5 More Reasons Your Resume Didn’t Get You an Interview

In last week’s post I pointed out five ways your resume can fall into that mysterious black hole in the HR department. Here are five more ways your resume can crash. Don’t let it happen!

Maybe you never heard back because…

…your resume wasn’t ATS-friendly. Many common types of formatting can cause your resume to be misread by applicant tracking systems, including: putting crucial information in headers and footers (which are ignored by the ATS), using a Word template, sending a PDF rather than a Word document (and .doc is still generally safer than .docx, by the way), putting a credential after your name, or using a “functional” format where job titles and companies are not immediately followed by descriptive content. Or maybe…

…it didn’t have the right key words. Both for the ATS and the human eye, it’s crucial to have the right keywords in your resume, especially in the job titles and descriptions. How do you know what they right keywords are? Look at the posting. Tip: The #1 most important keyword is often the job title, so if your company has given you a vague title like “Analyst II” but you’re applying for Data Analyst, write it like this: “Analyst II (Data Analyst)”.

…it didn’t fit the job. It’s usually not worth your time to apply online to jobs for which you don’t have at least 9/10 of the stated requirements, unless you have a connection.

…you don’t fit the mold. This one is painful to hear, I know. Even if you have all the qualifications, if your job history is unconventional you’re likely to be passed over. For example, if your most recent job isn’t similar to the job you’re applying for, or you’re applying at a large company when your experience is at small ones, or you’re self-employed (however successfully), employers may have a hard time imagining you in the role, and may simply move on to the next candidate.

…you didn’t have a connection (your job search strategy needs an overhaul). Any job seeker with a referral has a major advantage. In fact, all of the issues listed above can cease to be show-stoppers when you have a referral. This is why experts recommend that you spend most of your job search time cultivating referrals at the top 40 or 50 companies where you’d like to work. For tips on how to do this, read my post “How to Use Info Interviews to Get Hired Faster.”

Your resume doesn’t have to fall into a black hole. You can transform your job search practices to adapt to the realities of what works. If that feels like a huge challenge, don’t go it alone – work with a coach to plan and execute a cutting-edge search that gets your qualifications taken seriously.

How to Get Useful Resume Feedback

How can you be sure your resume has the impact you intend?

Recruiters are usually too busy to give detailed feedback on resumes, and the compliments you may get from hiring managers at interviews don’t tell you much.

Actually asking for resume feedback at an interview is a faux pas. The employer isn’t there to help you with your next application!

Some major job search websites give free resume reviews, which can be somewhat formulaic. More customized reviews are available from individual resume writers. For example, I often provide a very brief resume review as part of the process of providing a quote for a resume rewrite.

It can also be useful to get feedback from a variety of people, to benefit from varied viewpoints. But this can backfire.

As another fine job search blogger has written, “Be careful not to ask too many UNQUALIFIED people their opinion of the resume you just got.  I asked people . . . and the information I got was misleading (making me think it was great, while it really kept me out of interviews).”

Here are some tips for getting resume input in a way that really works.

  • Select people who know your industry, if possible and appropriate. People with strong writing or editorial skills can also be very helpful.
  • Make sure your reviewers know the requirements of the job you’re targeting. Show them a written job posting if possible.
  • Ask them these questions: “If you take just 10 seconds to skim this resume, what’s your first impression? Then, after reading it more thoroughly, what impresses you most? And what could be better?”
  • Take all opinions with a grain of salt. If you show your resume to five people, you will hear five different viewpoints, some of which may directly contradict the others! Look for common themes and use your own judgment.
  • If you are working with a professional resume writer, be collaborative by telling her or him that you’ll be seeking feedback from others. Have this conversation before you even agree to work together. Discuss how best to bring the outside input into the agreed-upon writing process. If the process includes a draft before the final resume, it’s usually best to gather input at that point, rather than when the final product has been delivered.

Keep in mind that skilled resume writers study surveys of employers’ preferences in resumes, so they have a broad view of what employers look for in a resume. This broad view may be more useful than direct input from one recruiter or manager, who may have individual idiosyncrasies and preferences that are not typical.

There is no resume that will impress every employer in the world. With care, however, you can get one that will communicate powerfully to the vast majority of its readers – and open the right doors for you.

Resumes: Some Bad Advice!

Beware! Bad Advice Ahead!Recently I asked some colleagues in a LinkedIn group what bad advice they had heard for job seekers.

It was a very popular topic! There’s a lot of questionable guidance out there.

Next week I’ll look at misleading “wisdom” about job interviews. Now let’s start with resumes.

A resume should never be longer than one page.

Maybe this was once true, but times have changed. Recent surveys of employers show that while a substantial minority prefer a single page, few insist on it, and a two-page resume is preferred for highly experienced candidates, as long as the information is relevant and it’s easy to read.

(Readability comes from the document being well written and well formatted. Two pages crammed with big, unbroken blocks of poorly written text in a 9-point font won’t cut it.)

Following this bad advice could mean short-changing yourself on your resume. It could cost you interviews.

Use a “Functional Format” to conceal lack of experience or weaknesses in your career path.

In a functional resume the candidate’s experience is presented in categories according to job functions and skills, without dates. A brief work history follows, stating only job titles, companies and dates. Thus, the work history is downplayed and the skills are emphasized.

Unfortunately, hiring managers and HR professionals are hip to it. They know that job seekers use this format when they have something to hide. In rare cases, it may be the best strategy available, but more often these resumes end up in the recycling bin.

Take all the dates off your resume so they can’t tell how old you are.

Again, straight into the recycling bin.

You should lie on your resume if the truth doesn’t look good.

Most people reading this article would never do this, but I feel it needs a mention.

There’s a strong consensus among career coaches (including me) that lying is a mistake in job search – for reasons both ethical and practical. Yet we all occasionally hear that someone was advised to fudge dates of employment, for example, to prevent a gap. Don’t do it! The potential damage to your reputation is more costly than it’s worth.

Good resume writers know how to handle all kinds of resume challenges – lengthy unemployment, lack of key skills, a zigzag career path – honestly but persuasively. You’d be surprised how good your resume can look.

You should write your own resume.

You may have gotten good jobs using the resume you wrote for yourself. But with a better resume, you may have gotten even better jobs. And you would likely have spent less time and stress in the job-hunt jungle.

Admittedly, I have a bias here. But let me ask you, do you cut your own hair? Good resume writers study their craft for years, and know all the ins and outs. And let’s do a little cost-benefit analysis on this investment. The cost is in the hundreds (usually) and the benefit is likely to be in the thousands.

A top-notch professional resume is almost always better than a self-written one. The key is to hire the right person.

Hire a resume writer – from Craigslist.

I love to use Craigslist – for some things. But if you want an excellent, highly qualified resume writer, a better method is to look up certified professionals via the websites of professional associations like Career Directors International or the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches. Or ask for recommendations, or look for reviews. Either way, talk to a few writers and ask a lot of questions before you decide.

Don’t bother with a resume – many people get jobs without one.

There’s a grain of truth to this, since networking is generally more powerful than sending in resumes “cold” to advertised job openings. But going into a job search without a resume is like going into the wilderness with just a knife, a blanket and a can of beans. It’s heroic, eccentric and likely to leave you cold and hungry.

In job search, as in anything, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” Keep reading up on job search, and you’ll get better at separating the wheat from the chaff. And don’t hesitate to seek personalized counsel from someone who can consider all the aspects of your unique career path.

(Thanks for your ideas, members of Job-Hunt Help.)