Common Résumé Mistakes = Trash

There are times that I have to interview a lot of Engineering candidates. Unfortunately, many are clearly unqualified, yet somehow sneak past the first-line screeners. My standards are fairly high, and I expect prospective employees and contractors to possess strong attention to detail. Most do not.

The first step I take is to get out my blue ink and yellow highlighter pens. Everything interesting on the résumé I circle in blue, while every mistake or potential issue I highlight in yellow. If, after a page or two, I see more yellow than blue, the résumé is trashed — which, in HR speak, means that the résumé is kept for six months in a manilla folder marked “Never, Ever Hire!” [OK, not really, but the idea has its appeal.]

Spelling Mistakes

It seems that many candidates don’t bother to click the “Check Spelling” button.

  • A recent applicant failed to capitalize her street name; misspelled both her cities of employment and residence; proclaimed expertise in Java, JAVA, and java, building J2EE and j2ee component “pachages” using “J-builder” and “Jbuilder“; was “well experienced” in both Oracle and oracle; and “was thorough” in Javascript, java script, and Java Script (none of which are correct).
  • If you proclaim yourself as a “Sun Certificied Java Progrmmer” or you have a “Masters in Business Adminstration“, well… kthxbye.
  • I am frequently amazed by the numbers of “extra-cuccicular activities” that candidates do.
  • It seems very few can spell the word “architecture”. One Stanford-degreed engineer “ported code to PowerPC architcture.” Another worked on “the design & architucture of the latest release.” A third “created and oversaw all information arcitecture and Flash developement.”

Nonsensical Grammar

In the unlikely event that all the words in a résumé are spelled correctly, it does not mean the words actually go together.
  • If something is “reputed”, it is something that is generally considered or believed; it has nothing to do with “reputation” or being “reputable”. Candidates frequently erringly claim to have been “trained by reputed companies”, “worked for reputed organizations“, or just dreamed “to work in a well reputed organization.” I most often see this on résumés from engineers trained in India, not surprisingly because job positions in India are often similarly misdescribed, further reinforcing the problem.
  • One programmer’s objective was to obtain “a challenge job in software engineering that has growth opportunity.” And further down, “Lead the offshore development team and explain them the key features.” They were clearly part of the offshore development team.
  • Someone claimed that they “learnt various technologies fast in pace with requirements of the project demands.” I will accept all valid spelling, even if considered archaic or uncommon in the United States, as long as the words are spelled consistently throughout the document, but the rest of the sentence still has to make sense.
  • You know you have a “winner” when they describe their job as, “Evaluate our systems to decide which system performance the best” and “Doing research on high risky accounts”.

Résumé Padding

I typically go against the hiring norm by holding less importance to education and technical knowledge than having the essential ability to reason. One of the best Java developers I ever hired had never previously coded in Java; his prior experience was all development on mainframes. Candidates possessing a degree from MIT most likely had smart, successful parents, but it doesn’t actually say anything about their own abilities.

If someone makes it past the at-home, written test (creating the résumé) and graduates to the in-person interview, at a minimum they will be asked a few soft-ball technical questions on subjects about which they have claimed expertise in writing.

  • Unfortunately, sometimes the first time I see a résumé is within ten minutes of being forced to interview them because they’re already inside the building. The same candidate above who couldn’t spell the name of her own city claimed to have created custom tag libraries for JSPs, but had no idea what a TLD file is. She also indicated she was very knowledgeable in the use of regular expressions, but couldn’t create the most basic regex to replace the word “cat” with the word “dog” in a sentence.
  • Contrary to popular advice, do not sprinkle keywords throughout your résumé unless you truly have expertise in those areas. Usually the sprinkling is way too obvious, and you just come across as deceptive and dishonest during the in-person interview.
  • Never let someone write your résumé for you. Many “professional” résumé writers simply cut and paste work experience from one résumé to the next. Their pre-formed descriptions most likely do not match your expertise, thereby essentially padding your résumé with lies. On a single day, I received twelve near identical résumés from different candidates, all with the same spelling, formatting, and grammatical mistakes. It’s simple: if you won’t bother writing your own résumé, I won’t bother hiring you.

Common Sense

When people can’t be bothered to write, proofread, and triple-check their own résumés — which are theoretically used to sell themselves in the absolute best light possible — it tends to mirror the work they do on the job: mistake-ridden, buggy, and with a lack of attention to detail.

Your résumé is your most important sales tool. It is a reflection of you, and it should be perfect. Spell check your résumé, then show it to friends or colleagues (preferably native English speakers) and ask them to proofread it.

The simplest mistake can make the difference between receiving an offer letter and being delegated to the round file. I usually won’t trash a résumé of an engineer due to a few minor spelling or grammatical mistakes, especially when the applicant simply misused a homophone or capitonym that any spell checker would miss. However, technical writers are obviously held to even higher English language standards, while designers quickly lose marks for visual errors such as misformatting or inconsistencies in font weights, sizes, and styles.

Oh, one last piece of advice: if you manage to get past the résumé filter and the phone screen, try not to be a complete moron. A recent candidate was late to an interview because he had forgotten to push the ninth-floor button in the elevator. After a few minutes of inactivity, the lights went out to save power, and he stood there in the dark for 20 minutes. Noticing that he was late, our receptionist called him on his cell phone, at which point he reported that he was stuck on the sixth floor with the lights out. He neither had the insight to try pushing our floor button, or even to call anyone for assistance.

Uhh, thank you for your time. Don’t call us; we’ll… (ahem)… yeah, we’ll call you. Sure we will.

9 Responses to “Common Résumé Mistakes = Trash”

  1. Sean D. Martin

    Oh, don’t get me started!

    (Too late.)

    I spend a great deal of time on my own resume. It is clear, concise, well-organized and memorable. I’ve had at least two people who’ve hired me at two different companies use it as an example. I take great care to ensure that all verb tenses match, all bullet points and headings line up, no bullet points end with periods (they are not sentences) etc etc etc. And I have no patience at all for anyone who can’t take a similar level of care.

    Especially since I hire QA Engineers. The task of testing software is, at its core, detail-oriented and nit-picky. Even when (especially when) dealing with increasingly complex and diverse environments you still really need someone who can make sure the little things are in order.

    And if a candidate can’t bother to take the time to make sure their resume, which they supposedly have all the time they need to work on, is formatted and spelled correctly there is no way they are going to be able to do a detailed and careful job when under deadline pressure.

    And I’m astounded by the number of resumes passed to me by recruiters which are rife with misspellings. I mean, c’mon! Spell checking a document has got to be the single easiest thing to. And if you can’t bother to even friggin’ spell check your resume I do not want to talk with you.

    The only joy I get out of the process of reviewing resumes is telling the recruiters and candidates exactly why I’m rejecting them. I used to be more diplomatic about it, but I’m fed up and they should know why. Both barrels, I say.

  2. richard

    And that’s why I always click the Preview button before submitting a comment, especially when embedded HTML is involved. :)In order for the HTML to show up in the comment like this:

    There should be a </b> after the “mon”

    your actual comment must look something like this:

    There should be a &lt;/b> after the “mon”

  3. Sean D. Martin

    I usually forget to hit any preview button (they’re still a bit of a novelty on blogs).

    And I thought I’d be able to go back and fix any typos anyway… :)

  4. richard

    It is bloggers like me that have to lead the way towards better blogs! :)I removed all “non-me” users when the blog was under attack last month because symptoms seemed to indicate that a user account had been compromised, allowing the attackers to gain “legitimate” access and use the SQL injection exploit to gain even higher access to administrative functions.

  5. Bill Nelson

    Hello Richard;

    Ran into your site while trying to find an archived image for Zoho (remember that company?)…I worked for you there in 2000.

    I did find an archived index page for Zoho (amazing it still is out there).

    Thanks for showin’ a guy a good time in 2000!

    “It was the best of times, it was the strangest of times”


    Bill Nelson

  6. richard

    Yup, there’s quite a few archived pages of the original out there. As the official company historian, I should republish my old company history data for the heck of it someday before it’s completely forgotten.

    Ex-CEO Bill Fraine seems to have pushed Zoho out of his mind completely; last year he declined a LinkedIn invitation indicating that he didn’t know me. Too bad; he needs someone in his pocket who understands the web — his current project, Eggs Overnight, is unknown on Google, thanks to an inept website design that doesn’t mention the name of the company in crawlable text and is titled “Unknown Document”. Ironically, merely mentioning his website on my blog will give his company better exposure, considering there are no known links to the company anywhere else.

  7. Sean D. Martin

    Gee. He remembered me well enough a year or two ago to accept my LinkedIn invite. At that time he was selling speedboats in Florida. Moved on to eggs, eh?

  8. Monica

    Not to change the subject, but I’m intrigued by the resume that stated they worked for Creative Technologies since that’s my company’s parent. Granted that’s probably in Singapore, but I would hope that if we had an employee who didn’t spell-check their resume, we got rid of them fairly quickly.

  9. richard

    Apparently, the “reputedness” of many established organizations is in question more often than I originally thought.

    @Monica: No, I doubt your company got rid of them due to spelling mistakes on their resume — more likely they were (or will be) “let go” because of their lack of attention to detail or their total ineptitude.


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