5 Resume Dos and Don’ts: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Keep in mind that most people in the hiring process, especially in Human Resources, review somewhere close to a googol of resumes in their career. Hyperbole perhaps, but hopefully you understand the extent of the sheer numbers you are up against when you apply for any position. Needless to say, if your resume does not pass the first review, you are highly unlikely to get that position.

Most HR staff, myself included, look at resumes and quickly put the bits of information contained therein into one of three categories:

  • Things that qualify you for the position
  • Things that tend to neither help nor detract from your candidacy
  • Things that disqualify you for the position or otherwise raise a red flag

Time and time again, the same types of mistakes occur. Since categorization seems to be a sub-theme of this blog, here is my list of the types of mistakes to avoid and the good, the bad and the ugly. Caveat — I’ve participated in many resume critique workshops at colleges helping students perfect a resume — one thing that I have noticed is that each college’s idea of a perfect resume differs. For example, one college insists that you have an “Objective” statement and one college insists that you DO NOT have an ‘Objective” statement.  This segues into #1:

1) Poor or vague objective statement – If you do put an objective statement, make it clear, specific and informative. This is not a place for buzzwords or overly broad statements.
  • The Good: Seeking a summer internship as a software developer in a company that continues to grow and evolve with the latest technologies.
  • The Bad: Looking for a job this summer. (Good luck with that)
  • The Ugly: Obtain entry level experience in a dynamic company that is applying successful business models to the application of new technology, and in doing so contribute to that effort by applying the skills I already have and identify additional areas to develop in my studies at [insert leading technology university here]. (Most of our employees use skills they don’t have, so you won’t fit in here.)
2) Misspelling and grammatical errors – whether it is a typo or a pure misspelling of a word, I really don’t care; the end effect is that it is wrong. Whenever possible, get multiple people to proofread your resume.
  • The Good: No errors in spelling, punctuation or grammar
  • The Bad: “….database for costumer information” (spell check is not always enough, unless of course the company you worked for was a costume shop)
  • The Ugly: “Detail-orieinted” (a clear demonstration of that skill)
3) Visually unappealing or too long – Opinions vary over the length of the resume but clearly anything over 2 pages is verbose and you should never use bright colors or heavy stock
  • The Good: 1-2 pages, 10-12 point font, white paper
  • The Bad: 5 page resume (Resumes are not novellas which require character development, foreshadowing and underlying social themes)
  • The Ugly: Red, cardboard stock resume (We do not put resumes into a bin, spin and then pick a winner)
4) Incorrect contact information
  • The Good: Name, physical address, email address and mobile phone.
  • The Bad: Email address is jonthansmith@gmail.com (This was at the end of a 4 hour career fair and I noticed that his name was Jonathan Smith but the email address missed the first “a” in his name. When I asked him if the email address was correct, he said “Oh no, it is not and I’ve already handed this out to a bunch of employers.” I told Jonathan that he should start planning a vacation for the summer)
  • The Ugly: Email address is davethestud@gmail.com. (How he confused SoftArtisans with Chippendales I’ll never know)
5) Writing in the first person or poor description of experience. There is no need to use “I” in a resume; it is assumed that you did what was on the resume. Also, the description should add to the job title, school project or other experience being described.
  • The Good: “Maintained and updated several HSQL databases”
  • The Bad: I worked at Lincoln Lab as an intern. (Thanks for the clarification. I wasn’t sure about what this Heading on your resume meant – “Lincoln Lab – Intern” I’ll be sure to end our rejection email with – “This is a rejection letter.”)
  • The Ugly: Worked on other projects as time allowed. ( I really don’t need to know that you found time to post on Facebook when no one was looking. Tweeting – “can’t wait to finish this day” during work hours is not really a project. OK, OK, probably not what the candidate meant by that but eliminate any doubt and describe it or lose it.)

With all that being said, there is no mathematical formula used to qualify a candidate (i.e. 2 good things 1 bad so it passes). A mistake may be overlooked if there is something else compelling about your resume. Case in point:

We were looking for someone to help out our marketing team and felt we could use a jump-start in creativity, originality and spirit. In reviewing a particular resume, I almost put the resume down because it was laden with first person references — “ I worked on the Word of the Month”, “I researched and built articles” — but just then I noticed something that I hadn’t seen in a resume before —

Flying Squirrel College, University of the Amazon
  • B.A in Individualized Study (yes, that’s how we roll!)

This struck me as very creative, original and full of spirit. How could I not overlook the first person reference and explore further? Fortunately, we pursued this and we’re happy to say that this person is now a very contributing member of our team.

Motto: Make your resume stand out in some positive way for the type of position you seek. If that resume was for a position that didn’t emphasize creativity as much, perhaps it would have been overlooked.

Further reading

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that automation and the digitized search of resumes have added another layer of complexity.
For further information on that topic, please see http://www.buzzle.com/articles/resume-keywords-the-growing-importance-of-a-keyword-resume.html

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