Leadership and career

How to Keep Your Resume Out of the Trash Can

In the time it takes you to read this short paragraph, I will have skimmed a resume and assigned it either to the “call” or the “reject” pile.  I’m not a speed reader, but I’ve spent 20 years coming to brisk conclusions about job candidates based on resumes – and I know a thing or two about this all-important document.

If you’re guilty of these resume blunders, scrap your draft and start over:

Spelling, Grammar and Punctuation Errors

Spell check won’t find all of your mistakes, so always have someone proofread your resume for you.  Your resume is supposed to represent your best work, so typos are going to suggest a general sloppiness about your work ethic.  And I’m not alone in my judgment here.  A Robert Half International survey showed that 76 percent of executives said that one or two typos in a resume are enough to nix an applicant’s chances.

A Photo of Yourself

Why are you doing this? You’re looking for a job, not a date. If I get a resume with a photo, I remove it before passing it on to a hiring authority.  A professional photo on your LinkedIn profile is essential.  A photo on your resume is distracting and unnecessary.

Too Much Detail

You must tailor your resume to the job you’re seeking, and that means eliminating a lot of extraneous information.  Don’t worry – if we want details about your summer job flipping burgers 25 years ago, we’ll ask.  In light of this advice, is more than a two-page resume a deal-breaker?  Not for senior-level executives, provided the information is relevant.

Too Many Buzzwords and Abbreviations

Is your resume littered with TLAs? (That stands for three-letter acronyms, by the way.)  Chances are, your current company regularly uses a lot of abbreviations and acronyms to describe tasks, benchmarks and accomplishments.  Guess what – no one else knows what those mean. Using buzzwords and abbreviations won’t suggest that you’re important.  It will confuse and annoy your reader and make you look a little sloppy. So type it all out, would you?

Long Sentences and Bulky Paragraphs

• Everyone is busy
• No one has time to read everything
• Bullet points make your data clear and accessible

Misaddressed Resumes

You’d be surprised how frequently I encounter a resume that is tailored for a particular company or position – but not the company or position for which it was submitted.  We know you keep a copy of your resume on your hard drive so that you can tweak it as needed.  Please: remember to tweak it carefully, and eliminate any references to the last job you applied for.

Confusing Responsibilities with Accomplishments

You know the paragraph where you listed your duties in your current position?  Delete it. Now write me a new one describing what you accomplished.  I don’t want to know what you were supposed to do. I want to know what results you got. Example: don’t tell me, “Responsibilities included setting up and tracking projects and developing new procedures.”  I want you to say, “I managed a tracking system that saved the company $125,000 by decreasing waste by 30 percent.”  Isn’t that better?

You already know that your resume is your first impression, so make it a good one.  Good luck out there!


Maurice GilbertMaurice Gilbert is Managing Partner of Conselium Executive Search, which specializes in placing Compliance Officers and Legal Counsel for clients in the U.S., Europe, Latin America and Asia Pacific. Maurice is also CEO of Corporate Compliance Insights, a worldwide publication devoted to governance, risk and compliance issues. Maurice can be reached at maurice@conselium.com or maurice@corporatecomplianceinsights.com.

Published by Conselium Executive Search, the global leader in compliance search.  

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