Your Resume Shouldn’t Play Games

Why unconventional resumes drive hiring managers and recruiters nuts.

Steve Silberberg is into a lot of things: certified Wilderness First Responder; published in scientific journals; and, according to his database-driven, configurable, searchable online resume, maintains a collection of over 2,100 air sickness bags.

Everybody hates this resume. Only about five hiring managers over the years have refrained from requesting a standard Word resume, “even though I wrote an RTF generator that allows you to create one right from the site,” Silberberg said.

We talked to resume professionals about precisely what is so unacceptable about an unconventional resume such as Silberberg’s.

Their rogues’ gallery of goofy resumes was astonishing: scented parchment, anyone? But before you dismiss these warnings as irrelevant to your own, tamer resume, read on. Resume tricks employers reject can be as subtle as tinkering with your text size. Recruiters, resume pros and hiring managers pretty much loathe them all.

They don’t want to work to figure you out

Kevin Labick is the CEO of Empathy Lab, an e-commerce and broadband solutions provider. For Labick, as a hiring manager, Silberberg’s online resume doesn’t work for two reasons, neither of which is aesthetics.

First, the resume has poor usability: It simply made Labick work too hard. In fact, he wouldn’t have bothered to click on the resume link had we not asked him to do us the favor. “[Silberberg has] chopped up various aspects of his CV into so many niches, it becomes overwhelming,” Labick said.

Silberberg doesn’t know which of his given skills an employer might be interested in, so he made his resume configurable and searchable. He’s making employers search to find what they need, and that’s an easy way to get your resume rejected, hiring professionals said.

Second, Silberberg’s unconventional approach breaks the hiring manager’s process. “Instead of the typical PDF or Word document, this is a site you have to go through,” Labick said. “Just to access it and look at it, they have to put some energy into it. Many people will just dismiss it out of hand. They’ll say, ‘I don’t have time to go to a URL.’ ”

The old hide-the-work-gap trick

The most common trick seen by Bruce Hurwitz, president and CEO of Hurwitz Strategic Staffing Ltd., is when job seekers try to cover up work-history gaps by omitting years of employment or by submitting a functional resume that leaves out a chronological job list.

“It never works,” Hurwitz said, because “someone always asks” about the timeline.

Tricks don’t make up for lack of experience

Terry Hanrahan, the owner of TD3 Products LLC, recalled looking for a a lower-level software/firmware programmer. One resume that stood out was printed on thick, beige, textured parchment with brown ink, three pages long and sent in a 9-by-12-inch envelope instead of being folded. Hanrahan’s staff noticed that one stack of resumes had a particular odor. The parchment was the culprit. “I’m not sure what cologne or perfume was used, but it did get our attention — though not in a positive way,” he said.

Still, smelly-resume guy seemed to have the requisite experience and keywords, so TD3 brought him in for an interview. During the interview, they realized he must have used a resume service but not studied his own document, since the candidate had “almost no working knowledge of any of the buzzwords on his resume and likely someone else had composed most of it for him,” Hanrahan said. “He perhaps knew that his meager qualifications would not warrant any further attention without some sort of trick.”

Since then, Hanrahan has been wary of “any resumes that aren’t on plain white copy paper, with black ink, non-scented,” he said.

Hiring managers are on to the big-fonts trick

Some job seekers who don’t have much to say try to mask it with fonts, according to Hurwitz. “They use a 14- or 16-point font,” he said, a trick that only “highlights the lack of content on the page and the inability of the candidate to market herself.”

If you really, really have to be unconventional…

Hiring managers want something clear, concise and compelling. But if you insist on ditching the conventional, bear this in mind: You’d better make it spectacular. “It’s got to be great,” Labick said. “It’s got to be easy to process. You’ve increased the hurdle for yourself by going outside the norm. It better hit your target.”