I’ve been involved in the recruitment processes for many companies over the last few years, and i’ve seen time and time again the same common (simple) mistakes which often affect how a candidate is perceived.

First of all – your resume and cover sheet (or equivalent thereof) is of paramount importance. Its primary goal is to introduce us and start a (mental) conversation. When you apply for a job, you’re basically telling me “I exist! I have the skills you need, and I’m the kind of person you’d like to work with”. The first part seems quite trivial, but remember I DON’T KNOW YOU and up until about 5 seconds ago YOU DIDN’T EXIST. So you want to take every possible opportunity to help me get to know you better.

Don’t tell me things I already know. In particular I don’t want you to copy-paste content from our corporate website and spew it back to me. I’m reading your resume because I want to know about you. If you want to show your great research skills, find some other way of doing it…And even if you ARE going to copy-paste at least change the content so it reads as if you wrote it from your perspective, instead of leaving it in the corporate marketing speak so commonly read (true story…)? Humour me, please?

Me personally – i’m a stickler for grammar, spelling and punctuation. If you’re submitting a resume as a Word doc, I have to assume that you’re submitting it not only to me but to a number of other people too. If you apply for 20 jobs, each of these companies have 2 people reading your resume, and each person spends 5 minutes reading it, that’s 3 hours of total reading time that your document is analysed and scrutinised. In that time, some people will be guaranteed to find spelling mistakes – and these reflect on your attention to detail. If you were writing a book that would take 3 hours to read, you’d (hopefully) put a bit of effort in to make sure that the book had minimal errors – so why would you not do the same for your 3 page resume? Which leads me nicely into the next point..

Keep your resume short. Don’t send me 50 pages. Don’t send me 10 pages. 3 pages is perfectly fine and 5 is pushing the limit. If you can’t succinctly condense your work experience into 5 pages, you’re not concentrating hard enough on telling me your best skills to suit the role we’re hiring for. I’m not interested in reading about a job you had 10 years ago where you made the best damn Cookie Man cookies in Central Plaza. Tell me about your work experience which is relevant to the job you’ve applied for.

But don’t limit yourself to just “work” experience. I’m interested in reading about your pet-projects, (software related) things that you do outside hours, and maybe even some not-so-software related. Please don’t write a 4-line paragraph extolling your abilities at feeding the ducks in your local park. Mentioning it as one of your interests gets me thinking about how you’re not just a 9-5 desk jockey, and anything more is just detracting from the goal at hand (see above).

Lying on your resume. I know a few people who quietly admit that they lie on their resume about their skills and abilities, arguing that they can always learn said technology/tool in time and no-one would ever know. Things start becoming unstuck when you don’t know, and you’re caught with your pants at your ankles struggling to explain how it is that you’re able to re-compile the Linux kernel using only a pocket knife and some paper-clips. Just don’t do it. This practice reflects badly on you when it backfires and if you do happen to “get away with it” during the hiring process, it will sooner or later reveal itself once we’re working together.

The Manager’s Guide To Technology. Here, i’m referring to a giant list of every-single technology you can think you’ve ever come in contact with, and writing it up as a “skill”. XML isn’t a skill. Nor is Microsoft Word. I’ll pat you on the back for opening a Word Document if you really want, but I won’t be using that as criteria for offering you a job. If you must, then please only list things that are genuine skills/practices. TDD, BDD, CI, whatever…If you need to explicitly mention software you’ve specialised in, then mention that separately. Whilst it might be an achievement on your part, reading hundreds of them is just noise on my part.

Be creative. Throw in a little design or layout your content differently to the standard Page template. It shows me you’re willing to give your resume some attention in order to grab mine. I like being grabbed (quote, end-quote). Besides, it’s an opportunity to show me your creativity. I wouldn’t recommend going crazy and being radical about your design – after all I still need to read it and follow it. But all things considered, being different is an advantage – you’re more likely to be remembered that way.

They’re pretty much the main ones which come to mind. I reserve the right to change this list the next time I see something stupid.