You know what I love about our team here at TalentWorks? We’ve been on both sides of the job search. We’ve been the job hunter who refreshed our inboxes more times than we care to admit, waiting for news, and we’ve been the hiring manager who has seen way too many cover letters addressed to…the last company a candidate applied to. We’ve talked about how frustrating the job hunt can be from the candidate’s perspective, but now we’d like to share what turns us off as hiring managers and can send your application to the “no” pile.

Here are 10 resume and cover letter DON’TS from the TalentWorks team.

Resume DON’TS:

1. Don’t let something as banal as an email address get in your way. We get it. Deathmetalharry666 was a great handle when you were sixteen—and maybe it still is. But it doesn’t need to be on your resume. Neither does your current company email address, your mom’s email address, or basically any email that has us asking questions you probably don’t want us asking. Keep it simple and professional.

2. Hardworking. Organized. Great communicator. Those are nice qualities, but those pesky applicant tracking systems don’t care. They want juicy keywords, like “Microsoft Excel”, “Google Analytics”, etc.. Don’t give us a list of adjectives that could describe anyone. Tell us what you do, what programs you know, what specific skills you have—and most importantly—what problems you’ve solved with those mad skills? As they say in the fiction world—show, don’t tell.

3. Don’t turn bullet points into bullet novels. Delete all adjectives and adverbs. Think of them like potato chips—delicious empty calories that hurt you more than they help you. We don’t need to know the events leading up to the achievement or what the weather was like that morning—we just need to know the end result (i.e. Developed a new onboarding program that improved employee retention by 42%).

4. Don’t share your love for long walks on the beach or knitting. Save that for the dating sites, unless your hobbies really are relevant to the role you’re applying for. Remember that hiring managers can get hundreds of resumes for one job. When we’ve got two hundred resumes to go through and 12 different projects we’re working on, we skim and look for relevant qualifications and achievements. The more you make us work for it, the crankier we get.

5. Don’t get all creative on us (yes, graphic designers, we’re looking at you too). Don’t get us wrong—we want to see your creativity on the job. But we want your resume to be easy to read and understand. So, please save the script fonts for your mom’s birthday cards and avoid using tables or complex templates that may look like a hot mess in another program. Tip: Submit your boring looking resume to the bots, and bring your fancy resume to your in-person interview.

Bonus: Don’t forget to proofread. Sometimes we miss a typo—it happens to the best of us. But multiple spelling and/or punctuation errors make us question your attention to detail.

Cover Letter DON’TS:

1. Don’t address your letter to the wrong person or company. This should go without saying and yet… This tends to happen when candidates are copying and pasting cover letters, and they hit send before changing the name up top. Oops. Yes, we notice and yes, it may just be the reason you aren’t getting that interview.

On that note…

2. Don’t send the same cover letter to every company. We can totally tell. Yes, your experience is going to be the same—but the reason you’re applying to a specific company should be different. Your opening paragraph should address the company you’re applying to and why you are passionate about their mission. Any achievement or skill you outline should be relevant to the role you’re applying for. In short, what makes us a match made in heaven?

3. Don’t apologize for yourself. There’s a difference between being honest about your skillset and focusing too much on what you “can’t” do. Your cover letter should be all about the positive. Your greatest achievements. Your strengths. The challenges you have overcome. If there is a skill you haven’t mastered, wait until the hiring manager brings it up and then be prepared to tell them how you plan on conquering it. For example, you can tell them you’d be happy to take classes or necessary trainings.

4. Don’t come off as too arrogant. Confidence is great. We love it when you know your strengths and can clearly articulate how you can help solve our problems. But avoid statements, like “I’m the best candidate you will ever find” or “I can move mountains in two seconds flat”. Nobody can move mountains in two seconds flat. You know it (we hope) and we know it. Also, don’t make presumptuous statements, such as “I look forward to working with you.” Considering we haven’t even talked to you yet, this makes you sound kind of, well, loony.

5. Don’t tell us your life story. And definitely don’t tell us your life story in passive voice. We think it’s fantastic that you volunteer at the local animal shelter and love your kids. And, if we decide to move forward with you, we’ll look forward to learning more about you. But right now we just want to know how you can help us solve our problems. So, make sure every word on your cover letter counts. Eliminate unnecessary adjectives or details and use an active voice.

Do you have any resume or cover letter tips to share? What worked for you and what didn’t? Feel free to share in the comments below!




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