Job Hunting

Résumé Mistakes that Recruiters Hate

Search firm execs reveal their biggest résumé-writing gripes in a new survey. Misspellings still top the list.
Lisa YoonOctober 28, 2002

The recruiters of America have a message to job seekers: Spell check is your friend.

That’s according to a new survey published by, a division of South Burlington, Vermont-based staffing agency Personnel Department Inc. The survey, which polled more than 2,500 recruiters throughout the U.S. and Canada about résumé pet peeves, provides a rundown of the top 20 gripes. What’s more, posted on the Web site are samples of the no-holds-barred E-mail responses garnered from the survey.

Besides poor spelling, the recruiters—that represented a wide spectrum of specialties and industries, including executive search and finance—said that lack of clarity and including hard-to-decipher information, are two major résumé-writing offense. Recruiters hate résumé that are, for instance, too long; too duty-oriented—reading like a job description without explaining the candidates accomplishments; or functional as opposed to chronological in format. They want to see relevant information about the candidate—quickly.

As Harry A. Massucco of executive-search firm Sherwood Lehman Massucco Inc. puts it in his E-mail response: “I receive in excess of 300 unsolicited résumé per day. The first thing I look for is their current or most recent position, from that I decide whether I have any interest in reading the rest of the résumé.”

Recruiters also get impatient with résumé that bury important information, such as degrees or dates. Many respondents identified this practice as a tactic often used by older candidates trying to deflect attention from their age. But the pros say you can’t hide résumé blemishes from recruiters because “we pick apart resumes for a living.” “What makes the candidate think I am too dumb” [to figure out these résumé tricks] writes respondent Gayle L. Himes of executive-search firm Sanford Rose Associates.

Also, say recruiters, don’t lie. Lying was the 12th biggest no-no in the survey. Yet, alarmingly, some executive candidates have trouble grasping the concept. One respondent, executive headhunter Chris Keller of Xavier Associates/Gatti & Associates, E-mailed this eyebrow-raiser:

“A candidate put that he had an MBA on his résumé. When asked about it, he told me that he had all of the credits but had not done his thesis. His excuse was that he transferred to another state and the university wanted him to start all over. He said that he put the MBA designation on the resume to ‘catch the attention of the recruiter’ and figured that if he explained the situation, it was ok to leave it that way.”

For candidates who are more in touch with reality, the message of the majority of respondents is to sell your skills in a direct, straightforward, and down-to-earth way. Give as much information as possible, but only the kind that matters to the job. Don’t list what your jobs entailed; discuss instead what you achieved.

“I recruit accountants/finance professionals and have developed an attitude that the resume reflects the caliber of work the candidate does,” writes Clyde Frankenberry of Top Gun Recruiters, adding “accountants can be very precise but they are not good at selling themselves.”

4 Powerful Communication Strategies for Your Next Board Meeting