What not to do in a resume

I have some thoughts about what not to do in a resume and I feel I need to get them off my chest. My team is hiring several new members and I’m seeing a lot of resumes and doing a lot of interviewing. I saw a lot more resumes back when I was an IT manager and I must say that things have gotten worse. So for anyone who cares, here is a short list of what not to do in a resume if you want me to hire you.

  1. Limit the resume to one page. I’ll read two pages if I have to, but I get a ton of resumes that are 4 pages long. There is no need to list every technical detail on your resume. That can come up in the interview. What you filter out is as important to me as what you filter in. It tells me you know how to prioritize. Four pages tells me that you don’t know how to prioritize.
  2. Know your audience. Specifically, know your audience with respect to your objective statement. I see a lot of objective statements that where the objective is all about improving the applicants career, salary, experience, whatever. I see very few objectives that focus on how the applicant can help the company. I’m fine with the former, so long as it takes second place to the latter.
  3. Be careful when you say you are an “expert” in _________. I see a lot of “expert in SQL databases” or “expert in project management”. At the same time, the resume will indicated 3-4 years of experience in these areas. I have been doing software development in my present capacity for 8 years and I don’t yet consider myself an expert. Research shows that it takes about 10 years of hard work and practice for someone to become “expert” at a particular skill. The term “expert” is tossed about in resumes in the same way the term “hero” is tossed about in the news media. Both are grossly over-used.
  4. Don’t overuse jargon. I grow annoyed pretty quickly when I start to see bullet points that read as though they are in a foreign language. “Implemented best-of-breed, open-standards ITIL-based WEP-encryption application,” sounds ridiculous to me, even if it is true. I would much rather see something like, “Helped to develop a quality data protection application based on current industry standards…”
  5. Don’t mix tenses. I’m really not sure why this annoys me, but I see some resumes that start in one tense (present) and then slip into another tense (past). It just makes the darn things confusing to read.
  6. If you provide a long list of programming languages, be expected to be grilled on each of them. People will list every language they have ever heard of and it looks impressive so we call them for an interview and ask them a fairly simply PHP question and they are baffled. If you don’t have practical working experience with the programming language, don’t list it. I have used C, C++, C#, JavaScript, Perl, PHP, SQL, Visual Basic, C shell, Lisp, PostScript, SAS, etc., etc. But I only have practical working experience with C#, JavaScript, Perl, PHP, SQL, Visual Basic, and C Shell.

And here is at least one thing that I would like to see more of in resumes:

  • List some of your interests, other than computers. I like learning about what the people I interview are interested in. Sometimes, it provides a really good way to establish a positive rapport. If I see that you enjoy writing, or baseball, for instance, I might ask you about that. It makes you feel better, and it helps me learn something about you. If I had a resume of my own (I haven’t had one since I got this gig 12 years ago) I would list among the interesting things about me that: “I captained our company softball team, I enjoy reading and writing, and I am an FAA licensed pilot.”

So there you have it. Some tips for dolling up your resume if you are every in the position to apply for a job for which I am hiring. Oh, and by the way, what spurred this particular entry was that I actually saw a resume that met most of my criteria, just before writing this. I don’t know if the person’s experience will qualify them for the position, but they are more or less guaranteed an interview because they had a good resume.


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