Boss in Boxing Gloves

10 deadly resume sins

Elizabeth Bromstein|

Wondering why you never hear back after sending your resume to a potential employer? Maybe it’s not even getting read.

Employers and HR people are busy and important and they need to get through resumes as efficiently as possible. In many cases, there are hundreds of applicants for a given job, so, this often means immediately ditching those that look like a lost cause. I asked a few HR people what makes them immediately chuck a resume. Some have different pet peeves, but here’s what they said:

Spelling errors and typos: Almost every recruiter I’ve ever spoken to lists this one first, including Debra Sharpe at staffing agency Creative Niche (CreativeNiche.ca). “If there are spelling mistakes on a resume, the attention to detail is not there,” she says, “and they’re more than likely to make mistakes in their job as well.” Kim Price Lloyd, Human Resources manager at PriceMetrix adds, “When I have 75 applicants for an Executive Assistant position, you can be sure that the ones with the typos go straight into the ‘reject’ pile.”

A confusing or unattractive layout: Even in jobs where you don’t think visuals matter. They do. Sharpe says, “You’ve got 30 seconds to impress somebody. And if you turn somebody off in those 30 seconds, they’re not even going to try to figure you out. They’re too busy. My time is important and I want to get to who they are. What do they bring to the table? What are they going to offer my client?”

Putting years and no months: Stefanie Tomei, the employee acquisitions expert at Workopolis (who tells me she looked at over 19,000 resumes last year) points out that this is a big red flag, “Because if somebody puts down, ‘I worked at so and so company from 2008 to 2009, they could have only worked there for 2 months.” It looks like a crafty way of covering your ass, in other words.

Writing about yourself in the third person: John is a dynamic sales rep who increased revenues 10% over six months. This is a particular beef of Tomei’s. “That’s just weird. I don’t want to read that.”

Assuming the hiring manager is male: Tomei says she still gets cover letters that say “Attention Mister hiring manager.” This is surprising but true. She cautions, “Don’t limit yourself to female or male. If you write, ‘Mr. Hiring Manager.’ I’m not going to call you. That’s an immediate I’m not calling you.”

Not enough job description: Tomei says, “One line descriptions for each job. That’s bad. You’re not giving me any detail. You’re not giving me what you’ve done. So basically I don’t know what you’ve done. I don’t know if you’re qualified.”

Too much job description: On the other hand, if Tomei is put off by too little information, Price Lloyd is put off by too much. “Give me enough information to make me want to TALK to you, but I don’t need a blow by blow of every single accomplishment or responsibility for the last 10 years.” She says. Also, she doesn’t want an endless list of accomplishments. “Accomplishments are interesting, but I really want to know how recent the accomplishments are. Show me what you’ve done in chronological order.”

A stupid email address/hiding your contact information: Price Lloyd says, “Formatting can be a candidate’s best friend or worst enemy. Don’t hide your contact information. Candidates that put it at the bottom of the page for aesthetics take the chance of frustrating recruiters/hr people/hiring managers when we can’t find your phone number. Also, partygirl2011@gmail.com or masterofpimps@gmail.com are not great emails to have on your resume. Same goes for the really cutesy email addresses. Email is free. Get a boring email address for your resume.”

And here are a couple from me:

Not following instructions: I was once hiring for a writing position, for which I received about 400 applications. My instructions were simple: attach or link to three writing samples. I can’t count how many people wrote some variation of “I didn’t attach the samples you asked for because I felt that my personality/resume/cover letter should speak for itself…” Yes, it spoke and told me you’re an idiot who can’t follow simple directions.

Sending your application after the cutoff date: Send your resume in a timely fashion. By the time the cutoff date rolls around, the recruiter is sick and tired of reading applications for that particular position and has already narrowed down the pool. If you’re late, explain why and apologize. That being said, I’m a fan of applying for positions and sending letters of interest when jobs are not being advertised. When someone isn’t going through 200 applications, yours could more easily grab someone’s attention.

Finally, a tip from Price Lloyd on something to do, rather than to not do:

“If a candidate really wants to stand out – they ought to show me that they WANT to work here. There are lots of people looking for jobs, but very few seem to be excited about a specific opportunity. I’m less interested in people who are merely looking to punch a clock; I’d rather have those that are interested in committing to their work, their career and their organization. Many candidates miss the opportunity to leverage the cover letter to show off their softer skills and really demonstrate why they are a great candidate.”


Category: Human Resources,