3 Things I Hate about Your Resume: Notes from a Professional Recruiter

Wanna know what people really think about your resume? Check out this no-holds-barred list of pet peeves from a Salt Lake professional recruiter. Think of it as the resume version of What Not to Wear.

The great mystery of resume writing is…what do recruiters and hiring managers actually think of your resume?

Recently, I had lunch with Marilyn McSweeney, Executive Recruiter at Principal at The McSweeney Group, to share notes on recruiting, the job search process, and how resumes are evaluated in the real world.

Marilyn sources qualified candidates for hundreds of corporate clients across the country. So she reviews thousands of resumes looking for the right fit in terms of both hard qualifications and soft skills like work culture and interpersonal style.

By the time we had finished our salads, I had identified Marilyn’s Top 3 resume pet peeves. These offer some interesting insights on life on the receiving end of resumes

Here are 3 things Marilyn hates about your resume:

  • No address
  • No graduation year
  • No early work history

A recruiter’s job is to suss out the best-fit candidates for their clients seeking to fill positions. This, of course, demands finding candidates with the right education, work history, certifications, etc.

But within that pool of qualified candidates, recruiters are seeking people with the right temperament, working style, and culture fit.

It’s illegal for an interviewer to ask about your income, age, or other demographic data. But your address, graduation year, and early work history on your resume can tip them off about your personal information. The truth is that Marilyn isn’t the only recruiter who uses these details to give a broader picture of potential candidates.

For example, she points out that candidates of a certain age may be more or less likely to fit in in certain workplace cultures. Better to identify a potential problem at the resume stage rather than waste everyone’s time at the interview.

Or, she says, even if you are considering a relocation, a hiring manager wants to know where you currently live, and HR will need your address should you reach the offer phase. The absence of an address can imply something unfavorable, such as a down-on-their-luck candidate staying with friends.

Now, just because a recruiter wants to know how old you are, how long you’ve been working, and where you live does not mean that you have to divulge this information. You are perfectly justified in omitting your address, graduation year, and early work history from your resume, and many career coaches will recommend that you do just that.

The point here—as in so many areas of resume writing and career development—is to be strategic. Balance what the recruiter wants with what you know will position you favorably.

If your address is in your target geographical area, include it.
If you’re seeking a job in a different state from where you current live or applying to an online posting, consider omitting it.

If your college graduation date positions you as experienced but not outdated, include it.
If it carries potential for ageism, leave it out.

If your early work experience contributes to the trajectory of your career development (“I started on the tech support help desk and now run a $10 million development team”), include it.
If your stint as a server 15 years ago is irrelevant to your current career, cut it. (Or follow Marilyn’s recommendation and write a general blurb such as “Prior positions as bank teller and retail customer service specialist.”)

But be careful. In a tight job market, Marilyn says resumes with missing information may simply get skipped over.

I know, I know, this kind of advice makes job seekers crazy. You may be thinking, “Okay, so I can include information that may sour the recruiter’s opinion of me, or I can leave it off and they’ll dump my resume in the recycle bin.”

Fortunately, Marilyn points out there’s one magic ingredient that can make even a flawed resume shine. And if you’ve been following RedRocketResume, it won’t be a surprise.

Like every resume writer, career coach, hiring manager, or HR professional I have ever spoken with, Marilyn emphasizes the importance of focusing your resume on specific, measurable accomplishments rather than responsibilities. (Check out my post here for more on the difference and how to turn responsibilities into accomplishments.)

Aside from what she hates to see, what Marilyn loves to see in a resume is a little personality. Maybe in the form of a list of hobbies, a brief description of personality/work style, or your Strengths Finder profile.

In her mind, the ever-swinging pendulum of resume best practice has gone too far toward simplicity and focus. Of course, she wouldn’t want to see a pink flowered resume with two paragraphs on one’s passion for Yorkies. But personality and work culture are highly relevant pieces of the job placement puzzle.

A stellar resume judiciously includes information that indicates your brand of communication, leadership, collaboration, problem solving, and critical thinking.

As always, if you need help navigating resume dos and don’ts, don’t hesitate to reach out to RedRocketResume for help.