The worst way to start a resume

by Andy Lester

As I go through dozens of resumes, I'm amazed by how many people still waste the crucial top two inches of their resumes with drivel like this:

Objective: A fast-paced, challenging programming position or other technical position that will utilize and expand my technical skills and business experience in order to positively contribute to an organization.

You and everybody else, buddy. Why should I give it to you?

That top of the resume is prime visual real estate. It's the first thing I see when I open your email or Word document. I want to see a summary of who you are, and how you can help me by joining my organization.

Here's an imaginary summary from a programmer applying for a Linux-based web development position:

7 years
professional software development, most recently specializing in Perl and PHP, including

  • Developing object-oriented Perl and PHP, including interfacing with Oracle and MySQL on Linux (3 years)
  • Creating intranet database applications with ColdFusion and Access (2 years)
  • Creating shareware audio analysis programs for Windows in C/C++ (5 years)

In just a few lines, she's summarized the real meat of who she is and what she's going to bring to the position. The key words for the job to hit are bolded, to make them easier to find for the reader. Note that in this case, she has not bolded "Windows", "Access" and "ColdFusion" because that's not something she chooses to pursue further. It's part of her background, but not worth emphasizing.

The skeptical reader may ask "But what if she's applying for something that's not a Linux web position?" Then she'll modify her resume for that job when she applies for it. Takes only a few minutes, but it's more likely to draw the interest of the reader. You've got a computer, you're flexible! Tailor the resume to the position.

The still-skeptical reader may say "But what if I'm applying for 100 different jobs?" Don't apply for 100 jobs. There aren't 100 jobs out there that match you and your skills. Why waste your time? But that's a topic for a different rant....

Bonus mini-rant: "References available upon request" is also fluff. Nobody has ever said "Hmm, this guy LOOKS qualified, but doesn't have references available. I better not bother with an interview." Kill it.

(See also "The worst way to start a job interview")

What other silly mistakes do people make in the quest for a job?


2004-08-22 07:50:29
Resume Format
From a technical perspective, I can agree with you. However, your resume will often have two audiences, one is technical, the other is Human Resources.

Depending on the HR department you are working with, a resume can be rejected for not being in a proper format or for missing the right keywords. As such, the useless "Objectives" section may be required to get through HR and into the hands of a technical manager.

It's frustrating, but that is often the way it works. Even though it may not work that way in your company, someone submitting a resume has no way to know that.

2004-08-22 19:07:59
Resume Format
Do you have any specific tales of an HR department requiring a certain format? What format would they expect? Something according to a given handbook?

It sounds apocryphal, but if it's true I'd love to be able to follow-up and find details for future writings on this topic.

True or not, it only illuminates the importance of bypassing HR whenever possible. HR doesn't make the hiring decisions, so can only be an impediment to your search.

2004-08-22 22:33:19
...available on request
I prefer to leave out the intro Objective statement and "references available on request" too. Instead, HR finds it much more helpful if you just state "Psychological assessment available on request". They'll figure you out anyway! ;)

Thanks for the post.

2004-08-23 01:17:03
CVs a black art?
There are so many conflicting pieces of advice floating around about the ideal CV. My personal recommendations for IT CVs:

Summarise your skills after your name at the very beginning.

Don't bother with 'mission statements', they're naff, superficial and sound like marketing guff (IT people are cynics like you remember!).

Avoid boring people to death as they troll through the wad of paper sent by agencies. Don't detail everything you did at every job. A lot of CVs I've seen (mainly from overseas contractors) list endless technologies and acronyms. Write in a normal conversation voice. Try and sound human, rather than a programming robot. Try and decide what you want to persue in particular. Do you really want to do any old thing? Focus on the technology area you want and match it to what is being looked for.

Spell check, particularly if you're foreign. If your written English looks ropey, whether you can discuss technical matters confidently will be called into question.

Ensure that your CV shows evidence of social skills, like team working and customer interaction. Also documentation writing is unfortunately fairly important as well. As are design skills and testing.

Don't worry about HR, they do the most basic of vetting, if any at all. The people you will be working with or for will probably look at your CV most closely.

Don't give your date of birth, it's nobody's damn business exactly how old you are. Don't support ageism. Likewise, miss off referee details. These come after successful interviews, not before. Hobbies make you sound human, as indeed do active interests outside work like charity things.

2004-08-23 04:23:13
Resume Format
HR in my experience looks for exactly the stuff that technical people don't look at.
Mission statements, fluff like that.

In most companies HR will do the entire first round of selections based on that and a list of terms and acronymns they are told to look for.

The resulting shortlist goes on to the department manager who may or may not be a technical person himself.
That person determines who if anyone gets invited (by HR) for an interview based on that filtered list (he never sees the rest).
HR handles the interview (with or without technical people present depending on company policy).
Only a possible second round is then handled more or less directly by the technical staff (under supervision of HR of course).

I got lucky when I got hired, the entire HR department was on maternity leave (they're so good at planning, why can't they plan that?) leaving the selection process completely in the hands of techies :)

Oh yea, in many companies HR DO make the hiring decision (or at least they have the last word and can reject a candidate even if everyone else wants him/her as a friend of mine found out to his detriment a few years ago, everyone wanted him except HR and their decision was final).

2004-08-29 22:30:23
CVs a black art?
Your post also highlights the wide gulf between the north american style resume and the european style curriculum vitae (CV).

Your last point about the date of birth is well taken - but it should be noted that in the US and Canada, asking for this information is illegal. Volunteering it just makes you look ignorant.

Hobbies and charity work are again useful things in making you look human - but in my experience they are just fluff on a resume.

2004-08-30 13:38:22
Seems Familiar.
This is very similar to a thread of posts Will Grasso posted some time ago.

Would there ever be the possibility of the two of you collaborating on a full-length article that could go over hints and tips for resumes and interviews in the tech sector?

-Thank you-