Some of the best people for the job have the worst resumes. They’re likely to have been steadily employed, for long stretches of time, and have been sought out by employers, and thus may never had to learn resume writing skills. One of my jobs as a recruiter is to be honest and coach those candidates on writing a better resume before submitting them to clients, as the resume is the foot in the door.
Here are the top resume faux pas I see:
1. It’s too long.
Academics commit this sin more than others, as the academic CV is usually a lengthy listing of publications. Though you worked hard on those and have reason to be proud, if they don’t apply directly to the job at hand, the hiring manager has no interest in titles or co-authors. You can summarize this to something like, “Published 14 papers relating to brain imagery” and call it a day.
While there isn’t a standard for resume length, I believe most people can get a resume down to 2 pages. Much past that falls into the tl;dr realm.
2. The format is off
Just like you should go to the interview dressed pretty much the same as all of the other applicants, your resume should be in the same format other applicants are using. If you are applying for a full time position and your resume is structured more like a contractor’s resume (calling jobs “projects” and listing skills all at the top, for instance), the reader may assume you are a contractor without reading the content.
Applicants for creative positions sometimes use the resume to showcase their graphic design skills. While of course hiring managers have higher standards for the visual appeal of a creative professional’s resume, this still should not deviate too strongly from standard resume format. One major reason is that many companies use ATSs (Applicant Tracking Systems) which parse resumes for names, emails, previous companies, education, etc. If your resume is in non-standard layout, it may upload incorrectly or in some cases fail to upload at all.
Some applicants completely forgo the format of listing jobs with dates and duties for prose, or for listing all skills at the top and then a separate list of jobs. In the first case, readers may be lead to assume that you must be leaving off dates of employment because you haven’t been steadily employed. In the second case, they have no idea what skills are current and how long you have been using each skill, and may pass you up for that job that requires Ruby use for the past 5 years (which was actually perfect for you!) because they couldn’t discern that from your resume.
3. Unexplained gap in employment
If you had a gap in your resume due to a family emergency, you don’t have to go into the private details, but you can just list the dates and note that it was a family related leave. Otherwise, some companies will literally assume the worst, such as incarceration. If you were unemployed for your gap, then at least note what you were doing to keep job skills current, such as “Self study of X, Y, and Z.”
4. Something smells fishy
Lying on your resume or even embellishing is never a good idea. CEOs have resigned over this type of dishonestly. If your jobs was preparing spreadsheets of expenses, don’t list your title as “Data Scientist.” Hiring professionals will likely toss your resume at any whiff of something that stinks.
5. You don’t stay long enough at each job
If you are a job hopper, some companies may not want to bring you on board for fear their training efforts will be wasted on you. If you have just had a stretch of bad luck such as layoffs and reorgs, this may be worth calling out.
6. They worry you aren’t a culture fit
This can be a slippery slope. Honestly, though, startups worry that people that have spent careers in large companies may not know how work in the constantly pivoting, self-directed world of a tiny company. You may not be able to go straight from a 30,000 person org to a 10 person org. It may take some baby steps, first to say, a 500 person org. Diversity your applications. Go to startup weekends. Build projects by yourself or with a small group of friends and post to github. Help them see you can be one of them. A cover letter can also really help show you’re “not some stuffy banker” or not “a paper pusher.” Or, if you’re coming out of the startup world, a bank may worry you aren’t a fit for them! Are you going to show up in board shorts and flip flops? (True story, I had a candidate that did once.) Anticipate a potential employer’s fears, and strike them pre-emptively.
7. You don’t match every bullet on their must have list
If you’re missing even one essential element, but you still feel you are the perfect person for the job, you’ll need to rely on your cover letter to back this up. Without a cover letter, and with the volume of applications, why would they consider someone who didn’t already look like the ideal candidate?
8. You aren’t in this city
Especially small companies don’t want to have to deal with relo given the amount of highly qualified local applicants. Honestly, if you want to work here, move here. Interviews are often scheduled on a timeline of days, and small companies may not even have travel budgets or procedures. Can’t move here yet? The next best alternative is be ready to offer to fly yourself out if they want to meet you. Make sure to write “Willing to relocate” or even “Willing to self-relocate” (ie relocate at your expense) at the top of your resume. The sad truth is that I see people who spend months trying to find a job from afar, to find they’re able to do so in a matter of weeks once they reach their destination.
9. You aren’t in this country
The H1B cap is a bear. Every April, employers must apply for new H1B visas for employees to start work October 1. These usually run out in a matter of days, and this year was no exception. So, if you live abroad and do not have a US work visa, you would only be able to work starting October 1, 2022 at the soonest. Most companies are not interviewing that far out. Your best bet is to refer to #8. Figure out a way to come to the US legally such as on a student visa or even a tourist visa starting around January so that you can find a job that will sponsor you starting in April. Many people pursue Master’s degrees in the US because the OPT visa that they can use upon graduation is often good for over 2 years, giving the employer plenty of time to apply for the H1B.
10. Grammar or spelling issues
Seriously. This is low hanging fruit. Put your best foot forward here.