In a typical week I spend on average 10% of my time screening resumes, interviewing or reviewing interview notes and offers for candidates we want to join the team. Talent management is a core pillar of our company strategy and one of my most important responsibilities. I have reviewed thousands of resumes over my career and built a system to categorize them into yes, no and the dreaded maybe buckets. The resumes that go into either the yes or the no piles are usually very easy to identify. But I often think about the maybes. These resumes get saved as a backup but in reality, never get a chance to be in the field of play.

I find there are three big mistakes that usually cause an otherwise great resume to be filtered out in a screening process:

1) Focusing on the wrong thing: I often see candidates explain their responsibilities and list them in great detail, but forget to highlight their results. The unique things they did that their predecessors had not. What were their specific accomplishments and what sets them apart? The more quantitative, the easier for a screener or hiring manager to understand and select them for the next discussion. Numbers and metrics speak louder than words. Vague generalities are the kryptonite of a resume.


2) Writing a thesis when a synopsis is needed: Mark Twain once said, “if only I had more time, I would write thee a shorter letter”. When writing a resume, it is important to heed these words and take the time to really write succinctly and precisely. The longer and more dense a resume, the harder it is for a recruiter to get to the heart of your achievements and contributions. Precise, clear, factual, numbers driven resumes will always get more traction.

3) Leaving unanswered red flags: Candidates will often wait for the interview process to explain any red flags or gaps that may be on their resume, but by that time it may be too late. In most cases, they won’t make it that far if the issues are not explained on the resume, cover letter or LinkedIn profile itself. Candidates should put on the hiring manager’s hat and look at their own resumes with this filter and then proactively address any of these issues in a clear and unambiguous way. A couple of examples of what I mean:

Let’s say someone has moved around a lot in their career. A screener may see this as an inability finish things they start or an indication that they aren’t a committed candidate. It behooves you to explain the reasons for the movement where possible. Was it a corporate change, like an acquisition, that caused the moves? Or is it an indication that you were looking for more of a challenge?

Let’s say someone is applying for an engineering role but doesn’t have an engineering degree. This should be addressed in the objectives and the resume should reflect any and all skills that do relate to the job you are looking for. Do you have any relevant certifications? Are you self-taught? Can you link to any code you have written?

Oh and one other thing, in this day and age, there is no excuse for typos and grammar mistakes in a resume. Those types of errors demonstrate a lack of detail orientation and commitment, and may result in your resume going into the no bucket.