Résumé Hell

Published November 11, 2011

aka “Certified Cross-Functional Barber
Seeks Multinational Editorial Job”; this originally appeared in the March 2001 issue of Technology Decisions magazine.

To get a good laugh and cry at the same time, run a help-wanted ad. The response you get will give you a new perspective on America’s work force.

We did just that, running an ad for an editor, and received a couple of dozen responses by e-mail and snail mail. Seeing the ways some people apply for a job left me shocked — shocked! — at what must be going on in our colleges and universities.

There are the little things I look for — the “turn ons” that give an applicant an edge. Spelling “résumé” correctly earns extra brownie points. If you send paper mail, signing your cover letter helps, too. That space between “Sincerely” and your name is there for a reason. (And if you e-mail it, by the way, there’s no need for the space.)

You should also apply for the right job. The word “technology” was in our editor ad, which may explain the response I got from one Ph.D. His objective was: “Senior technical officer for a multi-site national and/or international company.” Clearly, Ph.Ds don’t mean what they used to.

Being honest is another plus: I’ve always thought the idea of an objective on a résumé was silly. Everyone knows your objective is to get the job. But still you get people saying things like (and this is a real one): “A challenging position in which creative, practical interaction, and excellent communications are utilized while fostering open communications…” What does that mean? I like it when I see objectives like (another real one), “To acquire the editor position advertised in the Cincinnati Enquirer.” Bingo!

The Right Way, the Wrong Way, the Editor’s Way

When I got out of college and started job hunting, I was painfully aware of how to write a cover letter, what should go in a résumé, and so on. Clearly, a lot of people aren’t getting the right information. A number of applicants simply e-mailed a Word file of their résumé — no note, no cover letter. And this was for an editor job! (As I write this, one came in. The body of the message consisted entirely of “Please see attachment.”)

Most attached résumés were called “Resume.doc,” which is understandable unless you realize that whomever is getting them is getting dozens of Resume.docs. Why not “Smith Resume.doc”?

It comes down to the thought process. If these people thought about what was happening on the other end — my end — would they send Word documents that included odd typefaces that I don’t have? Times New Roman and Arial (or Times and Helvetica) are boring, but at least you can count on the other guy — me — having them.

The same is true for file formats. I appreciated people who made notes like “My resume is attached as a Word document. Please contact me if you have any trouble opening it.” Others used RTF or ASCII format. Smart. Not so smart were the people who used file formats I never heard of — .cvj or .qxr or some such.

If you put aside the formatting and etiquette issues, someone still needs to teach people basic communication and logic skills.

One person offered to “Obtain cross-functional buy-in from other senior managers in-house and at remote locations.” Whatever happened to simply “team player” or “consensus builder”?

Another listed as a capability, “Willingly assisting peers and supervisors in a teamwork environment.” What’s the alternative? “Grudgingly assisting coworkers even though it’s every man for himself”?

Still another wrote, “I am contacting you in view of your ad in the Enquirer. I noticed that a position is available.” What powers of observation!

And then there’s the classic: the applicant who had “edited material for spelling and grammer.” (Grammar, for those of you not paying attention, doesn’t have an ‘e.’)

Strange Qualifications

One person was a “Certified Webmaster” and another had “Certificates of Mastery in HTML.” Who is certifying these people, and how can I get in on the scam? Still another boasted that he “graduated with a double major in English.” How do you do that — take the same courses twice? One person included, in an editorial résumé, “Barber/Stylist.” If you’ve seen my photo, you can imagine how little that means to me.

Last I checked, each AOL account came with at least five screen names. Yet several inquiries came from e-mail addresses like “SevenLeggedElvis” and “whiteangel.” Isn’t it worth five minutes work to open a Yahoo Mail account or create a new screen name with a more down-to-earth address?

I’m old fashioned and I admit it. I miss the days of calling cards, ending letters with “I remain,” and taking off your hat at the dinner table. But I am beginning to miss even more the kind of basic professionalism, thoughtfulness, and pride that used to come with job hunting. Curt e-mail, sloppy résumés, and misdirected applications are a poor substitute.

Join the Fray

I won't share your e-mail.