A large part of my consulting practice is helping organizations implement bias-free hiring practices. This means helping them develop the policies, practices, tools and knowledge to look past the superficial so that they can assess each candidate based on their skills and abilities to do the job.
When managers are able to focus on the candidate's skills and abilities, they can truly hire the best person for the job. For people who belong to groups who experience systemic and persistent discrimination in the labour market, e.g., racialized people, Indigenous people, persons with disabilities and women, it is important to help the person reviewing your resume focus on your skills and abilities.
Unfortunately, some job seekers make it very difficult for managers because they make mistakes that can distract from their qualifications.
The goal of your resume is to show that you have the skills and abilities to do the job and that you should be invited for an interview. As a result, you need to select what gets included on your resume and how it should be formatted to highlight what you have to offer. This makes it easier for the manager to put you in the "yes" rather than the "no" pile.
Here are some of the common resume mistakes that get in the way of managers fairly assessing job candidates.
1. Using a chronological rather than a functional resume: A chronological resume displays your work history in reverse chronological order with your current job listed first. Employers typically prefer this type of resume because it's easy to see the jobs that the job applicant has held. This type of resume works well for applicants with a good work history and who are applying for a job similar to those they have held in the past.
For other job seekers, a functional resume is the better option. It includes the same information as a chronological resume but highlights skills and abilities in a separate section, followed by employment history and education.
The functional resume structure makes it easier to highlight the skills and abilities relevant for the job being applied for and is better in certain situations, such as when the job seeker: lacks direct job-related experience, but has transferrable skills; is changing careers or sectors; has too much or too varied experience and wishes to consolidate it; is re-entering the workforce; has gaps in work history; has frequently changed jobs; or has a lot of skills but not a great deal of work experience.
For more information on the differences between a chronological and functional resume, see the following, Chronological Resume vs. Functional Resume.
2. A generic resume and cover letter: One common mistake that job seekers make is using the same resume to apply to different positions. The resume and cover letter should be customized to each job - especially if you are using a functional resume.
The section that specifies skills and abilities should reflect the skills and abilities identified on the job description, and will help the recruiter match what the applicant has to offer with the requirements of the job.
In addition, as one recent blog post by a New York area consultant suggests, job seekers can increase their chances of being called for an interview if they copy the words found on the job ad. This allows the manager to immediately see that the applicant has the skills and abilities they are looking for.
For example, a job ad might identify the following qualifications:
In this case, a job seeker can use a functional resume using the following headings: operational planning and process management skills; analytical and critical thinking skills; and problem solving skills. The job seeker can then specify their experience in bullet points under each heading.
3. Spelling mistakes and grammatical errors: The most common mistakes, and the most easily remedied, are spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. When recruiters and managers receive hundreds of resumes from fully qualified applicants, spelling and grammatical mistakes are often used to quickly weed out applicants. Unfortunately it can mean that fully qualified applicants, who did not pay enough attention to their resume, are put in the "no" pile.
Keep in mind that not all spelling mistakes are caught by spell check. It is important to have someone else review your resume to help catch these mistakes.
4. Resumes and cover letters that are too long: Research shows that recruiters spend an average of six seconds before they make the initial "yes" or "no" decision. As a result, long cover letters and resumes disadvantage you in the hiring process. Although a long resume allows you to include more information, it is unlikely that the entire resume will be read. A more concise cover letter and resume will capture more attention. Recruiters and managers that I have worked with suggest that for most jobs the cover letter should be no more than one page and the resume no more than two.
5. Inappropriate formatting of the cover letter: Another way to quickly get your resume into the "no" pile is to not appropriately format your cover letter. Some applicants do not include their name and contact information at the top, a salutation, or appropriately close the letter. Right or wrong, this tells managers that the applicant does not pay attention to detail or does not care enough about getting the job to spend the time to format the cover letter.
6. Use of casual language in the cover letter: Managers also complain about cover letters that are written in very casual language or which use language more appropriately used in text messages such as short forms (e.g., BTW, u) or no capitalization.
7. Not including a cover letter: Managers expect your resume to be accompanied by a cover letter. Some managers immediately screen out a resume if there is no cover letter. Spend the time to prepare a brief cover letter, that you can use to highlight your skills and abilities or other qualities that you have not included on your resume.
8. Incorrect contact information: Some job seekers also include incorrect contact information on their resume. Sometimes the phone number is incorrect or the email address is old or just typed incorrectly. The perfect resume will never get you an interview if your contact information is wrong!
9. Inappropriate email address: Another issue that managers raise is the job candidate's choice of email addresses. As one person commented during a training session, "Do I really want to hire someone whose email address is hotmama421?" If you need to, get a new email address that is more professional - but be sure to check it often.
10. Listing irrelevant hobbies and volunteer experience: Hobbies and volunteer experience that are relevant and related to the job should be included on the resume. For example, if applying to a position as a teacher or to a daycare, volunteer work related to children or coaching a sport would be relevant.
However, unrelated hobbies and volunteer work should be left off your resume. At best they are irrelevant. At worse they may raise the concern of the manager and land the job seeker's resume in the "no" pile.
11. Resumes that stand out in the wrong way: While each job seeker wants their resume to stand out, they need to be careful that their resume doesn't stand out in the wrong way. Using a number of different fonts or coloured paper may catch the attention of the manager, but may also land you in the "no" pile.