8 of my resume pet peeves

This is the time of year when many of clients are hiring and, consequently, I’m reviewing a lot of résumés. During that process, I’ve developed a list of “resume don’t dos” that I thought was worth sharing.

  1. resumeThe “skills-based resume”
    The skills-based resume is one of my biggest pet peeves. This resume is designed to highlight your skills over your experience, but instead it turns your resume from a report of your job experience into a well-crafted work of fiction. As I’m scanning through resumes I need to get a sense for your job history and experience and the skills-based resume makes me work awfully hard in order to do that. If you need to tell a story about that job history use the cover letter.
  2. No cover letter
    Somewhere people must be telling candidates that no one reads their cover letters — but that’s just not true. The cover letter is your chance to tell me why you are perfect for this job, it’s your chance to demonstrate passion and drive, it’s an opportunity to show me you can write and communicate, it provides a space to reflect back the job requirements and show me that you’ve considered how you fit with them. In short, it’s your best shot to differentiate your candidacy. Don’t skip it.
  3. The “objective statement”
    The idea of an “objective statement” at the top of your resume is that you would communicate clearly what kind of opportunity you are looking for. Instead, most candidates demonstrate that they haven’t thought at all about what kind of job they are looking for with an objective statement like, “A position that utilizes my skills and abilities.” Leave it off.
  4. Made-up job titles
    I don’t care that your prior employer called you the “Chief Smiles Officer” I have no idea what that means. Were you the receptionist, the jester, or the head of sales? I have no idea. Regardless of what your employer called you, give me a traditional job title that reflects your duties and responsibilities.
  5. Obscure or missing contact information
    It always blows my mind when I find a resume that I like and go to contact the candidate but I can’t find their phone number or email address. Or I call the number on the resume and the candidate answers, “Yea, who’s this?” with Ellen blaring in the background. Nothing says “I’m unemployed and sitting on my couch” like that does. A corollary is email addresses like MrUnicorn33@aol.com — get an email address that looks professional.
  6. Overly designed resumes
    I know you are unique and you want to stand out — especially you creative types — but resumes masquerading as info graphics don’t really help me. Keep your resume pretty square, show your creativity in your portfolio. If you have to do something non-traditional please give me a traditional resume on the back (and that’s the one I’m going to look at…)
  7. Applicants for jobs that aren’t even remotely qualified
    I know that you feel like you can do the job, but if you’ve never done a job anything like this are you really likely to be the ideal candidate? Yes, I might see through all the various roles you’ve held and find some thread that gives me hope that you could do the job. But I most likely have dozens of resumes from people who have done the job, and are much safer bets as candidates.
  8. Ridiculously long resumes
    I want to be able to scan a resume in seconds. If I can’t do that, I get frustrated and am biased against your candidacy from the get-go. Make sure your background, experience and skills can be conveyed quickly.

So I’ve given a lot of “don’ts” from a hiring manager’s perspective. What do I like? What should a job seeker do?

Just like I tell clients when they are selling — if you narrow your target, you’ll likely hit it. Look objectively at your resume — what is it that this resume says? Where is there a job that is a very close fit to what you’ve done in the past? Seek out those opportunities. Instead of applying for 20 − 50 jobs a day, apply for 2 − 5, but make them the right jobs — the jobs where your resume is going to stand out because the fit is terrific. Then write a fantastic cover letter that shows that you understand the job, and can make a difference for that employer. Maybe this won’t work for every employer, I’m sure there are some folks who give different advice, but if I’m involved in the hiring process this is the only way in.

When you are hiring what are your pain points? What have you seen from applicants that drives you nuts?


  1. I tend to prefer the skills based resume for people who want to transition into a new line of work. They may not have the previous employment experience that is expected but that doesn’t mean they don’t have the skills to do the job. When a resume only gets a few seconds of attention, applicable experience, skills, or work history need to be one of the first things that are visible.

    • Joshua;

      I understand why people choose the skills based resume — but I view the “skills” section as a work of fiction. The applicant can put anything they want there — unless it’s validated in the work experience I can’t trust it. For that reason the skills resume makes me work too hard to find the information I need to evaluate the candidate.

      Sills resumes make sense for folks transitioning to a new line of work — but I’m usually not looking for that. I’m looking for a proven commodity.

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