General Tips for Applicants

Your resume is often the first and only thing a recruiter will see.  Whether it’s someone in a company’s HR department, or at an agency, it’s almost always the first impression made, and often the last one too.  Here’s a few tips for resumes and the application process in general.

First cover letters.  Do they matter?  It depends.  I personally hate them, other recruiters insist they are necessary.  It’s totally random, there’s no rhyme or reason for the Yes or No votes.  Put simply, if the advertisement asks for one directly or implies it’s good form to send, send one.  Otherwise, no need to bother, it could hurt as much as help.

Now to resumes…

First, never put your name and contact information in the header of a Word document.  It won’t parse into most companies’ ATS, or applicant tracking systems.  So, always put that information in the body of the document.

Second, put dates to the month on where you’ve worked.  Nothing is more ridiculous and annoying to a recruiter than not being able to figure out when and where the hell you worked.  Sometimes we see people, their experience looks great, and then we see a lack of dates and it sets off alarms.  Also, putting 2010 to 2012 is not good enough.

Here’s the reality…

While it’s politically correct to say that potential employees should not be discriminated against because of lay offs, the reality is that if you’ve been laid off from every single job in your career, and/or you’ve had ten jobs in the last couple of years and they weren’t contract positions, it’s time to face the fact that maybe you’re the problem, and employers should be wary of you.  Employers don’t generally lay off their top ten percent of people, they aim for the low performers, and unless the company moved to Fiji, being repeatedly sacked will have an effect on your career.

Likewise for age.  If you leave off your work history dates and graduation date in the hope of not giving away your age, you think you’re helping yourself, when in reality you’re just as likely to hinder yourself.  It’s a hindrance because it comes across as lying.  So while it might help you get an interview with someone who otherwise might have been discriminatory, it will just as likely piss off someone who was more than willing to hire someone of any age, but wants to know up front who they’re talking to.  This is especially damaging for recruiters because clients often want people who are going to stay at a company for a while if possible, and potentially get promoted and have a career there.  If you have one job on your resume that covers five years and it turns out you’ve worked for thirty years before that, it’s a little ridiculous.

Now, to content…

The content of your resume is really up to you, you can focus on accomplishments or daily duties.  I prefer accomplishments and hard metrics, but that’s a preference.  What is really important is to ask yourself: would someone who knows nothing about me or where I’ve worked be able to figure out what I have done by reading this resume, and reading it very quickly?  I’ve read thousands of resumes at this point, and it’s not uncommon at all to read an entire resume and have no clue what a person has done, or who they’ve worked for, or what those companies do.  If you’re resume doesn’t communicate what you have done and for who, it needs to be rewritten.

Now, as to how to organize the content, once more it’s up in the air.  However, I can say personally I hate, and have never met a recruiter who likes, “skills based” resumes.  That is, resumes which list a whole lot of accomplishments and other BS, and then, if you’re lucky, at the bottom you get the person’s work history.  The reason almost every recruiter hates this format is because it’s almost always used to hide a poor work history with lots of job jumping.  It’s so often used as camouflage for a poor work history you get a bad taste in your mouth when you see it initially, so I would always recommend avoiding such a format.

So, to sum up, you should know that companies input resumes into databases, and that putting your information in headers or footers can make it inaccessible to these systems.  You should also know that while PDFs generally parse okay into these systems, Word is usually the best format to use.

Your resume should be honest above all else, and have the details people are looking for.

Put your work dates to the month, not the year.  Working somewhere from 2011 to 2012 could mean you were there for a month or two years, it’s a ridiculous thing to put on your resume, list it to the month.

And finally, you resume should be clear about who you worked for and what you did for them.  If you ramble on for paragraphs and actually tell the reader little to nothing, you need to rewrite the damn thing.

Know the systems, be honest, and communicate clearly in your resume.