SURVEY SAYS: Do You Have a Resume Sore Spot?

April 30, 2010 ( - Last week we asked about YOUR resume – this week – and at the suggestion of a reader - I’d like you to turn your attention to those of others. 


Specifically, assuming that a resume has some level of pertinence to the opening, are there things that would cause you to reject the candidate out of hand? 

Asked to pick from a list, the most-cited sore spot were “typos”, noted by 83.1%.  That was quite a bit ahead of the second-most cited, the 66.3% who opted for a rejection based on a poorly written cover letter. 

After that, things fell off a bit:

33.7% – religious references

32.5% – political references

22.9% – holes in job chronology

 6.0% – odd hobbies

There were a number of “other” things cited, including:

Vague description of  experience & accomplishments

Received unsolicited via e-mail

Poorly constructed and grammatically incorrect sentences.

Pervasive spelling and punctuation errors

Spelling the name of the company wrong.

Holes in job chronology that are not explained in a cover letter.

Bad grammar

Poorly organized such that it is too difficult to understand exactly where the person worked and what he/she did

I detest those quotes intended to be inspirational on anything business, email signatures especially.  If I saw one on a resume ... ding.

References to why they left an employer that include things like "That place was so screwed up" "My boss was an idiot" etc

Short tenures at each job

Resumes that are more than 1 or 2 pages and are messy with unorganized formatting.

Too much name dropping that just doesn't quite fit, ie. My Uncle, ex-Governor Palin...

It's rare to reject a resume out of hand for just one of the items listed above. However, if there were numerous typos (not just one or two) combined with poorly written cover letter, that would get the boot. Other aspects are things that can be ignored, and if the candidate gets to an interview, explored during that conversation (such as holes in job chronology).

Not specifying which position they are applying for!  We post several concurrently on various webpages...I don't have ten minutes to figure out what they want to do!

Those results were borne out in the second part of this week’s survey, where I asked readers to pick a single (#1) peeve:

58.5% - typos

14.6% - poorly written cover letter

4.9% - holes in job chronology

4.9% - religious references

1.2% - odd hobbies

On the other hand, 3.7% said it was “no one thing in particular,” while the remaining 12.7% went for “other.”  That category included the following:

Clubs, hobbies...or anything where they don't show the relevance.

Poor writing skills

Type-written resumes from the 80's, dates updated with white-out and pen

Spelling errors which are different than just typos

Over-kill in use of "jargon", specifically, human resources "terminology".

Someone who clearly does not understand our company and/or the position.

Resumes that are more than 1 or 2 pages and are messy with unorganized formatting. 

On a whim (doubtless because the thought has crossed MY mind from time to time), I asked readers if they had ever invited in a candidate (after reading their resume) just to see what that person looked like.

The vast majority – 77.5% - said they hadn’t.  And a mere 2.5% said they had – but 6.3% said “not exactly”, and twice as many (13.8%) were even more “opaque”, noting “I’ll never tell.”

One reader noted ,”I have been sorely tempted to invite in someone with a bizarre resume, but my better sense kicked in, and fear of legal liability caused me to simply round file the resume.”  Another said “If all I wanted to do is see what they looked like, it would be a waste of my time and be a disservice to the candidate.”

Other reader comments:

"Just last week, I participated in mock interviews at a local high school.  About 20 students were interviewing for internships with the Atlanta Braves, and I was playing the hiring person from the Braves.  Things that I found odd...people applying for a position in graphic arts didn't bring ANY samples of their work.  People applying for Marketing internships had no samples or ideas for a marketing issue we gave them ahead of time.  Students would list lots of clubs but then not be able to say why they were important.  I got frustrated with one student who had ""Debate Club"" on his resume and was upset I didn't ask him about it.  And I told him, ""It's up to you to tell me what you got out of Debate Club that will help you in this job.""  After some coaching, he came up with, ""Well, I guess I can see both sides of an issue, and I will research both sides before drawing conclusions.""  I said, ""why not put THAT on your resume instead of ""debate club""?""  Anyway, all of that aside, I was more impressed that there were no tattoos, nose rings, and such among these students.  And they were mostly well spoken and pleasant. One kid had even started his own business as a sophomore (lawn care) and was hiring a manager to take care of the business when he went to college. 

Why would a candidate think that a potential employer cares about marital status and their hobbies.  Resumes should demonstrate experience and the ability to think critically and resolve issues, not indicate that the candidate is spending a great deal of time perfecting his/her golf handicap or training to run a marathon in four hours.

I do not have a bias against non-native English speakers, but, please, people, have a fluent speaker read and edit your cover letter.  If you come across as illiterate, why would I want to talk to you?

My pet peeve is a phrase we hear all too often in HR. "I'm a people person." DO NOT say that and DO NOT put it on a resume. I mean, after all, as opposed to what?


I once had a job candidate list his pastor as a reference.  When contacted, his pastor would not recommend him for the job!

One more thing that turned me off was a resume with food spills on it.  I felt creepy even touching it.

Applicants need to remember that they are submitting a resume, not a text message!

I've said it before, I'll say it again: telling me you are, were, or want to be a "consultant" tells me nothing.  Everyone in this business consults with others to some degree.  I want to know what you want to accomplish, not that you want to sit in a chair all day.

It's a shame that the legal liability risks are so high, because it works against the interests of many applicants.  There are probably excellent potential workers I've passed over because their experience or education were not quite up to snuff, and I didn't want the risk of picking a "less qualified" candidate over someone who may be in a protected class.  Similarly, I interview fewer people who might be "on the bubble" because if I see them in person, I might now have knowledge of their protected class status that I did not have from their resume, and now I might have more risk if I end up hiring someone else. 

Typos drive me nuts.  Also annoying - when people personalize the cover letter and use the name of someone who no longer works here...we get this a lot - even though our company's webpage is kept current with leadership names and titles.

I have never granted a "courtesy" interview where I didn't regret the waste of time.

But this week’s Editor’s Choice goes to a reader who had considered bringing in a questionable candidate because while “She was minimally qualified, but we were curious to see what a "name deleted" looked like.”

Thanks to everyone who participated in our survey!