Eight items to leave off your resume

March 30, 2012 Resumes 9 comments , , , , , ,

Here’s a quick list of things that should never appear on your resume. Unfortunately, I see them all the time.

A photo
unless you’re applying for a position as a model or actor.
A list of references
You’ll be asked for them at the right point in the process. If you want the company to be impressed by who you know or who you’ve worked with, then put that in the cover letter.
“References available upon request”
This is assumed. The reader will not think “This guy has no references available, so toss his resume.”
An objective
Objectives are summaries of what you want to get from the company. It doesn’t make sense to start selling yourself by telling the reader what you hope to get out of him. Replace your objective with a 3-4 bullet summary of the rest of the resume. (See more posts about objectives)
Salary information
Disclosing your salary history weakens your position when negotiating a salary. It’s also irrelevant on your resume.
An unprofessional email address
Email accounts are free from Gmail, so there’s no reason to use your “” account for professional correspondence.
Meaningless self-assessments like “I’m a hard worker” or “I work well on a team.”
Everyone says those things, so they have no meaning. Instead, the bullets for each position on your resume should give examples and evidence of these assertions. (See more posts about self-assessments)
Hobbies that don’t relate to the job
Everyone likes to read and listen to music and spend time with their families. Exception is if the hobby somehow ties to the job or company. If you play guitar and you’re applying to be an accountant for Guitar Center’s corporate office, then mention that you play, even though your job won’t involve guitar-playing directly.

What else do you see on resumes that should never be there?

How do I make my resume stand out?

November 29, 2011 Job hunting 2 comments , ,

All the time I hear people asking “How do I make my resume stand out?” It’s a great question to ask, because your resume is one of dozens or hundreds of others. The problem isn’t that you want your resume to get noticed, but that you want the reader to be interested in what you say and call you in for an interview. How do you do that?

Remove fluff

Do you have an objective? Don’t. It’s filled with meaningless fluff. “I want to leverage my skills to add value to the bottom line of a forward-thinking blah blah blah bullshit bullshit bullshit.” That says nothing other than “I want this job.” No kidding. Never use an objective.

Do you make meaningless claims like “Excellent written and verbal communication skills.” Crap. It means nothing. Anyone can say that. Give just the facts, not your own assessments. “Excellent written and verbal communication skills” is not a fact. It is an opinion, a self-assessment. Leave it off.

Those are all vague, meaningless generalities. Give details!

Add numbers and other details

Use numbers in everything you can. Numbers draw the eye and give detail. You should have at least one number on every bullet line in your resume.

Let me repeat: Every bullet point in your resume should have a number that gives size of the job.

Instead of saying “Worked on the help desk, answering user questions” you say you “Worked on the help desk, answering an average of 30 user questions per day.”

“Proficient with MS Office, Windows suite and all around tech savvy” is hopelessly vague and uninspiring. Tech savvy according to who? Your grandma? Oooh, you know Windows. So does my dog, and he died six years ago.

Now, if you’ve done amazing presentations in PowerPoint, then say that. “Created three presentations in PowerPoint in a year for area sales directors.” That says much more than “I know Office.”

Remove fluff. Add numbers and details. That’s 90% of the battle right there. If you can do that well, you’re ahead of the pack.

Looking for ideas on how to add details to your bullet points? Post them in the comments and I’ll see if I can help.

Objective: “Obtain job where I commute by zipline”

September 8, 2011 Job hunting 2 comments , , , ,

I spent an hour last night reading freelance writer Julieanne Smolinski‘s Twitter feed.  She’s funny in a Jack Handey kind of way, and I retweeted this Tweet:

I know you’re not supposed to lie on a resume, so I suppose my “Objective” has to be “obtain job where I commute by zipline.”

Thing is, that’s as good an objective to put on your résumé as any other.  Objectives say nothing and waste the attention of your reader.

Look at these sample objectives I found from Googling “sample resume objectives”:

  • Marketing position that utilizes my writing skills and enables me to make a positive contribution to the organization.
  • Accomplished administrator seeking to leverage extensive background in personnel management, recruitment, employee relations and benefits administration in an entry-level human resources position.
  • To transfer the office management expertise gained during eight years in a corporate setting to a managerial-level position for an established non-profit that needs fundraising and event-planning talent
  • To find a role in Human Resources that will utilize my experience with legal forms, payroll and employee recruitment as well as enable me to grow within the company.

The pattern is clear: Describe the position for which you’re applying, often with obvious fluff.  Rest assured that saying that you want to “make a positive contribution to the organization” does not give you an advantage over those candidates who don’t state it.

Don’t waste the reader’s attention on a rehash of the job description and canned drivel.  Leave out the objective.  Instead, write a three-or-four-bullet summary of your skills that summarizes the rest of the résumé.  For example:

  • Seven years experience in system administration on Linux and Windows datacenters
  • Certified MCP (Microsoft Certified Professional), working on CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate)
  • Four years help desk experience for 300-seat company, and fluent in Spanish

A hiring manager with 100 résumés to sift through isn’t going to read the whole thing word-for-word unless you give her a reason to.  Without a summary at the top, the reader has to skim to find the good parts.  Make it easy for her to find the good parts.

Finally, note that Julieanne’s quip gets to the heart of what’s wrong with the objective: It’s all about what the candidate wants. It’s like saying “Hi, glad to meet you, I’m Bob Smith, here’s what I want from your company.” The résumé is a tool to help you get the interview, and that starts with telling the reader what you can do for her, not the other way around.

(For more on objectives, see The worst way to start a resume)

Should I put ____ on my résumé?

August 15, 2011 Job hunting 3 comments

I read Reddit’s résumé subreddit regularly, and it’s one of the most common questions asked: “Should I put such-and-such item on my résumé, or leave it off?” The variations are endless:

  • Should I put a job on my résumé that I was at for only three months?
  • Should I put my college work on my résumé, even though I only was in for two years of a four-year degree?
  • Should I put my hobbies on my résumé?
  • Should I put my volunteer work on my résumé?
  • Should I put my high school education on my résumé?

The answer is the same for each of these examples: It depends on the job for which you’re applying.  Here’s how to analyze the situation and make the right choice for the job.

First, remember that the purpose of a résumé is to get you a job interview. Therefore, the question you have to ask yourself is “Will this piece of information help convince the reader to call me in for an interview?”  If it won’t, then leave it out.

Second, every position is different, so you must ask the question as it relates to the job for which you’re applying. You don’t have a single résumé that you blast out to the world. Consider every point on your résumé as it applies to the job for which you’re applying. For example, you probably don’t want to put on your résumé that you play guitar when applying for a job as a system administrator, unless you’re applying for that sysadmin job at a music publishing house.

All that said, here are a few items that you should almost definitely leave off a résumé:

  • “References available upon request,” which is assumed and is therefore noise.
  • A list of references, because these will be asked for at a later point in the hiring process
  • A photograph, which is inappropriate in the United States

Don’t try to make things on your résumé sound more interesting than they are.

July 6, 2011 Job hunting No comments , ,

Did you work a cash register at one of your jobs? Then say that in your résumé and move on. Don’t try to make it sound more exciting than it really is.

If you try to fluff it up and make it sound “more businessy” or “more resume-friendly” than it is, the person reading the résumé will just roll her eyes. Maybe she’ll laugh at you, or call someone over and say “Hey, this guy worked a register and called it ‘Accounting for legal tender’! Ha ha!” We know when you’re trying to fool us, and we think it’s both funny and insulting.

Now, if your cash handling is a key component to your background, perhaps because you’re working to be a cashier at a casino, then by all means, play it up, by giving specifics: “Handled over $50,000 per shift with zero short/over”. That way you’re showing the scope of your responsibilities. But if you’re looking for a sysadmin position? Don’t bother.

A résumé is about telling a company about what you’ve done that will help them decide that you’re worth bringing in for an interview. Don’t try to BS us in the process.

You can’t take the easy way to writing a résumé

January 10, 2011 Job hunting 6 comments ,

I came across a horrifying thread at Hacker News: Can I use a LinkedIn profile instead of resume for my job applications? It’s a reasonable question, and the answer is “No, you cannot use a LinkedIn profile instead of a résumé.”  If the job ad asks for a résumé, then you give them a résumé.  If they want the résumé in Word format, you give them the résumé in Word format.  What the hiring company asks for, you give them.

What makes me shake my head in dismay is the number of people who replied to say “Oh, yeah, just give ’em a LinkedIn URL instead, they can forward that around.”  The people who act this way are likely to not get interviews. These people who want to modify the process, let’s call them the IKBs, for “I Know Better.” Here are some things they need to learn.

First, if the company has gone through the trouble of writing an ad, they probably have a pretty good idea of what they want as a hiring process.  If the people doing the hiring didn’t think it was important what got sent in, then they wouldn’t have specified. But they did, so it does.  The IKBs don’t just get to decide from their easy chairs that they know a better way, at least not if they want a job.

Second, the IKBs aren’t somehow smarter than the people doing the hiring. Comments in the Hacker News thread include self-delusional drivel like “people cling to tradition for irrational reasons.”  This is the way the IKBs say “I know better than others how they should run their business.”  They are fooling themselves.  It sounds good when you tell yourself that, but the hiring company will simply ignore you.

Third, LinkedIn is not a substitute for a résumé, because LinkedIn’s format might not be the best way to present the story of you.  There is precious little space for the details and stories that make your résumé compelling to the reader.  Further, every résumé you send out must be tailored to the job for which you’re applying.  You cannot customize your LinkedIn profile for each company.  Maybe when applying to one company, you emphasize the work you’ve done in Oracle, and to another it’s all about the Linux sysadmin, depending on what the company wants.

Some posters on the thread mentioned that LinkedIn has a “résumé builder.”  All that does is reformat the fields already in your LinkedIn profile into various different résumé formats.  However, it doesn’t take into account the hard thinking and preparation that it takes to create a compelling résumé. Don’t get suckered into it. These résumé building websites are worse than worthless because they pretend that a good résumé is about the formatting.  It’s not.

Most of all, what makes me weep for the IKBs is that they think they’ve found an easy way to get a job.  Just fill in a few blanks, send off an email, and the hiring managers will fall over themselves to snap up the candidate.   It doesn’t work that way.  Finding a job, especially one that you’re going to want to go to every day, takes hard work.  If you think that you’ve got an easy time firing off résumés to companies, then you’re not trying hard enough.

Go ahead and be an IKB.  Take the easy way to writing a résumé.  Just don’t expect any interviews.  Those interviews will go to the candidates who have applied themselves and done the hard work necessary to present themselves in the best possible light to the company.

Résumé-building websites are worse than worthless

January 1, 2011 Job hunting 2 comments

We all want an easy way to get things done, and resume-building websites promise an easy way to put together a résumé for your job hunt. Unfortunately, using them does you a disservice by making you think that formatting is what matters, and helping you create bland, uninteresting résumés that won’t grab any reader’s attention.  You cannot create a good résumé by filling in a few blanks off the top of your head.

I read a job-related message board where a new job seeker was pointed to a website called cvmaker that claims to let you “create beautiful, professional résumés in minutes, FREE.” It isn’t possible. Sure, you can create a document in minutes, but a résumé that a hiring manager will find compelling takes hours at the minimum.

cvmaker would have you believe that what matters most is formatting and visual presentation. I assure you it is not. Visual presentation is important, but without having something to say, it’s all just pretty fluff.  You must put real time and energy into creating your first resume, considering what value you bring to an employer. It is about how you tell your story, not whether it is beautifully formatted.

cvmaker is comically bad.  It suggests that you fill in a section on “Interests”. Your interests do NOT belong on a resume unless they specifically relate to the job for which you’re applying. For instance, you can mention your love of running in marathons if you’re applying to work at a sporting goods company, for example.  If it doesn’t relate, leave it out.

cvmaker gives you a section to put references, but references do not belong on a resume. It suggests a default of “References available upon request”, but putting that on your resume is a space-filler and makes you look stupid.

The capper of cvmaker’s awfulness is where it lets you fill out your work history.  All the emphasis is on dates and company names.  A text area for each position has the ludicrous caption “Optional details such as job responsibilities, achievements etc.” Those details are not optional. Those details are where you explain to the reader what you have done in the past that makes you worth bringing in for an interview. They aren’t noise. They are the very reason you write the damn resume!

If you’re a job seeker and you’re struggling with how to create your basic resume, stop looking at resume websites, right now. Instead, go to your local public library, or your college library, and check out some books on job hunting. Martin Yates’ Knock ‘Em Dead books are a fine place to start.  If you’re a techie, I’ll point out that my book Land the Tech Job You Love is aimed specifically at you.  Chapters 3 and 4 cover the details of résumé creation.  You can ask the librarian or your career counselor for suggestions as well.  There are many books out there that provide far more and better examples from which to draw inspiration, and you will not be surfing random web pages of questionable value.

You want a good book on job hunting to give you the concentrated learning about how to think about what you want to put in the résumé, and why you want it there.  I guarantee that if you throw together a résumé in an hour, you will create a résumé that no one will be interested in.

(And don’t think that you can create a good résumé just by filling in a few fields in the Microsoft Word résumé templates.  When we hiring managers see those come in, we groan and figure you can’t think for yourself.)

Please, don’t sell yourself short by taking a cookie-cutter approach to your résumé.  It takes hard work to do it right. Don’t let any résumé-building websites or templates lead you astray.

Does your résumé have to fit on a single page? Roger Ebert has the answer.

November 1, 2010 Job hunting 3 comments , ,

Every time I speak to a group of people, and people talk to me afterwards, the topic of résumés always comes up. And every time people ask about résumés, someone always asks “Does my résumé have to only be one page?”

Your résumé does not have to be limited to only one page. It just needs to have nothing irrelevant and uninteresting in it.

I refer to film critic Roger Ebert‘s rule about how long a movie should be:

“No good movie is too long and no bad movie is short enough.”

You should apply the same rule to your résumé.

As long as what’s in your résumé is relevant to the reader, and the reader finds it interesting and it helps show how you’ll be a valuable addition to the hiring manager’s team, you can put in whatever you want, and your resume can be as long as you need it to be.

This means that when you apply for a job as a network engineer, you don’t bother mentioning your job at a pet store back in college, unless it somehow relates to the job for which you’re applying. If the job for which you’re applying is at PetSmart corporate headquarters, then by all means, include it.

Is anyone reading your résumé going to care about your “hobbies and interests”? Probably not. I guarantee they won’t if your hobbies and interests are “music and reading.” On the other hand, if you’re looking to do web development for Guitar Center and you play an instrument, then definitely put that in your résumé, perhaps even in your professional summary.

This also means that you have to tailor every résumé you send out. You have to go through every line and think “Will someone reading this résumé care about this?” You have to figure out if some bullets in your work experience should be expanded.

From today forward, don’t ask “Is my résumé too long”. Instead, inspect every word to see if it is of interest to the reader.

The worst way to start a résumé

October 26, 2010 Job hunting 5 comments , ,

As I go through dozens of resumes, I’m amazed by how many people still waste the crucial top two inches of their resumes with drivel like this:

Objective: A fast-paced, challenging programming position or other technical position that will utilize and expand my technical skills and business experience in order to positively contribute to an organization.

You and everybody else, buddy. Why should I give it to you?

That top of the resume is prime visual real estate. It’s the first thing I see when I open your email or Word document. I want to see a summary of who you are, and how you can help me by joining my organization.

Here’s an imaginary summary from a programmer applying for a Linux-based web development position:

7 years professional software development, most recently specializing in Perl and PHP, including

  • Developing object-oriented Perl and PHP, including interfacing with Oracle and MySQL on Linux (3 years)
  • Creating intranet database applications with ColdFusion and Access (2 years)
  • Creating shareware audio analysis programs for Windows in C/C++ (5 years)

In just a few lines, she’s summarized the real meat of who she is and what she’s going to bring to the position. The key words for the job to hit are bolded, to make them easier to find for the reader. Note that in this case, she has not bolded “Windows”, “Access” and “ColdFusion” because that’s not something she chooses to pursue further. It’s part of her background, but not worth emphasizing.

The skeptical reader may ask “But what if she’s applying for something that’s not a Linux web position?” Then she’ll modify her resume for that job when she applies for it. Takes only a few minutes, but it’s more likely to draw the interest of the reader. You’ve got a computer, you’re flexible! Tailor the resume to the position.

The still-skeptical reader may say “But what if I’m applying for 100 different jobs?” Don’t apply for 100 jobs. There aren’t 100 jobs out there that match you and your skills. Why waste your time? Spend the time working on the ones’ that match.

Bonus mini-rant: “References available upon request” is also fluff. Nobody has ever said “Hmm, this guy LOOKS qualified, but doesn’t have references available. I better not bother with an interview.” Kill it.

(Originally posted at

Don’t send two résumés

October 12, 2010 Job hunting No comments ,

I’ve never received two differing resumes in response to a job ad, but Allison Green has seen a growing trend. Don’t do it. Create one resume that puts you in the best light, and include a cover letter that addresses the needs of the employer and shows that you’re interested in that specific job.