Career Advice

Five Common Reasons Resumes Get Discarded

Who can forget Elle Woods, cheerfully handing her resume to her law professor’s assistant. “It’s pink,” he says. “And scented. I think it gives it a little something extra,” she bubbles in reply.

But wait – maybe not so much.

In the annals of resume mistakes, ‘cute’ is near the top of the list. Let’s look beyond cute at five more common reasons resumes are discarded – often before they’ve even been read.

Spelling, grammar, punctuation

Tales of resumes with spelling errors are legion among hiring managers – from the pathetically funny ‘Pubic Relations Expert’ to the sadly amusing ‘Manger’ where Manager was intended. Spell check is adequate but not sufficient – use a real dictionary if you’re unsure how something is spelled, have a friend read the resume  to you back to front to proofread for errors, have a parent read it, or, best option, retain a professional resume writer or coach for final review, edit and proof. Your resume is your proxy with prospective employers. Make sure to present your best face.

Objective statements

Once a resume standby, have fallen out of use. Stating your objectives on a resume is a triple-fail – it focuses the resume on what you want, rather than how your skills match the job description; it steals precious space for information that should be in the cover letter; and, except in cases where your job record may not match the requirements of the post you’re applying for, it doesn’t tell the recruiter anything they don’t already know. It may be ok to use an objective statement when you’re trying to position your experience in one field as applicable to a new opportunity in a different field, but even that’s a stretch.  Avoid the objective statement to avoid the wastebasket.

Overly formatted

Cursive fonts, multiple fonts, elaborate paragraphing, excessive use of bullets, gratuitous boxes and margin rules, graphics and images – especially photographs – stop many recruiters before they’ve read word one. Communicate clearly why you’re the right candidate by including useful information about your skills and experience, and using formatting sparingly. Formatting your resume in such a way that it’s hard to read – or cute – is a mistake.

Too much information

Too much personal information is cringe-worthy on a resume. Recruiters don’t care if you have a cat, are a tri-athlete, love to read or knit, sail or race motorcycles. They aren’t looking for a well-rounded, healthy individual; they’re looking for the best fit for the job’s requirements.  A resume has one function: to present your credentials for a specific job. Be complete with relevant information – list all jobs, provide a short description of your former employers’ businesses, cite dates and titles, list skills, describe what you did to make the company successful. Leave no holes in the timeline. Save discussion of your pet’s many virtues for some time after you’ve landed the job – hopefully after you’ve learned your manager’s position on cats. (Note-I do think personality, culture fit is very important and you should showcase – this is for a later blog post)

No cover letter

Cover letters are the bonus round. It’s where you get to add context to your resume. Simply posting a resume looks suspect – recruiters immediately assume you’ve been posting to every job board or company you come across. A cover letter adds a personal touch and gives you a forum to set forth exactly why your skills and experience qualify you for consideration. Note to self: no pink scented paper and no cursive font. Skip a thoughtful cover letter and your resume may wind up in the round file.

Of course there’s a lot more to the perfect resume. Avoid using the personal pronoun ‘I’ – this is not about you, it’s about how your skills and past experience make you the best candidate for the job. Don’t be familiar. Recruiters and hiring managers are not always your friends – they are the gatekeepers for companies and probably see hundreds of resumes a day. Make sure times and dates add up. If you were unemployed, note that, and say what you did while looking. If you’ve been looking for a long time, consult with a career coach on how best to work around the hole in the timeline. And remember: if something makes you smile or chuckle in your resume, delete it.

Unless you’re applying for a job as a comedian, of course. Smiles.