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A Proposal Writer's Perspective on Resume Blunders

Ask anyone in the staffing industry about the worst resume they’ve seen and you’ll find yourself listening to a very entertaining story about embedded personal pictures, lists of “interesting” hobbies, and the use of proprietary graphics. You’ll laugh right along with them until that awkward moment when they mention a technique you use on your own resume. Suddenly it’s not so funny.

Hiring manager explaining to applicant that his resume is terrible.

With thousands of resumes pouring in every month, we really have seen it all. Following these techniques will guarantee your resume hits the “terrible” pile:

  1. Insert a table into your document. Put all of your experience into the table with multiple rows and cells. Then lock the table. This is a nightmare for staffing agencies because while we don’t change the content, we do reformat your resume using our own template so the client knows exactly where to look on every resume they receive from us. Imagine how much work goes into cutting and pasting all of the content from a table into a clean document. And of course, all the cutting and pasting means there is also plenty of opportunities to make mistakes.

  2. Overlap all of the months and years of your project experience. Or, better yet, include the start date of each of your projects and choose a date that falls in the middle of the month (ex: June 15, 2010 to May 28, 2012). This is an excellent way to ensure you will receive personalized attention from Recruiters – we are guaranteed to call you back and ask you to remove all of the overlaps. Many of our clients have specific requirements so when we are proving to our client that you’ve been a Project Manager for 10 years, it’s hard when we have to try to count days instead of months. Government contractors know exactly what I’m talking about!

  3. Embed a personal picture or a graphic. There really is no time throughout your career that this is a good idea. We don’t choose to interview people based on their appearance. When we look at your resume, we are interested in your skills, professional experience, education/training and certifications. All of the pictures and graphics that are used to carefully decorate your resume will get stripped out during the reformatting process if they have not already been stripped out by the system where you uploaded your resume.

  4. List all of your hobbies. Especially the ones that have absolutely nothing to do with your professional experience. The key here is to ask: is this relevant to the role? If the answer is no then it’s better not to include them. Don’t get us wrong, we find your hobbies highly entertaining! 20 years ago when you were trying to get a job in a Pub and your favourite hobby was Beer Pong, it made sense to put it on your resume. However, at this stage of your career, your professional experience is what matters.

  5. PDF your resume. While a PDF of your resume ensures that it does not get altered, it also causes headaches when agencies put the resume into their format (see number 1 above). If you are hesitant to provide a Word copy, keep one available and offer it up when you are serious about a particular job. Asking to review the formatted version before it is submitted to a client will ensure that no unauthorized changes have been made.

  6. Don’t include any detail, about your professional experience, at all. This is my personal favourite. Without details it is impossible to figure out if you are a good fit for a contract. I know that we were all taught “resumes should not exceed one or two pages” but this was when we were teenagers looking for part-time jobs or new grads with no experience looking for our first job. This is even more important to the Independent Contractor. Clients want to know the details about all relevant experience.

  7. Copy/paste all of your experience into every single project you’ve ever had. This is a big red flag for industry professionals. We see thousands of role descriptions in a year. We know that every role is different, as is every client, every environment, and every deliverable. Customization is key if you want your resume to stand out from the crowd. The more you write about the role and the project, from your own experience, the higher your chances your resume will be selected to move onto the next round of qualification.

What has your experience taught you? What other resume blunders should contractors avoid?