A reader writes:
A former colleague was recently released from the company we both used to work for and emailed me to see if I would recommend him for a position with my current employer. I have no problem with the recommendation, he’s a hard worker and forms business relationships easily. I know he’ll do well in our industry. My question is regarding his resume. It’s terrible… poorly formatted (actually not at all formatted), full of punctuation and spelling mistakes, and does not at all highlight his skills. I just don’t know where to start with him. He and I are not friends outside of being former coworkers, and I am not entirely comfortable saying “Hey, this resume needs some work.” Any advice on how I might approach this?
Definitely tell him! First, you’ll be doing him a favor by bringing this to his attention before he gets much further in his job search. And second, you absolutely shouldn’t harm your own reputation by recommending a candidate who appears terrible on paper. By recommending him, you’re essentially giving him your stamp of approval — so you can’t do it if he’s going to reflect poorly on you.
Say something like this: “I’d love to recommend you for this role, and I think you’d be great at it. But so that someone who doesn’t know you would see the strength of your candidacy, could you do a version of your resume that emphasizes X and Y, and make sure it’s proofread and formatted and everything? Send me the new version and I’d love to pass it along with a recommendation.”
If he balks, this isn’t someone you want to recommend for a job, believe me.
And if the next version comes back and is still something that would embarrass you to have as your own, do not just give in and pass it along at that point — because, again, your reputation is on the line here. At that point, I’d say, “Joe, I’m so glad you’re interested in this job but I know that the people hiring for this job aren’t going to be able to get past the lack of formatting and errors in here! I wonder if it would help to talk with someone who helps with resumes to get it cleaned up a bit?”
And if you feel bad about not just giving in and passing it along anyway, remember that you’ve given him the specific guidance he needs and he’s chosen not to take it. And while it’s his prerogative not to take your advice, it’s your prerogative not to stick your neck out for something you think is shoddy quality. Of course it’s possible that he’s tried to take your advice and just doesn’t have the ability to do it well, but that leads to this bigger-picture question:
Are you absolutely sure that someone who sends a resume like this in the first place is someone you want to recommend? It speaks to lack of attention to detail and lack of care about how he presents himself, and while I suppose there are some jobs out there where those things don’t matter, it’s hard for me to imagine a situation where you’d want your reputation riding on someone who fits that profile.
I’m not saying that resume-writing should be a universal skill (far from it), but things like proofreading your work and conveying information clearly — and knowing how to find help when you need it — are characteristics you probably want in someone you’re recommending.