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IS YOUR RESUME SCARY? 5 Frightening Things That Will Scare Employers Away

October 31, 2011

In honor of Halloween, I thought I would share what constitutes a scary resume – from an employer’s perspective.  Qualified candidates often get passed up due to these common resume mistakes:

#1 ) A Frightening First Impression.  We’ve all heard the expression “you only get one chance to make a first impression.”  Most job seekers understand this concept well enough to know they need to dress appropriately for an employment interview.  However, many fail to understand that “dressing up” the resume is equally – or more –  important.  After all, you won’t even get invited to the interview if your resume fails you.  The aesthetics of a resume will determine how much time a human will dedicate to reading the content.  A resume should be clutter free, with enough white space to give the eyes a rest between sections. Many professional resume writers will even include a graphic or a touch of color to make a resume stand out.  After all, the resume is a marketing document – and when was the last time you saw a marketing document with no graphics or color?

The sample at right was one of the winners of Career Directors International’s World’s Best Resume Writer competition held in 2008.  This particular design was created by Gayle Howard of Top Margin Career Marketing.  Note the use of a monogram, shading and borders to make the document visually appealing.   She also uses white space, bold headings, and bullet points to make the document easy to read at a glance.  Basically, it’s pretty.   Resumes with large blocks of text filled with $3 words will scare off recruiters, as they take too much time to find the information they need to put your resume in the “call” pile.

#2) Keyword Scarcity (pardon the pun).  Large employers will often use software that screens applicants’ resumes to determine which ones the human recruiter should review.  That’s right – most are never even seen by a person.  This issue was highlighted in a Wall Street Journal  article by Peter Cappelli earlier this week.  Cappelli reports,

“The downside is that the screening criteria are imperfect. Typically they look for keywords, and if you don’t include the right keywords, out goes the application.” 

Be sure your resume includes the key phrases and words for your industry.  This can be done in a separate section near the top called “Key Competencies,” or they can be strategically woven into the narrative of the document.  Either way, they  must be present or your resume will be eaten by the computer gremlins.

#3) Frighteningly Unfocused.  When an employer is recruiting for a specific job, they do not want to see applicants who are clearly looking for any job.  While they don’t expect to be the only place you’ll apply, they do expect you to take the time to explain why you want to work for them.  Applicants can communicate this with a personalized cover letter, and a resume that displays qualifications that can be easily matched to the job opening.  You can “mirror” the job by taking the actual  job posting, highlighting the required skills that you possess, and then making sure your resume includes them.   Well focused resumes will also exclude information that isn’t relevant to the job.  That second job you’ve had as a bartender for the past three years?  It doesn’t need to be there.  Really (unless your new target job is as a bartender, of course).

#4) Responsibility Redundancy.   Space on your resume is valuable real estate.  Don’t waste it by repeating  job functions that were the same at your past three jobs.  Instead, write a short “overview” description for each position that gives relevant details such as number of clients, size of territory, and other job scope details.  Then describe specific, quantified results you achieved for each company.  Highlight achievements that would be particularly of interest to that company.  For example, if you know the target company is in a growth mode, you might describe how you were the “top producer in a sales team of 50 nationwide, consistently bringing on the highest number of new clients each year from 2007-2010.”  This sets you apart from the other candidates who simply state “Responsible for selling shoes to retailers in the Northeast territory,”  who will likely put the recruiter to sleep, if they even read that far.

#5) Pitiful Proofreading.  This should be obvious, but your resume MUST be 100% error free.  Most candidates do run a spell check, but there are still some things that can get through.  For example, sometimes spell check will ignore spelling errors if they are in all caps.  If your headings are in all caps, watch out for this.  Another common error is misuse of words.  These will not be caught by spell check either.  If you know you are grammatically challenged, have someone else proof read it for you.  It can also be helpful to wait a day or so and then go back and proof it.  By then, it will be fresh to your eyes again and you will be more likely to catch your own errors.  A resume that is full of mistakes sends the message that you just don’t care enough – or aren’t competent enough – to get it right.  Either way, you will scare the company away.

Happy Halloween, and happy job hunting folks!

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