Six Mistakes Made on Resumes


It has been over 20 years since I was in the corporate HR world handling 200 resumes for one job opening and handling 50 job openings at once. Today, being focused on organizational development consulting and coaching for the corporate world  I still get involved in helping mid-career professionals as well as provide the Career Coaching for Students program to high school and college students. Whether you are a college grad hoping for that first break out job or looking to make a 5th job change due to lay offs, mergers and acquisitions, a resume is more of a show stopper  than a qualifier unless you are utilizing relationships to get that interview.

Your network, statistically speaking, will most likely be the way you obtain the job, but every once in a while your resume is one of the 250 resumes that HR filters through before handing off 100 to the hiring authority. So your resume must be right.  I’ve compiled six reasons from my own experience and that of other bloggers in “corporate HR/recruiting”.  I’m amazed at how the reasons for going in the trash haven’t changed in 20 years. Here are six reasons your resume will get thrown in the trash.

#1 You don’t meet the minimum criteria. From a hiring manager: “It took only two minutes to find that first red flag in my four-inch stack. I saw an application on which someone from human resources had written ‘experience may not qualify.’ The candidate had spent two years working at a work-force-development agency, but the HR staff member didn’t know if that would count toward our need that the applicant have experience in vocational education. After reading the job summary on the résumé, I knew the experience wouldn’t count. Case closed.

The first step in the application process is understanding whether or not you even qualify for the job. Your application typically will not go straight to the hiring committee. Instead, it will first go through the filter of the human-resources staff members who won’t forward unqualified applicants or will flag someone whose qualifications are uncertain. If you don’t have the job’s minimum requirements, the process is over. Note those minimum requirements and clearly demonstrate how you meet them.

#2 Employers fail candidates for bad grammar. It’s sad that I have to write that. The number of misspelled words, incomplete sentences, and other cardinal sins of writing is shocking. While the average employer would certainly drop you for such transgressions, some employers get twice as irritated about it. Misspellings signal laziness, inattention to detail, and just the overall sense that you aren’t taking this seriously.

Here are three pieces of advice: proofread, proofread, proofread. Every word processor on the planet has spellcheck. Is it that hard to click the little button? You’ve already (I hope) spent an hour or more writing the thing. Would taking another five minutes for a once-over be too much to ask? Ask someone that is known for their editing prowess to review your writing. One final question: Would you take this article seriously if I butchered the wording? Of course not. The same perspective applies.

#3 Did you even try to tailor your résumé? The next red flag comes from an excellent, well-crafted résumé. Clearly demonstrating the candidate’s expertise in accounting, it included specific accomplishments in previous accounting jobs. It was without flaw. The HR screener may have even said aloud, “This is the best I’ve seen in a while.” There was one small problem, though. The company isn’t hiring for an accounting position. On to the next candidate.

I’m sure many of us have either used or heard of the “spray and pray” method of applying for jobs. It means rapid-firing your résumé to every opening you can find. I have rarely seen that strategy work. In fact, one of the best things that applicants can do is demonstrate that they know what they are applying for. Mentioning specific programs or people you know that work at the company will be seen very positively. But the biggest desire is that HR wants résumé that deal with the company’s specific needs as a department line by line. You can’t do that if you haven’t bothered to notice what the department or company has open.

#4 I know you’re lying to me. Here’s a great rule of thumb—don’t lie on your application or resume. In fact, don’t ever lie, because the truth eventually surfaces. With social media, networking everyone to everyone, employers can chat with someone who will know you didn’t do half of the things listed on your application or will have very different dates of employment. Once that happens, into the shredder you go. Even worse, you might get hired and the truth will get you fired quicker than you can say “oops”.

Even if your lies help you make the first cut, you should know that HR and hiring managers (in small and large organizations, with or without HR expertise) will do research on you before the call for the interview. If they sniff deception, you’re gone.

#5 You didn’t speak our language. Here’s a strategy connected to #3 above used to land jobs: Copy specific phrases and buzzwords from the job posting into your résumé. Then build them into the bullet points. “Instructional design a plus” from the posting becomes “experience in instructional design” on your application. (Obviously, only do that when the statements are true.) Don’t refer to the descriptive term (instructional design) as something else not relevant or valued by the employer (such as “building course materials”).

Hiring Committee members who quickly scan résumés often look for the specific phrases they put in the job posting. Using other phrases to describe the same activity might cause a committee member to unknowingly pass over critical parts of your experience while they speed read. Many corporate employers are now using an automated filter that electronically weeds out applications if they lack the right number of “keywords,” which essentially are the words from the job posting. That is why so many refer to the online job posting systems as the “black hole”.

#6 You used too much personality fluff. This one is claimed to be a common mistake as reported by HR recruiters. It happens when candidates use descriptive phrases about themselves like, “dedicated worker,” “innovative thinker,” “cares about …” Those read like fillers you stuck in because you didn’t have enough concrete work experience to fill a page or perhaps you were trying to populate your resume with key words.

The problem is that the descriptors must be substantive and job-related. I coach my clients to add descriptors that come from their talent assessment results. For example, the following are from a mid-career client assessment and are listed on the first page of the resume prior to the Experience section:

Here is the challenge in using these descriptors. As one HR person stated, “I don’t care if you think you’re ‘motivated to succeed’ or ‘enjoy new challenges.’ Anyone can say those things and most people do, to the point of being cliché. Furthermore, just because you can say them doesn’t mean they’re true. I will be able to read your personality from the interview. That’s what the interview is for.” The person was making a fair statement until the end. “I will be able to read your personality from the interview” was arrogance and ignorance at its best, however, explaining why that statement totally discredited the HR person is outside the scope of this article. For each “talent descriptor” you include in your resume, be prepared with a job-related story that supports the claim. For example, in the list above, “Likes to bring people of common interest together” is something that came from the assessment report but is a huge strength for this person. She is in sales. She has many examples of how she not only exceeded sales quotas but connected others in her organization to selling opportunities – because she enjoys it.

Your résumé should show why you have the best background and skills for the job. Your “talent” as I refer to it includes your personality. That is part of why you have the best “total talent” for the job. As the arrogant/ignorant HR person stated, “If you are good at written communications, I should be able to glean that from a perfectly written resume.”

As you assemble your application, remember: When employers sift through a giant stack of applications, they look for excuses to end the relationship quickly. Don’t give them one.

Carl Nielson is an organizational development consultant, professional career and executive/leadership coach and creator of the nationally recognized program Career Coaching for Students™ . Career Coaching for Students is available as a district-wide high school program and through certified career coaches throughout the United States and other countries. Call Carl Nielson at 972-346-2892 to discuss specific needs.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s