Why I Toss Resumes

First published on my work site, GovWin.com

Over the course of my professional life, I’ve reviewed a great number of resumes. Apparently gifted with a knack to see unwritten value in the potential of a candidate, I’ve pulled out some pretty awesome people from their resumes. Many of them have gone way beyond my current position and found untold success.

Despite finding those stellar individuals, there are several resume “trends” that make me complain like a talkshow host during a slow news week. And what makes me the most bitter? The countless, seemingly-simple mistakes that college-educated professionals make in their resumes.

Your English 101 professors would be aghast if they saw these top five errors that they didn’t manage to beat out of you. (Note for you legal types: The examples below were not pulled from actual resumes).

Sentences end in punctuation; incomplete sentences don’t. Call this one a personal pet peeve based on the fact that I usually review resumes for writers. Wording like “Gained insight into the inner workings of the business development work” should never end in a period since it lacks a noun. Got it? If the applicant attended any type of school and graduated college, this one should have been covered in English 101 (and when I’ve hired people without degrees, they were hired because they knew how to write).

While AP style does allow this (and I’ve now given you an excuse), doing this in any resume (or on Powerpoint slides — cough, cough) is an extremely efficient way to trigger my (and most likely, others’ ) delete button.

I don’t care what I do when I do it. Please use “I” sparingly, especially when starting a sentence. Yes, your cover letter is your way to talk about your skills, value and what, if hired, you’d bring to the company. However, starting consecutive paragraphs and/or sentences with “I” is just straight-up lazy. There are so many other ways to start sentences: use them. You can blame my fifth-grade writing teacher for this one. Sorry. On the flip side, using “I” too much shows what the potential employee wants to do and not what the applicant can potentially do for the employer. Then you can use “I” like this: “I didn’t get hired.”

“Some” is vague. Once upon a time, I banned the word “some” from any product review for one simple reason: “some” means nothing and, therefore, wastes time. Doing “some” work on a plane, car, train or painting could mean a bare minimum of effort as opposed to creating one from scratch over the course of your life.

Be specific. Be bold. Be detailed. You only have so many words to convince a reader to consider you for employment. Use them wisely.

Objectives are ironic. What is your objective? To get the job. We both know that. So skip the small talk and tell the hiring manager why you can do what they need, why you can do it better and, if you have it available, provide past performance in your resume’s first sentence.

Why? Despite a not-so-strong urge to hire a “motivated task-oriented expert with eight years of office work experience,” I would be more inclined to interview a “manager-recommended innovative expert with 10 years of documented success, growth and improvement.”

One-page resumes rule. As a person with a whole bunch of experience and a few awards to brag about, even I have trouble boiling down the professional me down to a single sheet. Plus, many in HR won’t get to page two when reviewing your application — so why waste your time? Yes, while a 10-page opus on your professional life really describes the real you, most people will agree that just a “Page 1” will do.

Read the job posting, highlight the things that are required and keep the stuff that might have something to do with the job…again, on one page. This shows that you’re detailed and focused on getting the job and makes me want to talk to you more about it.

Regarding hobbies and interests, I don’t care if you walk dogs, scrapbook or homebrew cherry chocolate lager. Tell me why you are the solution to my problem.

Will avoiding these mistakes get you hired? No, that’s your job. But scrubbing your resume with the tips above will help you get noticed by any grammar tightwads and detail junkies who might review your application. Good luck.


Micheal Mullen is a senior editor and constant resume reader for GovWin.com. You can reach him at[email protected], or follow him via Twitter @idiottech.

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14 Comments

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Profile Photo Elliot Volkman

I have to say I still managed to get on the team after interviewing with Micheal even though they found my article about the KFC Skinwhich. Though he didn’t list that either.

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Profile Photo Hope OKeeffe

Resumes with spelling and grammatical errors also get tossed, automatically. (Sadly, that’s a minimum requirement that a surprising number of folks with graduate degrees don’t seem to get.) Saying that you are proficient in Word and Excel gets you downgraded. The only time “objectives” ever helped a candidate was when we were hiring a staff assistant and her resume objective was “to make your office life sane.” Hobbies are generally irrelevant unless they have some nexus to the job or demonstrate some level of depth that otherwise might not be apparent from the resume.

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Profile Photo Brett de Boisserre

@Elliot

If you are able to work “KFC Skinwich” or “Dorito taco shell” into your resume (preferably the OBJECTIVE) we have a kitchen supervisor position open at the jail. We are looking for someone with creativity and powdery hands.

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Profile Photo Elliot Volkman

@Said

Sounds like you found my site! Although I didn’t include those on my resume I had to submit my writing samples, and the featured article just so happened to be the KFC Skinwhich. Either that or it was when the Googled my name. Since that time I decided to create a landing page with all of the stuff I would prefer employers to find based on my name, which was also an easy phrase to get SEO on.

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Profile Photo Lisa James

Hello All!!

I agree with everything except the “one page” rule. I know for my industry, accounting, two pages are acceptable as max. Now for “bidding purposes” one page “scope of work” resume is preferred.

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Profile Photo Dennis Baggott

The one page rule may apply for Private sector jobs, however, I have been told when applying for Government jobs more is better. KSAs – knowledge, skills and abilities are supposedly scanned by computer before a human sees a resume. For this reason, applicants for government jobs are often told the longer resume is the way to go when trying to get a job with Uncle Sam. Still, I felt your article was worth reading. I added the Still in the previous sentence to not start the sentence with an “I” – whoops, I did it in this sentence, though, didn’t I. 🙂

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Profile Photo Micheal Mullen

@Dennis and @Lisa. That’s a great point but here’s my counterpoint. While length may be important, I’ve always found that adding associated keywords to the bottom of any resume or cover letter does help to get through the computer. The trick? I make them 4pt and make the text white (therefore, semi-invisible). Call it “resume-hacking.”

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