Resume Writing Advice Part II: The Moron Years

All right, listen up knuckleheads, it’s time to take out my frustrations again by pretending to help people.

This stuff I’m gonna share with you is the real deal, the good stuff. I hope you’re paying attention.

I’m hiring someone. Have a posting out, collecting resumes, and I’m personally going through every single one and sending the names of folks I deem worthy to our HR to arrange the phone pre-screening interviews.

I am seeing all these resumes, looking for someone to get the job done, and nothing is filtered out. I’m seeing every one that is sent in applying for the position.

I’ll be up front here; you people scare the shit out of me.

Okay, you know the rules. I won’t use any names, I won’t quote any examples, I won’t even tell you what the job posting or description is, or what company it’s for.

But there are trends here that baffle the hell out of me.

Here’s the setup. I have a job opening. I need to find someone with the skills, dedication, and attention to detail required to get the job done safely and reliably.

These resumes are ridiculous!

Here, let’s hit the high points.

1) Make a damn cover letter!

I look at your response to my posting, and yes I’m going to look at your list of skills, your list of previous work experience, your education, your past accomplishments, etc.

At the very top, before I dig down into all that, I want to see your cover letter.

I want to see your personal little memo to me, introducing yourself, telling me who you are (professionally), what you’ve done in general, what you enjoy doing (PROFESSIONALLY), what strong skills THAT DIRECTLY APPLY TO THE POSITION you bring to the table, and what about the job you’re applying for that appeals to you the most.

I know folks are dedperate for work out there. Everyone knows it.

But I have a responsibility to hire someone that has the skills we need, someone that will stay here, dedicated, committed to making this company a long term place to continue your career. I’m looking for, in essence, someone looking for a long term home, and not just some short term source of income while they continue looking for what they REALLY want.

If I get the feel that we’re just a pit stop on your road to what you’d rather be doing, screw that.

So I WANT to know who you are a little bit.

A paragraph, two at the most. That’s all. But if you give me that, then instead of being a list of cold stats off the back of a baseball card, you become a PERSON that I can get a feel for.

Now, if you do include a cover letter, do me a favor. Just for me.

Make sure you take the time to tailor it to the job you’re applying for, make sure it reflects your attention to detail, and is clean and professional and perfect.

That means, if you use a form letter you are copying/pasting over and over, that I can’t tell it’s a coldly impersonal form letter very easily… and that if you happened to leave spaces for filling in the name of the job you are applying for, the company you are submitting your resume to, the name of the website you found the posting… YOU FILL IN THE DAMN BLANKS BEFORE SENDING IT!!!

Also, of course, please use spell check. Please use spell check. Please use spell check. Please use spell check. Please use spell check. Please use spell check. Please use spell check. Please use spell check. Please use spell check.

Oh, and punctuation is not a suggestion, it is the law. Mister Period is your friend.

2) On your resume, holy shit, please use spell check. Please use spell check. Please use spell check. Please use spell check. Please use spell check. Please use spell check. Please use spell check. Please use spell check. Please use spell check. Please use spell check. Please use spell check.

3) When you are writing your resume, I appreciate your including previous accomplishments you are proud of, those things that you feel went outside the normal scope of your assigned responsibilities, and shows you can step up and kick ass.

What I don’t need, is for you to tell me, in your resume, about your personal interests. I most particularly do not need to know you enjoy four wheeling in the mud during Autumn, hunting with rifle and bow, and that you love taking a 6 point buck in deer season and dressing it out with your son. I’m glad you are a family man, but why exactly should I be giving a shit about that?

Letting me know that you were the captain of your high school football team also does not need to be listed. Not unless you think your new job will include being able to call plays on the production floor, anyway. Or you graduated high school yesterday.

In fact, on your resume itself, let’s just keep ALL that crap to yourself, okay?

If you feel the need to share something personal about yourself, follow this simple rule; does it tell me something about your professional work ethic, or your integrity? Does it relate in some way to the duties or position you are applying for? If not, dump it.

If you are active in charitable work, by all means add that, if you really want to. It is nice to know that you are committed to being a positive force within your community.

If you are a member of professional associations related to the position, such as the Surface Mount Technology Association for designers and builders of printed circuit boards, adding those activities and associations shows that you are serious about making this field a career, not just a temporary stepping stone to something else. It helps an employer know that you are serious about what you do. It is the single biggest thing you can tell me, outswide of your skills and experience. If you have taken the time to pursue more information and networking within the field outside of work, then I can at least hope you are serious about staying within the field.

If you are applying for a leadership or management position, maybe you think being captain of your high school football team is a relevant display of your leadership skills. I’d agree, if you are only two years out of high school. Once you’re in the real world, though, we want to know about real world experience.

Knowing that you married the captain of the cheerleading team, while very interesting, is also not exactly what I consider to be relevant information.

4) Make sure that your resume is not bloated with crap that in no way relates to the position you are applying for.

More is NOT better. Far better to be clear and complete in describing how what you DO know relates to the position, than to throw in a ton of crap in the hopes that you’ll baffle them with bullshit.

If you are applying for a job using power tools to fix stuff, please do not list your skills in blowing glass at the rennaisance festival. Please.

Be clear. Look at the job position you are applying for. Take the time to GET THE IDEA that what you are sending is YOU, it’s all we can possibly know about you, and the game is simple; there is one job opening, and you want to WIN!

Someone reading your resume is, and I guarantee this, reading a hundred other resumes. You want yours to be super clean, super clear, you want it to say “Hey, this is me, this is why I’d be perfect for you, and why I want to work for you, no bullshit. Now, here are my skills, hitting the high points, emphasizing my experience and can-do attitude, my positive approach, my focus on being a pleasant customer service happy-happy person and a team player, here’s my relevant education, and now I’m outta here.”

Make it a single page. Fight the bloat.

I do NOT need a detailed list of every piece of test equipment you know how to use. If you’ve told me already you’ve got 15 years experience doing wrok that requires test equipment all the time, then all you really need to do, if you feel you HAVE to, is state that you are extremely proficient and current in using the majority of test equipment relevant to the industry. Period. A shopping list of every kind of test equipment, oscilloscopes and multimeters etc etc is a distraction and indicates to me you’re scared of your lack of experience and are trying to make your resume look ‘heavy’.

If the job you are applying for listed specific brands of equipment they would like you to have experience with, then YES, say you have experience with that brand of manufacturer if you do, but make it clear that you are a very fast learner if you don’t, and list any relevant experience that might help you to learn their brand faster. If no particular brand is specified, then don’t specify.

I thought I knew what people were doing for resumes out there, but holy shit. This stuff is insane.

Oh, and one last thing. You know those columns the idiots write in the Business section of your newspaper? The ones that list the 10 most used questions in interviews or phone screenings, and tells you how to properly answer them?

Think about it.

Yes, that’s right…. WE KNOW THEM TOO!

Seriously, think about that. How do you think I react when I ask a question and get some trite, previously worked out safe sanitized bullshit run past me?

Don’t try to bullshit, or run a song and dance by people. You want to lose your shot? Give nothing but safe answers, be ambivalent, or use crap language when asked those questions that are designed to find out what you really think or how you’d respond.

I personally phrase my questions to find out how you would respond to a real, actual situation in the position. A question that requires you to use your judgment to make a decision. If you are scared of commiting yourself to answering it honestly, that tells me a lot right there.

I think it’s safe to say that the people who are asking the questions are well aware of all the “here is how to cheat the system” articles out there… and if they still use the questions, they are now asking them to see how you’ll react to them. Are you being honest, or are you trying to find ways to game the system?

Oh, one last thing… please, just one last thing…

Please use spell check. Please use spell check. Please use spell check. Please use spell check. Please use spell check. Please use spell check. Please use spell check. Please use spell check. Please use spell check. Please use spell check. Please use spell check.

For God’s sake, people. Why do you want me to cry? Do you really like the salty taste of my tears?


32 thoughts on “Resume Writing Advice Part II: The Moron Years

  1. My latest favorite, posted in regards to an opening I am advertising for on Careerbuilder (a site that does allow you to enter cover letter, text version of your resume, and attach your Word copy of your resume);

    My Resume is to large for this site, i have about 15 years in the
    conveyor maintenance and repair.

    Please email me for my full Resume

    Best Regards

    For those that think my advice is aiming too low… I’m beginning to think that it is physically impossible to aim ‘too low’.


  2. Keep writing stuff like this. It’s a bit on the rough side, but people have to know this in order to get a job At where I blog, I give advice on job hunting, networking, resume writing and interviewing. You wise crack comments on the specific examples you ran into during this search show people how the folks on the other side see things. It’s no easy job hiring people. The sloppiness you point out only makes it harder.

    It may also be a sign that if you are good, you can rise above the rest and get noticed.


  3. Also, these are the standards in the US. In Australia, resumes, or CV’s as we usually call them, should be more than 1 page if you have had a few jobs and some real experience. A one page CV is for people who have just finished uni and typically do not have a lot of experience. My CV is 3 pages. I’m in my middle 30’s and have had several jobs, each lasting about 3-4 years. I haven’t just listed the job, but bulleted a few key responsilibies for each job and any awesome things I achieved in that postion. There is no personal information, just some Key Skills, Education, Employment History, and Referees (References).

    I would expect someone with an experiened work history to have more than a 1 page CV.


  4. Just a note regarding resume length, nowadays in our field (science) our resumes are at two pages and 3 pages isn’t far off. Its because so many of us have transitioned (or transitioning) away from academia where you listed everything on your CV. However I’m not in HR.

    I imagine HR and the hiring manager would have different standards: HR – never been to grad school; hiring manager – been there done that, got the degree.

    Didn’t want to make too big a deal of it (esp in light of B3s comments), but there you go. And yeah looking for a job sucks.


  5. “Costumer” is a legitimate word, at least according to Openoffice’s dictionary.

    At my last job, when they asked the profoundly annoying question ‘why should we hire you instead of him’, I answered ‘I’m taller’. What the catnip is someone supposed to answer that with? You have no way of knowing anything about the other people, so there’s no real way to answer that question without BSing it.


  6. Actually I used to have “Described as miracle worker by management” on my resume. That one line alone made me stand out and got me a lot of interviews. What was funny is one of my bosses that said “as soon as we saw that we knew we had to have you come in and interview” also said “you shouldn’t have that on your resume you should take it off it’s too cocky” well if you yourself admit it’s what made you absolutely want to interview me why would I take it out?

    Though eventually I did. I didn’t want to have to live up to it 🙂


  7. I really hate to do this but i didn’t see anyone else point it out, even if I did miss the Work one

    “I know folks are dedperate for work out there. Everyone knows it.”

    And this was a good read, of course for myself, I have tried a few times to write a cover letter, and to be honest, I haven’t really done any sort of jobs worth putting on a resume, and I couldn’t even try to spew out enough stuff for a cover letter, BS or not.

    I guess I just need to stick to the fill out the application jobs. 🙂


  8. Your point about avoiding the safe prepackaged answers to questions brought back to mind a great fellow I once worked with when I had been lobotomised in order to work for a Government department.

    Paul (his real name – who of you will know him!) was looking to become a legal advisor in this department. The interview had not gone well, and Paul was worried he had failed to make an impression of any note. So when the obligatory question “Why should we hire you?” came up, he decided to take a different approach. He leaned back in his chair, and in his slowest drawl said “All the applicants have the required degree. In addition to that I have good looks and boyish charm”.

    The interviewing panel froze, and Paul thought he had blown it… till the next day when he got the call offering him the job. It was risky, and in many situations would have seen him out on his behind. But in this one case it achieved what he needed: it set him apart from the rest. His interview was never forgotten, by him or by his boss.

    So I agree: without behind an arsehole, find a way to stand out. Who needs prepackaged answers. If the job needed a monkey they would hire one.


  9. BBB,

    As an active duty military member (looking retirement in the eye), I can tell you that your points are extremely valid for corporate America, but government jobs are different. Resumes are put through an automated system that searches for key words. The more key words that are in your resume, the higher you get ranked.


  10. I only look at one page resumes because I hire for 1 page resume jobs. But there are positions (above my pay grade) where you need to go above and beyond. But one hard and fast rule – never have a half page. If you have two solid pages, and it’s all relevant, fine. But if you have 2.5 solid pages, edit it back to 2.

    The best advice I ever got about job hunting was to apply for the job I wanted, even if I didn’t have all the qualifications listed. Employers (like me) will list our ideal candidate because it’s our one shot to daydream about the impossible. And if we don’t list ‘Polish fluency desirable’, we’ll never get a Polish speaker on staff, which would be, well, desirable.

    But if that was a job I wanted, I’d apply anyway and use my customized cover letter to address those shortcomings. I’d say that I don’t meet that criteria but I have skills x, y, and z that may compensate or puts me above my peers in another area. I’d also state how I’d be willing to meet that criteria in the near term if hired – either through classes or what have you.


  11. I was fortunate enough on my last interview 5 years ago to have a luncheon interview. We were at a nice tex-mex restaurant. I was careful to avoid onions on the concept of halitosis does not make people like you.


  12. Just to add my two cents … It’s not enough to use spell check and proofread your own work. You also should get someone else to proofread what you have written. The mind has an amazing ability to see what it wants to see, and when we know what we intended to write, even if we slow down and read carefully and are thinking about checking for errors, mistakes can slip by. Get someone else (knowledgeable in spelling and grammar) to read over your final version.


  13. 2.5 After spell checking your resume please read it carefully. Be cause spell chick does knot all ways peck up every miss take.

    Ahh, eye c yous gotz dat 1.

    Next up, things not to wear to an interview. Like a t-shirt. Dirty clothes. And take a freaking shower.


  14. Dear Mr. Tanku,

    Thank you very much for submitting your application. After careful consideration, I regret to have to inform you that I am unable to offer you the position of President of the United States at this time, on the grounds that you are over qualified.

    I suggest you might apply to the Consulate of Iran; they may have an opening soon.

    Thank you very much for your consideration, and have a great day.


  15. Deer Mister BareBut,

    I am loookin 4 a job. I herd that u was lookin fer sum1 to help u right yur blog.
    I will wurk reel hard. I have aplied at a bunch of either plases but I never get no repleyes.
    If u will just give me a chantz I can do a gud job.

    I have attacked my rezumay 4 u 2 look at. Pleez call me if u need to ax me any kwesshtuns.



  16. Firecroch (love the name, btw) makes a great point. I am NOT advocating eliminating multiple page resumes, or throwing away resumes for having more than one page.

    I am saying that if it’s going on your resume, it better have a strong reason for being there. And if you are presenting your skills and knowledge, make the effort to analyze your own writing to steamline your thoughts as written. Be clear, concise, explain it all without unnecessary words. Condense but keep clear.

    Awww, does that sound hard? I refer you to the above “life is on the line” statement.

    Muddled writing does not always indicate muddled thinking. But clear writing can certainly inspire admiration.


  17. As a new attorney the advice I was given from my school’s Career Services and from employers past and present is that they only want a 1-page resume with at least 10pt font. Consequently you have to be selective with what you list and cater it to the job to which you are applying, and if something doesn’t fit on the resume page but it’s important, throw it in the cover letter. The cover letter is not supposed to be a restatement of your resume, it’s a place to list older jobs that don’t fit on the resume or to explain why a job listed on the resume, albeit indirectly, still benefits the job you’re applying for.


  18. I never, ever use spell or grammar check on the blog. I make it a point not to.

    When writing for the old WoW Insider, I did use spell check and grammar check, all that sort of stuff, because those were articles written for a customer under contract for use on their website. I approached that differently.

    Here, on my blog, I truly write flat out my own thoughts, without any kind of automated spell check or grammar check or anything except mark one eyeball.

    I will re-read what I wrote, because I do make a lot of mistakes trying to keep my fingers going fast enough to transfer thought to text.And I suffer from a strong touch of dyslexia, and always double and triple check for the most egregious mistakes.

    But this is my personal blog about a hobby I am enthusiastic about, a strictly non-profit enterprise, and while you the reader do deserve a clear, well written post… I don’t do those. 🙂

    I figure, this really is me, warts and all, and it adds to the charm.

    Now, all that being said… if I can churn out 1100 words with only a few typos for a hobby, I sincerely hope that someone using spell check and taking a couple days to craft a resume with their life on the line could get it CLOSE to being right.


  19. And Kirk, I’m glad you disagree, but I disagree with your disagreeing… based on the comments Cassie, an HR professional herself for umpteen years, has made and the things she has pointed out to me. She’s given me a pretty solid grounding on stuff she sees and why it drives her nuts… and if the HR professional isn’t doing the job you are expecting getting qualified candidates through to you, perhaps you need to re-evaluate the screening standards and job description duties and responsibilities the HR person has to use when doing the initial screening.

    Sadly, sometimes you have no control over the information HR has on the actual real world responsibilities and duties of a position, especially in a large company… but that’s no reason to tell a person to write a bloated resume to account for it.


  20. “Please use spell check.”
    “15 years experience doing wrok that requires test equipment”

    We love you bear, and this is VERY good info to give out, especially in these times.

    I do think that resume writing should be a required topic in High School English IV. (4 for those that can’t read roman.)

    Oh.. one more thing, As much as an accomplishment it is, being guild leader/class leader/raid leader of a hardcore raiding guild tackling the hardest content, is not something you would put on most resumes. (unless you were applying to be a paid game tester in which case that might actually apply….)


  21. Just one comment. I work in HR for a large corporation and I’ve seen the same problems you’ve stated on the resumes. Unfortunately, I’ve also seen numerous job hunting websites that are saying the current trend in resume building has moved to multiple page works and specifically instruct people to put various forms of personal info on their resume’s cover sheets or in the resume itself. Spell and grammar are epic fails when it comes to applying for a job but you can’t fault someone who takes the time to research how to properly write a resume and the so called experts (,,, etc.) are giving advice that is opposite from us “old schoolers”. Do I like one page resume’s…yes. Do I want to see a cover letter…yes. I would also give credit where credit is due tho to those that took the time to research and not discredit them because “I” prefer the old way. Heck, when I left the military they didn’t give us a style of resume to write. They told us to call the company beforehand and ask for the proper format. I used that rule of thumb ever since and I’ve mostly had positive results.


  22. “I do NOT need a detailed list of every piece of test equipment you know how to use. If you’ve told me already you’ve got 15 years experience doing wrok that requires test equipment all the time,”

    Please use spell check 🙂

    Sorry BBB, I couldn’t resist.


  23. In addition to spell check comes… Proof read. Read through something you write multiple times before you send it anywhere.

    Write something. Set it aside for a few hours, a day, or a few days… and then come back and read it again to catch any errors.


  24. And now another side of the argument.

    Every manager and final decision maker I’ve spoken with — heck, ME when I was on that side of the table — wants one page. The problem is that the manager and final decision makers are not usually the first ones to see and evaluate your resume unless it’s a smaller organization, and sometimes not then. Instead it’s a human resources specialist.

    That person also wants your cover letter, but for this person a two page resume may be better. A and B have done the basic job for ten years. A has done it at one company with multiple positions, and chooses to block it as one job. B is forced to mark it as separate positions because it’s been at multiple companies. B will get a higher score. If there are a lot of Bs in the pile, A won’t get past the second gate. (First gate – meets qualifications. Second gate – top 5/10 possibles.)

    As to the irrelevant point, again I disagree but this is very subjective. See, by the time I got to the top ten resumes I knew every one of these people was qualified. As a rule, I still had too many candidates even after reading the cover letter. But for me, the prospective employee isn’t just a cog in the machine. I want someone for whom this isn’t just a 9-5 (or whatever) job. Way, way back BBB was trying to do a set of entry questions for his guild and I put up what seemed like some oddballs. It was a reflection of this same thing. I want a glimpse of who the applicant is when they’re not being a robot filling a slot. Even knowing you do something besides the work is of benefit.

    But again, that’s me – and from what I’ve been able to tell, about a third of people who have sat on that side of the table.

    And yes – spellcheck, spellcheck, spellcheck. I can tolerate (don’t like) homonyms and such, but the number of professional resumes that fail that test boggles me. (minimal qual for my type of job includes a master’s degree and you can’t SPELL?)


  25. Oh, and sorry for the double post, but apostrophe abuse won’t trip the spell checker either. “Its” is a real word, as it “it’s”, but they have very different meanings and usages. The spell checker is totally oblivious to this distinction, but anyone with hiring power will likely be keenly aware of the difference. Details matter, especially in a detail oriented job.


  26. If I may add a quick note: Spell Check is not infallible. It will not catch homonyms or flatly misused words, like “to” for “too”. Grammar Checker is also imperfect. Nothing, NOTHING, is a substitute for actual education.


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