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So you’ve dotted every ‘I’, crossed every ‘t’, handed copies to friends and family to proofread, and otherwise done everything in your power to make sure your resume was 100% perfect. But it’s now been two weeks and three days (you’re counting them) since you uploaded your resume to apply for the job of your dreams, and the silence from the other end is deafening. What went wrong?
As a freelance resume expert, I look at hundreds of resumes every year, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, there is no such thing as the perfect resume. That much said, if you believe firmly that you are the perfect candidate for the job, there are dozens of things you can do to improve your chances of getting that all-important interview – and dozens more you can do to sabotage that chance.
In this article, we’ll be looking at what may have gone wrong in the resume you sent out. Here are the top 5 most likely reasons your resume ended up in the trash.
Reason 1: You Wrote Your Life Story
This is the most common issue I see with resumes belonging to people who have maybe been unemployed for a while. If you haven’t had any luck getting a job, you may find yourself getting more and more stressed out as the weeks and months roll by. In desperation, each time you send out your resume you add more and more detail, hoping that the more clear you make your abilities, past work history and current situation, the more chance you’ll have in getting a job.
If this describes you, stop right there and step away from the keyboard. We’re all busy people these days, and if there’s one thing recruiters loathe (and I have heard this from a lot of them), it’s having to wade through a ton of unnecessary verbiage to try to find out your actual skills and qualifications.
How to Fix Things: Take a piece of paper and cover all but the first line of your resume. Read that line by itself. Ask yourself: “if I removed this line completely from my resume, would my application still make sense?” If the answer is no, look at the line again and try to shorten it as much as possible. If you can kill half a line from every sentence of a four page resume, your resume will magically shorten by a page, making it quicker and easier to read.
Go through your whole resume like this and try to cull as many whole sentences and words as possible. Be ruthless. Follow the old editor’s rule: “if in doubt, cut it out.”
Reason 2: Lack of Structure/ Confusing Layout
A good book or movie has a very definite beginning, a middle and an end. Audiences expect it, and even want it, because they have grown up with this structure and it feels comforting and familiar to them. If you try to make a movie with a non-traditional structure, for example the movie Momento, which started at the end of the plot and worked back to the beginning, you can expect a lot of people to be confused.
The structure of your resume is very important for a similar reason. When the hiring manager sits down to read your resume, they’re going to expect certain information to be in certain places. The structure ensures that they can quickly and easily find the information they need. If you’ve buried away your phone number in a dense long paragraph in the middle, or if you use your Summary section to list all your hobbies in alphabetical order, the recruiter will be jarred out of their routine and will become annoyed that they have to hunt for the info they are seeking.
How to Fix this: Unless you’re a famous film director (or applying to be one), it’s best not to mess with the traditional resume structure. This goes as follows:
TOP OF RESUME:
- Your name, address, phone number, and any digital contact details such as email or LinkedIn.
- Your current or desired job title (if you’re unsure what to put here because you’re hoping to move up to the next job level and don’t want to put your current lowly job title, ‘Specialist’ is a good word to use and works in most instances. For example: ‘Accounting Specialist’ or ‘Engineering Specialist.’)
- Short summary selling yourself in one or two sentences.
MIDDLE OF RESUME:
- Your employment history. Start with your most recent job and work backwards. Try not to include too much detail for each job unless you have a very short employment history. Always include the dates you worked there. Do not include jobs and dates older than 15-20 years unless you worked for ‘big name’ companies that will impress the recruiter, such as IBM or Apple.
END OF RESUME:
- List of job-related skills.
- SHORT section on your hobbies.
- Any personal references you wish to include (NOTE: It’s not essential to add these unless the job posting asks for them).
Reason 3: Your Resume Looks ‘Cut and Pasted’
So you used Times new Roman font on the first page and pasted in bits in Arial font. You may not even notice this on your 14” laptop, but it will be obvious to the recruiter when he views your resume on his 30” monitor. Or perhaps you combined your old resume with a new version you wrote, but you forgot to read it through properly and it goes from past tense at the start to present tense at the end. How embarrassing!
Or perhaps you committed the worst resume sin of all: you copied a piece of another job application to add to your resume, but you forgot to remove the job title, the company name, or even (we’ve seen it happen before) the previous hiring manager’s name. Ouch!
How to Fix This: Three words – print and read. Why print? Because when you’re created your resume on a small computer screen, your eye may not pick up inconsistencies like a change in font or a slight text color. For instance, dark blue can look like black on some lower resolution monitors, but appear much lighter when printed, showing the recruiter exactly which bits of your resume you’ve stolen from Google.
There is also an editorial phenomenon called word blindness when, if you’re read the same piece of text over and over, your mind consolidates this passage as a single block and in future will skim over it or not see what is really there, in order to save time. Your brain thinks it now ‘knows’ this sentence or paragraph, and even if a typo creeps in at some point (cat sitting on the keyboard, anyone?), you can literally read the passage and the change will be invisible to you as your brain switches to autopilot after it reads the first couple of words.
Printing out your resume makes even parts you’ve read a hundred times look ‘new’ to your brain. You’ll be surprised at what you pick up on, reading your printed resume anew.
Reason 4: You Included Inappropriate Information
By inappropriate, we mean simply this: information which is not relevant to the job you are applying to. In the olden days, it was accepted practice to type up a complete list of all the jobs you had since high school, print off a stack, and mail one out to every local company with a job opening. These days, it is best practice to carefully tailor each resume to the exact job you are applying for, and delete or otherwise omit skills and jobs not 100% relevant to the new job you are applying for.
For example, you may be very proud of the fact that you had a side job as a landscape gardener while working as an electrical engineer at IBM. Your potential new boss will likely have zero interest, because they are looking to hire an engineer, not a landscaper. Reading about your landscaping side-job wastes their time and tells them that you don’t know how to pick and choose what information you present to your potential boss. The landscaping job should be listed in your ‘Hobbies’ section, if at all.
How to Fix This: If you are applying to lots of very similar jobs, you may be able to get away with sending the same resume to multiple companies. But to stand the best chance of success, carefully editing your resume each time is the best way to ensure success.
Reason 5: Your Resume is a Snooze
I have included this one because of one very important detail many job applicants don’t even consider: the hiring manager at your dream company is a human being too! Think about this: most hiring managers, recruiters and HR professionals spend hundreds or even thousands of hours every year reading these same exact words, over and over again:
“I am a dedicated and reliable team player, willing to learn new skills, very detail oriented and well organized. I work well either individually or as part of a team, and will be a great asset to your company.”
Snore. Multiply those thousand annual hours by a five or ten year career and you’ll see why the job turnover at most recruiting firms is so high. Wake that recruiter up with a resume which is just a little bit different from ever other resume they’ve read so far today, and it might just get you the interview, if not the job.
How to Fix This: Think ‘flair,’ not ‘house fire’. Show your recruiter that not only are you smart enough to follow the rules of making your resume easy on him or her to read, but you know when it is appropriate to break that convention, for the sole purpose of saying, “I am a real human being and I know you are too.”
How you do this will depend on your strengths, both as a writer and as a person. For example, some people are good at adding a subtle touch of humor to warm up an otherwise deathly cold corporate resume. A small witticism added to the end of your resume may make the recruiter put down your resume with a smile and pick up the phone to call you.One example that sticks in my mind was from a young college student applying for a job as a Personal Assistant at a large company – in her skills section, she wrote "Skilled at handling incoming calls, fielding press inquiries, cutting office birthday cake precisely so nobody gets the small bit, and professionally dealing with calls from the CEO’s mother.”
If you don’t feel at home being funny, the flair on your resume can come from an oddball, admirable or unusual skill or experience that you can add to your ‘Skills and Interests’ or ‘Hobbies’ section. Can you think of one thing you’ve done in your life that you can be 100% sure nobody else applying for this job will have done?
Here is some inspiration of ‘unique’ skills and experiences, collected from a quick whip-around survey in the CareerBliss office:
- “I once hiked across Mongolia with only one supply donkey.”
- “I love racing quad bikes on the salt plains of California.”
- “I spend my lunch breaks making origami cranes for kids at our local homeless shelter.”
- “I rescue and rehabilitate rare parrots.”
You get the idea. Be a little bit different from all the other candidates, and at the very least, the recruiter will have something fun and personal to ask you about when you meet them for your first interview.
Top 5 Best Tips to Keep Your Resume Out of the Trash
Now that you’ve read the best five ways to ensure your resume will end up in the trash, here are our top five most popular tips to keep your resume out of the trash.
Enjoy… and good luck!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Natasha Rhodes is a careers expert and writer for CareerBliss, an online career community dedicated to helping people find happiness in the workplace. Check out CareerBliss for millions of job listings, company reviews, and salary information.