Stuff the applicants are doing that make my job harder

Not to complain....because I love receiving resumes and am glad when someone is considering a career at Microsoft. I'm not under the ridiculous impression that everyone reads my blog before sending me a resume. But on days when I am looking through hundreds of resumes, the mistakes that applicants make with resumes, many of which I have mentioned before, are still popping up.

There's one underlying point with my advice, based on a simple fact. The fact is that, similar to in-person meetings, you have a short amount of time to make a first impression. The recruiter is viewing your resume to make a yes or no decision. The decision may be whether to share the resume with a hiring manager, whether to schedule a phone interview, etc. Regardless, they are looking at a large number of resumes. When viewing each, when they get to the decision, they move to the next resume. There are certain things they are looking for on the resume, which varies depending on circumstances. Your goal (and my underlying point) is to provide the information required to make you a quick "yes". I can't tell you what experience the recruiter will be looking for, but I can tell you the types of info they are looking for and why.

One other thing I wanted to point out before I launch into resume writing advice (again), is this: if someone tells you that the resume is dead as a medium for selling your skills, stop listening to that person. As I write this, there is no generally accepted substitute for the resume. Portfolios are great if the recruiter has already determined some initial interest by reading a resume; otherwise they take too long to look through (caveat: creative roles excluded). Video resumes don't fit nicely into applicant tracking systems and aren't searchable using key words. And unless you are a CEO of a Fortune 500 company and the recruiter, who also works in the same industry, would be an idiot not to know you and your skill set in some detail (in which case, get down with your bad self), you do indeed need a resume, irrespective of your ego. Even if you are hot stuff, making others kiss the ring isn't attractive. I'm obviously only talking to a few with this's the attitude that's the turn-off more so than the lack of career documentation. You won't always be asked to create a resume, especially in the very early stages if you are senior. But having one sets the stage for a valuable conversation with the hiring decision makers. And you should always have an updated resume...always.

OK, on to my resume writing advice, which may or may not bear some resemblance to resume advice I have given in the past:

-Name your resume attachment intuitively...that's intuitively for the recruiter, folks! If I'm looking at a bunch of resumes and adding the ones I like to a folder, how many should I expect to have a name like "resume2006.doc". Renaming is an extra step for the recruiter. Also, not naming intuitively increases the possibility that the recruiter will not be able to get their hands on your resume in a timely manner, if they saved it as-is. Use your name in the title of the document when you save it.

-Don't put your contact info in a header/footer. Right now, we are recruiting folks to come to a local event we are hosting. So I'm trying to find people local to Seattle. So the address or phone number do matter. Uncovering it in a header takes a couple extra clicks. Also, keep in mind that many recruiters do local recruiting either because there's a rich talent pool in a specific location (for tech talent, Boston would be a good example) or because they don't have an extensive relocation budget to work with. Make it easy for them to find out your general geographic location. If you are planning a self-funded move, include it in your contact info ("Self-funded relocation to Seattle planned for September 2006")

-In your resume, when you describe your role at each company, say what the company does. Say what division you work(ed) in too. Do not expect the recruiter to know this information. Recruiters will generally track a certain number of competitive companies as well as some interesting start-ups. Your entire previous employer history might not be on the radar of each individual recruiter. Assume that you have to education them at least a little bit on each company.

-Do not send recruiters away from your resume if you can provide the information on your resume. Linking to previous companies, as a substitute for explaining what the companies do isn't well advised. Once you send a recruiter off of your resume, the chances of them coming back go down. I'm sure it's not very "web 2.0" of me to say this but I don't recommend you link in your resume unless your role is primarily creative and you need to provide work samples (someone else might have other fields that this applies to but in the world of business, limit linking). If you state the name of your company properly, the recruiter will find it if they want more information. And you can always offer to substantiate any references, awards, organization leadership. Keep the recruiter eyeballs on your resume.

-Keep the best stuff above the fold. What I mean by this is know your value proposition and make sure it's the first thing the recruiter sees. If you just graduated from a full-time MBA program, your education section goes on top. Work for a hot company? Pull work experience to the top. I've said before that I think the "objective" sections aren't required on a resume, but if you can use it to communicate your personal value proposition (and can't do it clearly in the other sections), do it. What this takes is a little introspection, which might require you to acknowledge your own strengths and weaknesses, but you will be better off for it.

-I'm not a big fan of graphics and photos. I find them distracting and something we have to work around to scan your resume into our database. Many international applicants for US based roles are more accustomed to the culture where they reside, which is very accepting of adding a picture. It's not standard protocol in the US unless you are a fashion model like me (I kid). Also, your height, weight, age, marital/family status and ethnicity are not generally accepted elements of resumes here in the US. Recruiters cannot legally use that information to make a decision. It's best to leave it off when applying to US-based positions.

Some other recruiters might want to jump in here with some other resume boo-boos they are seeing these days. These things aren't deal breakers, but like with other decisions made in the business world, you want to help the decision maker get to yes as quickly as possible and be thinking happy thoughts while they are looking at your resume.


Comments (22)

  1. Well said!

    I have often told recruiters that the goal of the job ad is not to hire someone, but to initiate communication between the candidate and the recruiter.  The same can be said for the resume, only in reverse.

    The goal of the resume should be to compel the recruiter to contact you, not to tell your life story.  I know that there are regional preferences to the information included (Europeans seem to want to include their personal stats) but I think it is important to view your resume in terms of a pitch.  Assuming that you have done your research on the opportunity (And a good recruiter knows if you have or have not) your resume should show in 10 seconds why you have the potential to be invaluable in the presented role.   The generic, one size fits all resume stands very little chance of being noticed.

    In this age of the ATS it is also important to make your resume search friendly.  Think about how you search, do you use nouns or verbs?  While the "doing" verbs do give your resume an active quality it is the descriptive nouns that will bring your resume to the top of the search list.  

    That’s my two cents; actually 2 Canadian cents so it is more like 1.8 cents.  I do have other opinions on the subject but that should suffice.

    Heather, I have a question about cover letters.  How much weight does Microsoft give them?  What do you think should be in one and do the same ATS rules apply?  


  2. HeatherLeigh says:

    Jamie- I don’t know any recruiters that really spend any time reading cover letters. I only look at them if I have a question about a time gap on the resume or something. I have told people in the past that if they are sending me their resume, they should not go to the trouble of creating an eloquent cover letter. If they do tell me what position they are interested in , if they will relocate to the Redmond, WA area, and how they came to find me (blog, job posting, etc) then that is plenty. Seriously a "Hi Heather, I am a reader of your blog and am sharing my resume with you in the hopes of finding a product manager position at Microsoft. I am willing to relocate to the Seattle area, if needed" is good enough for me. I’m not a big fan of fluff.

  3. Wine-Oh says:

    I just had an experience I wanted to share along the lines of a recruiter asking me for my resume. I was contacted my a 3rd party about a position that I am qualified for and she asked me for my resume. She sent the job description and asked for my thoughts.

    Then the clencher… She goes "Do you know of any other companies that have open positions in this field/ and do you know any HR people at any companies.?"  Dont worry Heather I wouldnt give out yours or anyones contact info on a good day. Not even the name and contact info of my worst enemy.

    I wrote back, "Not only am I not sending my resume to you, but to be honest I am not comfortable giving this kind of information out. I see it as stooping to an all time low. Besides, If I knew of other postions, dont you think I would apply for them already?" I then asked her to remove my name from their database. I won’t work with 3rd party recruiters who act this way.

    How un-kosher is this?

  4. HeatherLeigh says:

    Totally un-kosher, unprofessional and ridiculous. Don’t work with that firm ever!

  5. Thanks Heather!  I had always viewed the cover letter as a way to show the recruiter what motivated you to apply to the position, while the resume focused specifically on competencies, the sizzle to the steak as it were.  

    I am wondering in general  if the value of the cover letter is impacted by the volume of resumes received and whether the resume was unsolicited or in response to a specific opening.  I know firms that place a great deal of value on the cover letter as an indicator of candidate fit, however their market realities are very different and I am sure that they only receive a fraction of the resumes you do.

  6. David Hayes says:

    It’s pretty common practice here (London, UK) for recruiters to ask for details of anyone who might be suitable for a role. They also try to get names of heads of departments etc so they can attempt to poach staff. It’s also not uncommon to get a phone call a few months after being placed by an agent trying to persuade you to move.

  7. tod hilton says:

    "looking at a large number of resumes. When viewing each, when they get to the decision, they move to the next resume."

    Oh boy, did I just really find this out while taking on the task of recruiting for our recent SDET position! I spent a few days going through resumes and after 30 minutes or so they all really started looking similar. At first I felt obligated to diligently look through each resume to give it a ‘fair shot,’ but it was actually painful after awhile (not to mention completely unscalable). I quickly got to the point of a 30-60 second scan to decide if I even wanted to continue reading. That’s it…30 seconds to decide if a person would even be considered. Honestly, I felt bad about it. Here I am making a decision that could potentially affect/change a person’s life in a whopping 30 seconds. It sucks. That alone would keep me from ever becoming a recruiter…I don’t like that kind of weight on my shoulders. Just give me Visual Studio, a spec and time to write some code…  🙂

  8. Ben says:

    – Never include your SS#, Age, Height, Weight, Health, Marital Status, etc.  Personal information like this is not relevant to the job search process.

    – Keep the formatting as simple as possible.  When a Word or PDF file is submitted, Applicant Tracking Systems often do not translate tables, columns, fancy fonts, bullets, etc. well, and the version that ends up in the system can often be difficult to read.

    – Try to keep the resume to two pages, three max.  Nobody is going to read a ten page resume or three pages of publication references.

    – If you are using a cover letter, make sure that you include the correct name of the company, and not accidentally use the name of another company you are applying to.

    I see mistakes like this more often than you think.  Bottom line is that a resume should be readable, consise, and geared towards the job you are applying for.

  9. HeatherLeigh says:

    David-that’s disheartening. I suspect that goes on here, but maybe not as blatant.

    tod-yeah, I know that feeling. It’s the downside of recruiting…besically having to tell people "no". Also, when I walk throught the lobby of building 19 (where many recruiters sit), especially during college recruiting season, I want to give everyone a hug and a pep talk. I think a successful recruiter never forgets what it felt like to be the candidate.

    Ben- I see those mistakes too. Good points

  10. Wine-Oh says:

    I think cover letters are great for specific positions. If the position is a marketing role or a highly creative position, the cover letter allows the applicant the opportunity to really wow the person reading it on the other end. It also helps to clarify any gaps in the resume. In addition if the role is a communications role that requires heavy e mail or writing, the cover letter allows for a sneak peak of that applicants writing style.

  11. Randolpho says:

    Heather — I have a stupid question that needs to be asked. You mentioned that you occasionally have to go out to the cover letter to check if someone is willing to relocate to Redmond…

    Do you *really* have to do that? I mean, wouldn’t it be a valid assumption that somebody living in, say, New York, and giving you a resume would, by implication, be willing to relocate? Do you actually get resumes from folks who are *not* willing to relocate?

  12. HeatherLeigh says:

    Randolpho-not necessarily. We get lots of resumes from people that are not willing to relocate. We have offices all around the US, mostly field sales and consulting with some field marketing. And of course we have product groups in Fargo, Mountain View and the Boston area (as well as outside the US). Because my team recruits for marketing, and there are some field based marketing roles, it would be reasonable for applicants to request consideration even of they don’t want to relocate. It definitely significantly reduced the number of positions we can consider them for though.

    Also, candidates will apply, with no intention of relocating, if they are trying to pitch a telecommuting arrangement. This is another situation where it reduces the number of roles a person could be considered for. But I think as a company, we are starting to get more flexible. My team might be on the progressive side here, but there are 3 of us in Redmond (two work primarily from home), one in Texas, one in Atlanta and my manager is in North Carolina. Her manager is in Minnesota. I would love to see either more product (marketing) teams being created outside of Redmond or more flexibility to allow telecommuting. By and large, we aren’t there yet so I think there’s some room for improvement. It actually takes a lot of work to ensure that a remote arrangement is going to be successful. Since collaborating across groups is vitally important here, pretty much everyone involved has to be on-board to make it work. I can’t make any promises and I don’t know of any specific plans. But we have HR leadership that is very focused on creating a great work environment (or making improvements where we see an opportunity to) so I’m hopeful. Again, nothing concrete, but I’m seeing a kind of employee focused flexibility that makes me think that it’s possible. I’ll let you guys know if I see anything change.

    Well, I guess that wasn’t your question, Randolpho ; ) But yes, we do have to inquire whether people will relocate because all candidates don’t assume that all positions are located in Redmond. Good question…thanks for asking.

  13. Drea says:

    The cover letter discussion is an interesting one. I agree with Heather, I typically skip the cover letter, read the resume, and if I’m interested in speaking with the candidate or have questions, I’ll go back to the cover letter. I love the brief email intro that spells out some quick details about how you found me, possible relocation, etc.

    BUT, if I get an emailed resume with NO email intro at all, and NO cover letter, it gives an impression of resume spam, with no time taken to write a targeted introduction or thought put into the application. Of course I read the resume, but it’s not the best first introduction.

    A thoughtful email intro for a candidate with maybe not the most relevant experience I think is more likely to get a personal response or shot at a conversation than the same candidate with just an attachment or an official cover letter.

    And don’t forget about the resumes with blatant spelling errors, or lists of companies and position titles without descriptions, resumes without dates of employment, or not addressing the requested information in the job posting (if you’re applying to a post)… And the ones who leave off locations entirely of current location, work history locations… any standard information that’s missing implies that you might be hiding something.

    What do you think about resumes with Confidential listed as the current employer? (As applicants to companies, not resumes on job boards)


  14. Drea

    I think it is an unfortunate reality that many recruiters simply do not have the time to read cover letters, especially in positions where requirements for hire are not cut and dried (and ALL marketing positions!).  I also happen to like cover letters, provided that they are creative and market the reasons that the candidate thinks they would be a good fit for the position.  So, with respect to cover letters I proudly acknowledge bias!  Heather, you wounded me when you referred to cover letters as fluff! 🙂  This probably has to do with the fact that I had recently sent a particularly "fluffy" one for a Microsoft opening    

    What is the thinking of sending a resume with confidential employers?  I have worked for the last 5+ years in the security cleared recruitment industry and I have seen my fair share of people who had legitimate reasons for not wanted the particulars of their work history in the public domain.  To restrict that information on a self submitted resume makes no sense to me, and could prove damaging to their hiring chances.  I would love to know the motivation to restrict this information as well.

  15. Ben says:

    What I do that’s had great results, is send the resume with a short intro to my experience as part of the email.

    Something along the lines of:

    Why am I qualified for the position:

    – X years experience in the industry

    – Y years in a similar role

    – Worked at such and such

    It works, I get a pretty good response percentage.

    Of course, I also make sure that those qualifications are obvious in the resume.

  16. Recruitah says:


    Im new here and excited to be here and here it goes.

    I agree to many things mentioned here – grammatical errors, leaving out important details, padding, resumes that tend to be epic like.

    For me the most frustrating part is the formatting. When they send a Word resume, they get ultra creative with the formatting and tables and funky fonts etc. Most companies now use ATS’ and it makes my life miserable when I try to post these in.

    The more experience a candidate has, the better she/he should be at expressing their competencies and accomplishments. Unfortunately, most good tech people don’t spend enough time working on their resumes.

    Also – whats the take on Keyword searches ?..should applicants put in all kindsa keywords in the hope of getting a look. Don,t most recruiters use keyword search to shortlist resumes. How appropriate is this  ?

    I think applicants should understand that the recruiter really does not have time to review each resume in great detail. I agree with Heather here that if an applicant doesn’t grab my attention in a quick 20-40 second scan of the first page, I would move on.

    Cover letters are not always fluff. For technical positions, they almost make no sense except if they are including basic details like availability, openness to relocation. Cover letters make sense for higher level positions and non-IT positions especially in the creative side. But use the space to advance your chances. Not bore me with irrelevant details. A good cover letter should probably not take more than 1 minute to read. If its bulleted and presents evidence (very briefly) supporting a candidate’s application, it can be helpful. This is especially true for higher level positions. And ofcourse, a cover letter makes more sense when you know who you are addressing it to so that theres a personal element to it.

    A candidate should put himself in the recruiter’s shoes and evaluate the resume/letter with the recruiter;s mindset and contemplate whether the resume deserves attention.  That is the best test.

    Wine-oh – I agree that the approach was wrong. You have done the right thing by discouraging her. However, you have to understand that the person on the other side is probably working for a small company and small companies become big by going after anything and everything to get an account. Survival after all !…a good contact from you can seriously make her life. You obviously can politely decline and hang up.


  17. Wine-Oh says:


    Thanks for your comments. I didnt feel comfortable in the situation and using me in her cold calling process, I did not think was an acceptable way to recruit. Let alone the fact she  asked for my resume and then asked what other companies are hiring for similar positions and if I knew anyone. I could just hear the scathing phone call from another company yelling at me for giving that kind of contact information out.

    I prefer the right approach to this based on networking. If I had a friend who was interested in working at a company where I had a contact, I would first call my contact and ask if it was ok if I put them in touch. I would not just automatically assume it was ok.

    But the difference being is that I would not volunteer any information that may prevent me from getting that job or a job elsewhere.

  18. HeatherLeigh says:

    Krishna-great comments. It’s always good to get additional recruiter perspectives. I’m all for keywords if they are used in the appropriate context, which for technical folks, could mean a tech skills list. But I hate the random word dump at the end of a resume.

    Wine-Oh-I am with you. Also, that kind of question, that she asked, would have been more palatable if you had a trusting relationship with her after she had, say, placed you somewhere.

  19. HeatherLeigh says:

    Oh and Ben, that sounds smart. You give them the facts without making them click open an attachment.

    I feel that often what you get in a cover letter is what people feel they have to put in so they can have a cover letter; basically enough to fill up a page. People need to realize that the initial contact with the resume is a teaser. You don’t have to tell them everything up front, just the things that inspire their interest. An overly self-indulgent cover letter gets the recruiter asking "did they think I was gong to read *all* of this?". I like Ben’s method…short and sweet and in the e-mail.

  20. Recruitah says:

    Good point…A cover letter should make the recruiter jump for the resume….and who doesn’t like a pleasant surprise…I feel excited when I speak to the candidate and get to know more and then the candidate says I have also worked on so and so and this is what I did etc..This wasnt on the resume but the candidate strategically saved it for a knock-out during the interview…so save some material for the interview..especially if a comany habitually takes 4 rounds of interviews…:)

    It is vital that a person should be able to quantify his contribution…not everything can be put in numbers but give me some indication as to how you stood out in your role…saved X dollars for company, streamlined a process to eliminate 40 hrs of work etc…customize Ben’s formula to your case.

  21. I have a question, I am currently looking for work and have been unemployed since May 08′.  I have a diverse resume in that I have had so many jobs in so many different offices that work experience in office work is all I am quaified.  Although going back to school will eventually be an option for me, right now since I really need to work.  How can I eloquently write gaps in my resume and still land a workable job until my life comes back together?  

    I guess not having a specific life goal when talking about what I want to be when I grow up  doesn’t hlep. But, last night I had a brainstorm and decided the most satisfying job for me at this stage in my life, (ok, 50), would be working at an ad agency.  Now, hear me out.  1.)  Office Work – yes keeping me grounded with  9 to 5 and benefits w/ say mundane, day to day things that must be done, no questions asked.  opening mail, ordering supplies, getting coffee etc. . . which is fine because 2.) Working with these creative people opens my mind to the more desired part of my life, being creative myself stirs such a good feeling in me and I can still get paid and do a good job.  Hey not necessaily and not limiting myself to just ad agencies but looking back on job experiences my favorite job coming out of secretarial school was working at an architects office.  I did all the help work for the junior architects who still enjoyed life and made my job more rewarding, even the mudane wasn’t bad.  So, how do I go about this second part of my life without coming off really weird to a job recruiter?  Humm! where do I place this woman, the asylum is really packed right now but company B who has fired everyone I have sent looks "promising".  Your reply is deeply appreciated.  Doreen

  22. HeatherLeigh says:

    Hi Doreen, that is an interesting challenge. What I recommend is determining a positive spin you can put on everything (and by spin, I mean stuff that is true, but positive).

    First, I would recommend finding a common thread amongst the work you have already done. What do the roles have in common with each other and what you want to do in the future? You want to kind of brand yourself

    Secondly, I would look at your #1 above. You have to find something about this work that you like and communcate that to the interviewers. I would never hire someone that referred to their work as "mundane". You may not be using that exact word in the interview, but is it possible that it is coming across in what you say and your body language?

    So I guess I recommend stepping back a little bit.

    Hope that helps.

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