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Tuesday, May 15, 2007
High Negatives on the Resume
It is only mid-2007 and already the political campaigns and rhetoric are in full swing. I’m already tired of hearing about it and just wish we could get it over with! Watching the news, I’m becoming more and more acquainted with politico-speak words and phrases, about many of which I could really care less. One phrase that caught my attention, though, was “high negatives”. One candidate was described as “high in popularity but also has high negatives”. I started thinking of that and realized that the term “high negatives” might be applied easily to resumes. A job seeker may have good experience and education but have high negatives that cut into those good things.

First of all, I’ll define “high negatives” as pieces of information or aspects of a resume that raise negative images or reactions in the mind of the hiring manager or recruiter that are contrary to the benefit of the job seeker. An obvious high negative issue would be a reported stay in the local penitentiary. That is easy. But there are other, less-obvious high negatives that may well appear on YOUR resume and you don’t even realize they are working against you. I’ll go over a few:

Job-hopping – Short periods of employment that don’t show increase in career level. Sometimes, a job seeker may have several short periods of employment but each successive move is a step up. That’s not job-hopping; that’s meteoric rise in career path. Job-hopping comes with lots of lateral moves within a short period of time. Employers don’t like to see this pattern because it communicates instability.

Functional Format – The granddaddy of all high negatives, simply the USE of the functional format communicates the job seeker is trying to hide something. It’s an automatic red flag. People who use the functional format are shooting themselves in the foot.

First Person Narrative – Resumes are not novels, letters, biographies, life stories, or other forms of literature describing a career. They are marketing documents! Sales brochures for your career! They should never be written in the first person, voiced style where personal pronouns are used. “I”, “me”, “my”, “our”, or “we” should never appear on a resume.

Overuse of Tired Phrases – In trying to communicate their soft skills, most people fall back to trite phrases such as “results-oriented” or “good communicator”. Such phrases fall flat on a resume. Put yourself in the shoes of your audience – the recruiter or the hiring manager. You’ve just read 99 other resumes and every one of them claims to be “results-oriented” and “good communicator”. Finding a resume that is not loaded with these fluff phrases is actually refreshing!

Dubious Past Employment – Think about what you include on the resume. If you are targeting a senior executive position, it is not necessary to list every job you’ve ever held on your resume. For instance, if you are targeting a VP of Operations job and you include your stint as a store manager for Subway fifteen years ago, what are you saying about your ability to communicate in a relevant way? Sometimes, good people have done questionable jobs in the past just to meet the bills. Such jobs (and I’ll let you come up with a mental picture of what a “questionable” job might be) can and should be left off a resume if at all possible.

Name Dropping – Name dropping is mentioning names of prominent people in your industry with whom you have an association in an attempt to elevate your status in the eyes of the reader. Rarely does it work. If you have to drop names, you’ve just proven your inadequacy. A similar occurrence sometimes happens with schools that people have attended. For instance, one resume I saw started out with “Top ten grad from XXXX, nation’s number one graduate school of business and family’s fourth generation undergrad from Ivy League XXXX.” Okay, if this was the resume of a brand new graduate this might be a horn to toot but it was a job seeker who had earned his MBA fifteen years ago and attended the Ivy League school in the seventies. Do you think he was proud of the two pieces of parchment? Do you think he stopped to think that maybe the person who would be making the decision to hire him worked his way through both undergrad and grad school at a medium-ranked institution and might not hold a very high opinion of his snooty presentation? In the real world where the rubber hits the road, it’s not always where you went to school but what you’ve done with the learning since then.

TMI – Have you ever been seated on a plane next to someone who just won’t shut up? Some people have the same loquaciousness problem in writing and their resumes turn into huge masses of irrelevant information. Ranging from high school activities to volunteer belly dancer at the nursing home, there is just some information that has no business being on the resume. And it’s not so much the fact that the job seeker did this activity in the first place, but as an executive or professional, he/she should have enough skill in communication (that’s PC-speak for common sense) to know not to include it on a resume!

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