Most job seekers today understand the importance of a strong resume and will spend hours crafting multiple drafts and customizing their approach for each new application.
But no amount of customization or spell-checks can address tiresome clichés, and far too many resumes and cover letters still tend to be filled with meaningless drivel that tells recruiters little or nothing about what an applicant is really like.
You wouldn’t tell a potential employer you are a “highly motivated, results-oriented team player with excellent analytical skills” in a face-to-face interview, so why put it in your resume?
To get to the bottom of some of these clichés, I’ve asked four employers to share their pet peeves, as well as the things they wish applicants would do instead.
This might come as a bit of a surprise since there’s a lot of advice out there saying that writing in the third person is more professional for a resume or cover letter.
But while it’s true that using “I” or “me” can be seen as unprofessional, your resume should never look like something your mother wrote about you.
“It just sounds odd for someone to introduce themselves in the third person when the resume or cover letter was clearly written by them,” says Kara Alcamo, director of search marketing at R2integrated.
Saying “John Smith has worked in marketing for ten years,” sounds impersonal and even pretentious.
Why? Because a third-person point of view distances you from the thing or person you are writing about, and considering that you are writing about yourself, that’s a pretty ill-advised thing to do.
Instead, craft your resume in the first person, but leave “I” out of it to prevent it from sounding like an entry in your diary. If you’re having trouble with this, just write it out normally, and then remove every “I” and “my” later on.
Alcamo adds that aside from getting the tone right, it’s important for applicants to think about what the hiring manager is actually interested in.
“Everyone can talk about their great work ethic, but hard examples are more motivating,” she says.
“For example, I’m currently looking for a paid search strategist, and if someone wrote that they increased conversion rates for a client by 40% with an A/B landing page test, I’d be much more interested in hiring them than someone who just used some buzzwords to describe themselves.”
Sabrina Hartel, Editor in Chief for women’s magazine Red Hot 40, notes that applicants often overstate their abilities, or fail to back them up with facts and examples, which is just as bad.
“The most overused cliché that I’ve seen when hiring a writer is, ‘I can do this,’ even when the person has no relevant experience in their resume or writing samples,” says Hartel.
“As long as I see samples, I would hire a writer straight out of high school. The most important thing for me is to be able to see what I am working with.”
Business owner and recruiter Kenneth Havens says that applicants tend to greatly overstate their experience or abilities, and on a couple of rare occasions, even make them up.
“I once interviewed an applicant who had stated in her resume that she spoke fluent Japanese,” he says.
“During the phone interview, I explained that the job would require her to speak and understand some basic Japanese, and she assured me that she spoke Japanese quite well.
However, when I switched over from English to Japanese to test her fluency, the voice on the other end went silent. I’ve never heard from her again.”
Instead of exaggerating, which will almost certainly backfire, Havens advises applicants to simply research the company and carefully read through the job requirements to ensure that their particular skill set will be welcomed.
Keeping your resume brief is always good practice, but being too vague or general is another matter entirely.
“Applicants often apply with statements such as ‘I like food,’ or, ‘I like to cook,’” but who doesn’t like food?” says Melanie Young, Chief Connector with The Connected Table, a food and beverage marketing company.
“It’s important for applicants to look at the company’s websites and be familiar with their services and programs. Many of the applicants I deal with do not do this, or have no idea of what is involved with working at a public relations firm.”
Young points out that it can also be beneficial for jobseekers to sharpen their “elevator pitch,” with at least 3–4 specific attributes they can bring to the company. This will help them keep their pitch brief but also ensure that it’s specific enough.
Many job seekers misguidedly think it will help their cause to demonstrate to a potential employer how ambitious they are by talking about their plans for the future, even when these extend beyond the job and company they are applying to.
But although employers do value ambition in an employee, no one wants to hear that the person they are considering for a position in their company has plans to take over their job or steal away their clients in two years time.
“I often see applications that say things along the lines of ‘I want to own my own agency someday,’” says Young.
“But all that really makes me think is; ‘Great! How long do you plan to work for me? And will you be taking a second helping of my file when you leave?’”
In order to demonstrate that you’re ambitious without causing employers to wonder where your loyalties are, try to focus on the things you’d like to accomplish or improve within the company you want to work for.
Featured photo credit: Image courtesy of hotblack/morguefile.com via mrg.bz
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