As a professional marketer who has built several organizations, I can tell you that one of the most important and simultaneously monotonous elements can be the interview process. And it usually starts with the resume. In this digital age, you would think that we would have some type of cool behavioral code or iconography that would have replaced the one- to two-page listing of jobs and schools. Yet the fact remains that the resume or CV (curriculum vitae) is still considered a vital tool.
I have written about this topic before, and since that time, I have embarked on a new position that has -- yet again -- brought many resumes to my door. So, it seemed a fitting time to provide some thoughts on the perfect resume -- which often involves examining what not to do.
I have many ideas of my own, but I also have an impressive network of hiring professionals on both Facebook and LinkedIn. So, in the spirit of embracing the age of crowdsourcing, I asked these professionals for their thoughts and included them in this article. I have ordered and categorized these faux pas and their corresponding tips by their plain obviousness, all the way down to the more subjective, controversial, and thought-provoking.
Neglecting spelling, grammar, and contact info
Make sure you at least read your resume before sending it. I place this in the category of a "duh" tip. Most readers will think this is a useless and unnecessary reminder, but I reiterate it as I received no fewer than six comments regarding this issue when I asked my network about what makes the best and worst resumes. Clearly, people are still either misspelling words or using incorrect grammar.
My friend Theresa Junkunc noted, "Learn how to spell. It is led, not lead. Can't tell you how many times I have seen that misspelling...from many MBAs."
Mark Mauriello added, "Please -- make sure you grammar- and spell-check your resume and make sure you spell the names of companies you worked for and the towns they are located in correctly. You would not believe what I see time and again from high salary candidates as well."
Theresa and Mark are not alone. Tom MacLean advised, "Make sure to put correct contact information -- very frustrating when you can't contact people. Pretty simple, but frustratingly common."
The best lessons are learned through entertainment, so if you want to see some of the most humorous spelling mistakes that often wind up on resumes, check out this blog post, "Resume Mistakes That Keep Hiring Managers Amused But Cost You the Interview." These are simple and innocent mistakes, but you can imagine that the people making them never received a call back. In the post, Barbara Safani writes, "Think resume typos are no big deal? Last year, Accountemps, a temporary staffing firm, interviewed 150 senior executives from some of the nation's largest companies. Forty percent of the respondents said that just one typo on a resume would cause the candidate to be eliminated. Thirty-six percent said it would take just two mistakes before the resume was put in the 'no' pile."
Some of Safani's more amusing slipups include:
- Objective: Seeking a party-time position with room for advancement
- Explanation of employment gap: career break in 1999 to renovate my horse
- Cover letter: I would like to assure you that I am a hardly working person.
SexyLady@aol.com need not apply
Another "duh" tip. Today, we all have at least one email address, Twitter handle, Facebook name, or LinkedIn ID. Your resume should absolutely contain at least one of these -- likely more -- but not if you have inappropriate addresses or handles.
Daphne Alvarado, SPHR, noted, "Don't use a personal email address like firstname.lastname@example.org or something along those lines. Take the five minutes to set up an appropriate email address. I can't take you seriously if I see something like this on a resume."
Well said and pretty obvious, but it would seem that too few people are thinking this through.
Forgetting to focus on accomplishments
Impact and accomplishments -- not activities -- are what count on a resume. This tip is also pretty basic, but file it under the category of "must have."
We all know what it is like to have to sit down and write our resumes. Who hasn't spent countless hours trying to find new phrases or words that describe your managing or responsibility of various tasks? But the kicker is that we are likely spending too much time thinking through our clever wording rather than just simply writing down our actual accomplishments at a job. We get so caught up trying to sound smart that we might be missing a chance to clearly and simply articulate actual outcomes. Yes, the interview process will allow you to tell a prospective employer how you did it. But get in the door with a "wow" accomplishment on the resume.
My network is firmly behind this tip. Here are a few of their quotes:
"Do not list your activities, instead focus on the business impact (sales and operational) you have made," said Paul Santello. "For example, instead of only focusing on a killer campaign that you created or a thought-leadership event or program, complete the thought to talk about the impact you made (use numbers or percentages where possible) through your input. For example: 'Successfully launched new campaign using social media, resulting in % ad cost savings and $XX pipeline increase.'"
This was echoed repeatedly when I asked about common resume mistakes:
- Gerard Francis Corbett: "Biggest mistake: not listing accomplishments. Resumes are not about what you did or do but what you achieved."
- Don Marquess: "Lack of specifics in regard to metrics, accomplishments, and responsibilities is the biggest mistake."
- David Alexander: "No. 1: job descriptions versus showing results. No. 2: information from too far back in time -- you have been working for 30 years, do people really care if you were president of your fraternity? No. 3: AOL.com email address." (OK, so the final point is a bit controversial and clearly subjective, but his first two points are keepers.)
Also, be sure to be specific. Today, especially if you are in technology, marketing, or even business development, it is fashionable to write about your mastery of social media. But few people are really that knowledgeable about how to maximize these tools for companies. Differentiate yourself by writing not just that you used them but how you used them and how it generated business and revenue. Spice in your resume comes not from your statement of the tools you use, but rather the proof of how you made their use work for your company.
Being both interesting and professional is the balance that we must strive to achieve. Adrian Smith mentioned this in responding to my social network outreach on this topic. He said that the biggest mistake he commonly sees on resumes is blandness. "While resumes need to be formatted so that they can be scanned by a computer for all the usual dope, once it falls into the hands of a human, it needs some spark and kick," he said. "Otherwise, you're just another average hopeful. Give it some jazz. That's the first thing I look for. I have three folders for resumes I receive: possibilities, rejects, and snoozers."
Don't be a snoozer.
For more on this topic, check out Mashable's infographic, "How to Spruce Up Your Resume."
One size does not fit all
Industry-specific resumes are important. So although the tips in this article will guide you, unfortunately there is no one "perfect resume." Rather, hiring managers differ in taste and, depending on the position, industry, and market, there could be a wide range of ideas or tips that might be acceptable -- or not.
Ted Wright, an entrepreneur and hiring manager of many in the marketing world, says, "Not having your resume style match the industry, company, or job for which you are applying [is the biggest mistake you can make]. Creatives should have a creative resume; accountants should be accountant-y."
If you are a multi-talented and applying for positions in multiple industries, you might want to consider having a couple of versions of your resume, says Paul Santello. In addition, he notes that job applicants need to put some thought into their executive summaries. "An executive summary is not supposed be about what you're looking for, but rather what value you can bring to an organization," he said. "And it should be very focused on one thing. If you can do different things for different types of organizations, have several singly focused versions of your resume."
To illustrate this point, check out the below two resumes. One is an infographic for a graphic designer applicant, and the other is for a sales person.
(Click images to enlarge. Sources: Creattica and DayJob.com.)
Forget about objectives and hobbies?
The question of whether or not to include objectives and hobbies on a resume was the most controversial among my professional hiring network. So do these two potentially superfluous sections put you at a disadvantage? I am attaching the back and forth that occurred on this topic -- and you can decide for yourself:
Mark Mauriello: No perspective employer wants to know about your hobbies; leave them off. Also, unless you are applying to a specific job...leave your objective off of your resume. If you do need to write and include one, make it very generic.
Erin O'Keefe: @Mark: I disagree. As a prospective employer, I like to know that people have a life outside of work. What gives them inspiration? And speaking of inspiration, without a career vision -- why have you taken the jobs you've taken? Show the narrative in your positions somehow -- what you want to create, fix, solve, deliver, etc. -- not just functions and responsibilities.
Sean Moffitt: Great comments by all and hate to tag team and pile on with Erin here, but the best companies don't hire robots -- putting interests and hobbies down create conversation points, points of intersection with the hirer, ability to display passion, and may even ladder to hirable skills and leadership. [It's] usually the first question I ask in interview setting -- surely more important than putting down what you did six jobs ago as a student painter.
Mark Mauriello: The mindset of HR and hiring managers sure does change when you leave the Northeast and Tri-State area, Sean. I agree with both of you, but it doesn't hold true as much here in the NYC area -- but [I] hope that it does change. It does help to know who people are, not just what they do.
Julia Knowlton: I am a headhunter based in NYC focused on global banking, and I always recommend people include interests on their CV if they have them. That said, don't list fishing if you don't own a fishing rod.
David Alexander: I am not sure the U.S. geography is an issue. I am currently a CHRO in Philly and was on the West Coast for over 10 years prior. It all depends on the company. Frankly, I like to see that people have multiple dimensions. Our corporate culture places high value on volunteering, and we look for others who do the same. I guess the lesson here is to know the culture of the company you are interviewing with and tailor your resume appropriately. A Swiss Army knife resume approach will not always work.
So, it really is your choice. But the best advice, I think, came from Julia: Don't brag about a hobby if you can't back it up.
Avoid clichés and TMI
You need to make your resume your own. Unilaterally, my network encouraged straying from the standard approaches and leaning toward active and dynamic resumes. Personal style stands out. But you can take this concept too far if you're not careful.
Less is more: While it is great to show what you can do, do it in a synthesized manner. Sometimes what you can say in fewer words is a lot more interesting than filling up pages. The ability to do that is in and of itself a talent that speaks for itself.
Catchy opener: While wackiness is not appropriate for all job opportunities, there were a few good examples of interview-getting intros provided by my network. My favorite was from Clark Kokich, who said the best opening line he ever saw on an intro letter was, "I'm 10 feet tall and bullet-proof."
Most innovative format: Benjamin Fruehauf found success in an unconventional resume: "I wrote my resume and cover letter on a shoe, so thank the creative director for letting me get my foot in the door. It worked. I got hired! It was long ago...I used a solid white leather tennis shoe. I wrote with a black Sharpie. Kept everything to a minimum...just the details. This was my intro. When I got the interview, I filled in the details...verbally. Ha."
Photos: People like pictures. If people like what they see on your resume, chances are they will Google you anyway -- so why not give them a photo or two?
You are not a ninja: K-Yun Steele noted that the biggest mistake he sees on resumes is when people claim to be a ninja -- or a guru -- or any other absurd title of that sort.
Too much information (TMI): We know that you can say the wrong thing -- but you can also say too much. Nan Gerard said that she often sees resumes that are too long and have too much information, leaving nothing to really discuss. Don't take the fun out of the interview -- save some details for the in-person meeting.
Remember Barbara Safani and her humorous spelling errors? Well, she also provided some great examples of resumes that erred on the side of TMI. Some of the most amusing examples include:
- Reason for leaving last job: The owner gave new meaning to the word paranoia
- Interests: Gossiping
- Awards: National record for eating 45 eggs in two minutes
Do you even need a resume?
And finally, under the category of "most thought provoking," is the notion of not creating a resume at all. There are a lot of reasons why this might be the option for you.
Myles H. Kitchen noted that the "biggest mistake is relying on a resume at all! Either, start your own business and never look back, or rely on your networking skills to get to the person you want to hire you and approach them directly with a proposal researched to address their needs. Going through traditional HR channels is just a waste of time and energy."
Similarly, Mac Johnson wrote to me and said, "In my experience, the CV is the least of, say, five different ways to sell your personal brand. It is vastly overrated as a sales tool and is often better at eliminating you than advancing you (zero shelf life, jammed with hackneyed keywords, etc.). When a resume screener sits down to a stack of a few hundred CVs to be culled, he or she is thinking: 1.) so what? 2.) make me care, and 3.) do it fast. The resume owner has probably 15 seconds to do that. And never, ever part with your CV until forced to at gunpoint."
Julie Roehm is senior vice president marketing and "chief storyteller" at SAP.
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