After failing to land a single interview for a 2002 summer internship, Rani Yadav, then a Harvard University junior, was stymied. Her resume flaunted a 3.7 grade-point average, membership to various student organizations and work experience as a teacher and more.
What was wrong? The one-page document was too packed with details for recruiters to notice the highlights.
They do now.
That summer, Yadav sought advice from career counselors, company recruiters and friends, and then gave her resume a makeover. In the fall, she sent the revised version to employers in hopes of landing a job after graduation. The economics major scored nine interviews and is now deciding between three offers for positions at consulting firms.
If company recruiters aren't calling after receiving your resume, perhaps the document needs some touching up. You could be too close to it to see that it may be confusing, error-ridden or missing key information. Review this list of flaws commonly found in seniors' resumes:
- Grammar and spelling errors. Most recruiters aren't lenient when it comes to these gaffes. "I just got a resume that reads 'it's customer' and not 'its customer.' My computer even has it highlighted as wrong," says Tom Thivierge, director of talent acquisition at General Motors Corp. in Detroit. "These are basic skills that demonstrate attention to detail. If someone can't do that right on a resume, it doesn't speak well for how they'd do every day on the job." Have someone else proofread your resume.
- Fudged names. Which is the correct spelling of this popular beverage company?
(a) Dr. Pepper-7 Up Inc.
(b) Dr Pepper/7-Up Inc.
(c) Dr. Pepper/Seven Up Inc.
(d) Dr Pepper/Seven Up Inc.
"It's a little tricky because the name has changed a lot over the years, but all you need to do is go to our Web site," says Mark Asher, resourcing manager at (d) Dr Pepper/Seven Up Inc. in Plano, Texas.
Many applicants make this mistake, which shows they aren't detail-oriented, says a company spokeswoman.
In general, you want to be extra cautious when applying to companies with thorny names. Take eBay, ZiLOG and Qantas Airways, for example. The same goes for ones that have numbers or hyphens in their names such as 3M, 1-800-FLOWERS.COM and 7-Eleven.
- Botched contact information. About 10% of students' resumes sent to General Motors cite incorrect e-mail addresses, home addresses and telephone numbers, says Thivierge. "My preferred method of [contacting applicants] is e-mail and it's unbelievable how often I get delivery-failure messages," he says.
- Stating responsibilities instead of results. Seniors' work histories should include their accomplishments, not just a list of duties, says Mike Cooney director of human resources for PGA TOUR Inc., the nation's largest professional golf association in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. He cites the resume of a senior seeking a marketing job as a good example. Under work history, it reads: "Head water coach of school's men's and women's crew teams, which consistently placed in the top three ranks at state competitions." "That tells me not only is this candidate a supervisor, but she's a successful one," he says. This and other statements of accomplishments "proves that this applicant has achieved real positive results throughout her work," Cooney says.
- Using too many words. Instead of complete sentences, use bulleted phrases to impart key accomplishments, Yadav recommends. "Your resume will be a lot easier to read," she says. She learned of the technique from corporate recruiters. "I approached them at campus career events by asking questions about their businesses," she says. "Then I e-mailed them to say thanks for talking to me and asked if I could send them my resume for hints on how to improve it." Almost everyone consented. "They e-mailed my resume back with corrections, mostly pointing out ways to make it briefer and more concise," says Yadav.
- Distracting formatting. Too many headlines or italicized statements can be confusing. Capitalize or use boldface type for only your most critical information, such as the name of your school and major. "You want interviewers to focus right away on the fact that you went to a particular school and earned a certain degree," says Marc Cosentino, associate director of career services at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Mass. Additionally, consider using justified text, as some recruiters prefer it. "Jagged edges slow the eye more," says Cosentino.
- Exaggerations and lies. When referring to a past gas-station-attendant job, one student described himself as a "petroleum-transfer engineer," says Steve Colbourn, U.S. campus recruiting director for Accenture Ltd., a Chicago-based consulting firm. The description amused him but didn't help the candidate. Another applicant used five lines to describe a job she held as a sales associate at The Gap. "She could've done it in one line and traded that space for writing about participation in a group project or a leadership experience," he says.
But the worst offense may be lying, says Paul Kurth, manager of university relations at Dell Computer Corp. in Round Rock, Texas. "If an interviewer believes an applicant in any way has been less than truthful, his or her candidacy is over," he says. Most commonly misrepresented are G.P.A. scores. For example, when a Dell recruiter asked an applicant about his during a recent interview, "the candidate became rattled and admitted to being dishonest," says Kurth. Other frequent fibs are false portrayals of candidates as leaders of organizations or members of clubs that aren't on campus, he adds.
- Organizational problems. List your work history chronologically unless your last job wasn't related to your career goals, like painting houses or tending bar. Lead with the most relevant positions under the heading "Professional Experience" and group the rest under "Other Experience." This technique recently helped Andrea Mazza, a 2001 business administration and marketing graduate of Delaware University, land a job as a media and traffic coordinator at an advertising agency in Hoboken, N.J.
Mazza was laid off in 2002 from her first post-college job as an account coordinator at a public-relations firm due to fallout from Sept. 11. After several months of unsuccessful searching, she revised her resume so it began with a section about her relevant professional experience, followed by information on less-important jobs. "I wanted employers to focus on my internships and work-related experiences first, even though I did jobs like waiting tables more recently," she says. "I also didn't want to exclude the nonprofessional jobs because they show that I'm a team player and responsible."
- Wacky presentations. Don't expect weird or outrageous formats to garner the right kind of attention, say recruiters. Kurth received a resume printed on the back of a glossy photo of the candidate and one printed diagonally with sentences spanning about 13 inches. "These resumes show that the candidates are disconnected with how business is done," he says.
And one student simply listed and sent his grades to Scott Byrnes, director of health-care recruiting for Sheila Greco Associates LLC, a human-resources management firm in Amsterdam, N.Y. "That tells me he didn't take the time to research how to write a professional-looking resume," he says.