Funny things I’ve seen in resumes

I’ve probably blogged about this somewhere before, a LONG LONG time ago.  I had a sheet of paper on my desk with some of the funny things I’ve seen people write in resumes, and as I’m cleaning out my desk, I thought this would be a good time to just write some of them out so that I don’t lose them.  Every time I see these, they crack me up. This is also a good list of things you shouldn’t put into your resume.  Some of them were brilliant, others were devastating.

1.  Aiming high.

We were looking to hire a co-op student, junior programmer, and he had this to say in his cover letter:

“I have ideas about how to organize staff, optimize hardware, improve software & eliminate any inefficiency you might have.  All my new ideas bring profit.”

Alas, we already had an executive team – and the company was only a year old so our inefficiencies were pretty limited at the time.  However, we were never convinced that he would be a great programmer that could focus on the task at hand – and not be side tracked into trying to find news ways to bring us profit.

2. A little too short

Another applicant for a similar position took a completely different approach.  Instead of writing a cover letter, the applicant simply wrote out a couple of points on his resume, with the whole thing taking up less than half a page – and with pretty much no formatting. My favorite part of the resume was the final two lines:

“After work
Skydiving, rock climing, bungee jumping, animation, RC airplanes”

Aside from the complete lack of punctuation (there was not a single period in the entire resume), all I really got out of this was that the applicant liked putting his life in jeopardy and couldn’t write full sentences.  He didn’t merit an interview either.

3. Who wrote the resume?

How you present yourself is pretty important, and worth thinking about as well.  One of my all time favorites was from an applicant that referred to him/herself in the third person periodically – in bold typeface – throughout the resume.  Every section would look something like this:

“FIT: Jane Doe Likes People, and People Seem to Like Her”

It was creative, but just a little creepy. I have to give them credit for trying, and even more so for the footnote at the bottom of the resume:

“Don’t worry, Jane Doe doesn’t speak in the third person in interviews.”

I really hope not – but I don’t seem to recall having put that to the test.  In hindsight, I wish I had.

4. Mission accomplished.

Cover letter writing can be a hard job.  Not everyone really gets how to do it well – after all, it really has two parts to it: selling yourself and responding to the job post.  Getting that done well is a true skill – and an under appreciated one at that.

However, sometimes people aim a little low and make the mistake of writing things like:

“My objective is to apply for a job at your company.”

Needless to say, by the time someone at the company has received your resume, you deserve a pat on the back for having accomplished exactly what you set out to do.  I hope that the applicant aimed higher the next time and had the objective of getting the interview at least.

5. Hobbies

The hobbies section can back fire on a resume.  When it works, you can create an instant connection or provide interesting bits and pieces to discuss during an interview.  For instance, I found myself discussing music once with someone who had made a point of mentioning their interest in classical music.  An instant bond can sometimes be as simple as that.

However, beware the person who puts down obscure, or somewhat embarrassing hobbies. My all time favorite was the person who emphasized:

“Making Kung-Fu Movies”

I always wonder what adventures we might have had, if we’d have hired that applicant.

6. Linguistic/Cultural issues

It’s difficult enough to apply for jobs when you speak the same language as the employer, but it must be something even more difficult when it’s in a language you don’t speak fluently.  However, sometimes the barriers are beyond a simple language barrier – which can themselves be hard enough to overcome.

One in particular stands out with a bold header that started off with something like:

“I am the author of a discovery.”

It was a strange enough way to start, but the rest of the resume was a mashup of emails the applicant had exchanged from renowned people in his field, as well as a narrative story of the trials he/she had faced in their career.  The whole thing was entirely unprofessional and I have always wondered if it was a cultural thing, a linguistic thing, or just simply someone who just really marched to the beat of their own drum.

I do suspect that the applicant could have benefited from an hour or two with an English speaker, and maybe someone who had written or edited resumes for applicants who had achieved some success in their job hunt.

7. Follow up

My last note note to end this post is an email I received after we’d been accepting resumes for a couple of weeks.  I’ve kept this email because it’s a stark reminder to me that you don’t always know what’s going on at the other end – and you can seriously shoot yourself in the foot if you’re not paying attention to details.

“Dear Sir/Madam,

I have called [your company] a couple of times and also i had send my CV and covering letter for the position [title].  As i didn’t hear from you for a long time should i consider as not eligible for this position.

Thank you very much for not showing any interest inspite of my telephone calls.


I do remember the phone calls – which were mercifully not sent to me, but to another colleague.  I don’t think the applicant actually made any friends by repeatedly calling and harassing people at the company about when his interview would be scheduled – and I actually don’t remember the guy’s resume at all.  However, the email he sent put the nail in the coffin in any hopes he had of being hired.

And, naturally, he sent the email about a week before the cut off date that was clearly displayed in the job posting to which he’d applied.  His resume was undoubtedly in the stack that we were going to look through, but It most certainly didn’t make it into the short listed set.


There are a million ways to make yourself look good – and likely a few million more to make yourself look bad.  Take the time to get outside opinions on what you’re putting into your resume, and make sure it showcases your skills and talents, rather than highlighting what could be considered flaws.

While I’m no longer going to carry my little paper around with these jewels on it, I will always remember the fantastic people I got to meet during the interview process.  Being part of a growing company can be a wonderful experience, and the credit always belongs with the applicants – and, of course, the successful new employees.

>Depressing view of Academia

>So I officially started going through available post-doc positions this week, now that I’m back from my vacation. I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do when I finish my PhD next year (assuming I do…), and of course, I came back to the academia vs. industry question.

In weighing the evidence, a friend pointed me to this article on the problems facing new scientists in academia. Somehow, it does a nice job of dissuading me from thinking about going down that route – although I’m not completely convinced industry is the way to go yet either.

Read for yourself: Real Lives and White Lies in the Funding of Scientific Research

>Howto on applying for jobs.

>This post is way off topic for my usual blogging subjects, but it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Ever since my time at the start-up company, where I read several thousand resumes, I’ve had the urge to write out a Howto document for job applicants. It comes out of the frustration of reading hundreds of terribly done resumes, and tens of badly written cover letters. After a while, you figure out what you don’t want to see, which eventually turns into what you do want to see.

Of course, it’s only in first draft mode – I haven’t done much editing on it, but I figure it can only get better from here. My warning is that it’s already 24 pages long without illustrations. Hopefully those will show up in later editions. Comnents and criticisms accepted. (-;