10 reasons why recruiters and hiring managers dread reading a résumé

bored womanHere’s a fact: Very few people like reading résumés, especially those who read hundreds of them a week. Ask any recruiter or hiring manager (HM).

I critique and write résumés as part of my job. I’ve read hundreds of them and have conducted numerous critique sessions, but I’ve got nothing over recruiters and HMs.

The only bright spot in this whole process is reading a résumé that doesn’t give me a sharp pain between my eyes, one that is relatively sound. A résumé that is outstanding—now, that’s a WOW moment.

Once you understand that recruiters and HMs are not dying to read your résumé, you can focus your attention on writing one that pleasantly surprises them, one that prompts them to recommend you for an interview.

To entice them into inviting you in for an interview, you must avoid making the following mistakes:

1. An apathetic approach to writing your résumé. Don’t let your apathy show in the quality of your product, which shouts, “I’m not into writing a résumé because I’ve got better things to do.” This results in typos, spelling errors, and grammatical mistakes.

This sentiment comes across loud and clear from people who feel this way. They resent having to write a résumé and would prefer others to do it for them. Do not rely on others to write your résumé; it’s your responsibility.

Note: if you simply can’t write your own résumé, be sure that you hire someone who will take adequate time to interview you and get to know what you’ve accomplished in your career. Read this post on having a professional write your resume.

2. Your résumé is a tome. It’s a five-page document consisting of every duty you performed within the past 25-years; and it’s so dense that the person reading it puts it in the “don’t read” pile simply because it’s nearly impossible to read.

I recently glanced at a résumé that resembled what I’ve just described. I made no false pretense and simply put it down after two seconds saying, “I can’t read this.” My customer nodded with understanding.

3. And it’s hard to read. Make your résumé easy to read by writing short paragraphs, no more than three or four lines. Shorter paragraphs allow the reader to grasp important information easier. I’m also a fan of using bold text to make words for phrases stand out.

Remember that recruiters take approximately 6-10 seconds to glance at your résumé to determine if they will read the rest of it. Thus your résumé must grab their attention quickly. Make sure they see the accomplishments within those six seconds.

4. It lacks accomplishments. I know, you’ve heard this a thousand times. But it’s worth repeating because you want to stand out from the rest. Recruiters and employers relate to quantified results with dollars, numbers, and percentages. Many people mistakenly think accomplishments should only be highlighted in the Experience section or under Career Highlights.

One or two of your accomplishments should be stated in the Performance Profile. Develop processes that improve operations and result in double-digit revenue growth.”  A statement like this is meant to grab the reader’s attention. This assertion must then be backed up in the Experience section with explicit examples and dollar amounts.

5. It includes clichés or unsubstantiated adaptive skills. The rule is to show rather than tell. Yes, you may be innovative; but what makes you innovative? Did you develop a program for inner-city youth that promoted a cooperative environment, reducing violent crime by 50%? If so, state it in your profile as such.

Recruiters and hiring managers can see fluff a mile away. They’re turned off by words like “dynamic,” “results-oriented,” “Outstanding,” “driven,” and other clichés.

6. Failing to show recruiters and employers what you’ll do for them. Recruiters and employers don’t want to know what you did; they want to know what you can do. You’re probably thinking, “If my work history is in the past. That’s what I did. How do I show employers what I can do?”

It’s what we in the field call prioritizing your statements, or targeting your résumé to each company to which you apply. In other words, illustrate how your qualifications and accomplishments match the employers’ requirements in order of importance.

7. You don’t know what recruiters and employers want. Many people don’t take the time to dissect the job ad to discover the most important skills and experience the employer wants to see on your résumé. If the ad is skimpy, go to the company’s career section on its website.

Better yet, if you know someone at the company or know someone who knows someone at the company, call him/her and ask more about the position. LinkedIn is a great tool for finding influential people at companies. The bottom line is that you can’t write a targeted résumé if you don’t understand the requirements of the job.

8. You lack keywords and phrases. As CareerBuilder.com points out, keywords are the skills applicant tracking systems (ATS) search for to determine if your résumé will be the first of many to be read by recruiters and employers.

Your branding headline, much like the headline on your LinkedIn profile, is the first place on your résumé where you’ll utilize keywords. Then you will make sure they’re peppered throughout the rest of your résumé.

9. Your resume isn’t smart phone friendly. For you Millennials this should be no problem, as you go nowhere without your iPhone or Android. (I’m the same way, even as a Boomer.)

The job search is increasingly used more on the go, rather than at a computer, so your résumé (stored in Dropbox) must be legible to recruiters and hiring managers. Recruiters and HMs want your résumé fast, so don’t disappoint them.

10. You apply for a job for which you’re not qualified. I know the urge to find a job, any job, is great; but don’t waste the time of a recruiter, employer, and you by applying for a job for which you’re not qualified.

You may think there’s an inkling of hope that you’ll get an interview. But if you have only five of the 10 requirements necessary to do the job, there really is no hope. And this can be determined within the first 10 seconds of reading the résumé.

A woman in HR recently related this story to me, “I received a résumé in a USPS photo envelope (heavy duty mailer) certified mail.  The résumé is on lovely cream-colored card stock, beautifully formatted. The problem, she is applying for the Assistant Town Accountant position and for the last 10 years she has been a dog groomer.”


These are but 10 faux pas you must avoid if you want to write a powerful résumé that is enjoyable to read and gets you a spot in the hot seat. Once you’re at the interview, you’re one step closer to a job offer.

Photo: Flickr, ssunnymorgann

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13 thoughts on “10 reasons why recruiters and hiring managers dread reading a résumé

    1. davidhuntpe

      Which only highlights the need for job seekers to network, network, network.

      I apologize in advance for the scathing tone in my remarks below, but…

      Where is the feedback? Where are the senior managers with perspective who – upon learning that their wonderful, super-duper computer program is screening out many, many qualified people – say “Maybe we should abandon it.”

      Company leaders drilled a hole in their boat when they bought ATS portals which, per your own words, toss out 75% of applicants before they are seen by a human. They drilled another hole in their boat when they loaded their managers down with so much work that they cannot meet promising people for coffees or lunches, or attend events. They drilled yet another when cutting off the hiring managers who, having met a promising person, are shot down – and probably censured to boot – when they bring someone they met and liked in through the back door. Hiring managers drilled another hole when they insist that every single bullet point requirement be met, and yet another when – in an economy that anyone with three brain cells knows sucks canal water – only consider people who have jobs or only lost their jobs recently.

      These actions rise to the classic definition of Chutzpah: “A teen who kills his parents, then pleads for mercy because he’s an orphan.” Decisions by corporate leaders created this TOTALLY ARTIFICIAL crisis of a “shortage”. Yet the only thing they do is point to the candidates, blaming them…

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      1. Wayne Schofield

        David, Simply….when a job requires a particular software language, tool or experience and that skill, language or tool is not listed on one’s resume’, it’s a safe assumption that person is not qualified to do that job. Of course they could probably learn the skill and that is their desire, but companies are looking for someone to bring that skill to the table if it’s the only requirement. This is why 75% of the resume’s are knocked out.

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  1. Rich Grant (@RichCareer)

    Great piece, Bob! I particularly like #5, and the concept of show, don’t tell. This could be a whole blog post about how to actually do this. I always tell people when I review their resumes that this is the hardest part of writing a good resume.

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    1. Things Career Related Post author

      Thanks, Rich. I know it’s hard to explain to someone, “You need to show you’re a hard worker, rather than just show it.” How about “Consistently exceed workload expectation, outperforming colleagues’ output 150%.” I know it seems like throwing colleagues under the bus, but, hey, if it’s true, say it.

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  2. seb

    I agree that a wow CV is a great moment… but CV tips abound and yet it is hard to recruit and hard to find a job. Honesty is the one missing elements…
    Let’s do 180 degree turn and bring your points to HR HM or whoever is on the receiving end of the infamous yet utterly pointless CV (or how to summarise a human being in 2 pages of stereotypes, key words and prejudice).

    1. apathy affect HR department who just need the hiring manager to fill forms. Just use the same as last year mate, it’s fine it’s just for the file.
    Or the Hiring manager who doesn’t reflect on the real needs but just google a job title and find 278 job specifications in less than 5 minutes. hooray! job done.

    2. oh my world,these job specifications that explain the last 150 years of that type of role, how the company was built in the 18th century, how the last CEO was great at school and bla bla bla rrrrrr (sorry I fell asleep!) So CV must be 2 pages but the literature that accompany the job can be dozen of pages of complete non-informative material then? hmmm le’ts not work for these people.

    3. bold text? gosh, just on Linkedin I can forward you 10 articles from last month telling candidates to NOT USE BOLD!!!! (or upper case for that matter). CV writing and readin has that artistci element… every person is different and have different preferences. Is your CV written well? pure luck as it depends on who reads it. The real advice here is to try and understand the preferred style of whoever read your Cv

    4 accomplishments are important but it is funny how for CV writing it is all about you as a person but for anything else, you are asked to think about team, to be a leader, to be inclusive, us instead of I etc…truth is rarely does 1 person actually delivers these achievements; more likely it is team work. Companies real need team players and team leaders. so achievements are misplaced, mis-articulated and most often pack of lies.

    5. cliches, OK back to points 1. Companies are always great when they advertise to candidates… they are the best, a place to work for etc. and the amount of buzz words in a recruitment campaign if often proportional to how much you are going to hate your job if you join.

    6. that is where many make you believe that soft skills and transferable skills should appear high on your cv. Yet recruitement is at about 99.7% a window on the past. How do a recruiter know you can manage a project? because in the past you have been a project manager. when people get a job on something they have not done before, forget CV, recruitment etc… they got the job through networking. that’s another field altogether. Want to work in finance? then it is imperative that your CV shows how long you have worked in finance in the past. fact.

    7. More often that the recruitment industry will ever admit, the hiring manager hasn’t got a clue what they need. One of their guys resigned, there is an opening, what to recruit for? well the same job, right? same specification etc of course. when do people truly stop to think and assess the gap? when do managers think about the sort of person they are looking for instead of just refreshing the last guy’s job spec?

    8. here we go. Advertised job? your CV is read by a machine. Yes that’s right, companies nowadays rely on a software to make some of the most critical of their decisions: choosing the people who drive the future company revenue. so ignore all the points above and include as many buzz words as you can. write them in very small and in white, it doesn’t matter, it’s only to fool the software.

    9. hiring managers read CV in the stamp format of their phone screen? pass, that person lost my respect. point 1 anyone?

    10. out of the 10 criteria about 5 are fake, stupid, unfair or unrealistic so if you score 5 out of 10 you are in great stead. Also men being more self-confident tend to apply when they meet 5 criteria when women may wait to hit a good 7, maybe 8. That’s one reason men beat women in some jobs. (If you think it’s fair, stop reading and go back to the 18th century). The point is simply: it doesn’t matter that you meet half the criteria, go anyway. because the truth is this: point 10 in the article is in complete opposition to point 6. fun isn’t it? how can you focus on what you can do when you meet only 5 criteria? hmmm.

    so let’s be honest: your CV should be your voice because on the odd chance that you are invited to an interview, you are the person who will have to talk through it, in the same voice.

    you will not get a wow with your cv. you might in person though. so go out there, network, meet people, understand who needs people like you and apply directly there.

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  3. James Andersen

    Great piece Bob. I’ve been giving employment workshops and teaching resume writing to college students for a few years now and I am excited to finally see an article that backs up my philosophy. Show an employer what you can do for them. Don’t just give them a long list of generic skills with no substance, no meat.

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  4. Chuck Castagnolo

    I think for boomers, number 9) Your resume isn’t smart phone friendly, was probably the most important new nugget of information, for me anyway, that I’ve read for job search in a while and I have been teaching resume writing and job search at my Bridges to Jobs group for the past eight years.

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  5. Inez

    I have been typing up CV’s for many years, and I quit doing it. Why? Because people can not spell anymore. Never mind the grammar. Social media has corrupted previously educated human being’s ability to spell correctly – and some of this can be laid at the feet of the education systems all over the world. I did get some intense laughter therapy sessions out of it though…

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