections that are of interest to us. Keep this in mind when formatting your resume, and make sure the most important information is still on page one.
Generally speaking, professionals with less than 10 years of working experience should still limit themselves to one page. If you have 10 years or more, two pages should be your max. Anything beyond that probably happened too long ago to be meaningful to an employer, and it’s unlikely to be read anyway. And break up those long blocks of text. Again, we’re scanning first, then reading. Bullet points almost always make more of an impact.
7. The old college try
A day doesn’t go by that I don’t get a resume from a seasoned professional who has listed his educational experience first. This normally happens because when someone graduates from college that’s his most important accomplishment to date, so it makes sense to list that first, ahead of whatever work experience he may have at the time. As he gains more experience, he simply adds it to the work experience section of the resume and the education section remains at the top years, even decades, later.
While recent college grads should list education first on a resume, anybody with post-college work experience should list that first, and education last. The only exception is for those who go back to school for an MBA or other graduate degree that will meaningfully change the course of their career. In that case, education moves back to the top but should be relegated to the end again after that first post-graduate position is obtained.
8. Back to basics
The last quick fix is one that you wouldn’t think should need to be mentioned, but evidence proves otherwise. Make sure your resume is checked and double-checked for spelling, grammar, and syntax errors. Sometimes it helps to have somebody else do this for you. If you missed an error when you wrote it, and then again when you checked it, you’re likely to miss it again on your double-check. I can assure you, though, that your hiring manager won’t miss it and will see these errors as sloppy.
This is especially common with homonyms (its/it’s; there/they’re/their; your/you’re). As a recruiter, I’m regularly treated to another common error: Unless you work in a bakery, you don’t want to expound on the number of “rolls” you fill at your company.
Even a great resume can be undermined by a tiny mistake. Avoiding the errors listed here won’t guarantee you’ll get the job, but accidentally falling prey to these traps will land you with nothing.