As an executive recruiter, I read a hundred resumes or more every week, and a lot of that time is spent muttering to myself "Are you kidding me?" It's mind-boggling how many of the resumes I receive make some very simple mistakes that put the candidate out of the running before they even got started.
A sloppy, incomplete or unprofessional resume represents you as a sloppy, lazy or unprofessional candidate, sort of like showing up to an interview in clothes that are torn, stained and inappropriate. You'd think senior executives would know better but in fact, many of the worst resumes I see are from people from top management.
The good news is that it's easy to have your resume stand out in this sea of mediocrity. Here are some of the ways these bad resumes fall short, and what you can do to avoid the fate of having your resume passed over.
1. Lack of a positioning statement.
Don't make me try to figure out what kind of job you're going after. Tell me what you do and what you want by using a brief positioning statement at the top of your resume. A bold headline that says "CEO/COO with Web 2.0 and Emerging Technology Experience" lets me know exactly what you are, while a long rambling paragraph or table (often ironically titled "short summary of experience") filled with business buzzwords makes you sound old-fashioned and unfocused.
Boil it down and position yourself with your expertise from the very first words.
2. The wrong positioning statement.
Of course, if I'm looking for a chief marketing officer from the pharmaceutical world, a headline saying you are a CEO/COO might put you out of the running, even if you had the marketing background. Don't send a resume aimed at being a doctor if the job is for a lawyer. Take the time to customize your presentation for each job. I get resumes all the time that go on and on about their experience in an industry that has nothing to do with the job they've applied for. Why waste your time and mine?
3. Saying things in the cover note not supported in the resume.
One of the worst phrases you can utter is "It's not on my resume, but..." You must revise your resume every time to position yourself to match the checklist of the posting. We told you what we're looking for – so all you have to do is highlight those things in your resume so we can quickly see how you fit the bill.
4. No company descriptions.
Your resume is a story about you, and understanding what the companies you have worked for actually do is a big part of that story. Don't make me go to Google to find out what ABC Company did, what products they sell, and what markets they serve. Incorporate that information into your resume. Adding the company URL as a link is appreciated, too.
5. Poorly written.
Resumes have their own kind of language, and a lot of people have a problem writing clearly in a resume format. Make sure your resume tells your story in a way that is easy to read and to understand. Avoid trying to impress with overly complex business gibberish. To see if each sentence works, read it aloud. If you sound like a robot, try it in simple English.
6. Written in the third person.
I get resumes all the time that say "Mr. So-and-so has been a visionary leader for 25 years." That's just weird. Your resume is your presentation of your background, not a press release, article or corporate bio. Third-person writing doesn't make you sound more important; it just makes the document feel less personal, and that's not good.
7. Badly formatted.
I see resumes with huge type that run to eight pages, and I see resumes with hundreds of unreadable technical terms in tiny text squeezed into a page with no margins and no space between the lines or paragraphs. Both of these are less than readable.
Your resume layout must allow people to skim and scan and isolate certain types of information easily. Use a font, paragraph and line spacing that make it easy to read and absorb the information. If you don't know how to design a beautiful resume, find one you like and copy the formatting exactly or get outside help.
8. Trying to do it yourself.
Sending an ugly typo-laden mess to represent your fit for a leadership role just doesn't make sense. No one expects a CEO or senior executive to be able to create perfect marketing materials on their own, but we do expect that you care about the quality of communications you put out. A leader knows their limitations and when to ask for help.
If you don't know how to create an elegant well-organized document in MS Word, your resume will be ugly, I guarantee it. So get some assistance and do it right. It's the difference between getting overlooked or getting interviewed.
9. Not enough focus on accomplishments.
Every resume should highlight what you accomplished rather than just listing a dry task-oriented job description. This goes double if you're an executive, because it's the results of your leadership that say the most about your abilities. Give numbers and statistics, but tell the story of your wins in sentences with context, not just as dry bullets. The higher your level, the more bottom-line accomplishments people want to see.
10. Too much information.
A resume is a topline summary, not a blow-by-blow account of the minutia of your career. Boil it down, and keep it two pages or less. Yes, you can do that. The higher your level, the more big-picture your descriptions should be. Focus on the essence and challenges of your jobs. If you have lists of publications, patents or presentations, just include the most impressive and put the rest into another document that you can share later in the process.
11. Weird capitalization, punctuation, misspellings or grammatical errors.
I got a resume the other day that mentioned "the World's largest supply chain." Um, no, world is not a proper noun. In doubt about capitalization? Grammarbook.com will tell you what you need to know. Perfection in your resume is doubly important for a senior executive, so enlist help from nitpicking people you know before sending it out. That goes double if English is not your native language.
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is that you have a great resume, and that you tailor it for each position. If a job is worth applying for, then it's worth taking your time to create the resume that will get you the interview.