The Seven Deadly Sins (of Resume Writing)

If you have ever been on a fishing expedition, you know the most successful fishermen use the best, most appropriate bait available. They also have the most lines (and hooks) in the water. A job search is much like a fishing expedition. Your resume represents the bait, and each company that you send your resume to represents a line with a hook that allows you to snag a job. Think of your ideal job as that big fish, the one you can't wait to brag about to your friends, the one that didn't get away, and your claim to fame!

Just as it is important for a fisherman to use the right bait to attract that big fish, it is imperative that job seekers use the right resume to attract that big job opportunity. During my career as a Corporate Recruiter, I have had the opportunity to review thousands of resumes. Some of those resumes have been stellar; the resume is formatted professionally, well written, and portrays the candidates in their best light. On the other hand, I have also had the unfortunate opportunity to review some of the worst resumes ever written! In fact, some of those resumes were so bad that they have received honorary status on my list of the seven worst things I have ever seen on a resume. These prospective candidates committed what I call the "Seven Deadly Sins of Resume Writing":

  1. Poorly formatted resumes: Every now and then while working in my position as a Corporate Recruiter, I receive resumes the old-fashion way, through the U.S. Postal Service, or as most people call it these days, snail mail. Although this is not my preferred method to receive resumes, I don't typically hold it against a candidate; unless of course the resume is so badly formatted that it is unreadable. Or, even worse, the resume is hand-written! Not too long ago, I received a handwritten resume for a management position. There is no way that I would ever forward a resume of this nature to a hiring manager. No matter how a resume is submitted, it should be professionally formatted, edited for misspelled words and grammatical errors, and definitely should be typed! Beware! The most misspelled word on resumes (and my biggest pet peeve) is manager; if the word is spelled as manger, spell check does not catch the error!
  2. Inappropriate pictures: Within the last five years I have seen a definite increase in resumes that include a picture or pictures of the candidate. Interestingly, hiring managers seem to have a difference of opinion regarding the addition of pictures; some hiring managers seem to appreciate being able to visualize a candidate while reading over the candidate's qualifications, whereas others seem to think that it is a distraction. Personally, I am not a big fan of this practice, as I have seen the most inappropriate pictures that you can imagine! For example, I have received resumes submitted by female candidates where they are photographed with short skirts or showing their d├ęcolletage. I have received resumes from male candidates where their pictures show them in casual attire (fishing hats, swim suits, etc.), or worse, in pictures that include their whole family. However, the most inappropriate picture that I have ever seen to date on a resume was one that included a nude photo of the candidate's genitals! Not only is this the most inappropriate picture imaginable, I have to say it is extremely creepy!! If you are inclined to include a photo on your resume it should be professionally photographed, and should include a head shot with a plain background in professional attire. My professional opinion is that if you are in doubt about the appropriateness of a picture, do not include it!
  3. Personal information: The third Deadly Sin of resume writing is including personal information on a resume. I am referring to personal statistics such as age, marital status, sexual orientation, the number of children one has in their family, and even religious beliefs. Although in some countries, especially Middle Eastern countries, it is expected that candidates list this information on their resume, this is not so in the United States. Personal information should never appear on an application of employment or a personal resume. Legally speaking, this personal information is protected under the United States Civil Rights Act of 1964, making it unlawful for an interviewer to ask any questions relating to these personal topics. By adding this information to your resume, not only are you are putting yourself in a position to be discriminated against, but you are putting the recruiter in a precarious situation with regard to the law. This might just cause the recruiter to pass on you as a candidate!
  4. Employment history with no dates: As a recruiter, when I see a resume of a prospective candidate with no dates accompanying the employment history, my first inclination is to think that this candidate must have something to hide. Why else would these dates be left off of a resume? Are there big gaps in employment? Is the candidate trying to hide the amount of experience they actually have? Has this candidate only had short-term employment? Inquiring minds are going to want to know! By leaving dates off of your resume, you are just creating more work for you, as well as the recruiter, because most recruiters will not only ask for these dates in an interview, but will also ask that you resubmit your resume with dates included. I have never, and will never, forward a resume to a hiring manager that is missing these important dates of employment!
  5. Unrelated personal interests and hobbies: Several years ago, when writing my first resume, I remember being directed to add my hobbies and interests at the bottom of the resume. These hobbies and interests were supposed to show that I was a well-rounded, interesting person. However, this is no longer the norm. In fact, just as adding an "Objective" to your resume is outdated, so is adding your personal interests. Recruiters just want the facts of your experience relating to the position. Again, you are wasting a Recruiters valuable time by adding these little tidbits of personal information. In fact, by adding this additional information incorrectly, you take the risk of your resume ending up in a circular file (the one next to the recruiter's desk that contains the remnants of their lunch!). I have had the unfortunate opportunity to review resumes of candidates who listed their personal interests as "Jazz Hand Aficionado", "Exotic Pole Dancer", and "Cat Whisperer". Really?? What does that have to do with a Sales Manager position? As you can imagine, these prospective candidates were not selected for interview.
  6. Links or URLs unrelated to the position: The ability to utilize the Internet to apply for positions certainly has allowed prospective candidates to share more information about them than a written resume allows. In fact, candidates can attach video resumes, and links to personal websites, blogs, and social networking pages. My advice to this practice is: DON'T DO IT!! Again, candidates run the risk of making an embarrassing professional faux pa. Just recently, I received a resume with a link to the candidate's Facebook page. Unfortunately, that same candidate had uploaded pictures to that same Facebook page that showed him, let's just say, in an unprofessional light (drinking, partying, some nudity!) Well, as a recruiter, my reputation is at risk every time I forward a resume to a hiring manager. I am not about to take a chance on a candidate with such poor decision-making skills.
  7. Negativity toward previous employers: Honestly, I never thought I would be adding this deadly sin to the list, as I have, in all my years of experience as a recruiter, never witnessed this until just recently. However, I was so shocked when I received a resume where a prospective candidate showed their previous employer in a negative light, that I knew that I never wanted to see this again! This candidate chose to list their reasons for leaving each of their previous positions. This is not a problem, and, in fact, can be quite helpful and save some time during the interview process (as recruiters are going to ask those questions anyway). It was the candidate's reason for leaving his last job that floored me! He stated that the reason that he left his last job was because his previous employer was unethical, made bad decisions, and treated their employees horribly. Talk about bad press for that company! There is no way a recruiter would take the time to interview a candidate who has the potential of ruining a company's reputation. After all, if he spoke so poorly about his previous company, what is he going to say about his next company?

It is important to remember that a resume is your written introduction. Although this short list of "don'ts" does not completely encompass what to write and what not to write on a resume, prospective candidates who avoid these seven deadly sins of resume writing will avoid common pitfalls and have a better chance of not only catching the interest of the recruiter, but also scoring the interview. Use the right bait and you have a better chance of catching your next big job opportunity!