6 Chicago recruiters explain the biggest mistakes you can make on your resume

by Sam Dewey
October 22, 2015

The ability to write a quality resume is a skill few job seekers ever totally master. Beside the basics of spellchecking and formatting, what actually goes into your resume (and how you execute its inclusion) is regularly contested.

So, how can you land a job at a top Chicago tech company when getting your foot in the door is left at the whim of a hiring manager or recruiter? Simple: find out what makes them tick.

We sat down with six Chicago tech recruiters to hear their worst resume horror stories and their basic dos and don'ts when it comes to marketing yourself to a potential employer:

Sarah Mueller, Talent Coordinator, One North

What are the most common mistakes you see people make on their resumes?

Besides some of the more elementary-level blunders like spelling errors, unpolished final drafts, anachronistic job history, and objective lines that are vague or irrelevant, Sarah Mueller said she is no stranger to resume gaffes that all but extinguish an applicant’s chances from the get-go.

“Sending a cover letter and resume to me addressed ‘Dear Mr. Mueller’ or ‘Dear Sir,’” she said. “I am a 25-year-old female. Research matters!”

Mueller said incomplete contact information — especially the lack of an email address — might also land your application in the trash.

What is the worst mistake you've seen someone make?

When applying for a position, it really doesn’t pay to be deceitful. Even if you manage to lie your way through an interview, odds are you’ll get the sack two weeks in when your new company realizes you can’t deliver.

“I’ve had several candidates in the past ‘beef up’ their resume in order to be considered for a job,” Mueller said. “Rather than fabricating information to try and impress, it is more impactful if someone is honest about his/her areas for development and showcase what he/she is doing to be more qualified for a role. For example, if you’re taking a class in HTML to improve your skill set, list that.”

But the worst mistake Mueller has ever seen?

“I received a ‘resume’ that simply said, ‘Hire me or else,’” Mueller added. “Don’t threaten the recruiters, it’s not nice.”

Bliss Billingsley, Talent Advisor, Softchoice

What are the most common mistakes you see people make on their resumes?

It’s a seriously bad idea to fudge or exclude start and end dates from previous positions. At least, that’s how Softchoice Talent Advisor Bliss Billingsley sees it.

“It's important to include the month and year for every position listed on a resume so recruiters have a better understanding of past tenure and any gaps in employment,” she said. “This information is crucial to organizations so they can gauge one’s loyalty to employers and red flags.”

And while shorter stays at a job (that have valid explanations) need not disqualify a candidate, Billingsley said companies vet talent for people who have demonstrable loyalty and want to develop alongside a company for “mutual success.”

What is the worst mistake you've seen someone make?

Is it really that hard to stick to the basics? Billingsley said she once saw a candidate neglect to list any job responsibilities or duties for previous positions they’d held, a resume criterion so critical that its omission alone can lead to being passed over.

“All that was on it was their name, address, and names of the employers. It was about half a page long. Needless to say, I did not move forward with that candidate,” she said.

Mike Dwyer, Director of Talent, NowSecure

What are the most common mistakes you see people make on their resumes?

For Mike Dwyer, Director of Talent at NowSecure, three of the most critical tenants to resume cultivation are brevity, relevance, and creativity. If your resume is a rambling, meandering mess that never captures how your experience makes you a perfect fit for the responsibilities of a position, it's likely your resume will be tossed aside.

And Dwyer said it’s important to take some creative risks, too.

“When working in a high-growth tech company, it’s important to be creative and resourceful, and many miss that initial opportunity to share their creativity by taking a risk with how they sell themselves in the intro email,” Dwyer said.

What is the worst mistake you've seen someone make?

Remember when your grade school teacher gave you a zero for misspelling your name on an assignment? It turns out, she did that for a reason — Dwyer said one of the worst fumbles he’s ever seen is an applicant misspelling their own name.

Frank Scarpelli, CEO, DevWrx

What are the most common mistakes you see people make on their resumes?

From typos and jargon to large blocks of indigestible information, DevWrx CEO Frank Scarpelli said there are a ton of common errors he sees folks make when they submit resumes to his company. Scarpelli’s red flags also include incomplete contact info, lapses in work history, and getting “too cute” with your verbiage.

“A resume should be a synopsis, not a thesis” he said. “Resumes need to be ‘scannable.’  Unless you are a fresh graduate or have very little experience under your belt, the resume will likely be more than one page. That's okay. Just don't send me something that resembles ‘The Wealth of Nations.’”

What is the worst mistake you've seen someone make?

“There are many, so it's hard to pick just one,” he said. “If I have to, I guess I'd say when someone clearly plagiarized content from another source. When I suspect a phrase or sentence is ‘canned,’ I'll Google it and find that the applicant pulled it from someone else's resume or another source.

“That said, when an individual doesn't follow some of the basic rules of proper resume etiquette, that can be a deal-killer, too,” he added.

In terms of aesthetics, Scarpelli said applicants need to strike a balance between being visually appealing and sticking to the basics.

“A resume should look good,” Scarpelli said. “Have enough white space to make it easily scannable, and be formatted in a way that makes it easy to read the highlights — especially company, title and dates. . . Keep in mind that your resume is more than likely going to be parsed by an ATS (applicant tracking system). Make it so the technology will work in your favor, not against you.”

Lee VanEtten, Senior Technical Recruiter at iLoan, a Springleaf brand

What are the most common mistakes you see people make on their resumes?

When nursing your resume, layout and formatting seem like an obvious area to devote a little extra love to. But VanEtten, a Senior Technical Recruiter at iLoan, said sloppy layouts are one of the worst mistakes on resumes that land on her desk.

In addition, VanEtten stressed the importance of highlighting individual accomplishments over the achievement of a team. Companies want team players — but they also want to know how many points they can expect you to score.

“If you are a Software Engineer, tell me what you (not your team) specifically built, created, implemented, designed, architected, programmed, etc,” she said. “The focus should be on your accomplishments, not responsibilities. Better yet, provide a link to your Github, Behance, or Dribble profile. Make sure your public profiles line up with the experiences on your resume.”

What is the worst mistake you've seen someone make?

Seriously, job seekers, it never pays to be dishonest on your resume. Recruiters like VanEtten are smart and savvy, with a keen eye for resume fibbing.

“I once had an external recruiting agency submit a candidate to me that had my current employer listed in the candidate’s experience. Being a smaller company, we knew this person never actually worked with us before, so we requested a phone screen,” VanEtten said. “Needless to say, she didn't have much to say about her time with us!”

Tyler Qahhaar, Talent Acquisition, Gogo

What are the most common mistakes you see people make on their resumes?

Think back to that C-minus report on Hamlet you wrote in your English class sophomore year of high school. Odds are, your teacher might have scribbled “too much fluff” in red pen along the margins.

According to Gogo’s Tyler Qahhaar, a lot of those students never learned from their mistakes and continue to add fluffy, meaningless content to puff up their qualifications.

“When you're writing your resume, don't add extra technologies, languages, or buzzwords if you haven't had significant experience to back them up,” he said. “It may help you initially in the screening process... but it will absolutely come back to bite you once you're on the phone with a hiring manager.”

What is the worst mistake you've seen someone make?

In an effort to awe and impress, Qahhaar said it’s not uncommon to see what he called “alphabet soup resumes” from candidates that are bound to leave a bad taste in a recruiter’s mouth.   

“Most recruiters will have red flags shooting up if they see you're a .NET-Python-Java Architect with a focus in Big Data DevOps Analysis, owning your PMP and CISSP who would love to make a jump into Cloud Marketing,” he said. “Be honest, be real — that'll get you noticed quicker than an alphabet soup resume.”

If you’re at all unsure on what to include and what to cut, here’s some advice from the experts:

“Simply add a ‘technical environment’ piece to the end of each role/job that gives an overview of what each ecosystem looked like,” Qahhaar said. “This way, you can still show that you have exposure to technology A and B, but it's not something you had to use directly in your most recent projects.”

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