Writing the Perfect Resume

Job seekers often make the mistake of providing too many superfluous details.

September 9, 2008, 6:15 PM

Aug. 10, 2010 — -- A recruiter pal was recently grumbling about a resume she'd received: "I don't need to know that the candidate has a pet Schnauzer named Miss Sparkles," my chum said. "Unless she's applying for a job at the Humane Society, it's irrelevant."

This isn't an isolated incident. In the past week, I've collected countless tales from recruiters, hiring managers and resume consultants about North American job seekers who include far too much personal information on their C.V., from their age, height, religion, wedding anniversary and number of years sober to the fact that they enjoy sleeping, goofing off on Facebook and chasing UFOs in their spare time.

"When they say recruiters look at a resume for 10 seconds, that's true," said Kristen Fife, a recruiter in Seattle who wades through hundreds of resumes a week. "If you're looking to hire somebody to do something, you don't really care that their favorite color is green or that they like to go to monster truck rallies on the weekends. And yes, that was on a resume I saw today."

Mentioning your favorite color or your pet's name on a resume may sound harmless enough -- after all, companies want to hire people, not automatons. But oversharing on your C.V. can wind up biting you on the backside. To a rushed recruiter or hurried hiring manager, a resume riddled with TMI is not only wildly impertinent, it's a glaring red flag.

"Job seekers get all kinds of advice to be different and stand out, and for some people, that means adding information that they think will make them unforgettable," said career coach Debra Yergen, author of "Creating Job Security Resource Guide". "They will be unforgettable, but for all the wrong reasons."

So herewith, the most common resume overshares -- and why you should avoid making the same mistakes:

Your resume is not a cocktail party. Thus, those you send it to do not need -- or want -- to know the names, ages, birthdates and special talents of your children. Nor do they want to read a detailed description of your loving marriage and zest for family life. They just want to know what you can do for their company and what employment experience you have to prove it.

You may be the proud father of three red-headed triplets who all made the honor roll this year. But unless you're applying for a job with the National Honor Society, save such family chit-chat for the job interview.

No doubt your parents were proud of your childhood awards and extracurricular activities. It is, however, time to move on. At best, employers might find accomplishments like making Eagle Scout or setting a record for the most Girl Scout cookies sold in your troop an odd addition to your resume. At worst, they might think you have some growing up to do.

Not every hobby or interest you've entertained since reaching adulthood warrants a resume mention either. Your fraternity brothers may have been impressed by your ability to sleep for 18 hours straight or ingest 17 hotdogs in one sitting, but most managers won't be. Unless you're applying for a job in a creative or offbeat field, save the extra dash of personality for the job interview (though you still may not want to mention your love of naps or beer bongs).

Facebook might make a fine place to post that prized photo of your chance meeting with your favorite actor or musician. Your resume, on the other hand, does not. Brian Sekandi, a partner with Toronto-based recruiting firm Gilmore Partners, recently encountered a candidate who had yet to learn this distinction: "One of her most recent accomplishments was meeting and hanging out with [rapper] 50 Cent," Sekandi said. "She included a picture of herself with 50 Cent in her resume body right before her experience."

Fortunately for the applicant, Sekandi was kind enough to encourage her to resubmit her C.V. without the celebrity worship.

"I've seen resumes list the reason that a person left each position, job after job after job," said Ira Bershad, managing partner at Dallas-based recruiting firm Kaye/Bassman International. "That should never go on a resume. You have to allow that to come up in conversation during the interview." And even then, he said, your answers should be short, sweet and incredibly diplomatic.

In other words, save the snarky comments you're dying to make about your former manager's limited interpersonal skills for your conversations with friends and family. No one wants to hire a bitter ex-employee.

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission laws are designed to protect you against discrimination based on your age, race, religion, sex, physical appearance and so on. So unless you're applying for a job with, say, AARP or the ACLU, better to leave off such identifying details. They'll only strike recruiters -- who do their darndest to comply with federal anti-discrimination regulations -- as odd, perhaps even concerning. The more paranoid among them may even worry about a possible discrimination lawsuit, if, knowing your age or ethnicity, they call you for a phone screen and then don't call you in for a face-to-face interview.

Although a resume is a come-on of sorts, it's no place for scented paper, e-mail handles like sexykitty, the intimate details of your bedroom fetishes or sexy photos of yourself -- unless perhaps you're applying for a job in the adult entertainment industry. Yet C.V. consultants and career coaches see a surprising number of resumes that make this fatal error.

Career coach Adriana Llames, author of "CAREERSudoku: 9 Ways to Win the Job Search Game", was recently put off by a resume she received that featured some unconventional graphics at the top of the page: a picture of a woman's bare leg in a stiletto, alongside the words "This is what will get me in the door."

"To be honest," Llames said, I only read the summary and didn't bother with the rest. That's what happens when someone has TMI." Although the candidate had more than 15 years of sales experience, Llames noted, "she also had poor professionalism, so her skills were irrelevant."

Resumes that wax poetic about the candidate's personal life usually come off as the inappropriate ramblings of someone with no social filters or sense of professional etiquette. Unfortunately, they're far too common.Las Vegas based career coach and trainer Alexia Vernon recently received a resume from a job seeker that was 25 percent work history, 75 percent autobiography.

"He not only listed such things as the year of his birth, marriage, divorce and dates his children were born, he also put in several lengthy descriptions about his family crises to explain gaps in employment," Vernon said. "His resume was five pages. He had three actual paying jobs and the rest was personal history."

Moral of the story: save your literary aspirations for your novel or memoir, and your personal crises for the therapist's couch. If the employment gatekeepers and consultants of the world want to read a juicy tale, they'll go the bookstore.

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