How NOT to Write a Resume

With today’s torrent of "How To’s" available to job applicants, one would imagine that everyone knows how to write a cover letter and resume. Yet so often in our quest for the perfect candidates the documents we see are less than exemplary.These "How To’s" inform applicants to use action verbs: we see resumes packed with so many action verbs that we’re exhausted after the first five lines.

These articles recommend they highlight their achievements: we see accomplishments strewn on every page - but are these feats really relevant?

These articles caution against spelling errors and grammatical mistakes: we see words misused and abused so frequently they’ve virtually (gasp!) slipped into our vernacular.

In their quest for prominence, we’ve become petulant. Perhaps the "how to" advice has gone too far... perhaps what these candidates really need is a "how not to..."

  • Avoid these words at all costs:
    "Communications" (unless it was your major or job title), "Respectfully," "Organizational" and "Virtually". If used properly, you’ll find that these words aren’t necessary. If used improperly, as they most often are, they just sound silly.
  • Avoid words longer than three syllables
    Long words don’t necessarily make you look smarter - just long-winded. Exceptions being "information," "references," "technology," "experience" and "professional" In fact, the most impressive words are generally shorter words. Which do you think sounds more impressive: "organizational" (6 syllables) or "didactic" (3 syllables)?
  • Don’t use the word "didactic."
    It sounds pedantic.
  • Don’t use more than two three-syllable words in one sentence.
    Employers aren’t impressed that you can string together long words. Try reading this quote from an actual cover letter: "past experiences have dictated the development of excellent organizational and planning skills." It would be a lot easier to read: "I am organized."
  • Avoid the passive voice.
    The passive voice is dull. It just sits there, waiting for something exciting to happen. Make your experiences active, not listless: isn’t it more interesting to master challenges than to have challenges mastered?
  • Never write more than three paragraphs
    Show the employer that you’re not only qualified, but efficient. Save the details for the interview. Or for your autobiography.
  • Omit your "Career Objective"
    Your resume and cover letter say volumes about your career path and goals, so let them speak for themselves. Be prepared to discuss your objectives at the interview, but there’s no need to spell it out beforehand. Too often, a "Career Objective" can limit your opportunities or simply sound trite.
  • The person reading your cover letter has 2 kids, weighs 210 pounds, and has dark hair and green eyes.
    But are their personal effects critical to your continued professional success? Not really. So why do you feel obligated to put that type of personal information in your resume?
  • No one really cares that you drive a snowplow in your free time...
    Unless you’re applying for a snowplow driver position. Conversely, a snowplow company doesn’t care if their drivers can type 75 wpm. Hobbies are great, but not always relevant to the position for which you’re applying.
  • Don’t ask Mom to proofread.
    Never ask anyone to review your work who might be afraid of hurting your feelings. Constructive criticism is a key component in creating a strong resume. Find a neutral third party for an objective review of your letter and resume.
  • Never make spelling or grammatical errors.
    Check what you don’t know, then check what you do know. To err is human, but to err on your cover letter and resume is inexcusable and undermines your credibility.
  • You’re not Zeus
    Never exaggerate or embellish facts (or fiction) on your cover letter or resume: it may get you hired, but then you have to live up to their expectations—which can be a lot tougher than finding a new job.