After over ten years as a hiring manager, I’ve seen literally thousands of résumés, some good, some terrible. Here are some mistakes that you can fix right now to improve your chances of being hired.
Mistake #1: Not explaining what industry your previous employers are in
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone through a resume and had no idea what industry the candidate was in. Sure, the candidate listed the companies he worked for: Acme Corporation, Smith International, and Omni Co. What are the end products of these companies? Jet engines? Food products? Marital aids? It’s frustrating to get résumés like this.
Don’t believe that the hiring manager will have time to Google all of these. He or she won’t. Make it easy on them and include a half-sentence explanation of what each company that you’ve worked for does, unless it is completely obvious (like Taco Bell or Shell Oil).
Mistake #2: Generic cover letter
The cover letter is where you should customize your application to state why you’ve wanted to work for the company since you were five years old, how you own all of their products, and how you’d work eighty hours a week for them because you love them so much. Okay, that is an exaggeration, but you get the idea. Customize your cover letter!
Here is a true story. When I was interviewing for a particular job, I mentioned that I personally owned one of the company’s products, that I used it every day, and that I really liked it. Unbeknownst to me, the manager I was talking to designed that product! They gave me an offer the next day. As a manager myself now, I admit I am a total sucker for this type of flattery. If a candidate ever said they used and loved our products, that was a HUGE plus for their chances of being hired. Don’t be afraid to share that in your cover letter. If you’ve never used the company’s products or services, you need to. If you don’t like their products or services, you shouldn’t be applying.
Mistake #3: Making outlandish claims about your accomplishments
A common mantra of résumé “experts” is “list your accomplishments, not your duties”. That’s good advice, but many people have gone overboard. I got a ton of résumés with outlandish claims “improved profitability by 300%”, “increased sales by 150 million dollars”, or whatever. These trigger my BS detector big time.
Touting results is fine (as long as they are true), but I still want to know what you actually did on a daily basis to accomplish those results. And, don’t make outlandish claims if your company went bankrupt six months later. It just doesn’t make sense. Don’t make up bogus stats. You might be asked to explain how you got those numbers.
Mistake #4: Using industry-specific jargon or acronyms excessively
This is a very common mistake in technical fields. Just because you’ve used various acronyms and jargon on a daily basis in your previous job doesn’t mean anyone outside of that industry will know what the heck you are talking about. Unless the reader of your résumé is in the same industry, avoid jargon and acronyms, or at least explain what they are.
As an engineering manager, I’d often see phrases like “optimized CX4581-10 interface for L9000 and LT9020-A units”. Please specify what these are. No one outside your industry knows. This is especially bad when you’ve had experience in military/defense work.
Mistake #5: Unclear purpose
Often I would finish reading a résumé and wonder, “what kind of job is this person looking for?” “Is he a salesman or product manager or a logistics guy?” A résumé that says “I’ll do anything” smells of desperation.
Do your homework before submitting your résumé and find out what job openings are really available. It’s OK to have more than one job in mind, but make it clear which ones you are applying for.
Applying for a job in sales and product management is fine, but applying for jobs in as a product demo person, beta tester, salesman, product manager, and VP of sales indicates lack of focus, lack of preparation, and lots of desperation.
Mistake #6: Using too much management-speak
Don’t over-use management buzzwords. It makes it sound like you’re blowing hot air. Be clear and specific about what you accomplished and how you did it, in plain English. Don’t try to wow hiring managers with the latest management jargon. It’s OK to toot your own horn, just be specific on how you did it using plain English.
Mistake #7: Listing hobbies or other irrelevant information
When you list irrelevant hobbies, it makes the employer wonder how much time you’ll be spending on those things instead of working. “That’s great that you’re in an 80’s cover band. Does that mean you’ll want to leave work early every week for your Thursday night gig?” “You’ve got two kids? Great, that means you won’t be able to work late if I need you to.” Leave this stuff off!!!!!!
Notice I said to exclude “irrelevant” hobbies. Listing relevant hobbies can be a good thing – a very good thing. Your hobbies tell me what you’re passionate about. For example, I used to work for a music equipment manufacturer, where being in a cover band was actually plus! Use your common sense here. If it’s not relevant, leave it off. If it is relevant, put it in.
Mistake #8: Too much information
Managers are busy people. Don’t hand them a document with long paragraphs of information to wade through. Small paragraphs and bullet points are better. When I got a résumé that looked too daunting to read, I would put it in a pile to read later. More often than not, the “later” pile turned into a “never” pile.
At the same time, you don’t want too little information on your résumé either. It’s OK to have a multi-page résumé if you are interviewing for a high-level position that requires the experience.
Mistake #9: Not mentioning your good college GPA
Even if it was a long time ago, I would still like to know your college GPA. Most people don’t even remember their GPA when I ask. If your GPA was good, you should put it on your résumé, even if it was twenty years ago. I really don’t care what you learned in college – it’s probably irrelevant now. Rather, a good GPA shows perseverance, dedication, and a good work ethic which IS relevant. And don’t get me started on that hogwash about a college education not being worth the money. It is worth it unless you spent a fortune majoring in underwater basket weaving. If you went to a community college because you couldn’t afford a private school, that is totally fine.
If your GPA was not good, have a good explanation. I am impressed when someone says they had to work to support themselves while they went to college, so I would cut them a lot of slack in their GPA for that.
Mistake #10: Including a photo of yourself
I have not encountered this very often, but a few résumés have crossed my desk with a photo of the applicant.
Most of the time including a photo of yourself can only hurt you. Studies have shown that including a photo hurts an applicant’s chances in all cases except when the applicant is a good-looking male. How do you know if you’re a good-looking male in the eyes of the hiring manager? You don’t. Don’t go there unless you’re in an industry where a photo is the norm, like modeling, acting, etc. If you’re a woman, including a photo is almost guaranteed to hurt you, whether you are attractive or not, for so many reasons.
What people are doing right
Let me mention a few things that applicants, on the whole, are doing right in their résumés. Most people do list their job experience in reverse chronological-order, with dates. That is good. Most people’s résumés are formatted pretty well. That has rarely bothered me. Most people’s résumés have the right contact information at the top, right where I would expect it. Finally, in the age of spell-checkers, it’s rare that I see spelling errors. If any of these things are problems with your résumé, you should fix them now. Proofread your résumé ten times and then have a few friends read it.
Clarity, brevity, specifics
The bottom line is that hiring managers are extremely busy people. Going through a hundred résumés is not something they enjoy. The easier you make it on them, the less likely they will be to toss your résumé into the round file because they don’t have the time to figure out what you are offering them. Make your résumé clear, specific, and concise. Good luck with your job search!