Face It, Your Resume Probably Sucks

Over the course of my HR career I've literally seen thousands of resumes of people at all levels and points in their careers. Bottom line? Most of them suck. That resume template from MS Word you're so proudly sporting? Yeah, I've seen that one li

ke 10,000 times. Like using fancy fonts? Sorry dude, it can't hide the fact that you've had 3 jobs in the last 12 months. Sure, LinkedIn and social media in general have changed the way that candidates interact and present themselves to potential employers but a proper resume is still almost always part of the hiring process. But here's my real issue – us HR Pros still have to review your sucky resume and trust me, after 10-15 doozies in a row it's pretty hard to stay focused. So I thought I'd share with you what I look for in a resume to help me quickly rule candidates in or out.

Is the candidates a doer or an accomplisher? The very first thing I do when I review a resume is look to see how the candidate talks about the work they've done. Do you use the valuable resume real-estate to give me a list of every task you were responsible for completing? Well don't. If you're an accountant I think it's safe to assume that you closed the books every month. And if you're in sales, I'm pretty sure it's a given that you have to go out and make sales calls. In other words, every job has “table stakes” and you don't need to waste space telling me about them. The resumes that really get my attention are the ones where the candidate talks about results or what they actually accomplished. Tell me about how you increased sales or revamped your accounting processes to save money. Results trump table stakes every time.

How long has the candidate worked at their last few companies? If you have a string of jobs where you lasted in them for less than 2 years you're most likely going to the “pass” pile. In my opinion, it takes at least 18 months to two years for anyone to make a real impact on a company. The first year is really just about getting your bearings, learning about the company and building the relationships which will help you accomplish things in the future. So if you're gone in anything less than two years, I'm not sure what you really could have accomplished that will be la

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sting. Now, I understand the economy plays a role here and layoffs, mergers, etc are a way of life and it's not always your choice to leave a job. The best resumes I've seen deal with that upfront – they either briefly provide the circumstances around any short stints in a cover letter or in the resume itself. Doesn't mean you'll get the job but it keeps you from getting ruled out right of the bat.

What do you do with your free time? I'll be honest, it wasn't until recently that I paid any attention to what someone did in their free time. Didn't think it was my business or relevant to whether I hire you or not. I've come to the point of view that these activities can provide some insights into the type of person you're hiring. Someone who uses their free time to volunteer for a cause they feel strongly about tells me something about their passion, beliefs and that they're willing to help those who need it. All generally good qualities in an employee. I have a particular soft spot for the amateur athlete. Three years ago I couldn't swim more than 50 yards without stopping but I decided I wanted compete in triathlons and since then I've completed almost 20 races. So, when I see the woman who tells me that she runs marathons for example, I know she's more than likely pretty dedicated and willing to put in hard work (like running 20 miles first thing in the morning, in the cold, on her day off). Moral of the story? Your high school guidance counselor was right – extracurricular activities do matter!

What does your Linked In page look like? I check out the Linked In profile of any candidate who makes it past the initial screening phase. I'm generally looking for a few key things – have you taken the time to actually update your profile or did you go the no picture, no description of your work route? What do your connections look like? If you've been in the workforce for more than a couple of years and have 20 connections I might think twice about why. But the most important thing I look for is consistency between your profile and your resume. Let's be honest, you can pretty much put whatever you want on your resume but you'll probably think twice about embellishing your accomplishments on a public site. And if you do embellish, well then I'm glad I checked!

What do you look for in a resume? Let's compare notes in the comments…


FOT Background Check

Andy Porter
Andy Porter is Chief People Officer at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, MA which means he works with some wicked smaaht people. Some days, he indeed does wear short shorts around the office(call it a morale booster) but it really just makes people uncomfortable. Other days, he spits some mad game on cheese. No really – he’s somewhat of a cheese aficionado. But more importantly? At Broad he gets to his small part to help change the world of healthcare.


  1. Colleen Fitzgerald says:

    I am big on Education. I am always curious why a candidate chose their school. You always need to make sure they actually graduated and wasn’t there just for the parties. GPA is also a good indicator—hard worker or slacker? Last but not least—finance. I love when candidates brag about their scholarships.

  2. Tyler Morrow says:

    I am a recent graduate and I am finding it difficult to find employment in Atlanta (I graduated from Emory University). What do you suggest new grads do to make their resume stand-out among more experienced applicants?

    • AW says:

      Take the article’s advice on building a resume, along with the comments regarding presentation. However, a resume can only get you so far. I would suggest going to the next career fair at your University. There are many employers that are looking for interns and recent graduates to fill their training and development programs.

    • andy p says:

      I apply the same logic to recent grads as I do for experienced candidates. Tell me what you accomplished outside of the expected not a list of the classes you took. I’m much more interested in the projects you worked on, the internships you held, or the awards you won. But the best advice I can give you is to network your a** off! The more connections you make and relationships you build the better off you’ll be in the long run.

      Good luck!

  3. KD says:

    Free Time –

    “Completed the entire DVD collection of HBO’s “The Wire” During the fall of 2010″.


  4. Kathleen says:

    KD – between your photo and your dedication to the wire, I’d hire you.

    In all seriousness though – these are awesome points. I’ve looked at a ton of resumes lately and they all feel the same – a laundry list of stuff that people have done but nothing that’s been accomplished. Another big no no: typos. That’s an automatic throw away.

    Along the lines of social media – you should check you FB page too. When you’re applying for a job and your FB page is full of ridiculous pictures without privacy settings – that’s a bad move.

  5. Tom says:

    I’ve found I can filter out about 80% of resumes (even in this job market) just based on typos, grammatical errors, and inconsistencies in punctuation. I figure, if you can’t take the time to proof a one-page document when you have unlimited time and resources to do so, how are you going to perform when I need you to churn out a 30-page report error-free under a tight deadline?

  6. JM says:

    I strongly agree about the typos. Especially when it comes to the company name. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen my company name slaughtered by an applicant who can’t take the time to verify whether or not there is one A or two.

    Reading resumes that are written like stories is a big pet peeve. I don’t need paragraphs about your daily tasks. Short & concise is best.. leave out the flowery prose please and thank you.

    Template resumes.. I hate them, but if you’re utilizing the space properly I can handle it. However, in recruiting for creative roles and for a creative company, I highly suggest you do something visual to make yourself stand out.

  7. JG Isaman says:

    As a Business Employment Specialist at a One-Stop Career Center, i’ve lost count of how many times I read those “skills laundry lists.” IMy coaching always includes asking the job seeker what fabulous outcome did they accomplishment through their amazing talent. I call this their WOW factor.

    Thank you for your post and subsequent comments all. Now I have proof postive what HR is looking for when they review candidates resumes.

  8. Shannon says:

    I want to know what your goals and metrics were and how you performed to those goals. I want to know numbers: any ways you increased performance/productivity and/or saved the company money. I want to know any projects that were completed on time or early and at or below budget. I want to know any awards or recognition you received. I want to know the revenue of the company, the number of employees (either in the company or the dept you were responsible for), and one sentence about what the business of the company is. The info about the company/department, coupled with your title, will tell me enough about what your duties were. The rest of the data I want to see tells me how well you executed those duties.

  9. Mac Byrd says:

    The best resume is a snapshot profile of your skills and accomplishments, not your titles and history. Throw out your resume template, build your profile on booyango.com and SHINE through the mediocrity of your ‘peers.’

  10. Dan G. says:

    I agree totally. Unfortunately for me, the bulk of positions I recruit for are nurses and physical therapists. If I screened out all of them that had bad formatting or grammatical errors my company would go out of business. Now when it comes to sales or support staff I always like a good, short, bullet point section at the top covering their highlights. This is a good place to put sales goals that have been surpassed. I used to be a career coach and I have the the same opinion now that I gave my students. Put measurable results down. You know you’re reliable and a hard worker, your mother probably loves you too but none of that is measurable and shouldn’t be on your resume.

  11. Donna M says:

    The article is more evidence that HR professionals are blind to the state of the current economy. Some of us have less than 2 yrs in positions in the last 5 years because of corporate takeovers letting go of current personnel, plant layoffs and subsequent closings, and other situations over which we’ve had no control. The last time I was laid off prior to closing (in the defense industry) the majority of employees had to leave town in order to find work. These HR guys need to look out from their ivory towers once in awhile and take a good look at the employment environment. Just because they have secure positions does not mean all of us have been so fortunate.

    • Donna M says:

      No, they absolutely DO NOT pay any attention to notations about the special circumstances surrounding employment of less than two years. Dates and Titles, Dates and Titles. That’s the only thing MOST HR guys are looking at.

      • andy p says:

        In my opinion the state of the economy is even MORE of a reason to make sure your resume is top notch. There are some positions for which I’ll get hundreds of candidates and the candidates who take the time to think about what will make their resume easier to understand generally fare better. Getting laid off isn’t a knock out by any stretch – it’s very common. But, if you don’t take the time to explain it somehow in your resume you’re likely to get passed over.

        Thanks for the comments!


  12. Josh Tolan says:

    Great article! It’s important for job seekers to realize their resume is the place where they can show off how they’ve brought value to companies before, not just a list of tasks they perform. Another good tip might be for job seekers to consider the video resume. In 60 seconds job seekers can tell you a lot more about their skills and experience than will fit on one page. If they share concrete examples of their value and include a link to a video resume, job seekers will be giving recruiters a much fuller and more personal view of their candidacy.

  13. Bill Catlette says:

    As a former HR professional and executive (many of the first 100,000 employees recruited to FedEx were on my watch), I too have a pretty low tolerance for resumes that reflect carelessness, laziness, or devious behavior. Ditto for those where the applicant persistently fails to put their best foot forward.

    That said, I think it helpful for us to keep in mind the iron law that we (recruiters) need them (applicants) as much as they need us, and it serves no purpose for us, in our quest for the right talent, to turn into resume snobs. Thinking back, some of our very best hires not only didn’t have the best resumes, they didn’t have the best talent or experience either. They just wanted the job and the opportunity to contribute so bad they could taste it. We would never have known if we hadn’t gotten close enough to them to notice.

    Bill Catlette
    Contented Cow Partners

    P.S. Please don’t bust me for any typos in the above☺

  14. Bob McCullagh says:

    Great article but I think it goes to show you that a lot of time getting an interview is luck. So the interviewer now values extra-curricular activities…but did not before. So if the interviewer wrote this article 5 years ago, he’d say keep them to yourself but now, add them. I agree that you should always add them provided they aren’t political or religious.

    I have been a consultant for many years and I know that you can get a lot accomplished in a few short months – so if you’re lucky enough to get me screening your resume, your tenure is not an issue. Accomplishments should outweigh tenure.

    As for grammar – only a factor if writing is part of the job. Typos – yes your resume should be free of typos but I’ve seen far too many people pass up on new immigrants for positions because of this standard.

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