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Everything that sucks about your resume that no one is telling you

Like any employer large or small, we get resumes. I’ve seen hundreds in the last couple of years. I’ve reviewed resumes for internship positions up to paying salaried positions. They all suck.

I want to take a moment to point out a few things about resumes that seem like common sense to me. Maybe I’m just being too picky, maybe I’m just wrong. But there are some things I look for and either through bias or preconceived notions, I form opinions about what I see. I bet I form the same opinions as a lot of other people. So let me be really, brutally honest, along with some simple rules for resumes.

Simple rules and simple tips for resumes

If you’re in high school, ignore whatever your teacher says about putting your hobbies or interests or sports or whatever on your resume. I know it’s your first time, you don’t have a lot of experience yet, but I’d rather see you have little to no experience than to have to read about what you do on Friday night.

Stop with the big words. In fact, stop with all the words. Here’s a word-for-word copy of one resume’s “Profile” section I received:

I am a part-time college student and full-time employee with 8 years of professional I.T. experience. I have considerable knowledge and practical hands-on experience in Microsoft and Linux based operating systems, networking technologies, and software applications. I am an experienced programmer skilled markup Web 2.0 compliant HTML/CSS/PHP, scripting languages such as Python and Perl and low level languages: C/C++. Superb analytical abilities in decoding and debugging foreign code or obfuscated code. Great attention to detail with a passion to learn unique and interesting ways of working with all types of electronic technology. I am flexible with any schedule and excel at working under pressure in a dynamic or constantly changing environment even during prolonged or odd work hours with minimal supervision or instruction. A self-starter with intrinsic motivation and a great team player and contributor.

Jeesh. Here’s what I read, or at least interpreted of that as I read it out loud (spelling is correct here):

I am a part-time college student and full-time employee with 8 years of professional experience. I experience Microsoft and Linux. I am markup Web 2.0 PHP, Perl, C. Super abilities in decoding and code. Great detail interesting way of working with all types of technology. I am flexible. Work under pressure.

“Well, Justin, how would you write that?” I’m glad you asked:

I’m Justin. I’m a student, but I have 8 years of experience already. I know HTML, CSS, PHP, Python, Perl, and C. I love technology and want to work with you. I have a flexible schedule and can work well alone or with a team. I’m ready to start whenever and however you need me.

No long sentences. No trying to look like you’re smarter than anyone else with big words like “obfuscated” and “dynamic or constantly changing environment” (that’s redundant anyway). Simple, clean, style. It’s personable and approachable. We know from Marketing 101 that “short sentences sell”.

If you’re applying for a design job, I want to see a well-designed resume. You can send a PDF or Word document, but be careful with layout and formatting changes that come from sharing Word docs. I want to see nice font choices, color, and maybe even a picture.

When looking at your educational history, maybe it’s just better to leave that out. This is going to be hard to say and is going to come across as rude, but someone has to say it: schools like DeVry, University of Phoenix, and often many community colleges don’t impress me. Given the choice between someone from IU (or any state school) or DeVry, I bet most employers go toward IU. Personally? I think people that go to private colleges must not have much sense about the value of a dollar. Private colleges like Phoenix and DeVry strike me as an overpriced waste. I don’t immediately think, “Where did this person go to school?”. I think, “What can they do for me?” Everything not telling me that is fluff.

If your past work history doesn’t relate to the job you’re applying for, leave it off. I don’t care that you worked at CVS when you were in college. I don’t look at the dates to figure out whether you took a break that one time or not. I just want to see relevant things that can be good for me or the company.

Do not include references. I am not going to call them. If I want them, have them ready separately. Don’t even bother writing “References available upon request”. I assume you have them anyway. And of those references, please don’t use a teacher if you’re over the age of 21. Some places do call references and they won’t hire anyone until they’ve spoken to all those references. So make sure they’re around and expecting a call. I once had to hire an intern who listed his high school baseball coach as a reference. I couldn’t get the guy on the phone and when I finally did he just said, “Uh, yeah, I don’t really remember him much but I remember he was always there.” Took the words out of my mouth, Coach. “Always there.” Like a rock in your shoe.

If you’re applying for any tech-related job and you don’t have your own website, well, what was your name again? Equally damning is if you espouse web skills and don’t have a URL to your own site on online portfolio. And by online portfolio I don’t mean “a PDF copy of the resume”.

Give your resume’s filename a decent one. No “My Resume.docx”. How about “Firstname Lastname.pdf”. Okay?

If you email your resume, assume your cover letter is your email body. If you don’t write a message, you make it very likely you’re going to be deleted within seconds. Personally, I spend more time reviewing the cover letter than anything else. At least there I can see some style and writing skills. I’d love to hear a story, too. Please don’t think I want technical jargon repeated in the cover letter just as it is in your resume.

If your cover letter is your email body, then your email subject line is your handshake. Make it good. Make it almost click-bait worthy.

At the interview

Assuming you do get called back from your resume, here are some simple interview tips:

  • Know the website of the place you’re interviewing for like you know your Facebook page.
  • Dress like the people do at the place you’re interviewing, if you can. You’ll come across as more likable and not pretentious.
  • If you’re early, walk around the block. Do not go into the business or office until 10 minutes before your scheduled time. Any earlier and you rush the interviewers, especially if they’re not doing another interview before hand and are just working on something else.
  • Shake hands before and after. Ensure your hands are dry. If you tend to have sweaty hands, put a Kleenex in your pocket and squeeze it before walking in.
  • Start the small talk before the interviewers. Talk about the big news of the day or something. It makes you look at ease and personable.
  • If you have to wear a suit, tie, or dress shirt or pants, find a clothes iron first. If you don’t know how to iron, how are you supposed to do this job I have?
  • Do not scoff, giggle, or otherwise make it seem you are burdened by anything the interviewer asks or says. I once had a young woman show up to an interview 40 minutes late because she “couldn’t find the office”, only to visibly cringe and ask if she’d “really have to go to Gary, Indiana” once or twice.
  • Know where the interview is taking place. This is 2014, you have no excuse for not being able to ask Siri a simple address. Go there on your day off to make sure you know where the entrance and building is. Do not be late. Remember, walk in with 10 minutes to go before your interview time.
  • If you have the opportunity to pick a seat for the interview, sit at the head of the table or next to the interviewer and pull the chairs back. It’s more personable and in-command than sitting across the table, which adds distance.
  • Learn to sell. Don’t ever tell an interviewer, “Well, this isn’t my best”, “This isn’t finished” or whatever. Steve Jobs didn’t introduce the iPhone by saying, “This isn’t finished yet, but…” It was, “I’m excited to show you something today…”.
  • Seem interested. Half of everything in life is faking it anyway.
  • At the end of the interview, have some intelligent questions to ask and be thinking of them as you go. If by the end of the interview you don’t have any I’d assume you’re brain dead. At the very least, ask, “How long have you worked here?”, “How’d you get started here?” and “So why do you enjoy working here?” Notice I said “enjoy working here”, not, “So why do you work here?”. That sounds more like you’re disgusted that anyone would. Perhaps that’s true, but not what you want to sound like in the interview. You can also ask, “What are the best and worst things about working here?”
  • Send a thank-you email afterwards, along with links to your website again.

Free advice

If you tweet a link to this post and mention @SuperPixelCo, or mention us on Facebook,  I’ll take a look at your resume and offer some advice. Free advice, what could be better!?

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Photo of Justin Harter


Justin has been around the Internet long enough to remember when people started saying “content is king”.

He has worked for some of Indiana’s largest companies, state government, taught college-level courses, and about 1.1M people see his work every year.

You’ll probably see him around Indianapolis on a bicycle.

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