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Quintessential Careers:
Top 30 Executive Resume Pet Peeves of Hiring Decision-Makers
Part 1 (Peeves 1-10)

by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.


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  • In the subjective world of career-marketing communications, where opinions vary widely and consensus is hard to find, the pet peeves and preferences of those with the power to hire offer enlightenment for crafting your executive resume -- especially what to avoid.

    Through a list of the Top 30 Executive Resume Pet Peeves, hiring decision-makers reveal the landmines aspiring executives can avoid while positioning their career-marketing documents to meet decision-maker needs. I surveyed 59 hiring decision-makers for my book, Top Notch Executive Resumes (from which this series of articles is adapted) about their peeves and preferences. One of them, Melissa Holmes, senior technical recruiter, at Levi, Ray & Shoup Consulting Services, Springfield, IL, speculated that while executive and senior-level candidates make the same resume mistakes as all other job-seekers perhaps hiring decision-makers are less forgiving.

    Here are the first 10 executive resume pet peeves. See Executive Resume Pet Peeves 11-20 in Part 2 and Executive Resume Pet Peeves 21-30 in Part 3.

    1. Resume has spelling errors, typos, and grammatical flaws.
    Hiring decision-makers cited this peeve more than any other. It may surprise some that misspellings and typos pervade even executive-level resumes, but they do. A job-seeker-submitted sample I considered for this book, for example, contained the common error of spelling "manager" as "manger." You'll note that this misspelling won't be picked up by spell-check functions because "manger" is a correctly spelled word. So is "posses," the plural of posse, which I often see on resumes when the job-seeker intends "possess."

    "I once received a resume where the applicant misspelled the name of the University from which he received his MBA," said Jeff Weaver, regional manager for a global information services company.

    "Poor spelling and grammar ... is particularly worrying," said Pete Follows, senior consultant, for SaccoMann, Leeds, UK. "If a candidate is not giving due care and attention to a document to improve their own personal circumstances, what care would they take with documents with less personal significance?"

    A few tips on avoiding typos, misspellings, and grammatical errors:

    • Use spell-check functions but remember that they aren't enough.
    • Proofread. Then put the resume down overnight and proof it again in the morning with fresh eyes.
    • Try proofing from the bottom up. Reading your resume in a different order will enable you to catch errors that you may have glossed over before because your brain was accustomed to reading your verbiage in the expected order.
    • Ask a friend or family member to proof, preferably one who is a meticulous speller and grammarian.
    • Be careful about company and software names, which are frequently misspelled and can damage your credibility.
    • Consider hiring a professional resume writer.

    2. Resume is too long.
    While there is no consensus among employers and recruiters about resume length, most feel one page is too short. Maureen Crawford Hentz, manager of talent acquisition, development and compliance at Osram Sylvania, Boston MA, particularly disdains "abbreviated or 'teaser' resumes" that urge the recruiter, "for more information, call me." Many recruiters believe that two pages is about the right length; for some, three pages is the outside limit that they will read. "If the resume is longer than two pages, it needs to be well worth it," noted Hentz's colleague at Osram Sylvania, Harlynn Goolsby. Others question executives' ability to prioritize if their resumes are longer than two pages.

    Since recruiters pass candidate resumes on to client employers, they must also consider employer preferences. "Most of my clients profess that they are too busy to read anything lengthier -- thus, I deliver what they require," said Chris Dutton, director at Intelligent Recruitment Services and Owner, Intelligent IT Recruitment, Manchester, UK. Recruiter opinions about resume length have been colored in recent years by the growing practice of reading resumes on a computer screen rather than printing them. Resumes that might seem too long in print are acceptable on screen.

    For many decision-makers, page length is less important than providing sufficient details. "I ... encounter quite a few resumes that have been stripped of any detail in order to confine them to one or two pages," said Pam Sisson, a recruiter for Professional Personnel in Alabama. "My immediate response is to ask for a more detailed resume. A resume that's three or four pages but actually shows the qualifications and experience necessary for a position is much preferred, in my opinion, to one that has cut out all the substance to meet some passe idea of a one-page resume." John Kennedy, senior IT recruiter at Belcan agreed: "Resume length is of very little importance so long as the information is accurate, verifiable, and pertinent to the position. If a candidate has 20 years of experience directly relating to the position being applied for and that experience is verifiable, it should be listed even if the resume goes four-plus pages."

    3. Resume is too wordy, contains too much information.
    Strike a balance between a meaty, content-rich resume and a concise, readable document. Employers want both. Limit bullet points while still telling your full story. Cut out unnecessary words. If you've sliced out as much as you can and the resume still looks text-dense, look for ways to break up blocks of content. "Long sentences with deep paragraphs put me to sleep, and I have a good chance of missing something important because I don't have time to read a novel," said Brian Howell, CSAM, of The QWorks Group.

    4. Resume is written in third-person.
    Survey respondents were surprisingly vocal in their irritation over this resume affectation. Although the pronoun "I" is generally not used in resume, it is the understood -- but unwritten -- subject of a resume's bullet points. Note that "I" is the unwritten subject of this bullet point:

      [I] Facilitate restriction-removal processes on restricted/private placement securities. When the bullet point, however, is written with a third-person verb, as in the following, the subject becomes "he" or "she:" [He] or [She] Facilitates restriction-removal processes on restricted/private placement securities.

    Some senior-level job-seekers are even more blatant in their use of third person, annoying employers with summary statements such as:

    • George Jones is a globally experienced broker and trader with significant, progressive brokerage experience and expertise.
    • As an Information Resources Management manager (IRM) at both the corporate and project level, Bob Smith has consistently demonstrated his ability to understand customer needs and develop and implement effective IRM solutions for both commercial and government contracts.

    5. Resume does not list phone number, only an e-mail address, or has inappropriate e-mail address.
    In the age of electronic submission, many candidates seem to think decision-makers will want to communicate by e-mail only, but a phone number on your resume is an absolute must. Be sure to include a daytime phone number as that's when recruiters are most likely to call you. The recruiting process often moves too rapidly for e-mail; recruiters prefer to call -- and expect you either to answer or call back without delay. Without a phone number, "I can't call you," said recruiter Alice Hanson, "and most jobs I have on my desk need to be filled in 24-48 hours. I find a good candidate and can't connect -- it drives me wild." If employers can't reach you very quickly, they'll move on to the next person. They still want to see e-mail addresses listed as an alternate contact method, however, and recruiters note a surprising number of candidates who fail to provide sufficient contact information.

    Your e-mail address must be professional. "I don't want to know if you are 'sokkerguy' or 'kittylover' says Joe Briand, partner at The Clarion Group, Placerville, CA. "Use Yahoo or Gmail and get a professional-sounding address for your job search."

    6. Resume contains the personal pronoun "I."
    It might seem like a silly protocol to omit "I" when the understood subject of resume bullet points is, in fact, "I." But eliminating personal pronouns (I, me, my) is simply an accepted style, and not following that style, Hanson noted, makes the candidate seem "amateurish."

    7. Resume contains a weak objective statement.
    Most people in hiring positions do not read Objective statements. (Read Your Job-Search Resume Needs a Focal Point: How Job-Seekers Can Add Focus to Resumes to see what is replacing objective statements.) "Omit objective statements [because] the applicant, as a matter of principle, has no objective; the company has the objective," advised Kennedy. "Whatever you write, your objective is to get a job," said Alison, a corporate recruiter for a specialized information provider.

    "I can never figure out why people think employers are breathlessly waiting to provide them with opportunities. I am especially puzzled when it is in an executive resume," noted Joy Montgomery, owner of Structural Integrity in California, citing a typically poor objective statement:

    Objective: A challenging position where I am able to use my considerable something or other skills in a fulfilling opportunity ...

    Similarly, Weaver offered this self-serving and slightly exaggerated objective statement as a typically weak example:
    Objective: Seeking to obtain a position within a growing company where my existing skills will benefit my employer, and be part of an environment where I will be challenged so that I may gain even more experience.

    8. Resume content lacks results.
    Hiring decision-makers want to see the results you attained for past employers, what you accomplished, the value you added, and how you made a difference in your past jobs. They want to gain a sense of the complexity and significance of what you've done. Some recruiters recommend a bulleted list of key projects indicating accomplishments and results. Consider our Job-Seeker Accomplishments Worksheet to help develop accomplishments and results.

    As many achievements as possible should be measurable, especially quantifiable. Scott advises metrics or results for at least 40 percent of your bullet points for each job. "Anytime you can quantify your accomplishments, you give them more credibility," said Howell. Among measurable items employers want to see are sales volume (and ranking in comparison with peer and compared to previous periods, percent of quota), number (and titles) of direct reports, number of people you've hired, size of teams you've led, your position within the team, amount of money you've saved, success in completing projects, initiatives that result in revenue-generation, process-improvement, and cost-containment.

    9. On the other hand, resume is so full of quantitative data that it's hard to read.
    Your resume must tell stories of your successes and results. Number are great, but well-chosen words and well-crafted phrases will also get your message across. Excessive use of numbers can hurt your resume's readability, so don't go overboard.

    10. Resume is too general.
    To keep from limiting themselves, candidates sometimes create a very broad resume that lacks specific information. A peeve for Holmes is "failure to include enough information for a recruiter to determine fit. Executives more so than less-senior level candidates should be aware of the importance of effective communication, and yet they seem less motivated to tailor their resume to the specific job in which they are seeking." Consider using our Cover Letter and Resume Customization Worksheet.

    Move on to the next 10... Executive Resume Pet Peeves 11-20 in Part 2.


    Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.

    Katharine Hansen, PhD, QuintCareers.com Creative Director Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., creative director and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers, is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for Quintessential Careers, edits QuintZine, an electronic newsletter for jobseekers, and blogs about storytelling in the job search at A Storied Career. Katharine, who earned her PhD in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, OH, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press), as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press); and with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Study Skills (Alpha). Visit her personal Website or reach her by e-mail at kathy(at)quintcareers.com.


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