3 Reasons Your Resume Will End Up in the Trash

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You know all about getting your resume noticed. (Clean layout! Accomplishments, not duties!) But do you know what’s on the flip side? What you might be doing that could cause recruiters to overlook your resume—or worse, toss it in the trash?

Gasp! The trash? I know what you’re thinking, but the truth is, recruiters have dozens, even hundreds, of resumes to comb through every day. So, in an effort to cull them down to a reasonable amount, they’ll simply toss any that don’t meet what they’re looking for.

To learn more, I sat down with a few recruiters and asked them about the resumes that make the cut and those that get tossed. Here are three of their deal-breakers.

1. You Don’t Meet the Basic Requirements


First and foremost, review the requirements listed in the job description and confirm that you have the skills and experience the recruiter is looking for. This is the “first knockout factor” for many, says Christina Lord, a technical recruiter at Dealer.com. “Make sure you look at the requirements before applying to the job, and identify if your skills are a match,” she says.

Sounds basic, but job seekers make this mistake more often than you might think, thanks to career counselors and advice websites that say to go ahead and apply for a job even without all of the qualifications. And while you shouldn’t be afraid to aim high, no amount of resume tailoring will cover for the fact that you only have three years of management experience, not 10, or don’t have the technical skills required to do the job. “Resumes just won’t be considered if the basic skills aren’t there,” agrees Joanna Thomas, a human resources professional at an agency in Burlington, VT.

A similar mistake: You have the basic requirements, but they’re obscured by extra or unnecessary information. “Lay it out simply for me—that means less investigation I’ll have to do,” says Thomas. For example, if you’re applying for a position in marketing, but your experience is a combination of marketing and sales, tailor your resume to focus on your marketing experience and skills, and minimize—or even remove—the sales information.

2. You’re Not a Culture Fit

It’s of utmost importance to recruiters to find a candidate who’s a “cultural fit as well as a skill set fit,” according to Thomas. They love when a candidate “gets it”—and they’ll toss your resume if you look like “just someone looking for a job.” (Think summary statements that cover a wide range of skills and industries, or cover letters that don’t mention the company by name—or at all.)

To avoid the circular file, you’ll want to tweak your resume based on the position and company, making deliberate connections of how your experience, skills, and personality are a perfect fit for the job. Use industry terms, spell out accomplishments that you know will make an impact, and don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through. Thomas remembers an applicant who listed, “I’ll drink an iced Americano any time, day or night” under the interests section, which not only revealed the applicant’s “personality and sense of humor,” it was a great fit for Thomas’ agency, a highly creative design firm with its own specialty coffee shop in the basement.

Resume in the Trash

Image: trash can on tile floor, Shutterstock

3. You Don’t Pay Attention to Detail

When it comes to your resume, the devil is quite often in the details. Recruiters get annoyed by small things that you may not think of—like whether or not the text on your cover letter and resume is the same font and size (it should be), if your margins are off (makes it tricky for us to print), or to whom you’ve addressed the cover letter (it should be the recruiter’s name, not “sir,” “madam,” or “to whom it may concern”).

They’ll also take note if you don’t include everything the job posting asks you to send. A cover letter and resume? What about work or writing samples? Be sure to include everything that’s asked of you. Also, does the job posting refer to the position as Project Manager II? If so, state that in your cover letter, exactly—don’t write Proj. Mgr. or Project Manager. Companies put a lot of time into determining job titles, and when a recruiter is looking to fill both the Project Manager and the Project Manager II positions, any ambiguity from you will make it harder for them.

And, it should go without saying, but “one spelling error and I’m out,” says Thomas. Proofreading your own resume is a must, but don’t rely on spell check and grammar check alone—ask family or friends to take a look at it for you. Lord recommends that you “always, always have several eyes look at your resume.”

Applying for a job can often feel like a huge challenge, and knowing that there are so many applicants out there can be daunting. But if you follow these simple rules, you’ll make sure your resume gets past the first hurdle: the trash can. Better yet, if you tailor your resume and make sure it’s a fit to the company and job, you’ll definitely increase your chances of getting to the top of the pile.

This post was originally published at The Daily Muse on 1/21/13.

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