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The Biggest Mistakes I See on Resumes, and How to Correct Them

Taken from a great blog by Laszlo Bock published Sep 17, 2014 .  Donna Morris (SCI) has also added her comments - as this relates to Superyacht CVs in italics
 
Laszlo: I've sent out hundreds of resumes over my career, applying for just about every kind of job. I've personally reviewed more than 20,000 resumes and at Google we sometimes get more than 50,000 resumes in a single week.  I have seen A LOT of resumes.  Some are brilliant, most are just ok, many are disasters.  [ I completely agree – in fact well over half are disasters! ]
 
The toughest part is that for 15 years, I've continued to see the same mistakes made again and again by candidates, any one of which can eliminate them from consideration for a job. What's most depressing is that I can tell from the resumes that many of these are good, even great, people. But in a fiercely competitive labour market, hiring managers don't need to compromise on quality. [ This is especially true in yachting! ] All it takes is one small mistake and a manager will reject an otherwise interesting candidate.
 
I know this is well-worn ground on LinkedIn, but I'm starting here because -- I promise you -- more than half of you have at least one of these mistakes on your resume. And I'd much rather see folks win jobs than get passed over.
 
In the interest of helping more candidates make it past that first resume screen, here are the five biggest mistakes I see on resumes.
 

Mistake 1: Typos.

This one seems obvious, but it happens again and again. In a 2013 Career Builder survey it was found that 58% of resumes have typos. [ There is no need for this to happen!  There are spell checkers that can help – but you need to select the whole document and ‘set’ the language!  It’s worth the effort. ]
 
In fact, people who tweak their resumes the most carefully can be especially vulnerable to this kind of error, because they often result from going back again and again to fine tune their resumes just one last time. And in doing so, a subject and verb suddenly don't match up, or a period is left in the wrong place, or a set of dates gets knocked out of alignment. I see this in MBA resumes all the time. Typos are deadly because employers interpret them as a lack of detail-orientation, as a failure to care about quality.  [ Lack of detail orientation is “Error 1.1” in Yachting! ]
 
The fix? Read your resume from bottom to top: reversing the normal order helps you focus on each line in isolation. Or have someone else proofread closely for you.
 

Mistake 2: Length.

A good rule of thumb is one page of resume for every ten years of work experience. Hard to fit it all in, right? But a three or four or ten page resume simply won't get read closely. As Blaise Pascal wrote, "I would have written you a shorter letter, but I did not have the time." A crisp, focused resume demonstrates an ability to synthesize, prioritize, and convey the most important information about you. Think about it this way: the *sole* purpose of a resume is to get you an interview. That's it. [ Remember that!  CVs are not written to indulge yourself and bore the reader! ] It's not to convince a hiring manager to say "yes" to you (that's what the interview is for) or to tell your life's story (that's what a patient spouse is for). Your resume is a tool that gets you to that first interview. [ Amen. ] Once you're in the room, the resume doesn't matter much. So cut back your resume.  It's too long.  [ In yachting it's a 2-page max. Only very senior crew (Captains, Chief Engineers or Pursers) can get away with more elaboration!  Captains, Managers and Crew Agents just don’t have the time to read your novel..!! ]
 

Mistake 3: Formatting.

Unless you're applying for a job such as a designer or artist, your focus should be on making your resume clean and legible. At least ten point font. At least half-inch margins. White paper, black ink. Consistent spacing between lines, columns aligned, your name and contact information on every page. If you can, look at it in both Google Docs and Word, and then attach it to an email and open it as a preview. Formatting can get garbled when moving across platforms. Saving it as a PDF is a good way to go.  [ Forget using too many colours or fonts, make sure everything lines up as the eye loves symmetry! If you want to jazz it up then use photos of yourself ‘in action’. ]
 

Mistake 4: Confidential information.

I once received a resume from an applicant working at a top-three consulting firm. This firm had a strict confidentiality policy: client names were never to be shared. On the resume, the candidate wrote: "Consulted to a major software company in Redmond, Washington." Rejected! There's an inherent conflict between your employer's needs (keep business secrets confidential) and your needs (show how awesome I am so I can get a better job). So candidates often find ways to honour the letter of their confidentiality agreements but not the spirit. It's a mistake. While this candidate didn't mention Microsoft specifically, any reviewer knew that's what he meant. In a very rough audit, we found that at least 5-10% of resumes reveal confidential information. Which tells me, as an employer, that I should never hire those candidates ... unless I want my own trade secrets emailed to my competitors.  [ This is especially true in yachting – confidentiality is the key.  You can use the yacht name but not the owner’s.  Don’t ‘tell tales out of school’ so to speak. ]
 
The New York Times test is helpful here: if you wouldn't want to see it on the home page of the NYT with your name attached (or if your boss wouldn't!), don't put it on your resume.
 

Mistake 5: Lies.

This breaks my heart. Putting a lie on your resume is never, ever, ever, worth it. Everyone, up to and including CEOs, gets fired for this. (Google "CEO fired for lying on resume" and see.) People lie about their degrees (three credits shy of a college degree is not a degree), GPAs (I've seen hundreds of people "accidentally" round their GPAs up, but never have I seen one accidentally rounded down -- never), and where they went to school (sorry, but employers don't view a degree granted online for "life experience" as the same as UCLA or Seton Hall). People lie about how long they were at companies, how big their teams were, and their sales results, always goofing in their favour.  [ Don’t do it - you will be found out and lose your job and all credibility! ]
 
There are three big problems with lying: (1) You can easily get busted. The Internet, reference checks, and people who worked at your company in the past can all reveal your fraud. (2) Lies follow you forever. Fib on your resume and 15 years later get a big promotion and are discovered? Fired. And try explaining that in your next interview. (3) Our Moms taught us better. Seriously.
 
So this is how to mess up your resume. Don't do it! Hiring managers are looking for the best people they can find, but the majority of us all but guarantee that we'll get rejected.
 
The good news is that -- precisely because most resumes have these kinds of mistakes -- avoiding them makes you stand out.
 
In a future post, I'll expand beyond what not to do, and cover the things you *should* be doing to make your resume stand out from the stack.
 

The Biggest Mistakes I See on Resumes.  Part 2: Your top 8 questions

1. Should I have keywords and jargon on my resume?

Yes, alas, but put them in their own section. A major part of why we have unemployment - and why finding a job is so hard - is because resumes are awful at conveying who you really are and companies stink at screening resumes . Too many companies rely on clumsy software products that sort and filter resumes based on keywords. And too many recruiters do the same thing, looking for fancy schools or company names instead of at what you actually did. (Google applications are screened by real, live people.) Crummy as that is, it’s reality. So for now, if you're in a technical field, have a section where you list all your programming languages. If you're in other professions, you may want to extract the buzzwords from the job posting and have a "skills" section (doesn't matter what you call it) where you can park your laundry list of jargon. Don't waste space on verbs. Just have a list. Save your compelling writing for the bullet points under each job. Lifehacker has some other good suggestions for getting past the machines. And I'm optimistic that somewhere out there someone is building a MUCH better system for inferring who you really are and understanding what employers really need.  [ Clearly the yachting industry has lots of jargon and it’s fine to use it as industry people will understand.  Don’t use ‘other industry’ jargon or they won’t.  Be clear about the acronyms that you use for your quals – don’t keep us guessing. ]
 

2. Should I pay someone to write my resume?

Nope. See my post here on how to write a resume that will get you noticed. Even better, find someone like you who already has the job you want. If you're a veteran, find someone from your service who works in the job and company you want. If you're a student, find an alumna/-us who has your dream job (your career center will have resume books you can mine). Emulate their resume. (Notice I didn't say "copy" ... big difference!) Look at how they described their experiences and accomplishments. They wrote things in a way that got noticed. They got it right. Do what they did. Don't waste your money on something you can get for free.  [ OK – this is where I disagree.  Yachting has a specific set of information required on a CV and a certain order that it should be presented in order to ‘sell’ your skills and experience to the reader on the first half of the first page!  Fail to do this and you’re going to wind up in the ‘circular filing on the floor’.  You still need to write the words of course but wiser to get an expert to re-arrange it and do the Word-Processing (if that’s not your forte) so that it presents as well as it possibly can!  You need every advantage in a competitive market.  We offer a "CV Surgery" service so please ask if you need our help. ]
 

3. Should I include organizations where I worked more than 20 years ago?

You don't need to. For a competent hiring manager, your early experience isn't relevant. No one cares that I worked at an Olive Garden 20+ years ago. So on my resume I can pick some arbitrary cut-off point, have a "Prior experience" section, and summarize that I worked at a range of jobs in restaurants, non-profits, and manufacturing.  [ Mention your early experience but don’t elaborate.  After all, everyone knows what a paper boy does,  or for that matter a cashier or a car wash attendant…  you get the picture! ]
 

4. Do resumes predict performance?

I haven't seen anything to suggest they do. Resumes are a very poor information source. Work sample tests are actually the best predictor of performance, followed by tests of cognitive ability, which are best assessed using structured interviews. I’ve got three chapters explaining how you can become a world class interviewer in my book WORK RULES!, coming out in April, if you’re interested in learning more.  [ Once again, I disagree.  It’s not an exact science but it’s the only indicator available to the reader of your CV in order to make a judgement.  If you ‘job hop’ continually then you've given them no indication that you’re a stayer!  If you have stayed at the same level for 5 years+ then you've given no indication that you’re a leader!...  ]
 

5.  The best people don't always have the best resumes. Excluding someone because of a typo is stupid and you're a horrible person for doing that.

Ok, (a) that's not a question. And (b), I confess that I do occasionally overlook an error, for example if the person writing the resume isn't a native English speaker. But (c), from the recruiter's perspective, if they have a choice between two equally impressive resumes, I think we can agree that the one that says "professional booger" instead of "blogger" is probably not going to get a call.  [ Moral of the story:  check your work and get someone else to check it too – BEFORE sending off. ]
 

6.  Shouldn't HR departments and recruiters work harder to find the best people? Why put the blame on the job seeker?

I want everyone to have the best possible chance of landing their dream job. That means controlling the parts of the application process you can. You can control every single word on your resume. You can't control the quality of the person reading it. But I will tell you that at recruiting firms they only get paid for filling jobs, so they do look hard at applications. What they see is in your control.  [ Well stated.  From a crew recruiter perspective we have learned to ‘see the wood for the trees’ so will often work with the candidate to find all their missing info and ask them questions and make suggestions about how they can improve their presentation.  Sadly not everyone listens.  Sometimes crew choose to ignore us or take too long to get back, leaving us with the impression that they aren’t easy to work with and don’t listen!  That actually makes our job easier.  Based on our dealings with crew we can form an opinion about who is more likely to be successful and who we will put forward.  Crew agents are the gatekeepers so it’s well worth impressing them! ]
 

7. I'm a mom (or dad) coming back into the workforce after time off with my child. How do I explain the time off?

Don't apologize and don't hide. Put down that you took time off for your family. If you volunteered or did part-time work, list that too, but own your decision. Parents who have left the workforce and are coming back in are one of the biggest untapped sources of talent for recruiters. We get that at Google, and more and more other companies are starting to see it too.  [ Relating this back to yachting;  People do have time out and that’s fine – but tell us what you did and how you spent your time.  Hopefully you were gainfully occupied!  Reconnecting with family is fine, so is extended travel or further training or renovating your house.  Not OK is wasting your time and having nothing to show for it! ]
 

8. Hey! You had a typo in your post!

Yes, but I promise you my resume is pristine! :)   PS  It might be the American spelling!!
 
We hope that this blog has enlightened you somewhat.  Please feel free to get in touch if you need CV help.  We know that Word-Processing and CV composition (in English) isn’t everyone’s game and that’s OK.  What’s not OK in yachting is to ignore the deficits and say “That’ll do” because it won’t.  You need to keep in your mind the fact that other people are also applying for the same job and they may have far superior presentation “on paper”.  So you need to be competitive too.  Take all this into account and if you need help then please ask for it. Our email is Crew@Superyachtcrew.com.au  We charge a modest fee for our time spent helping individual crew enhance their presentation.  
 
Donna Morris, Director, Superyacht Crew International.   March 2016.
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