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Q: In previous columns you’ve described what to include in a resume to immediately grab a recruiter’s attention. What I’d like to know is what will cause a recruiter to reject you in that initial read. What are instant turnoffs for HR?
A: That’s a good question. While there are no hard and fast rules, here are some issues that may raise red flags immediately:
Functional Resume: If most of your resume is an outline of skills and matching achievements, with a list of jobs with dates but no descriptions associated with each role, the recruiter won’t be able to tell where or when you did what, and will assume that you’re trying to hide something.
Longevity/Stability: A recruiter will check the start and end dates of each position on your resume. If there are too many short stays, he may think that you’re a job hopper. Whether you left voluntarily or were let go, this may be considered a red flag. The recruiter may also look for any long gaps between employers, or even several short ones. Some resume reviewers examine the number of jobs in a given time span; six or seven positions in a 10-year period may be too many. However, most will realize that given the ups and downs of the job market over the past decade, even the best candidates may have a short position or two, especially during the 2000 to 2001 and 2007 to 2011 recessions.
Overselling: One or more of your job descriptions may indicate that you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread. However, practically speaking, the recruiter will wonder if all the stated achievements could have been made in the specified timeframe.
Ambiguity: Because only so much information can fit onto a resume, there’s a tendency to describe responsibilities very generally. For example, you may state that you processed monthly and quarterly financial reports, without specifying whether you created spreadsheets, analyzed data, generated statements, or simply printed and distributed them to management.
Stale Experience: I tell my clients that in choosing information to include on their resumes, they should focus on recency and relevance. How recent is the experience that’s most germane to this specific job?
Depth of Experience: A good recruiter will look for the length and level of your experience — how long you were engaged in the applicable job; what your role was — to see if it matches your claimed depth of knowledge.
Spelling/Grammar: A recruiter will look for misspellings, grammatical errors and typos. No matter what the job, you should be thorough in proofreading and spell checking, as this is an indication of the quality of future work products.
Promotions: Moving up within an organization is normally a sign of successful achievement. Do you have 10 years of experience, or one year 10 times?
Industry: If specific industry exposure is desired, the recruiter will scan for employer names.
Education: Do you have the required credentials? Usually, the more extensive your relevant experience, the less importance the school, degree, and major should have, but there are always exceptions.
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