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What Recruiters Hate About Résumés And Cover Letters

  • Article by: Kevin Donlin
  • Star Tribune Sales and Marketing
  • June 12, 2008 - 10:42 AM

I'm going to share with you the awful truth about résumés and cover letters.

Here it is: Most of them stink.

I've read nearly 15,000 résumés and cover letters over the years and found glaring mistakes in about 85-90 percent of them.

It's also the opinion of most of the hiring professionals I've spoken to over the years.


Where do most résumés and cover letters go wrong? How can you avoid the mistakes of most job seekers?

To find answers, I spoke with two experienced recruiters. Their candid advice can help you avoid typical pitfalls, and get hired faster.

Here it is ...

Don't Use The Same Résumé For Every Job

Would you grab any old suit off the rack and rush off to church to get married? No. First, you tailor the suit so it fits. That way, you don't look ridiculous.

Unfortunately, job seekers look ridiculous applying for jobs without tailoring their résumés. It's a real pet peeve of most hiring professionals, including Larry Harris, a Minneapolis-based recruiter and President of American Consulting (

"Why don't candidates customize every résumé they send out, to fit the job they're applying for? That makes my job a lot easier when I forward that résumé to my client, the hiring manager."

According to Tony Haley, Director of UK-based Fenton Chase International (, most résumés come across as generic, with no consideration about a particular position or company.


"The most surprising group of candidates who do this is Sales Managers and Sales Directors. These people spend their days reviewing résumés from candidates and yet when it comes to their own, they cannot sell themselves," says Haley.


Customize, customize, customize.

Tailor your résumé for every different company, position, and manager. Detail experiences most relevant to each opportunity.

Don't Be Boring

A boring résumé is one of the worst sins. The rule of thumb is simple: If they snooze, you lose (because your résumé will go in the trash).

Résumés filled with jargon, dry job descriptions, and lack of specific results bore the reader, according to Haley.

"Consider the reader. Remember, the people reading your résumé might not be that proficient at it. If they cannot see what they are looking for almost immediately, they might reject it, and if it's full of technical jargon, they might not understand it," says Haley.


Read your résumé to 2-3 friends to eliminate dull wording. You lost the audience if eyes glaze over or brows furrow. Revise the résumé until it holds your friends' attention to the end.

Haley offers another way to create a compelling résumé: "Use the 'So, what?' test. Any sentence on a résumé that causes a reader to think 'So, what?' probably means it's waffle. Reword it or take it off."

Don't Forget The Cover Letter

Don't alienate anyone who could help you get a job.

A missing cover letter alienates busy hiring professionals because it creates more work. They spend time trying to match your application to the open position and more time trying to uncover how you heard about the job.


Write and include a cover letter with every résumé, including those you send by e-mail.

Even a one-line cover letter in an e-mail is better than nothing, according to Larry Harris.

"You could simply write, 'I'm applying for your telemarketing software sales position. I spent five years doing that exact job. I'd be perfect for it!" he says.

Use these tips from hiring professionals to write a better résumé and cover letter next time you apply for that dream job.

Now, go out and make your own luck!


Kevin Donlin owns Minnesota based Guaranteed Résumé and writes a biweekly column providing job search and résumé writing advice. Reach him at the Guaranteed Résumé Web site:

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