by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
In the subjective world of career-marketing communications, where opinions vary widely and consensus is hard to find, the pet peeves and preferences of those with the power to hire offer enlightenment for crafting your executive resume — especially what to avoid.
Through a list of the Top 30 Executive Resume Pet Peeves, hiring decision-makers reveal the landmines aspiring executives can avoid while positioning their career-marketing documents to meet decision-maker needs. I surveyed 59 hiring decision-makers for my book, Top Notch Executive Resumes (from which this series of articles is adapted) about their peeves and preferences. One of them, Melissa Holmes, senior technical recruiter, at Levi, Ray & Shoup Consulting Services, Springfield, IL, speculated that while executive and senior-level candidates make the same resume mistakes as all other job-seekers perhaps hiring decision-makers are less forgiving.
Here are the second 10 executive resume pet peeves. See Executive Resume Pet Peeves 1-10 in Part 1 and Executive Resume Pet Peeves 21-30 in Part 3.
11. Resume is not tailored to the targeted vacancy.
Shawn Slevin, HR and human capital solutions provider for Chair Swim Strong Foundation in the New York City area, called resumes that are the same for every position “cookie cutter.” Instead, your resume should closely match the requirements of the job you are targeting. While hiring decision-makers don’t pay much attention to Objective Statements, the headline technique can be effective in telling the recipient immediately what job or type of job you’re targeting. When targeting a job advertised by a corporate recruiter in a specific company, demonstrate in your resume that you’ve researched that organization and can tie your accomplishments to the employer’s needs.
As recruiter Lisa De Benedittis, president of Elite Staffing Services in the San Diego area, noted: “Resumes are auditions without the benefit of you being around. I will decide if you are a match for my job/client within 20 seconds. Your resume will speak volumes about your communication skills. Do you use words to demonstrate your value or is it boilerplate? Did you put thought and effort into this audition?”
12. Resume contains inexplicable acronyms and industry-specific jargon.
Here’s an example of a head-spinning array of acronyms and jargon from one resume reviewed for the book, Top Notch Executive Resumes. The reader can figure out many of them, but it would so much easier if they were spelled out;
- Manage the Asia Pacific WCS IT Outsourcing Transition & Transformation Programme Waves 1& 2. This is part of the Global Transition & Transformation Programme, a cluster of 82 major projects over a period of 3 years for an APAC budget of 8.7M Euros, executed by EDS but controlled and monitored by ABN.
- Transitioned to EDS ~300 Technology staff in Singapore, H Kong , Sydney, Tokyo, Shanghai including the ABN Regional Processing Centre on time and within budget.
- Negotiated Wave 2 T&T budget cost avoidance of 0.5m Euros.
- Provide direct management support to the A/P Technology CIO & Management Team, encompassing Financial Control Process Co-ordination, Resource Management, Portfolio & Project Control Project (A/P 320 projects with a budget expenditure of ~34M Euros). Responsible for the functional & organizational development of the Global Retained Technology Organization (NTO) and the development of the Global Governance Framework schedule (part of the Global Service Agreement contract).
- Established & Implemented the Value Management Plan to achieve best practices within WCS Technology.
- Developed the Global Retained Organization & Functional model on time & within budget.
- Managed the TOI – WCS (Investment & Commercial Banking) Global IT Operations and Global Change Control Teams.
- Provided Global Infrastructure Operational Services, defined/set Global Standards and Global IT Processing Services Strategy. This encompassed managing the Global IT Ops/Change Control Teams of > 300 staff and relevant expenditure budgets of >100M Euros.
- Restructured Global Lotus Notes Ops Team – FTE Savings by 70% and London Change Control Team-FTE Savings by 35%.
- Implemented Automation and AS/400 LPAR technologies to reduce RPC Singapore & Amsterdam Operational Costs by 25%.
- Negotiated a new TCO with IBM in Singapore with a cost savings of over 2.3M Sing. Dollars.
- Expanded Singapore RPC Processing Services Capabilities to establish a Centre of excellence.
- Established ISAP Global Change Control TAT Acceptance Criteria Policy & Standards.
- Established Global IT Processing Services Strategy / Business Model.
- Developed the WCS Global SLOs and Major Contributor of the first TOI Service Catalogue
“Acronyms that are company-specific need to be reworked into a generic description of the same type that is easily understandable to those outside of that environment,” advised Melissa Holmes, senior technical recruiter, at Levi, Ray & Shoup Consulting Services, Springfield, IL.
13. Resume language is replete with “fluff,” flowery words, and “resume speak” instead of specifics.
Your resume “needs to have good factual information and be clear as to what it is that you actually do; it doesn’t need to be fluffy and overwrought,” said survey respondent Thomas Burrell. Meg Steele, director of recruitment and employment mobility at Swedish Medical Center in the Seattle area, decried the lack of specifics in resume language: “The most irritating characteristic on senior-level resumes is an overuse of flowery language without substantiation,” she said. “I want to see actual accomplishments, not summary statements that imply an understanding of functional areas that reported up to the individual. A good leader knows enough about what his or her people are doing to speak intelligently about the problem that was being solved by this or that initiative. So, if [candidates] say ‘oversaw development of strategic solutions,’ they should have some more specific examples of said ‘strategic solutions’ and what the impact was to the business [and] the employees.” Agreed survey respondent Alison: “Weed out the garbage, and tell me what you made, saved, achieved, and make it quantifiable.
Characterized as “resume speak” by survey respondents were words like “visionary,” “thought leader,” “evangelist,” “innovative,” “motivating,” and “engaging.”
14. Resume language is egotistical and self-congratulatory.
Harlynn Goolsby of the Human Resources Department at OSRAM Sylvania compares this type of resume verbiage to a “bio or the introduction for a guest speaker.”
Some examples of puffed-up phrases include “inspirational leader,” “as quoted in…,” and “winner of countless awards.”
15. Content focuses on soft skills and neglects hard data. Seeing soft skills listed on a resume is a rock-bottom priority for hiring decision-makers, who prefer to explore soft skills in the interview stage (and by talking to your references) because it is difficult to substantiate them on paper. “If you have to tell me you have these skills, you probably don’t have them,” said Kristina Creed, a senior manager at a for-profit education provider. Limit use of soft skills — such as communication, teamwork, and leadership — to those that are germane to the position you’re targeting. Portrayal of soft skills will be more credible if you substantiate them with solid examples of how you’ve demonstrated them. If hard skills are required, be sure to include them, too, and be very specific about them — types of projects, technical skills, and expertise.
Soft skills are also helpful if you are in a profession in which hard skills predominate, and soft skills are unexpected but desirable. “If you’re a software engineering manager who has a real talent with people and is technically excellent — highlight it,” suggested Veronica Richmond a human resources in professional Oakville, Ontario, Canada. “You’re a rarity, so have great stories ready to back it up.”
16. Span of work experience in a given job is listed with years only instead of with months and years or is listed inconsistently from job to job.
Decision-makers want to see specific dates of employment — months and years (not days). “A job that ran December, 2004 to January, 2005, if months are not listed, looks precisely the same as a job that ran January, 2004, to December, 2005 — a significant difference,” noted senior IT recruiter John Kennedy. Similarly, De Benedittis noted, “if your resume says 2004-2005, that could be a 30-day job or a 12-month job. I don’t want to guess and neither does my client. Put a month and a year on your resume, even if it is short term; we won’t be fooled because we will ask you the exact dates and we will verify the information.”
17. Not enough description of the scope of a given job is provided beyond the job’s title. Some candidates assume their title will tell the full story, but titles often have different meanings from organization to organization. You must convey a sense of what the scope of each position encompassed.
18. Candidate leaves jobs off the resume.
While this peeve is not universal, many decision-makers want to see the candidate’s entire job history from college graduation on. They suggest a bare-bones (position/title, employer, city/state, dates) listing of older jobs under a heading such as “Prior Experience” or “Previous Professional Experience.”
Decision-makers expect you to account for all gaps between jobs. “Give it to me as straight as possible,” Seattle recruiter Alice Hanson said. “If you have been out of work for a year, put a bullet in that explains why. If you have multiple jobs that ended after three months, tell me you completed three three-month contract positions successfully.” Most in hiring positions want to see when you graduated college and discount the age-discrimination argument because your graduation date will be discovered anyway when the recruiting firm is verifying information. “If a company is going to discriminate, truncating the resume may get you in a door, but won’t get the person the job,” Kennedy said.
19. Disproportionate space is devoted to older jobs.
Decision-makers expect to see the greatest proportion of content dedicated to your most recent and most relevant positions. They find it odd if you’ve devoted much more attention to an older job than one that was more recent. “Unless it was an amazing accomplishment, I’m not concerned that you grew sales by 20 percent back in 1987,” said Brian Howell, CSAM, of The QWorks Group.
20. The exact same verbiage is used to describe functions in different jobs.
You may very well have had the same functions in multiple jobs, but you don’t add to the value of your resume if you express these functions the same way for each job. It’s not even necessary to list them for each job; once you’ve listed that function, the reader knows you have the experience. One job-seeker repeated the bullet point below for every job — changing only the number of staff supervised in each position:
- Managed 32 subordinate staff from different Asian ethnic groups on recruitment, personnel, training issues.
Move on to the next 10… Executive Resume Pet Peeves 21-30 in Part 3
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., creative director and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers, is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for Quintessential Careers, edits QuintZine, an electronic newsletter for jobseekers, and blogs about storytelling in the job search at A Storied Career. Katharine, who earned her PhD in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, OH, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press), as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press); and with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Study Skills (Alpha). Visit her personal Website or reach her by e-mail at kathy(at)quintcareers.com. Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.
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