You are diligently working on your next career move. You've found the role and sincerely believe you are the perfect fit. You've crafted your application package—a stellar cover letter and a resume. But you don't hear back. Why? We talked to six recruiters who review more than 25,000 applications a year to find out what may have gone wrong. Here are the six common mistakes they see over and over.
1. Inexplicable employment gaps
If there is a red flag that doubles as a scarlet letter for employers, it’s an employment gap. This issue is a big one, particularly for female professionals.
• Consider that roughly one-in-four mothers say they quit their job at some point for family reasons, as compared to 10 percent of men, according to a Pew Research survey.
• The #MeToo movement has repeatedly proven, female professionals leave toxic situations and entire industries without first securing other opportunities (see the Dallas Mavericks).
• Approximately 34.2 million Americans have provided unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older in the prior 12 months. The caregiver split: 60 percent female, 40 percent male.
Jeff Luttrell, Senior Director of Talent Acquisition at Alorica, said, “We do not screen anyone out with a gap—it is just something we ask additional questions about.” What if you don’t get the opportunity to explain it in a first interview? “I don’t like candidates to address the gap on a resume. They may mention it in a cover letter or explain it further such as just recently returned from military service and looking for employment again,” noted Luttrell. Jason Brevard, an experienced engineering recruiter for the chemical industry at Professional Outlook, agrees that a simple line item explaining the gap of employment is all that’s necessary.
Once you’ve received an interview, Luttrell says there is no reason to volunteer an explanation for your gap. That said, if you are tasked with walking through your employment history during the conversation, it's a good idea to point out why the break occurred.
Brevard points out one other key for job seekers to remember. "If the potential employer is not understanding of the employment gap for reasons such as raising a child, or caring for a family member in need, then it may be in your best interest to pass. Wait for an opportunity with an employer who values the type of individual who brings that dedication and loyalty to the workplace.”
2. Too many job jumps
From one extreme to the other, two internal recruiters consistently flag job hoppers. “On resumes, switching jobs consistently under a nine-month period can be an issue, especially if there's no clear career path or explanation," said Dan Antonelli, a recruiter at Adaptly, a social ad tech company with more than 3,000 applications from job seekers in 2017. "On phone screens, I always ask, ‘Why are you looking for another career opportunity?’ That question is either a big hit or a big miss for candidates.”
Antonelli recommends that rather than focusing on the number of years spent in a role, you focus on your career journey, describing your search for growth opportunities. An added plus: “You can mention something specific about the company that caught your attention, which shows you’ve done your research. It’s also an opportunity to prove your cultural fit, showcasing that you and the company share the same values. For example, at Adaptly we look for candidates whose answers and resumes show adaptability, hunger, and a passion for the social media space,” added Antonelli.
If the jumpiness is caused by multiple temporary/consulting positions, group them under one job and time frame, suggests Marisa Sniff, Senior Talent Acquisition Specialist at Combined Insurance. “Make sure to outline your specific tasks and responsibilities, but this will help clean up your resume.”
3. The right amount of detail
It’s best to have a resume that is short, precise, and to the point, focused on the specific skill sets and area of focus that apply to the role. Brevard explained, “Initially, I’m looking for the requirements such as degree and specific applicable background which should ideally be the most recent experience.”
Antonelli is concerned if the resume has too much fluff and not enough substance. When you include your successes, it's essential to have proof points. Brevard said he ensures that each candidate can articulate their level of responsibility for each claim on their resume. If you can't, remove that claim and add another project that would act as a better example of your expertise or involvement. Your accomplishments will likely be a conversation starter in an interview, considering those in your application process will help you through every stage of the application process, straight through to the offer stage.
No detail is another red flag noted Elsa Duty, owner of Recruiting Services International, whose firm fills an average of 80 positions a year ranging from highly specialized engineering and operations roles, as well as C-level executive searches. Particularly for technical roles, Duty likes to see softer skills. Have you managed culture change? Have you worked in multidisciplinary or multi-site teams? Have you led any transformation? If you are having a hard time writing about your softer skills, Duty suggests “picking four to five words and describe the way you interact with others.”
Candidates need to understand that the recruiter doesn’t always know your current employer, particularly if its an industry switch. In those instances, a one-line summary can be helpful.
4. No tailoring to the desired position
“Customized resumes stand out to recruiters and increase your chances of landing a phone screen,” said Adaptly’s Antonelli. In fact, Combined Insurance’s Sniff would rather see no objective or summary than one that doesn’t match the job opening.
Brevard provides a rule of thumb for customization. "When reading a position description, if it’s well written, the hiring manager would list the most critical functions of the role in order. The first bullet point should identify what you will be doing 50 percent of the time, the next bullet point 20 percent, etc. Compare your resume to the position description and make sure that all of your applicable experience is on your resume and represented appropriately." Save the custom resume with the company name to make sure you bring the right resume to the proper interview.
5. Disorganized or confusing resume format
During the recruitment process, Hiring managers and recruiters give resumes maybe 15 seconds before deciding to continue scanning, warned Sniff. "Use a standard format for your resume. Do not feel as though THIS is where you need to show your creativity." She suggests black and white, and bullet points are easier to read than paragraphs.
Duty agrees that continuity is a plus. "I'm amazed at how many resumes I see that have one segment different than the other. Make sure all the fonts are the same, the dates are uniform, and the bullets are aligned."
6. Yes, spelling and grammar mistakes are still too frequent
While not the biggest issue for Ronda Wakefield, founder of NW MT HR SOLUTIONS, LLC, proper spelling, formatting, punctuation, sentence structure and capitalization sends off the wrong signals. "If they can't write a solid cover letter, chances are they can't write a professional email. If they spell my name wrong, it's an immediate signal that they may not have strong attention to detail," said Wakefield.
Duty shared that she saw hundreds of misspelled manager titles this year (usually spelled "manger"). Also, pay extra attention to your capitalized words: SUMARY AND RESPONSIBILITIES is another frequent error.
There’s a simple remedy for professional help that Wakefield recommends: Reach out to a local Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) group and ask someone to review or give feedback on the document. Libraries, government-backed employment services, and local job services would likely offer a helping hand too.
It's always a smart call to have an additional person review your resume for apparent mistakes. If no one is available, a less bulletproof, but still better than nothing option on the fly: Run your text through Grammarly for free. Like spell check, Grammarly misses some errors but offers good suggestions too.
Jennifer Bewley is the founder of Uncuffed which provides detailed research into prospective employers. Jennifer has an unhealthy love of financial data and speaking her mind and she uses each to help candidates choose the company they work for wisely.