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 third 10 executive resume pet peeves. See Executive Resume Pet Peeves 1-10 in Part 1 and Executive Resume Pet Peeves 11-20 in Part 2.
21. Resume fails to list educational credentials.
Candidates are sometimes advised to leave off an Education section if they have absolutely nothing to list there, but that situation is extremely rare at the highest corporate levels. Virtually everyone has at least some training under his or her belt. But some candidates might not realize that an Education section is expected, or they leave it off because they feel theirs is deficient. Education needs to be listed because employers want to see it.
22. Resume contains personal information.
Mature job-seekers may remember a time when including personal information on a resume was standard practice. This information often included height, weight, birth date, social security number, marital status, children, and health status (as if anyone would admit on a resume to health that was less than excellent). Today’s hiring managers do not want to see this information because it raises discrimination issues. Doreen Perri-Gynn, associate vice president of human resources at Yang Ming (America) Corp., doesn’t want to know “if you have three children and your wife is a happy homemaker or your husband an accountant. This is extraneous information that may prevent a manager from hiring you because he/she wants to keep his benefits budget down.” Since this type of information is still often included on resumes and CVs outside the U.S., Perri-Gynn advises Europeans when applying in the U.S. to “kindly leave off the picture, and family information. We do not require your children’s names, ages, schools, wife’s maiden name and who her parents are. The U.S. bases hiring criteria on skills and accomplishments.”
23. Resume contains long lists of awards, trainings, and similar items.
These are the items that often add unnecessary length and wordiness to a resume. Here’s an opportunity to ask yourself the “so what?” question. For every item you are considering listing, ask if it really adds any value to the resume. It’s not incumbent upon you to include everything you’ve ever accomplished, earned, or learned. Prioritize. Choose the items that will best make your case as the best qualified candidate for the job you seek. Consider also creating supplemental documents with awards, trainings, publications, presentations, media mentions, and similar items. That way, you’ll have them available if they’re requested, and you might also have an opportunity to discuss them in the interview stage.
24. Resume is in a functional format or otherwise lacks dates.
Employers do not like functional formats or even chrono-functional because they want to see dates and get a clear picture of how your career has progressed. “I ignore resumes that do not include dates,” said Miriam Torres, president of HRStaff Consulting, an executive-search firm in Miami Beach, FL. In fact, decision-makers will often read your resume from the bottom up to see how your career has developed.
“I need to tell hiring managers where you worked, when you worked there and what you did under each job, recruiter Alice Hanson said. “If you are old or haven’t worked in a year, a resume isn’t going to hide that. I’ll figure it out, be sure of that, or I’m not worth my salt. Functional resumes undersell. I assume there is something wrong when I see them.” At Hanson’s recruiting firm, resumes are reformatted into a standard company style before candidates are presented to employers. “When I go to format the candidate’s resume into our chronological company resume template, functional resumes are pure hell,” she said. “Creating a chronological resume from a functional resume takes time, and time is not what recruiters have much of.”
While some job-seekers have successfully used functional formats to de-emphasize problematic elements of their careers, recruiters tend to discount this “de-emphasis” as an attempt to hide something. A functional resume might not completely exclude you, but given a choice, recruiters will always gravitate to chronological resumes. “I haven’t found a time when a chronological resume doesn’t make sense,” said Kristina Creed, a senior manager at a for-profit education provider.
25. Resume has poor or inconsistent formatting, unclear layout.
“A resume should be clear, concise and provide enough relevant information to encourage the phone call it’s meant to generate,” said Human Resources Professional Veronica Richmond of Oakville, Ontario, Canada. My preference is for easy reading, because I see just too many resumes per position to fight a layout that is not clear. I want to find the relevant information easily.”
An example of poor formatting that Curtis Pollen doesn’t like to see is “everything lined up on the left margin including name, address heading information.” Pollen, who is senior director of talent recruitment for the American Heart Association, Wallingford, CT, rails when the “content layout doesn’t flow smoothly, for example, [the candidate] will list all accomplishments up front then just provide jobs and dates down below. I like to see what accomplishments were achieved in a particular job to ensure there is a match for the position I am recruiting for.”
Pollen also noted that candidates don’t pay enough attention to how the resume looks when loaded to a job board or his organization’s career site, sometimes resulting in “resumes where everything runs together and is hard to read.” Pollen advised job-seekers to check the format to ensure it looks appropriate before submitting it.
Candidates who don’t bother to check the way their resumes print out annoy Jeff Weaver, regional manager for a global information services company, such as when a two-page resume spills over — by just a few lines — onto an unintended third page. Granted, computer incompatibilities often are the culprits for a format that is inconsistent between sender and recipient, but candidates can experiment with sending their resumes to friends’ computers to ensure they print out as intended, and as Weaver advises, tweak the margins or remove unnecessary page breaks to eliminate an unintended straggler page.
26. Too many fonts appear in the resume.
Use no more than two fonts in your resume.
27. Resume file name is “Resume.doc” or “Resume.pdf.”
I know from my experience as a resume-writer that an astonishing number of job-seekers give their resumes the file name “Resume.doc.” Can you imagine how many of these identically named files a hiring decision-maker receives? They don’t distinguish the candidate, and the recipient must always rename the files to keep them organized. Add your name to the file name and perhaps the month and year you are submitting it: KHansenResumeDec11.doc, for example.
Also be sure that your resume is in a file format that the recipient can open. The only file format that is virtually foolproof is one with a .doc extension, but if you have any doubt, do a test run of your attachment by sending it to a friend to ensure the recipient can open it. You can also ask the employer if your file format can be opened on the company’s computers.
28. Resume is not accompanied by a cover letter or cover letter is not targeted to the open position.
Not all employers read cover letters (about two-thirds do), but to some of the decision-makers who do read them, cover letters are very important. Your resume should always be accompanied by a cover letter. And given that one of the main functions of a cover letter is to describe how your qualifications match a specific job vacancy, it is pointless to send a boilerplate cover letter that is not tailored to the targeted position. Benjamin Smith, corporate recruiter at HR services-provider Mercer, especially eschews “cover letters that are clearly form-written and the job title is inserted into the first line.”
29. Resume contains lies or misleading statements or misrepresentations.
Despite high-profile individuals whose resume lies have been publicly reported, and despite the increasing use of background checks, lying remains rampant on resumes. A recent study conducted by J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc., a provider of risk and regulatory management solutions, revealed resumes lies about past employment (the largest category), education, professional licensure and certifications, and military service.
It’s just too risky to lie because you will probably get caught. Hiring decision-makers are far more attuned to falsehoods than before, and many employers are doing background checks. It doesn’t even take an official background check to uncover lies; ExecuNet’s 15th Annual Executive Job Market Intelligence Report pointed to more than a third of executives who have found problems, such as misstated academic qualifications and falsified company or title information, through simple online searches.
Don’t be tempted to lie, stretch the truth, or misrepresent the facts. That weekend certificate program you completed at Harvard isn’t the same as a Harvard MBA.
30. Facts stated in one part of the resume are not supported elsewhere.
It’s not unusual to see a candidate make a statement in the sales-oriented top potion of the first page of a resume that is not backed up anywhere else in the resume, perhaps claiming a skill or experience that is never mentioned again. The candidate may also state a certain number of years of experience in a field, but when the decision-maker reviews the experience section, the years don’t add up to the number claimed.
Sometimes stated years of experience don’t provide a true picture of the candidate’s background. “Some people can state they have a lot of experience in a particular field, but if you look at length of time, they are jumping around every few months,” said a human-resources generalist from Fairfax County, VA. “They are not really gaining much experience in only a few months at a job.”
Back to the first 10 and main page… Executive Resume Pet Peeves
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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