Did you ever wonder what we external and internal recruiters check when we decide within 5-10 seconds if your resume is of interest to us or not? Which are the red flags in YOUR resume – the reasons you will not make it to the interview?
Here are the 13 most flagrant warning signals we might spot in your CV – and the solution to fix them:
- Unexplained gaps: It is OK to have a gap in the resume – if the explanation is good. PROBLEM: If we don’t understand its reason immediately, we will pass on. SOLUTION: This advice is unorthodox but if your last job ended four months ago, add a bullet point on top and call it “language course, move to another city, baby-break, taking care of a sick family member, business analysis to open a restaurant” or whatever. Yes, these are imperfect solutions but they are way better than… writing nothing. Alternative: meaningful executive education. See point 5 for more advice on this
- Inconsistency in professional choices: Every career will become flat at one point of time and when you change jobs at fifty, sideward steps are perfectly okay. When you are younger and applying in a fast-paced environment however, it should go upward and demonstrate dynamic evolution. THE PROBLEM: If you have had the same job three times but in different companies, we might assume that you are not able to do more or lack ambition – and put your application aside (I know of course that the reality is that you can not always freely choose…). THE SOLUTION: Add information on job content if the title does not reflect an evolution. Or indicate that the company was bigger. You learn somethings new in every job. Make sure your resume reflects this
- Too many job changes: Careers where you retire in the very firm that hired you fifty years ago are over. Dynamic changes are part of a competitive profile – but not too often. THE PROBLEM: If you worked for three companies within the last three years, we might assume that you will not stay here either and not call you. THE SOLUTION: If you had good reasons for changing, add them (“reason for leaving: company went bankrupt” or “job was made redundant”. “New management” is also perfectly plausible)
- Not enough job changes: Did I say before that careers in one only company do not exist anymore? THE PROBLEM: The “life” of a job is 3-5 years. After that period, some kind of evolution should occur or we might consider you being inflexible or not ambitious. THE SOLUTION: Even if you have been in the same job for the last fifteen years, your job has evolved since, hasn’t it? Break down your current function into different parts, for instance “Since 04/2011: same job plus the responsibilities X, Y and Z”
- Lack of formal education/ having an outdated one: The term “lifelong learning” is overused – but 100% correct. Returning regularly to school is an essential part of a competitive profile at the beginning of the twenty-first century. THE PROBLEM: If your last education dates ten years ago or more, we could think that you are not interested in advancing your skills or that your theoretical skills fall short. THE SOLUTION: This is an easy one: Take meaningful executive education. Choose wisely, as you send a message with the kind of module you have chosen. If you have been working in finance for the last twenty years, do NOT take something on finance but rather on strategy or leadership. Don’t have money to take a residential week at Harvard Business School or Stanford University? Have a look at Coursera and enroll in “Smart Growth for Private Businesses” at Darden Business School. Or why not “Competitive Strategy” at Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich, Germany – for free
- Fancy layout for non-fancy jobs: THE PROBLEM: You will shock no one with a plain layout and font but you might shock with strange colors or fonts in your resume. THE SOLUTION: No colors, make it plain and sober to be on the safe side
- Poor grammar or typos: No ecxuse with this one. THE PROBLEM: We might assume that if you cannot write your own resume without mistakes, you will not be able to put anything else on paper without errors either. THE SOLUTION: print out your resume, check it meticulously, run a spell-check and ask a friend or family member to proofread it one last time
- An unprofessional email address: THE PROBLEM: You can be 100% sure to make a bad impression with email@example.com in a traditional white-collar context. THE SOLUTION: Call me narrow-minded but I cannot come up with any alternative to first firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, do not change the orthography of your name: I know a “Francois” with an email address “Fancois” (his explanation: “Francois.lastname” was taken”). Eight in ten people will get it wrong when typing it or will simply think that you have escaped from the nuthouse…
- Vocabulary that lacks energy: THE PROBLEM: “Involved in”, “assisted ABC” or “exposure to” do not show that you were in the driving seat of your career. THE SOLUTION: use active, not passive words such as “implemented 123”, “driven the project XYZ” or “headed up 123” to show you were you in charge and made it happen
- Inability to get the message across: Again, you have got 5 seconds to make an impression on us… THE PROBLEM: … and if you don’t, we will file you. THE SOLUTION: use bullet points, talk about your achievements (“I created double-digit revenue growth for three consecutive years and built from scratch one of the top ten teams company-wide”). Be precise, clear and avoid jargon (a twenty-two year old intern could be the gate-keeper…). Your resume should be on two, maximum three pages. Make sure you put all essential information on top of page one, the part we see when we open your resume without scrolling down, for instance, by adding an executive summary such as “General Manager/ trilingual/ managed up to 100 million USD and 250 people/ service industry” on top. Because we might never scroll down if what we see does not click with us
- Bad structure: THE PROBLEM: We are used to reading many, many, resumes. And if yours is too different, we might not understand it – and pass on. THE SOLUTION: Use the following structure: contact data, executive summary, education, last job then downwards. Clearly indicate year and month of the respective job If the month is missing and you write for instance “2011: job A, 2012: job B”, we will automatically assume that you lost job A in January 2011 and found job B only in November 2012 – because if you had nothing to hide, you would have put the months
- Banalities: THE PROBLEM: we have read “accomplished leader”, “results-driven”, “excellent communication skills” etc. one thousand times before and won’t believe a word. THE SOLUTION: Don’t talk but show: Prove “accomplished” by demonstrating your seniority, “results-driven” through stating hard facts, “excellent communication skills” through plain and clear speech
- No contact data: THE PROBLEM: In twelve years in this industry, I have seen it all: resumes without email address, phone number or post address… THE SOLUTION: Check your resume once, and do it again
There are many valid reasons to do things differently than outlined here. Whether you agree or not with the above, bear in mind that an average reader will spend no more than 5-10 seconds on your resume before deciding whether to spend more time on it or not. You are a valid candidate, right? Help us to understand this fast – and ensure that we call you for an interview if you are the right fit!
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