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GET HIRED! Keep Your Resume Out Of The "Rejected" Pile

Updated on June 1, 2012

GET HIRED! Keep Your Resume Out Of the “Rejected” Pile

The math is simple. Whenever I post a job opening, I receive an average of a hundred resumes. I only have enough time to interview the 5 or 6 best candidates. That means that 95% of the resumes will end up in my “rejected” pile. When your resume arrives in my email inbox, it has one job to do: make me want to schedule you for an interview. It’s not an easy job, and the odds are definitely not in your favor, but here are a few tips that may help your resume avoid the pile of rejects.

1. Keep It Short

Conventional wisdom says that your resume should only be one page. As a hiring manager, I’ll allow you two pages -- but no more. As soon as the printer starts cranking out page 3, I’m done. And so are you.

If you are going to spill over to a second page, make it worth my time. Give me at least a half page of detail about your work history, your education, your skills or relevant interests. Don’t let page 2 be only one or two lines. I can’t tell you how annoying it is to print resumes that have only one line on the second page, usually a worthless line like “References Available Upon Request”

The longest resume I have ever received was 10 pages. I didn’t even read it. As soon as it printed, I filed it in the “rejected” pile, labeling it either “overqualified” or “clueless.”

2. Keep It Relevant

It never ceases to amaze me how many people have only one version of their resume, and blindly send it out for every job opening.

In the old days (i.e. the 1990’s), resumes were printed on paper and sent via mail. Customization was not a viable option. But in today’s world of Microsoft Word and email, there is no excuse for not tailoring your resume for your recipient. My job posting uses words like “detail oriented”, “multi-tasking” and “problem solving.” If I bother to use those words in my ad, it’s fair to assume that I’m looking for those same words in your resume.

3. Keep It Targeted

Every resume book I’ve ever read extols the virtue of the “Objective” statement at the top of your resume. As a hiring manager, I don’t get it. I understand that an objective helps you focus your thoughts on where you want to take your career, but there is a huge caveat: if your objective as an employee doesn’t match my objective as a manager, you may be doing more harm than good.

When I am hiring, I am looking for someone who will be a dedicated and loyal employee, who is willing to put in the time and effort to do the job better than anyone else, and who is going to stick around for at least as long as I do. If your objective is to open your own business, get promoted within the first two years, or pursue some outside interest that has no benefit to this job opening, why would I hire you? It’s fine to have those ambitions. In fact, I strongly encourage it. But don’t advertise them at the top of your resume. All you are doing is telling me that this job isn’t ultimately what you want, and you’re only here until you find something better.

4. Keep It Simple.

Avoid jargon, industry slang and acronyms that aren’t used by the general public. If you ever watched the TV show “Friends”, you may remember an episode when Chandler was trying to explain his office job to his friends and he described it as “I make sure that the WENUS isn’t out of whack.” Seeing the look of confusion on their faces, he further had to explain that the WENUS was the Weekly Estimated Net Usage Summary. Fortunately for him, his friends took enough interest to find out what the heck a WENUS was – and luckily they didn’t need to know about the Annual Net Usage Summary. A potential employer may not.

Resumes that detail job duties as “I use TomTom to ensure that the DPRs reflect correct CT in order to allow the APMs to manage churn for their respective TMBDs” get passed over. I don’t have time to figure out that TomTom is the nickname of your reporting software that is internal to your current company. I may be able to guess what APMs and TMBDs are, but then again, I may not. And DPRs, CT and churn may make total sense to you, but if I’m not in your current industry, I may not know, and with 99 other resumes to go through, I may not care.

5. Keep It Attractive

Use a font that is clean, crisp and easy to read. Don’t use a fancy cursive script. Times New Roman is probably the most common, and works just fine. Be judicious with your use of bolding, italics and underlines. A minimal amount can highlight key words and important details, but anything more quickly becomes an eyesore. Leave enough white space to keep the page from appearing overcrowded. Be consistent in how you use headers and bullet points.

I offer you this scenario: Its 5 o’clock. I have been reviewing resumes all day. My eyes are crossed. I’m hungry. I’m tired. And I’m ready to go home. I have only two resumes left to review but my interest is fading fast. One resume is neat, clean and attractive to the eye. The other is a printed train wreck. Which one am I going to read, and which one am I going to reject without reading?

And for the love of all things good and proper, proofread your resume. Again. And again. And again. Your resume is you putting your best foot forward. A typo is a wart on the big toe of that best foot. Sorry for the unpleasant imagery, but resumes with grammatical errors, misspelled words and obvious formatting gaffes get sent to the rejected pile. If you are that lax with your own personal documents, why would I think you’re going to ensure my business documents are accurate?

6. Keep It Accurate

I once received a resume from a former co-worker. We used to do the same job at our former company. In fact, when the company hired me full time, it put us over budgeted head count, so in order bring us back down, this guy ended up losing his job (yes, there remains some animosity even today). But he sent me his resume for one of my job openings, and I did him the courtesy of reviewing it. And I moved it to the “rejected” pile as soon as I saw him touting himself as “Lead Accountant” at our former job. Having been his co-worker, I know that what he called “Lead Accountant” was actually “I requisition purchase orders for the department as directed.” That inflation of the truth may have gotten by 95% of the hiring managers without question, but it didn’t get past me, and it cost him an interview.

The lesson to be learned: You don’t know who is going to review your resume, or what kind of knowledge they have. But if the hiring manager spots a lie or a flagrant exaggeration, you’re dead in the water.


Do you have any additional tips or experiences to share on how to keep your resume from an employer’s rejected pile? Do you have any questions have that I can answer, or related topics that I may want to address in a future hub?


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