Summer is upon us which means a new crop of students recently graduated and are slowly entering the real world. Half of them are probably going straight back to school to get medical, dental or pharmacy degrees (these are the Asian students), and the other half are probably freaking out trying to find work.
As an employer, I have received numerous emails and resumes from students looking for work in community development over the years. Although a few resumes have really stood out (those are the ones I hire), most have been uninspiring, full of grammatical mistakes, and really boring.
A study by by TheLadders, an online job site, found that most employers only spend six seconds reviewing a resume. I’m more generous though, and commit a full 7-8 seconds during my reviews. If you bing (you’re welcome Microsoft) “resume tips”, you will find a lot of articles on how to write a better resume. Most of them will tell you more or less the same thing. However, few articles tell you what a bad resume looks like. So I decided to put together a brief summary of what annoys me the most when reading resumes.
Please keep in mind these suggestions come from my perspective reading resumes that relate to non-profit work, community development, and education. I have no idea how Microsoft, dentists, Macy’s, House of Hong, etc. read resumes. They may have completely different preferences and styles.
1. “Obtain a job where I can convert my theoretical knowledge into practical work with my dual major in Asian American studies and biology.”
Why it’s forgettable: You’ve probably heard this a million times, “Start your resume with 1-3 sentences about your objectives.” My problem with a job objective is that it tells employers what you want. As an employer, I don’t really care what you want (I’ll start caring when you’re officially hired and I have to see your face every day). I want to hire someone who can make a positive and immediate impact to the organization—a job objective doesn’t tell me what you can do or what experience you have.
How to make it better: Use a “summary of qualifications” instead. It tells an employer what you can do for them based on what you’ve already done. It’s short, simple and eye catching. “X years of experience in community development, non-profit management, and strategic planning. Background also includes Asian American studies and biology. Conversational in Vietnamese.” It takes less than six seconds to read, and presents a broad, overall picture of your resume.
2. “Ability to type 50 words per minute, use a copier, and operate a fax machine.”
Why it’s forgettable: First off, no one uses fax machines anymore. That’s what pdfs and emails are for. Second, we’re at a point in society when you’re expected to know how to type and use word processors. Employers are no longer impressed with your basic computer skills, so you’re really just taking up space in your resume.
How to make it better: Let us know if you have experience with web design, coding, databases, social media, or even spreadsheets. These are much more interesting and more useful than typing 50 wpm. Heck, if you can format a spreadsheet and sum up a column, you will be the darling of the office and everyone will ask you to fix their computer problems. It’s the curse of competency.
3. “Bachelor of Arts in English, University of Washington, June 2014. Cumulative GPA 3.65.”
Why it’s forgettable: It’s because you majored in English. Just kidding. English is a wonderful major. No, it’s boring because of your GPA. Don’t get me wrong, a 3.65 GPA is really good! You should be proud of yourself. But a GPA has no meaning to employers. We want to know what you can bring to the organization, and a GPA doesn’t say much of anything. What’s the difference between a 3.65 and a 3.45 in terms of hirability?
How to make it better: Save yourself 19 characters and delete the GPA. It’s a distraction and distractions are bad for resumes. Another quick note about the education section—put it last! The education is a check box: either you have it or you don’t. That’s pretty much all we’re looking for, unless it’s a specialized field.
4. “Assisted with organizing and managing multiple programs and events” “Designed promotional materials, websites, and applications” “Taught English to a group of elementary school students.”
Why it’s forgettable: These are all passive statement and don’t do anything to distinguish you from other applicants. Employers want to know what you’ve accomplished! What are the outcomes of your work?
How to make it better: Quantify as much as possible. You can use numbers, percent, show increases or decreases, dollars, time, etc. Everything should be described in terms of results and achievements. If you’re ever stuck with how to phrase these sentences, use outcome statements like “that resulted in” or “in order to”.
- Registered over 300 new voters over an 11 day period in the Asian community.
- Demonstrated excellent customer service by preparing and serving coffee to 200 people a day, which resulted in their happiness and me not getting punched in the face.
- Increased bánh mì production by 5% year over year using lean business practices.
5. Visitor Service Representative, The Science Museum, Nov. 2003 – Sept. 2004.
Why it’s forgettable: That happened 10 years ago! How old were you back then? Like…12? So probably 18 in Asian years.
How to make it better: The further into your past, the less detail you should have. Employers want to know relevant and recent professional experiences.
6. “Managed a donor database” “Maintained information and referral database” “Managed donor and volunteer database” “Performed data entry tasks”
Why it’s forgettable: This example was taken from a resume I reviewed last year. The applicant described three different positions using these four bullet points. When they are spread out across a resume it’s harder to see, but group them up and you’ll notice they all say the exact same thing. It’s redundant.
How to make it better: In the example above, I asked the applicant to critically look at all four statements, quantify them, and then pick the best one. If you know how to do something for one job, I assume you know how to do it for another job. Do not repeat yourself. All it does is make the resume longer.
7. You listed eight, say again EIGHT, previous work and volunteer experiences, each with at least 5 bullets.
Why it’s forgettable: This example comes from a resume that I proofread from a chemistry major. It was too long! Say again, WAY TOO LONG. I got bored and stopped reading. I didn’t even make it to the end of the first page. So I turned to page 2, and saw more professional experiences listed!!! So I skipped most of page 2 too. And then there was nothing left of the resume. I got through all of it in less than 7 seconds and called it a day.
How to make it better: Divide your experiences into two parts. Label part 1 “Relevant Experience.” Everything here should align with the position you’re applying for. Limit yourself to 3 professional experiences, with no more than 5 bullet points each. Why? No reason really…just an exercise in clarity and brevity.
Label part 2 “Other professional experiences.” Here is where you can talk about other things that are notable or skills you’d like to highlight. Keep it to a one sentence description though.
Well those are the major things that annoy me when reading resumes. I hope you found them useful. How about other employers out there? Any pet peeves when you review resumes or job applications? If any there are any recent grads out there who want me to proofread their resume, send ‘em to firstname.lastname@example.org (just take out your identifiable information).
A couple other quick points that I won’t go into detail are:
- Speaking another language is sexy (and hirable)
- Rewrite your résumé for each job application. Don’t copy/paste.
- Don’t care if you were an External Marketing Officer for your student club, or most of your other extracurricular activities—unless of course, they relate directly to the job you’re applying for.
- You were student of the month in Math in November 2012? Congrats! Still don’t care. You won a Nobel Peace Prize or Pulitzer. Yes, that is interesting.