Navigating the waters of a competitive job search can be a frustrating experience, even for those with the best resumes. With multiple candidates submitting for the same shrinking pool of available positions, human resources screeners and recruiters are quick to dispose of resumes that don’t immediately capture their attention. Here are five reasons why your resume may be hindering your job search.
Length. At some point in every career development course in college, the professor scrawls “MUST NOT BE LONGER THAN ONE PAGE” onto the whiteboard. All of the students nod knowingly, scribble it into their notebooks, and then continue to follow that rule of thumb for the rest of their professional careers, even when it’s no longer an appropriate guideline. I’ve seen Fortune 500 executives condense fifteen years of experience into four bullet points. In an effort to “keep it to one page”, job applicants are leaving out valuable information that could distinguish them from their peers. Your resume should be just long enough to tell your entire story, and not a single line longer. If that means that it fits on a single page, that’s great. But if you’ve been working for many years, it’s not uncommon to need two pages, or even three for extensive job histories. That’s not to say that there isn’t such a thing as a resume that’s too long – but it takes a trained eye to know what to remove and what to leave behind.
Copy & Paste Syndrome. Your resume is the first and only connection that you will have with a prospective employer – it’s your ticket to landing an interview. Within the span of your cover letter and your resume, you will have to demonstrate your ability to convey information in a manner that is clear and concise, but must also show your ability to tell your story. Unfortunately, so many job applicants submit resumes that consist only of job descriptions that are copied and pasted from previous job listings. It’s obvious just with a glance, because the job descriptions read exactly like laundry lists of responsibilities that you’d see in a job posting. If I’m reviewing a resume and the person states that they “lifted items weighing up to 20 pounds while performing shift work in a standing position”, I know immediately that those are not the applicant’s words, they’re the words of the HR person who wrote the job description. Copying and pasting your job functions shows a potential employer that you’re not willing to put forth the effort to describe what you do on your own. It also puts you in the same bucket as all of the other Copy/Paste resumes. Unfortunately, that bucket is the trash bin!
Lack of Distinction. Time and again, I review resumes for IT professionals that list functions that include “helped users with software issues”, “performed backups”, and “created and maintained user accounts on a network”. That’s all well and good, but it is an absolute guarantee that every single resume for every single applicant for an IT position is going to have those same skills. They are core responsibilities that you are expected to know how to do. And if your resume just leaves it at that, there is absolutely no measure by which an HR screener will be able to justify bringing you in for an interview over anyone else in the pile. In order to compete, your resume must acknowledge the fact that you can perform the basic functions of the job, but it must tightly focus on the things that you have accomplished that other candidates have not.
Too Much Focus on Soft Skills. Are you a hard worker? Can you multitask? Do you work well with others? These are all great qualities in any employee, so it’s natural to feel the need to point them out on your resume. The problem, however, is that these types of soft skills don’t really add any value or impact to your resume. They are not measurable or quantifiable in any way, so an employer really has no way to use them to evaluate your ability to perform a job against anyone else. And don’t worry – not including soft skills on your resume is not going to make recruiters automatically think that you are an ornery, single-minded, automaton who’s hard to manage.
Indicators of Age. I once had a client who insisted on including their portrait photo on their resume, to prove to potential employers that they looked quite young and vibrant despite their true age. Other clients have listed job history going all the way back to 1979, or dates of college graduation from the last century. Despite the fact that it is technically illegal to discriminate against a job candidate based on age, you never want provide a prospective employer with any opportunity to do so in the first place. The phrases that companies use to get around explicit age discrimination in the hiring process are “over qualified”, “too many years of experience”, and similar wordsmithing. It’s pretty easy to ballpark someone’s age based on the year that they graduated, so the general rule is that these dates should be left out. Job history should go back no further than 10 years, both as a way of removing focus from your age and also because most employers will not take older experience into account anyway when considering your candidacy. And unless you’re specifically applying for a role in television or film, there is never a good reason to have your photo on your resume.
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