Reading Between the Lines: The Hidden Pitfalls of
Resume Screening

A well-written resume is a vital tool in any job search. Obviously you want your resume to make you shine, and highlight all the great experience you’ve had. You also need your resume to look clean and professional, with no spelling or grammar errors. But once these bright and shiny resumes arrive, what should the screeners look for, and how do they avoid hiring the wrong applicant? Here are a few things to think about when reviewing resumes.

Beware of the razzle dazzle. Some people get caught up in the glamour of seeing a big-name college or company on a resume. It’s enticing to see a candidate who went to Princeton, worked for Google, and has an MBA. That’s a great start, but before you get too excited, delve a little deeper into the details of their work experience. For example, if they worked for a company for ten years, but there’s no indication that they were ever promoted, that’s a red flag. One of the most useless people I’ve ever worked with had a master’s degree from Boston College. I know this because she mentioned it constantly and could work it into just about any conversation. She’d say things like: “Oh I like your shoes. I had a pair of shoes like that when I was getting my master’s at BC;” or “It’s going to rain tonight. I used to hate going to classes in the rain when I was getting my master’s at BC.” In the years I knew her she never seemed to actually accomplish anything, and was moved laterally from department to department because no one seemed to have any use for her. So as much as a master’s degree can be a great thing, it’s not everything. Make sure the work history aligns with the hype.


Famous Resumes


Don’t trip on the gaps. Not all career paths are smooth, and many screeners get tripped up when there are chunks of time not accounted for on a resume. Taking a few years off to raise the kids does not mean the applicant has lost his or her experience and intelligence. If a person was laid off and it took a year to find a comparable position, don’t judge and assume they were being lazy. The economy affects various industries in different ways, and each company has its own issues. Sometimes these bouts of unemployment have nothing to do with applicant’s worth, but are really just bad luck. If the experience the person does have aligns with what you’re looking for, then consider giving the candidate an opportunity to come in and explain the gaps.

Practice what you preach. I once saw a resume in which the person claimed to have “outstanding attention to detial.” Yes, detial, with the “a” and “i” transposed. Sigh. People make mistakes sometimes and that’s fine. If you’re an accountant or an actuary or some kind of numbers person then little grammatical errors aren’t as concerning, but if your claim to fame is that you’re an outstanding writer, then a poorly written resume immediately discredits you. I had another co-worker who fancied himself a training expert, and even created a class on how to put together a great presentation. He proudly displayed the title slide: Presentaton Skills. That’s not a typo on my part, he left the “i” out of the word “presentation.” Not a good start, although not quite as cringe-worthy as the moment we arrived on a subsequent slide: “The Importance of Speel Check.” I know what you’re thinking: Surely he was just being ironic. He wasn’t. The absurdity of it was so extreme that the whole presentation played out like a Saturday Night Live skit, but sadly he was no Tina Fey. The point is, all of this would have been much more forgivable if he hadn’t boasted about his expertise. So beware of false claims.

There are a lot of hard-working, intelligent people out there whose resumes don’t make it to the “yes” pile because other candidates look better on paper. Always take a second look, and consider giving everyone a chance. Remember to keep an open mind, and always pay attention to the details. Detials? Whatever.

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