The top 5 reasons why your resume is not working

5 Resume mistakes

Over the years I’ve viewed thousands of resumes.  Most are ordinary (at best), occasionally worth a second glance and a minority totally cringe worthy. Without doubt, most jobseekers dramatically undersell themselves. Not only do job seekers not know how to sell themselves on paper, but they are also failing to ensure their resume lands up in front of the right person (the decision-maker).

So working backwards, these are my top 5 reasons why your current resume is not working.

#No. 5 Your resume is full of irrelevant content and fluff

At number 5, the reason your resume is not working, is because more likely than not, your resume is full or irrelevant content and fluff.  By irrelevant, I mean information that is not applicable to the job you are applying for and by fluff, I mean content that is not direct, does not add value, or states the obvious.

Take this summary of skills from a graduate who is seeking a position within production.

  • Self-disciplined
  • Good time management
  • Excellent interpersonal and leadership skills
  • Able to fulfil multiple roles within a team
  • Physically fit
  • Competent in video editing and Photoshop
  • Gymnastics
  • Great with children (4-years experience in childcare)

The first 5 bullet points are just statements without any quantifiable evidence. These lists are just fluff, as they don’t provide any context or evidence. Make sure you avoid these generic soft skills lists and instead focus on putting your experience into context for readers and outlining your achievements.

The last 2 bullet points, gymnastics and great with children – are skills totally irrelevant to the position being applied for. What benefit are they to the reader? How does this information demonstrate the skills and qualities necessary for the job? The point is they don’t, which is why this information is irrelevant. So scan your resume and remove irrelevant information.

#No. 4 The resume fails to match the requirements of the employer

You can have the greatest resume in the world, but unless your resume matches the requirements of the employer, then it is simply not going to work.  If you want to avoid rejection, then don’t approach a company, or recruiter if you’re not the right candidate and or your resume does not mirror their exact requirements.

The reality is you can be a brilliant top performer, but if they are asking for specific experience and you don’t match the bulk of the requirements listed in the advertisement, then you are wasting your time applying for the job.  Your resume won’t make it through the Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), or if it gets ‘eye balled’ by a human, there won’t be a natural match, so you won’t make the candidate shortlist.

Being the right candidate is VITAL and you can’t be the right candidate, if your resume does not match their specific requirements.

While most people realise they need to change their resume for each and every job, the reality is most candidates don’t. In addition, those that attempt to make these adjustments, do a lousy job. So the easiest solution to this dilemma is to get very narrow and targeted in your job search focus. Instead of applying for anything that comes your way, apply for jobs with a very defined target, namely a specific job title within a specific industry. That way the resume you develop is very focussed and will align with the bulk of the jobs you apply for.

#No. 3 The resume fails to tell a compelling story

Ask any professional master resume writer and they will tell you that resume writing is about telling a compelling story about their client.  Most resumes simply state a few facts (or half truths) and leave most readers up in the air about the story (background and context).

The best resumes are not facts on a piece of paper, but marketing documents that humanise you beyond lists of jobs, duties and responsibilities and your education. Go to your current resume and ask the following questions?

  • Does it describe the key challenges you overcame at work?
  • The obstacles you faced, such as budget cuts, lack of qualified human resources?
  • Does it detail the number of people you supervised or mentored?
  • Does it describe the overall context of the job – such as size and scope of the budgets, perhaps the number of projects you led?
  • Does it detail the impact you had on overall projects, the unit you led, the company, or how your contributions improved the bottom line (it could be something simple such as streamlining a process, or major, such as significantly improving profitability of an entire company).
  • Does it reflect the fact that you performed more efficiently than others, or exceeded employer expectations?

Most resumes fail to tell the ‘story’ behind the facts. Paul J. Zak, Trust Factor: The Science of Creating High-Performance Companies demonstrates that if you want to motivate, persuade, or be remembered, start with a story. People are motivated by transcendent purpose (how it improves lives), rather than transactional purposes (facts). Transcendent purpose is done through stories, by describing and putting your experience into context. Your resume will become persuasive and memorable if you weave a story and put your experience into context for readers.

#No. 2 The resume contains zero achievements

There is no secret about the need to contain achievements in a resume. Pretty much every article on resume writing contains some advice of the need to talk about achievements. However most people struggle to talk about achievements, or the list of achievements are not in fact achievements, but tasks.

To ensure you include the right achievements, don’t focus on those areas that are focussed on you. For example, securing a pay rise, or completing a degree with first class honours is an achievement and you should be proud of these. But these don’t add value to an employer, so they are not an achievement for your resume. What really adds value, is talking about the contributions that you have made and the results you have achieved for present and past employers. For example, you reduced operational costs by 34%, you implemented an occupational health and safety strategy that reduced workplace injuries by 40%, or you created a new filing system that eliminated wasted time in searching for misfiled documents.

All employers are interested in ‘what’s in it for me’, (WIFM). That is, they are after a ‘recruiting solution’ – a staff member that can make a solid contribution to the work area or overall strategy of the organisation, as well as a candidate that meets organisational requirements. They are not interested in YOUR career aspirations and are too preoccupied in assessing a bundle of applications, to worry about YOU as an individual – in fact they’re ‘downright indifferent about you’.

However as soon as you start talking about tangible achievements, you are setting the stage for showing them why you just may be the best candidate for the position. This will turn a previously indifferent selector/recruiter, into someone who is thinking that the work area and organisation needs someone like you to fill the position.

#No. 1 You are not getting your resume in front of the right decision-maker

At number 1 place, the major reason your resume is not working is because you are failing to get the resume in front of the right decision-maker.  The right decision-maker is the person that will have the final say on who employs you and this person is not necessarily the head of Human Resources, or a recruiter.

Remember most hires (50% or more) are made via trusted referrals, networks and personal contacts. They are not made via the job boards, which are generally the last resort (not first) of employers. If you want to be really successful, you have to work a little harder, make personal contact with the right decision-maker and use the resume as simply a supporting document, as you have already sold yourself as the ideal candidate through your network or direct approach to the right company.

The task of getting the ideal job has never been easy (contrary to what the media and job boards tell you). If you don’t make sure your resume gets in front of the right decision-maker, it is less likely that your resume is going to work. So do the footwork and take action so you understand what the real decision-make wants and make sure you make personal contact. This one strategy alone will ensure you stand out from other job candidates.

Leave a Reply