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Notes on Reading Resumes

   July 20th, 2010

Resume scrutinyFirst of all, let me apologize right up front, because I know I'm going to come off sounding like a jackass in this post. I really don't intend to, and I honestly am sensitive to what I'm saying.

Remember last week when I posted about our opening for a Head of Circulation? We've received close to 50 resumes so far, and I (and my coworkers) have spent a lot of time reading resumes in the past few days. I am certainly not a human resources professional, but I do have input on who will get interviewed and ultimately hired, so I thought I'd share some observations and trends I've been noticing.

But applicants, take what I say with a grain of salt. I realize I am probably not a typical resume-reader, and that every application process and situation is different. These are just my feelings concerning filling this position.

  1. Applying for a job isn't about you - it's about the interviewers visualizing you filling the open position and how that will help the library. Do everything you can to make that easy for them.
  2. No one writes a good objective, but resumes without them seem lacking**.
  3. It seems weird to start off a cover letter thanking us for giving you the opportunity to apply, yet I saw this at least five times. Just say what you're applying for, where you saw the ad, and then move on.
  4. There is a definite difference between applicants who want this job and applicants who want a job. I truly sympathize with the large number of people who are out of work. That just sucks. But this job does have requirements, and I was surprised at how many resumes just didn't meet them. Please, if you are not qualified, do not apply. This position is important to us, and we don't view it as someone's stepping stone or life preserver.
  5. Read the job posting very closely, and address those points in your cover letter. Don't just lay out what you have done - tell us why that matters and what you will/can do for our patrons. Look for themes or points in the job ad, and blatantly address them - for the Head of Circulation, we're looking for someone who can supervise a variety of staff and personalities, who can work at a fast pace in a very busy library, who can meet our high standard of customer service, and who has both a technology background and the initiative to use technology to do things better. All of these things are in the job ad, but 90% of the resumes address only one or two of these points.
  6. Your resume is not your biography. Not everything you've done in life relates to the position you're applying for, and all that extra noise (working at a pet store fifteen years ago) drowns out the important information. Understand the position you're applying for, and only include - and highlight - anything that draws a clear picture of why you would do well in this position. We know what we're looking for, so tell us why you're it.
  7. Do not tell me why this position would benefit your career or build your skill set. We're not hiring someone for their benefit, or to give them a challenge, we're hiring someone for the benefit of the library and our patrons.
  8. The word "proven" rings hollow with me, especially when no "proof" is supplied in the resume. "Proven emphasis on customer service," "proven ability to multitask," or "proven web coding skills," etc. If you want to prove what you're saying, explain it or provide examples.
  9. This might just be me, but I like show-and-tell. If you've created cool fliers or brilliant reader's advisory handouts, include copies or link to them online. It's much more meaningful to see examples of your work than just read a description of it (or worse, just a passing reference to it). Bring samples to the interview, too.
  10. Don't be wordy. We're reading dozens of resumes, and the dense ones get skimmed or skipped. Be clear and concise.
  11. Grammar, spelling and typos are all noticed, as well as formatting, and consistency. Brand yourself to stand out a bit - it shows you know your way around Word* and you cared enough to spend some time and thought making it look good (by the way, this is an excellent way to display your "proven computer aptitude").
  12. When emailing your resume, file format is important. If it's not specified in the job ad, send a pdf - not .doc or .docx or anything else. I also think the cover letter and resume should be in the same file, for two reasons:

    • 8-1/2" x 11" pages are a pain to look at on a screen. They all get printed out so I can read, compare and make notes on the paper - and going back to point #10, the less paper the better.
    • About eight people in my library are involved in the reviewing and hiring process, which means there is a lot of email attachment forwarding going on. Putting the cover letter and resume in the same file means they will always stay together. Putting your cover letter only in the body of your email means I have many resumes with no cover letters (and oddly, also a few cover letters with no resumes). Please make it easy for me to keep all your information in the same place.
  13. When you email your resume, give it a meaningful name - like BHerzogResume.pdf. Things like EMW.rtf, chelmsford_job.doc, libraryresume01-4b.docx, April 2010.wpd, resumemaster.txt, or coverletter.wpd might mean something to you, but means nothing to me - especially when a coworker forwards twenty resumes attached to the same message. I want to know your name and connect it to your resume, and if I need to go back and look up your resume again, I'll be able to find it. This is much less likely if I have to decode cryptic file names. Your resume does not exist in a vacuum - it is piled up with 50 others. Make yours easily-identifiable.
  14. If you submit both an electronic and print resume (which is not a bad idea), be sure to mention this in your cover letter. Avoid associating your name with confusion, duplication or spam.
  15. Don't send references unless they are requested, and you can leave the "references available upon request" off the resume, too. We'll ask if we want them - otherwise, it's just more stuff to sift through.

Coincidentally, the day I started making notes for this post, Yahoo ran a story on their homepage entitled What NOT to do: 7 ways to ruin your resume - that is worth reading too.

Again, I'm not posting this to criticize or to gloat about being lucky enough to have a job right now. I know my own current resume violates many things I said above, and will get a major revamp the next time I send it out. I wish the best of luck to everyone who is looking for a position, and I hope some of this insight helps.


*This is a personal pet peeve of mine: there is absolutely no reason for a pdf resume to be 2MB. That tells me you don't understand technology, and almost every professional library position now is a technology position. If you don't already have them, applying for jobs is a good time to learn the skills of word processing, file formats, and email attachments. Don't be afraid to ask someone for help (including the reference desk at your local library), or read articles or watch instructional videos online. It's worth it, because believe me, this is definitely the time to get things right.

**Update 8/13/10: Lots of people are taking issue with this point, and I'm afraid it isn't very clear. I didn't mean to say I like Objectives, just that resumes that went from the person's name right into work history or something felt like they were missing something, or that the transition was jarring. I review resumes by reading the cover letter first, then the resume, and the Objective at the top of the page was always a nice transition between the paragraphs of a cover letter to the bulleted points of a resume. I called out Objectives because that's what I was used to, but things have apparently changed since the last time I wrote a resume. Now, the thing to do seems to be a "Summary of Qualifications," and I like this idea much more than an objective. Put this at the top of the resume, and pick three or things from your work history or skill set that directly applies to the job at hand, based on the description in the job ad, and use this space to highlight those. That is what interviewers (or me, at lest) want to see - why you are qualified for this job.

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29 Responses to “Notes on Reading Resumes”

  1. Micah Says:

    Thanks for this guide. I am just beginning to search for jobs and tips like these are invaluable.

  2. John Says:

    I am a professional recruiter, and a professional job seeker. I’ve done a great deal of contract work, and as a result have looked for jobs no less than 15-20 times in my career. I’ve also reviewed literally thousands of resumes. As a result, I have a few opinions that I hope are fairly well educated. I’ll address your thoughts point by point.

    1) totally agree.
    2) totally agree. to go further – you shouldn’t have an objective. Instead, have a Summary of Qualifications, that tells the hiring manager how you can add value to the organization. It’s not about what you want, it’s about telling the reader how you can fulfill their needs.
    3) There is a standard format for cover letters. Do some internet research to find the format and use it.
    4) As a hiring manager, it’s YOUR job to weed through the bad resumes. As a recruiter giving advice to applicants, I say: apply to everything, go on every interview, answer every phone call, whether or not you are qualified or even want the job. It’s good practice for the job interview you really want, and you can always say ‘no’ to a bad job offer later. It’s annoying for hiring managers, but as an applicant you’re never really going to know if your resume is going to be considered annoying spam, or the perfect pot of gold. Applicants are not mind readers, so as a resume reviewer, get prepared to look at a lot of spam.
    5) Totally agree! One thing I say to all applicants. “Make it look like you’ve already done whatever it is you’re applying for.”
    6) Totally agree. Your resume is not a legal document, it’s a marketing document. Dump experience that is a million years old and not relevant. Focus on recent and relevant history, and avoid talking about hobbies and non-work / non-education activities.
    7)Totally agree.
    8)Totally agree. Prove it. Use the standard bullet point format “Situation – Action – Result”. What was the problem, what did you do to fix it, how did it turn out. Use numbers and other quantitative data in your bullets whenever possible.
    9)Disagree. Resumes and cover letters are not the place for examples. As an applicant, make the hiring manager call you or bring you in if they want to see examples of your work. Same with references. Don’t provide them until after the in-person interview. There are a number of ethical and privacy issues that I won’t go into regarding this point; suffice it to say that you should wait until asked in person for anything other than a resume and cover letter.
    10) Agree, but see above for ‘situation-action-result’.
    11)Totally agree. Mistakes are unacceptable.
    12) Disagree. MSWord is the industry standard for resumes. The body of the e-mail is the industry standard for cover letters. The only time this is not true is when the applicant is applying through an Applicant Tracking System (a resume database). As a hiring manager, you should actually be downgrading applicants who vary from that standard, for reasons that I won’t get into here.
    13) Good call. Use a format like Resume . Make your resume easy to find later if a hiring manager wants to go back to it.
    14) Disagree. You want to hit the hiring manager’s eyeballs as often as possible, while at the same time not getting recognized as spam. This means one submittal per format. Once via each e-mail address given in the job description, plus one submittal per job description to any Applicant Tracking System (job database) you can find (usually submitting through the company website gets you into their tracking system). Do not fax or mail. That’s so last century, and shows a level of unsophistication with modern business practices.
    15) agree. see above for details.

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  4. Maria Says:

    This is all good advice. My aunt was involved with screening resumes for her position (long story there) and complained to us that of the many resume’s she received, only 3 or 4 were even appealing.

    Another bit of advice for those applying: be familiar with the amount of money you should expect to be getting from the job, and don’t put something like “salary expectations: 100k annual” on a resume for an entry level clerk position. This was something that came up often and usually resulted in a quick trip to the trash bin.

  5. laura Says:

    We are looking at resumes and letters for a job at my library, too, and I’d echo what you’ve said (I have minor quibbles, but they are only minor — I’m not a fan of objectives, for instance, but I think of that as a personal preference).

    John, I’m not sure if you’ve ever helped people (or applied yourself) in libraries, but we tend to like people who follow the rules when it comes to applying for jobs — and we tend not to like to be bugged, or spammed.

  6. Jen Says:

    Wow — this was great! Actually, a little stern, but I’m okay with that. If it’s okay with you, I’d like to work a few of these points into a general job-seeking class I teach at our library. As someone who has both hired staff, and been on the job-seeking end, as well, I like to make certain points in my class. #5 & #13 I think will especially be good things to bring up. Great article!

  7. Brian Herzog Says:

    @John: Thanks for the professional input. I’m not in that field, so I only go by what looks right to me/I’m used to (ie, the Objective). However, I do stand firm on a couple points – applying for a job you’re not qualified for just doesn’t seem like a good idea, and I think you and I are approaching this point from totally opposite points of view. If we have a posting someone applies to and my take-away from their resume is that they’re not even remotely qualified, when I see that resume again for our next job posting (which I’m sure they’d also apply for), that will be my first impression: “oh yeah, I remember this person, they wasted my time.”

    Also, the file format thing: pdf is just much easier to work with. Plus, Word allows for many mistakes – one resume I got had Track Changes turned on, so I saw everything the applicant had deleted. Another was created in a different version of Word than what I use, so the formatting was way off – saving as a pdf makes sure I see what the applicant wants me to see.

    But I know things change in human resources frequently, and I don’t keep up on the latest do’s and don’t’s – again, most of what I’m saying are just personal preferences.

  8. Brian Herzog Says:

    @John: Oh, but I do have one revision to make. Two of the people we’re interviewing for this position got the interview because of the References they listed. I didn’t look at any reference lists, but my coworkers did, and recognized names the trusted. So, even without calling the references, that personal connection can work in an applicants favor.

  9. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Jen: of course, use this however you can. And I know it came off sounding harsh, but I was trying to be honest. Out of the 40-50 resumes we got, these are all reasons why some people are not getting interviewed, so hopefully this information will be helpful.

  10. Jenne Says:

    This is completely excellent and I’ve forwarded it to all my colleagues (as I did the refdesk checklist).

    I think you should write a book called “Swiss Army Librarian Solves your Life”. 🙂

  11. Retiring Guy Says:

    Jackass? Then I’m one, too. Each point you make is well considered and brings to mind numerous painful memories of reading poorly written cover letters and overstuffed resumes ‘back in the day’ –application materials that immediately went to the bottom of the pile.

  12. Winnie Says:

    I am very rarely in the position of having to hire anyone but last year my boss was off sick so I ended up hiring, along with our children’s librarian, the student to run our summer reading programme. This is tough in a small town since I have known most of the kids applying all their lives. It was the cover letters that were make or break. No matter how much experience or what skills they had if they couldn’t string together a decent letter they were toast. The living in a small town thing did pay off in the references, however. When we’d made our choice and looked at the references I knew all three personally, two of them since I was six. What clinched the deal with this applicant? In the interview we asked why she wanted this job. She said when she was little she had attended the programme only one summer because it was the most boring thing she had ever experienced and she didn’t think it should have been. I look forward to your comments on the interview process. PS last summer’s programme definately wasn’t boring.

  13. Kate Says:

    I heartily agree with #7. We recently hired for a few part-time positions, and I pretty much ignored anyone who said the position would be great experience for them.

    I do agree with John about the Summary of Qualifications thing – I’ve always used that on my resumes. It’s a nice way to pull out three things in a bulleted list that show you’re a good fit for the position.

  14. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Kate: (Hi Kate!) I think I just feel the resume needs some kind of introduction/objective/summary at the top – it doesn’t have to be an actual Objective, but just something at the beginning that serves as a lead-in for the rest of the resume, and also addresses the position at hand, seems necessary. The resumes that didn’t do this felt too generic. I like the idea of a Summary of Qualifications, so maybe that’s what I’ll do on mine.

  15. Adrienne Says:

    The only thing I disagree with is including an objective. It doesn’t serve any purpose other than redundancy!

  16. Gabe Says:

    What is ever the point of an objective? It’s a great way to pigeon-hole yourself, which is not good when applying for a job since you can’t read the mind of the hiring committee. I think of it as a one line piece of fluff that can only get in the way of hard information.

    Besides, isn’t the objective always to get a job?

    Also, I’m a big fan of PDF too over DOC or any other file format. Since visual formatting can make or break an application why not make sure the resume you send is the resume they see? Also, PDF was the industry standard when I was applying for jobs a year ago, or at least that is what almost everyone was asking for.

  17. Cynthia Peterson Says:

    John, having just reviewed 160 resumes for a 20 hr. part-time job I could not agree with your suggestions with any more enthusiasm. I would like to add to applicants to be very careful how they have set up their email addresses. When an email address is “sexypants” or “toolazy” I am hesitant to take the rest of the resume too seriously. Email addresses are easy to establish (Google, Yahoo!) and SHOULD be established with a professional tone.

  18. Cynthia Peterson Says:

    Sorry, meant to address this to Brian.

  19. Meela Says:

    I tend to dislike resumes with a career objective in them. You’re right – no-one writes a good one. They’re either smarmy, “I’d like this job in YOUR organisation” or vague, “To be an information professional”.

    They make me cringe, and I just hope they don’t influence me against the applicant too much!

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  21. Jennifer Says:

    This is an excellent post, with some valuable advice. I am currently attempting to get my first trainee post in a library, and taking a structured approach by looking at each aspect of my application, from approaching possible employees, to applications/resumes/interviews. This post has given me a lot more to think about and ways of improving my chances at getting an interview. Thank you!

  22. Lisa Says:

    I have to respectfully disagree about the second part of #7. Perhaps I have a different perspective since I work in academia, but as someone pursuing a degree in human resource development, I don’t see the hiring process as a one-sided deal. Yes, of course, you want employees to contribute to the organization and fulfill their job duties, but if all they’re interested in is a paycheck, I think that’s rather short-sighted. Obviously, the employee benefits from getting paid but lack of challenge is not a motivator for a lot of folks. Perhaps few applicants would be transparent about wanting to build their skill set, but how else can that happen (in most cases), but on the job? (If you believe as I do that school is for the broader education and the workplace is for training in context.) Employment should be a two-way street, mutually beneficial to both parties, which is why the candidate interviews the employer too.

  23. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Lisa: Maybe I’m too much of a parser, but I do see a difference between someone with initiative who wants to be challenged and someone for who our job would be a challenge. What I was trying to say was that I didn’t like it when candidates focused on what they would get out of the job – whether it be just a paycheck, or new skills/experience, or whatever.

    Incidentally, one candidate said during the interview that they were applying for any job that came open, because they wants something that will pay enough so they can buy a house – which is fine, but that’s not why we’re hiring someone.

    I absolutely get your point, and I think it’s very close to mine. We’re hiring someone who has the background and disposition to help the library and our patrons, and grow and make things better in the position however they can. What bothered me were the candidates who didn’t get the two-way street concept – the ones who focused in their resume solely on what they expected to get from the position.

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  25. Jan Says:

    Having just vetted over 200 resumes, I came up with the same observations, plus a couple more: 1) avoid using lateral co-workers as references–we had two applicants who used each other as a reference, and 2) don’t say “you’d love to work for college X” when you’ve sent your app to college Y.

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  27. pw Says:

    I’ve done some recruiting in the library field and other industries. All good points except the .pdf format– use WORD 2003 as not everyone has 2007.
    And an objective or purpose is just a waste of time, usually doesn’t tell me anything.
    thanks for posting.

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