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.

[signed]”

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.

Summary

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.

2 thoughts on “Funny things I’ve seen in resumes

  1. Curious to what you think about summary statements on the resume. I tend to like light-hearted, even funny approaches. My problem is that I feel like a thin red line stands between a clever quip and a personal Chuck Norris joke. It should be noted that I am in the creative industry (Graphic Design and Illustration) and I generally have a little more leeway with things like this.

    Thanks in advance, and great article.

    • I guess I would have to say that it’s a bad idea. Jokes in text format are really hard to pull off well. Unless you’re Douglas Adams or Mark Twain, there’s a good chance your 1-liner is going to look out of place on a summary statement. Although, I do love a good summary statement on a resume, where a candidate can give you great insight into what they think they excel at.

      If you can’t resist throwing in a joke, do it in the cover letter, where it’s totally ok to show more personality – but even then, do it with caution. For all of the wrong reasons, I remember someone trying to make jokes about their Jackie Chan-like moves, which they used to make indie Kung-Fu movies, and their desire to be a coding Ninja. While I laughed, I don’t think it had the effect the applicant was going for.

      Myself, I try to break down the application process into different parts. (As a general rule of thumb – I’m sure it’s different in each field.) The resume is just to show off your skills. The cover letter is to reply to the posted job description (and fill in/explain any questions they might have.) Finally, the interview process is to show off that you’d be a good fit on the team.

      Saving your Chuck Noris jokes for the interview process is probably the best idea – it breaks the ice, just at the right time, when people are looking for you to be personable.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *