Whether you’re preparing to send out the first resume of your life or you’re applying for what seems like the 500th job posting of your life, preparing a resume can be daunting. You want to make sure it contains the correct information, looks professional, and conveys the right message in order to land an interview. The resume isn’t much good after that, but it’s vital for getting in the door. Despite the millions of websites, career centers, and tutorials for how to build a resume, human resources staff members still run across a number of errors. Some might be forgivable, but in a highly competitive job market, how do you make sure your resume stands out?
A few free hints of mistakes to avoid come from a 2013 CareerBuilder survey of almost 5,000 hiring managers and employees, which includes some of the most egregious resume missteps they’ve seen. If you’d like to be considered for a job, don’t write your entire resume in Klingon language from Star Trek. (This really happened.) Don’t include a series of pictures from your childhood all the way to adulthood. (This happened, too.) And no, don’t send a one-page resume left entirely blank except for one sentence that says, “Hire me, I’m awesome.”
But there is hope, and help, for people who actually want to take the job application process seriously. This past year, Google’s senior vice president of people operations, Laszlo Bock, wrote a blog post on LinkedIn about the biggest mistakes he sees on resumes. “I’ve sent out hundreds of resumes over my career, applying for just about every kind of job. I’ve personally reviewed more than 20,000 resumes. And at Google we sometimes get more than 50,000 resumes in a single week. I have seen A LOT of resumes,” Bock began the post.
What Bock said is most depressing is that the people sending the resumes often seem to be otherwise qualified for the job. The problem for those people, though, is that he and other hiring managers will pass over those resumes in favor of the equally qualified people who didn’t have mistakes on their resumes. “All it takes is one small mistake and a manager will reject an otherwise interesting candidate,” Bock wrote. Let’s take a look at some of the most common errors Bock sees, and how he suggests fixing them.
This might be the first thing to check for in any writing assignment, but Bock said that he’s seen far too many resumes that contain sloppy misprints. The CareerBuilder survey mentioned on the previous page reported that 58% of employers said they would consider dismissing a candidate if a resume had typos on it. Bock adds that people tweaking their resumes again and again are most vulnerable, since changing a word or two could all of a sudden mess up the subject-verb agreement or proper punctuation. “I see this in MBA resumes all the time,” Bock said. “Typos are deadly because employers interpret them as a lack of detail-orientation, as a failure to care about quality.” Bock suggests reading the draft bottom to top, so you’re forced to analyze each sentence and word instead of skimming it lightly.
A resume isn’t your thesis, and it’s not necessarily supposed to contain information about that one time you spent a winter shoveling snow off of driveways. Bock’s rule of thumb is that your resume should be one page for every 10 years of work. Multiple pages often won’t get read closely, and it’s a sign you didn’t take as much time to pare down the essentials, Bock said. If you’re still having trouble cutting out some lines, remember that single sheet (most likely) of paper has only one job, and that is to convince the employer to give you a call or send that first email. “Your resume is a tool that gets you to that first interview,” Bock said. “Once you’re in the room, the resume doesn’t matter much. So cut back your resume. It’s too long.”
Resumes are not the time to be using that stationary your mom sent you, or playing with Pantone’s hottest color selections. Unless you’re applying for a job as a designer or artist, the resume design should be clean and legible, Bock said. (About 22% of respondents on the CareerBuilder survey said they would dismiss the candidate if the resume was printed on decorative paper.) Further, the resume should have at least half-inch margins, at least 10-point font, and use black ink printed on white paper. If you’re using Word or Google Docs, open it in multiple platforms to make sure the formatting stays consistent. Bock suggests using a PDF format to avoid formatting changes after saving it.
4. Including confidential information
Bock acknowledges there is often an inherent tension between the needs of your current company (to keep business or trade secrets, in fact, a secret) and the needs you have (to build yourself up to show why you’d be good at the next job). But nothing will make you get passed over more quickly than if you decide to share confidential information on your resume. It’s not being helpful. Instead, it’s showing that you’d likely be willing to do the same thing later to the exact company you’re apply to now. In a “rough audit” of resumes sent to Google, the company found that 5-10% of them contained confidential information. “Which tells me, as an employer, that I should never hire those candidates … unless I want my own trade secrets emailed to my competitors,” Bock said. Bock suggests the New York Times test in this case. If you don’t want to see it on the home page of the NYT with your name attached, don’t put it on your resume.
“This breaks my heart. Putting a lie on your resume is never, ever, ever, worth it,” Bock begins the fifth and final tidbit of resume advice. The punishment for lying on a resume is often severe, and CEOs even get fired for it. Bock challenged those in doubt to Google “CEO fired for lying on resume.” More than 300,000 results came up, including reports about how Yahoo’s former CEO, Scott Thompson, padded his resume to include a college degree he likely didn’t even need to get the job. It’s way too easy to be caught, the fibs follow you forever, and “our moms taught us better,” Bock wrote.
These might be common sense, but Bock said avoiding them is often the best start possible. “The good news is that — precisely because most resumes have these kinds of mistakes — avoiding them makes you stand out,” he wrote. So happy editing, and seriously, no Klingon.
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