Avoid Resume Roulette

By: Randy Dotinga

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the last in a series of columns looking at the three vital parts of a job application packet — cover letter, work samples, and resume. The columns are archived for subscribers only at http://www.editorandpublisher.com/editorandpublisher/classifieds_columns/index.jsp.)

It sounds so darned simple. Take a single sheet of paper, list the jobs you’ve had and the skills you possess, and send the thing off to your next boss. Piece of cake, right?

Dream on. Resumes are more likely to scuttle your career than anything else in an application packet, experts say. Carelessness and sloppiness will snuff out your job prospects in no time, and other blunders — from clumsily written job objectives to the wrong color of paper — can be just as dangerous.

Here are the top things to avoid as you try to create a resume that’s memorable for all the right reasons:

1. Troublesome typos: They’ll get you evry time. Sure, a spell-check program would have caught the error in the previous sentence, but what about those things that don’t appear in your computer’s dictionary? “I’ve spotted people getting their own e-mail addresses wrong. Things they take for granted as being right will trip them up,” said Joe Grimm, the newsroom recruiter at the Detroit Free Press.

Other typing errors have nothing to do with spelling. Grimm has seen applicants forget ZIP codes, mix up years (such as 2000 and 2001), and flub dates of employment. One job candidate claimed he had a college internship for a very unlikely 15 months.

“You look kind of silly when you don’t have your own resume correct,” Grimm said.

2. Strange e-mail addresses: No recruiter is going to be impressed by having to draft an e-mail to playboy515 or NYCtolkienfan. Create an address that is at least remotely similar to your name, then keep it around.

“Use an e-mail address or permanent address where we can reach you two years from now,” advises Connie Sage, director of recruiting for the Landmark Publishing Group, which publishes The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk and several other newspapers. “I’ve gone back to try and find students who have graduated, and I have no idea where they are. They’re lost out there in cyberspace.”

3. Loopy job objectives: Recruiters really do read them. And if you’re really unlucky, they may read them out loud to a columnist who writes about the workplace.

Exhibit A: “Objective: I want to find a place where I can utilize my academic training and journalistic experience in a growth-oriented progressive environment.”

The only thing that’s growing is the pile in Joe Grimm’s trash can.

Exhibit B: “Objective: Affiliation with a stable organization in the field of journalism and communications.”

Perhaps the writer just wants a subscription, Grimm speculates.

When it comes to job objectives, be precise, but only to a point. “Some people say their career objective is to get a reporting job at the Detroit Free Press,” Grimm said. “That’s hokey and seldom someone’s career objective.”

And remember where you’re applying. “Some applicants say their career objective is to work in network TV,” he said. “Well, we’re not a TV network.”

4. Play up your experience: Mention more than just a job title. “Often applicants don’t do enough to explain the best parts about what they’ve done,” Grimm said. “They might say, ‘I was the night police reporter for 18 months in such-and-such a town.’ It would be more helpful to say, ‘While I was the police reporter, I broke stories on evidence missing from the police station, unfair promotions, and unsafe drinking water at police headquarters.”

And don’t be afraid of mentioning unusual jobs. Did you manage a clothing store? Work in the Peace Corps? Sling hash at a Denny’s?

“If I hear from someone who said he learned most of what he knows about reporting from the front seat of a cab, he’s telling me he has a sense of humor and applies what he knows to new positions,” Grimm said.

5. Dump the extraneous stuff: Save the space for relevant information. “I don’t care when you were born or what you’re assessment of your own health is,” Grimm said. “Don’t put down whether you’re married or have kids and don’t include a picture.”

6. Do mention any language abilities: But make sure you’re honest about your skills. If you say you’re fluent in Spanish, be ready to answer questions other than “Como estas?”

7. And, finally, don’t waste all your time at the stationary store looking for the perfect kind of expensive paper. Basic white paper is perfect.

“A resume on gray paper won’t photocopy,” Grimm said. “It will just go dark.” And so may your job prospects.

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