We all have those job-seeker cringes. Tripping into a potential boss just as she extends her hand to shake. Calling an interviewer by the wrong name. Sending a résumé with the wrong telephone number.
Those résumé gaffes can really do more than induce cringes. They can keep us from jobs. Jobs that we are very much qualified for.
Resolutions for a better life are taking their first timid steps into the new year. Professionals ready to move into better jobs and college students applying for internships mean résumés are being written. And so many of them will be riddled with errors. Despite our best efforts, we often either don’t know how to write the ever-elusive succinct rundown of our lives or we work a huge error (or several) into those summaries.
Matt Salo, director of the health and human services committee of the National Governors Association, will never forget the résumé he received several years ago from a recent college graduate. This person did not have much work experience, so he added a bulleted list of skills:
Strong Work Ethic
Attention to Detail
Attention to Detail
The poor guy paid too much attention to detail, I suppose. Salo did not call him back, although he sometimes wishes he had called to point out that “attention to detail” was listed twice.
“You really feel torn,” Salo said. “You want to call these people up and say, ‘Stop sending out this résumé.’ But you don’t. There are so many of them.”
Not so many that Salo didn’t remember one case that beat attention-to-detail guy. That was the woman who sent her résumé and cover letter without deleting someone else's editing, including such comments as "I don't think you want to say this about yourself here" and notes that pointed out grammatical and spelling errors. "Apparently she had just taken what she got back and forwarded it along," Salo said. "Needless to say, that person wasn't hired either."
Several people wrote me this month, telling their horror stories of applying for jobs with “public” in the title and realizing after they sent out multiple résumés that they had omitted the “l.” I hope misery really does love company in this case, because it apparently happens often.
Erin Piateski realized after she sent out her résumés this year that she had given the wrong dates for her most recent job, turning it from a month-and-a-half gig to a year-and-a-month one. If that was true, it meant she had two full-time jobs at the same time. For a year. In Boston and Washington. Finally, a potential employer pointed out the error. But that company didn’t offer her the job.“I really hoped this wouldn’t ruin my chances of getting a job,” she said. “I don’t know if that was a reason or not.” She was hired in November -- after applying with a corrected résumé -- by an engineering firm in Arlington.
It’s hard to hear stories like this and not think, “Well, I would never.” You would read the résumé over a million times. Perhaps get a friend or two to check it out. Of course, there’s spell check. So why do we all (okay, I’m sure you don’t) make such careless errors on a piece of paper that is so important? Melissa S. Fireman thinks it has to do with being so stressed out about the job search. “I think it’s nerves more than anything,” said Fireman, founder of career management firm Washington Career Services. “People just get nervous before they send it out.”
And so job seekers tense up, press the enter button and realize later (or not) that they sent a cover letter without the résumé attached. (Happens all the time, Fireman said.) Or that they forgot to include the job code, making it nearly impossible for the recruiter to figure out what they were applying for. In a previous job at a major media organization, Fireman and co-workers tossed many of those résumés.
Sometimes the mistakes job seekers make are a little more subtle. Résumés are too vague. They are written in prose form. Or résumé senders get too detailed about skills and former jobs that don’t matter to the one they are seeking, said Paul Villella, president and chief executive of Reston-based recruiting firm HireStrategy Inc.
“Take your time”, he said, “and think about what it is you’ve really accomplished. If there isn’t too much experience on your résumé, think about what your goals are. Then write it all down. “What do I do well? What did I achieve? Those are the things most compelling and relevant for the employer,” he said.
And he does not mean cringe-compelling.