recruiter wants to change my resume

A reader writes:

I recently responded to a job listing on a recruiter’s website. I was called in for an interview, which consisted of me sitting in the waiting room for an hour and a half to talk to someone for three minutes, in which I pretty much just read her my resume.

I got a call from another recruiter about an hour later, which I missed, and she left a voicemail explaining that she was taking off a job from my resume before she submits it. She didn’t ask — just told me she was going to do it. It was a legitimate sales position, in which the majority of my work would consist of meeting monthly sales goals. I’m looking for a position in marketing, so it seems important to have some sort of sales background. It’s a job I held last year, so it’s not too old. It was at a tanning salon, which is why I’m assuming she took it off. However if she had read my resume, she should know that I wasn’t spray painting people orange, I actually had a lot of responsibility.

She left another, older retail position on there, in which I had much less responsibility. So now I have a year and a half long gap in my resume that I can’t account for. Is this normal recruiter practice? I have to admit, I’m a little insulted.

I’ve heard lots of stories of recruiters taking things off people’s resumes or otherwise changing their resumes — sometimes without even telling them, which causes lots of problems when you’re in an interview and realize the hiring manager you’re talking to has a version of your resume that you’ve never seen.

Some recruiters might legitimately be improving your resume; others might not. The key, I think, is to understand why they’re making the changes and to ensure that you sign off on the final version before it’s submitted.

So in your case, I’d ask her to explain why she was taking that job off, and explain why you think it should be left on. Once you talk about it, if she still wants to take it off, you can decide if you’re convinced by her explanation or not. Of course, if you refuse, she can certainly decide not to submit your candidacy for the job, but if you’re really a strong candidate with a reasonable resume, that probably won’t happen. (The recruiter’s side of this: The candidates she submits reflect on her, and it’s reasonable for her not to submit a resume that she doesn’t think makes the reason for the match clear.)

By the way, it’s important to make sure that you’re working with a good recruiting firm. I can’t tell from your email if the non-interview interview that you described in your first paragraph was with the same recruiting company that later called to say they were rewriting your resume, but if it was, that’s two red flags at the same company, so I’d proceed with caution. (Actually, the non-interview interview on its own should probably be a deal-breaker.)

You might be thinking that even if these recruiters don’t do you any good, they at least can’t do you any harm, but that’s not necessarily true: Bad ones will rewrite your resume in inaccurate or ineffective ways, submit your resume for jobs without your permission (which can be a problem if you’re working with another recruiter on that same job, because now the employer has to deal with two recruiters fighting over that commission), push you to interview for jobs you’re not interested in, and even misrepresent key details of the job or company to you.

There are plenty of good recruiting firms out there too, but you should be cautious about who you work with.

{ 41 comments… read them below }

  1. Piper*

    Oooooh, this happened to me and I didn’t find out about it until I was sitting in a second interview. The first had been over the phone and they wanted me to walk them through my resume. I didn’t realize until the second interview that I had walked them through a completely different resume than the one they had. Fortunately, they were savvy enough to check LinkedIn, which matched up with the my real resume.

    The recruiter had essentially dumbed down my resume because the position was a lower level job – changed a director title to a coordinator, changed a coordinator position to a ‘graphic designer’ and had taken off a lot of my real accomplishments that demonstrated management and leadership skills. So. Uh. Yeah.

    But on a brighter note, the rest of my experiences with that firm were really good. It was just that resume issue that caused a bit of a hiccup.

  2. Question-Asker*

    I’m the one who submitted this question – thanks so much for answering!

    Yes, this was the same recruiting company. I submitted my resume to one person working there, interviewed with another, and then the original person is the one that called me complaining about my resume.

    I had pretty much written off the company after I had the “interview” and then the voicemail afterwards cemented it for me. Not only did she edit my resume (which I totally would understand if it were legitimate) but she submitted my resume without any confirmation that it was okay for her to change it, and she spoke very rudely… kind of like I was an idiot for putting that job on my resume at all! Ugh!

    Luckily I got a great job offer yesterday, which I accepted, so I don’t have to worry about that company anymore!

    1. Josh S*

      You want to go back to the recruiter(s) and tell them that A) you have a position and no longer require their services, and B) you want them to remove your resume/information from their pool of candidates, and C) don’t ever contact me.

      Normally, for a legit, good recruiting agency, A is sufficient. But for the sketchy ones (which these guys seem to be), if you don’t specifically say B, you may find that they continue to shop your resume around to different companies, potentially with even more changes. And if you don’t say C, you may find that they continue to contact you from time to time to try to poach you from your current job to one of their clients. (This is annoying and may concern your current employer if they think you might still be job-hunting.)

      I wish the bad recruiters didn’t exist. But they do.

      Oh, and CONGRATS on the new job!

  3. Anonymous*

    You can always say, you worked at a tanning salon if they ask about the gap but tell them it didn’t seem relevant.

    On another note: Most people don’t really read your resume, they look at where you worked and your position and listen to what you say you did there…

    1. Anonymous*

      Huh? Looking at your position and where you worked IS reading your resume. Or do you mean they don’t read your descriptions and responsibilities? Because I am not sure that’s true of most people either…

      1. Ellie H.*

        Yeah no kidding – what is a resume besides information about where you worked, your position there and a concise description of what you accomplished there?

    2. Anon.*

      Why should the OP cover for the recruiter? I would certainly make sure the interviewer had the correct version of my resume! Always bring extra hard copies!

  4. Anonymous*

    I’m working with one recruiter who asked if he could change my current job title and add “lead” to it since that’s essentially what I’ve been doing. At least he asked. I politely declined and told him I would not be comfortable with that. If I’m going to change my title from what it actually is, rest assured that the phrases El Conquistador and Imperial Galactic Commander will be used.

    1. Josh S*

      I am helping with a small tech startup as a sideline to my normal work. They’re paying me for my general business/executive expertise. (Hah!)

      As part of setting everything up, I told the other founders that we could pick our own titles (since they’re in their 20s, I thought this might appeal to them).

      I was kind of hoping to be the Grand Poobah of something. :) Owning your own company is great because you can make your title whatever you want.

      We decided on going with the more conservative Director of _____ and/or VP of ______. More boring. Oh well.

      1. Rebecca*

        I’m also helping a start-up on the side. My working title is “She Who Must Be Obeyed.” I’m guessing once they launch my title will evolve to something a little more conservative, but we’ll see!

        1. Josh S*

          But wouldn’t it be fun, just once, to send in a resume that had the following line on it:

          Some Company – “She Who Must Be Obeyed” (2012-2013)

          I would imagine it wouldn’t go over too well, but it would be fun to do.

  5. Kelly O*

    This is a total soapbox issue for me, and I’ve dealt with some good recruiters and some not so great ones in the past.

    Most recently the guy who suggested I basically lie about my husband’s job, because when he asked me why I left each job, I had two on there that were due to relocating for my spouse’s work. (This is also the guy who told me he had plenty of opportunities to submit my resume to in our interview, but now I mysteriously want too much money for anything he has.)

    I had one (several years ago) who rewrote my resume and submitted it without telling me about the change. I looked a fool in the interview and was fortunate to have my own resume readily available. That time, it was clear the position this recruiter submitted me for was not at all anything I’d be interested in or have any experience in, but the potential employer and I had two different stories.

    More recently I had a recruiter call me about an inside sales position, swearing up and down I’d applied for it. I can tell y’all one thing for certain, I wouldn’t apply for ANY sales position, inside or other, and this particular recruiter got peeved when I wouldn’t come in and meet her for “whatever else” she might have. (Quite frankly I’m tired of filling out paperwork and having to provide my Social and drivers’ license before I can even find out about the job – and then of course nine times out of ten, that job is mysteriously filled or not available.)

    I just do not for the life of me understand how these companies work. I have one here in Houston that’s been great to work with, and I had a couple of good interactions in Dallas, but overall I have been underwhelmed by recruiters and agencies.

    (Have I told y’all the time I told a recruiter that I’d like to talk to her about the position before I filled out all the paperwork, and they not only refused to even talk to me, but had someone “escort” me out since I would not “follow the rules.” Let’s just say I got burned real quick on that particular large, nationwide recruiting agency.)

    1. Lauren*

      Good recruiters that are not admin asst recruiters don’t work that way. Usually they jump at a real candidate with experience, and do phone screens and don’t waste time having you meet the recruiting team for no reason. They want you in front of the actual employer on the phone first then in person. The best recruiters I have worked with never meet me, but call / email / text everyday and make sure that I don’t waste time going to their office if I am currently working. The best recruiters know immediately when you are not right for a job, and will tell you the truth. Fake recruiters in my opinion tend to be hoarding resumes to look busy because they don’t have any jobs to fill, but can’t tell people that so lie about filled positions. Its an instant sign of BS sample job listings, if the job the recruiter talks about doesn’t have a title or an industry when you ask. If you can’t learn the title or industry, run! I get when you can’t know the company name, but I call BS when you can’t get a straight answer in under 1 min. It’s not hard. Title = Digital Marketing Specialist, Industry = travel. They don’t need to tell you the company is TripAdvisor. If the recruiter says , “well the title hasn’t been defined as of yet”, run.

      1. Kelly O*

        Seriously I have never met the best recruiter I ever worked with. She called me, we talked, I went on an interview and was hired less than a week later. She kept in touch, and checked in at points during my first six months to be sure things were going well.

          1. Kelly O*

            No. I’m not even in the same market as her now. Believe me, if I were I’d be her very best friend right about now. (Although if I still were, I’d probably still be where she placed me. She was really good at putting people in the right places.)

    2. ChristineH*

      Oh goodness…you’d think the nationally-known agencies would be especially helpful! I guess, as with any large company, you lose that warm, fuzzy feeling that comes with a big corporation.

      1. ChristineH*

        “you lose that warm, fuzzy feeling that comes with a big corporation.” – whoops, I mean “that comes with a smaller, more local agency”.

  6. K Too*

    Ugh, I had my fair share of bad external recruiters last year. Three times was enough for me.

    It seems like most people I’ve spoken to have had horrible experiences with external recruiters. I probably have a “few” peers that were offered a job because of a recruiter.

    I recently got a job offer a few weeks ago , thankfully, without the help of a recruiter.

  7. Chocolate Teapot*

    Recruiters are a mixed bag. I have worked with some good ones, and others where the impression I got was that it was essential to get candidates into the database. From what I understand, if my CV was re-written, it was to correspond to a standard format, or to remove personal information.

    I once submitted my CV to one recruiter, who called me on my mobile phone at my then job, and sounded annoyed when I didn’t want an interview there and then! I was happy to have a short call in which an appointment was set up after hours, but not the whole going through CV conversation!

    Perhaps that’s another question for this blog. How to handle recruiters who think it’s ok to talk about job hunting when you are currently working (and don’t want to make it known you are looking elsewhere)?

    1. Anon*

      When I’ve job hunted in the past, I don’t answer my cell phone at work, nor do I have my work phone on my resume, when a recruiter calls (usually, it’s pretty obvious, because it’s typically a number I do not recognize). If they leave a message, I’ll contact them after work (or at lunch, when I’m in a place I’m comfortable to talk). If they also send me an email, I’ll follow up with them there about how email is my preferred method of communication and that I’m happy to call them at a later time if not. If that doesn’t work for them, then we are probably not going to be compatible with them trying to place me somewhere.

      The last recruiter I worked with was FANTASTIC. He never got mad when I didn’t answer my phone right away, and was very responsive to emails. And when we were closing the offer on the job that I now have, he even followed up with me on his vacation day to make sure the offer went smoothly and was everything I expected it to be.

      So personally, if a recruiter can’t respect your boundaries when you want to communicate and how you best communicate (especially during your work hours), then they may not listen to your wishes when you tell them what kind of position you’re looking for and try to place you in something you don’t want, and I wouldn’t want to work with someone like that.

  8. Anonymous*

    External recruiters are very much a mixed bag. My experiences with them overall have been pretty here nor there.

    One thing I seem to get on occasion with third party recruiters are the ones who email me instead of calling me and attach a little contract saying that only that agency can represent me in that particular position. Is that usual? I never really saw that before until recently.

    1. Pamela G*

      We get that here in Australia – sometimes companies will go through a particular agency to fill a position, rather than advertising the job generally. So if your name isn’t with that recruiter, you won’t be able to put yourself forward for that job. It’s not hugely common, though.

    2. Anon*

      I’ve seen that contract when they’ve tried to submit me for positions at *insert large software company here*. I think it’s because that particular company has several external recruiting firms working for it, and they’re all trying to get the commission on placing a candidate in those roles. But I don’t usually see the contract for many other roles outside of that company.

  9. Scott Woode*

    I had been working with several recruiters in my area (about 5) in an effort to stay employed through temping while also keeping multiple eyes and ears out for jobs while I was working part-time at a bookstore and applying for gigs in my spare time. Two months of living in an inferno, truly. Most of the recruiters I worked with were, suffice it to say, crap. I would get calls about jobs that were far below my skill level, or not even in my area of expertise. There were calls about jobs that I would follow up on in a couple of hours (read: 2 hours later) and the job that I was a “superb candidate” for had mysteriously been filled. My contact at one recruiting agency mysteriously vanished when I tried to call him and it was 3 weeks later that I received a phone call saying he had moved on to another opportunity. I had never received notice about this. However, my story does end on a positive note. After working with one agency for a couple days I was able to land the job I have now as a temp. Within two months I was hired on full time.

    I guess it’s a shot in the dark whether a recruiter will work for/with you or against you. It seems to me, especially after having read so much of AAM’s opinions/practices on hiring as well as the forums that follow in the comments, that most (if not all) recruiters could do with a seminar taught by our beloved blogger about how to interview candidates. Maybe how to act like a professional when interacting with people as well, given the horror stories I’ve heard and that have been shared here.

  10. Lauren*

    I love recruiters that find me on linkedin and call my current company, and tell the answerer (usually a receptionist with a big mouth, or in my case, the president cause his phone # was the main number) that he is Joe Smith from XYZ Recruiters and that he wants to speak to Lauren. Lol, hello not every company is 1000+ people with a switchboard. Learn some discretion people. Be a cousin, an uncle, a friend, anyone, but dont be an idiot and tell your full name or company name cause you will be googled and I look like I am looking for work even when its a cold call.

  11. Mark*

    When I worked as a contractor for the federal government I saw a somewhat similar practice. Getting a job as a federal contractor is a two-fold process; first, you interview with and impress the contractor personnel. After that, the contractor short lists you and you and the other candidates will interview with whoever is administering the contract, a federal employee. The second interview with the feds usually involves reformatting your resume to a federal style, since this is the style of resume they are acustomed to seeing.

    Anyone familiar with a federal resume knows there are significant differences between that and a private sector resume. First and foremost, length. Federal resumes list your entire employment history and educational background, in detail, itemized, which generally means that even if you’ve only been working career for a year or two, you’ll end up with a resume that’s 2-3 pages in length.

    My last round of interviews for a contractor, they reformatted my resume for me. They told me what they were doing it and provided it to me well in advance of my interview. They definitely changed some titles around and fleshed out a lot of things that I know a private sector hiring manager wouldn’t have bothered reading. But the federal government is very strange in its hiring practices.

  12. ChristineH*

    Ha! You guys are lucky you even GET calls from recruiters that you’ve registered with! I have had no luck whatsoever with temp agencies; most times, it seems my application ends up in the black hole.

    The one agency that did call me regularly tried to give me jobs that were not accessible to me, which I thought I made clear on my application (this was over 10 years ago; I lived in a rural area at the time and, since I can’t drive, I had to stick with jobs that were on my husband’s route to his job). I finally accepted a data entry position with a clothing manufacturer, but they misrepresented the computer program I’d be using, and I ended up only lasting one day because I didn’t satisfy their productivity level.

  13. ChristineH*

    Oh, I did have a question about temp agencies/recruiters: On an agency’s website, would you say that the job listings is typically reflective of ALL open positions? I asked this question on LinkedIn also, and most people said that either those positions are hard to fill, or they’re looking to attract new candidates (that is, not draw from their existing pool).

  14. Anonymous*

    I was let go (technically asked to resign) about 4 years ago because of a conflict with my boss. I know this is a huge red flag because that pattern tends to repeat at every job but this truly was a one-off situation. I was really having a hard time landing another job because it was tough to explain why I was let go in interviews without sounding like I’m tough to get along with. I finally decided to try contracting and was sent for an interview. I was told not to mention being let go unless directly asked. I was shocked and pleasantly surprised when it was never mentioned at all. Surely an interviewer would bring that up even if they were OK with hiring people who have been fired? I got the job and found out later the staffing company had altered my resume. While they didn’t remove the dates of employment, it certainly read like I was still at the job (I saw the resume they submitted). They also faxed it over which made the entire thing difficult to read. That also explains why they thought it was odd I could start immediately.

  15. Joe*

    Alison, is there any possibility of legal recourse against a recruiter who screws around with your resume, submits without your permission, etc? I can think of a number of possible avenues for legal action: potential loss of income (if a job you wanted won’t interview because the recruiter changed your resume, or submitted without permission to a job you were already in for), fraud (or even libel?) for misrepresenting you to a potential employer, maybe even breach of contract (or something of that ilk) if you tell them they only have permission to submit your resume as-is for Job X, and they change it or submit it to Job Y.

    If you could hit these jerks where it hurts (their wallets), maybe they’d stop doing it. Is there any legal precedent around this one way or the other?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Good question. I’m not a lawyer, but I suspect not, unless you have a specific written agreement that prohibits it. Otherwise you’d need to prove that you would have gotten the job otherwise, which would be difficult/impossible to prove.

  16. Alisha*

    This happened to me recently and it led to one of the three interviews I’ve been on since getting laid off. So I guess that’s the upside. The downside was that the position was in no way a fit. The recruiter sent me a description of the position that made it sound like it perfectly aligned with my skills, and I also got materials from the company that created an image of a lovely company culture. After two rounds of interviews, I withdrew my application, because both the job and the company were the opposite of what was described.

    The recruiter later admitted he’d had trouble getting people in the door, and he wanted to try me out as a last-ditch effort in getting this position filled.

    This was six weeks ago. The position’s been open for half a year, and it’s still open. That speaks volumes.

  17. David F.*

    I had this happen to me about 8 years ago in NYC. A direct hire recruiter called me up one day and wanted to discuss financial jobs. At the time I was more concerned about getting my masters degree and didn’t want to make a long-term commitment to any company. The recruiter also had short-term consulting jobs and asked me to “dumb down” my resume to make it easier to get me a consulting job – for some reason she thought my resume showed I was over-qualified for the consulting positions. At the time I thought it was a totally weird and somewhat unethical request. I dumbed it down based on her suggestions but felt really weird about it. Fortunately nothing happened in relation to that alteration request – I ended up working for another division in the recruiter’s company as a project manager, later as an account manager, and even later as a marketing manager. I would say stick with your gut feelings – if the request sounds fishy, find another recruiter (which is something I should have done).

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