The MicroTrain Blog

7 Bad Resume Tips

by Jeffrey Lareau on August 14th, 2014

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Anyone who has received job search advice from multiple sources knows about the perils and frustrations of subjectivity.  One resume expert will tell you one thing, and another resume expert will tell you the opposite.  You’ll spend hours customizing your resume based on the suggestions of a career expert, only to hear another career expert tell you that you’re doing everything wrong.  Frustrations are inevitable.

Recently, I’ve heard a people mention bad career advice that they’ve heard from other sources (networking events, job fairs, support groups, etc.).  In most cases, the reason why the advice is bad is simply because it’s antiquated.  At some point in recent history, these suggestions were once considered excellent.  Unfortunately, mullets were also considered good advice once.  Time has a way of changing things from good to bad and vice versa.  My aim with this article is to shave your metaphorical job search mullet, and obliterate some of the antiquated advice that is still inexplicably circling the aforementioned networking events and job fairs.

1. The white-font-keyword strategy

“If you put a slew of keywords in small white font all over your resume, you’ll have a much better chance at beating an applicant tracking system.”

I probably hear this advice about once per week.  It’s a very clever idea, and it sounds like a great cheat code to get passed the ever-frustrating applicant tracking systems that hound all job seekers.  This advice worked really well about ten years ago, but applicant tracking systems got wise, and this trick no longer works.  Not only that, but using this trick nowadays will make your resume look like a jumbled mess after it’s submitted.  This is because applicant tracking systems automatically turn all fonts black when you submit your resume, so your keywords will go from hidden secret to illegible muck. 

2. The professional resume writer

“I paid a guy $100 to write my resume for me.  I barely had to do anything, and now I have a terrific resume that makes me look great.”

This one isn’t necessarily a bad idea all the time.  There are many variations of this, but it’s usually the same concept:  I want someone else to write my resume.  Writing a resume is a pain, and I understand that, but having someone else write a document that chronicles your professional life might not yield the best results.  No one knows you better than you.  Professional resume writers tend to stuff resumes full of fluffy and nondescript vagueries, which will only do you a disservice.  I’m not saying that you shouldn’t use career counselors and employment specialists.  On the contrary, I think you should use these professionals as much as you possibly can.  However, don’t blindly rely on a career specialist to write your resume for you.  Who says the career specialist is any better at writing than you are?  After all, writing sloppily about yourself is much easier to polish than writing vaguely about someone else.  I see the merit in having a qualified professional write your resume, but use caution.  Whatever you decide to do, don’t spend your own money on revamping your resume if money is tight.  There are tons of free services that will help you craft your resume. 

3. Fancy graphics, lines, boxes, etc.

“I differentiate myself from the pack by have a flashy resume.  It grabs the reader’s attention and forces their interest.”

I actually don’t have a problem with this method as long as two conditions are fulfilled:

A)   A)   This is a resume that is intended to be used in person and not online

B)   B)   It’s not over-the-top with fancy graphics, etc. 

Fancy lines, graphics, tables, t-charts, and logos will confuse an applicant tracking system, which will result in your resume getting binned before a human can look at it.  Optimistically, certain applicant tracking systems will automatically strip out any fanciness before pushing your resume to the hiring manager.  That neon blue font will be turned black.  That pie graph will be removed.  Your previous company’s logo will be deleted.  If you spend three weeks bedazzling your resume, there’s a good chance an applicant tracking system will instantly turn it back into a normal readable document.  If you insist on bedazzling your resume for job fairs, networking events, and interviews, make sure you don’t over-do it.  Otherwise, your resume will seem too desperate in its attempt to shout, “Please look at me!”

4. Using anything other than .doc, .docx, and .rtf formats

“In order for your resume to retain its intended format, make it a PDF document before you submit it online.  This way nothing will mess it up when you upload it.”

Anyone who has attended my Resume/Interview Workshop knows my story about PDF files.  Submitting PDF files instead of .doc or .rft used to be terrific advice.  Nowadays, PDFs only trip up the applicant tracking systems.  The reasoning behind this is quite boring (before, the systems decoded the PDF resume and turned the letters into text, but now the systems only look for text, which PDF doesn’t use), so just remember to use .rtf, .doc, or .docx.  

5. References upon request

“Instead of putting your references on your resume, just write ‘references available on request’ at the bottom.  This way, you’ll save that resume real estate for more important information.”

This is great advice, so much so that resume trends have taken it a step further.  Don’t even write “references upon request” on your resume.  Leave any reference to references off you resume completely.  When hiring managers see this on a resume, they instantly know the applicant hasn’t kept up with resume trends over the last decade.  It’s only a small leap in logic for a hiring manager to then think, “This person just doesn’t keep up.  Period.”

6. Functional resumes

“If you have a gap in your employment, just use a functional resume instead of a chronological one.  Instead of showing your skills by date, this will highlight your relevant experience.”

The problem with functional resumes is that they raise a red flag.  Since the financial crisis happened, many applicants have started using functional resumes to gloss over employment gaps.  It’s become so prevalent that many hiring managers now equate functional resumes with unemployed applicants, which is bad news.  Another issue is that applicant tracking systems normally ask you to fill out your information in chronological order anyway, forcing you to organize your resume in the format that most people use.  Basically, if you’re applying for jobs online, you’ll need to have some kind of chronological format for your work history.  The big benefit of functional resumes is that they highlight relevant work experience and professional highlights, but this can be accomplished on a good chronological resume by having a solid summary, details, and core competencies.

7. Objectives vs. Summaries

“Your resume should start with an objective.  What are you looking for?  What’s your goal?”

This worked wonders in the employee’s market of the 90s.  However, the employee’s market of the 90s followed MC Hammer into oblivion, leaving us with the employer’s market of today.  What this means is that most employers don’t care much about your goals.  They care about their goals and objectives, and a solid summary of your skills and experience will explain how you can help them save time and/or money.

Conclusion

There’s a lot of misinformation out there.  Most people at job fairs and networking events are trying to help you, but they might be giving you advice that’s outdated.  If you hear job search advice that sounds too good to be true, you should research it.  Look it up on Google, ask a career specialist, and do whatever else you can to verify that the new resume trick you heard is valid.  Otherwise you may end up hurting your job search.

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