5 things that will send your resume straight to the rejection pile

Your resume is the very first impression that an employer will have of you, and it’s usually the determining factor in whether you move forward to an interview or get rejected on the spot. That means that it’s crucial to put real energy into getting it right – and yet many job seekers put more energy into picking out an interview suit than they do into writing a strong, compelling resume.

These five common mistakes will virtually ensure that your resume goes straight to the reject pile rather than getting further consideration – but are easily avoided.

Mistake #1: Your resume is four pages long – or even longer. It’s true that resumes no longer have to stick rigidly to a single page, but that isn’t license to turn your resume into a lengthy essay. If you’re in your 20s, your resume still should generally only be one page; you haven’t had enough work experience yet to justify a second one. If you’re older than that, two pages are fine, but three will usually raise eyebrows (not in a good way) and anything longer than that will come across as prohibitive self-importance or terrible judgment. In fact, having looked at tends of thousands of resumes, I can tell you that after two pages, there is an inverse relationship between the number of pages of your resume and the strength of your candidacy.

Mistake #2: There’s not much information about what you did in each job – or, conversely, there’s so much information about each job that it’s a challenge to wade through it all.  Your resume needs to contain enough information to explain what you achieved in each job; job titles and a single bullet point describing your work in each role aren’t generally going to be enough. At the same time, though, you can’t include so much information that hiring managers’ eyes glaze over. You’re aiming for highlights, not an exhaustive accounting of everything you did. The idea is to distill your achievements down to what matters most.

Mistake #3: You’re extremely overqualified for the job you’re applying for and don’t address that in your cover letter. When employers get a resume from someone whose skills and experience are far beyond what the role calls for, they’ll usually assume that the candidate is either applying to everything they see or that the person fundamentally misunderstood what the job is. The exception to this is if you explain whyyou’re applying for this particular job, despite it potentially seeming like a step back. That means that if your resume shows qualifications far deeper than the job requires, it needs to be accompanied by a cover letter that explains your interest. For example, you might explain that you’ve realized through experience that front-line accounting work is what you really love, not managing the people doing the accounting work, or that you’re deliberately seeking something with less responsibility than you’ve had in the past in order to obtain a better work-life balance, or whatever your reason is.

Mistake #4: You left all the dates off. Sometimes in an attempt to avoid age discrimination, older candidates will leave the dates of employment off of their resume altogether. The problem with doing this is that employments dates are such a standard part of a resume that leaving them off stands out in a negative way. Plus, those dates are relevant; it matters whether your experience doing relevant work was recent or 15 years ago and whether you did it for six months or for six years. If you’re concerned about avoiding age discrimination, a better option is only include your job history for the last 15 years. Your more recent experience is likely to be the most relevant and interesting to employers anyway.

Mistake #5: You’re obviously resume-bombing. If your application materials make it clear that you’re applying for every job you see that you’re remotely qualified for, you’re going to torpedo your chances. Employers want candidates who are interested in the particular job they’re hiring for, not just any job, and whose work history is a strong match for the role. Candidates who spray out resumes in all directions tend to figure that this approach can’t hurt – but it will waste your time and make a poor impression on employers who otherwise might have considered you in the future.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 131 comments… read them below }

  1. Katie F*

    “If you’re in your 20s, your resume still should generally only be one page; you haven’t had enough work experience yet to justify a second one.”

    I would push back a bit on that. Considering that many of us just now leaving our thirties graduated college right at the beginning of the Recession, I don’t think employers should see a longer list of jobs as necessarily a bad sign. I know I cycled through several short-term jobs, all of which were important stepping stones to where I am now. But I HAD to cycle through them because the economic downturn meant no one was keeping employees long enough to have to actually, um, take care of them in any way. My resume would have been into the second page by age 25.

    1. UnCivilServant*

      “Considering that many of us just now leaving our thirties graduated college right at the beginning of the Recession”

      Was that a missatement, or did you go back to school and graduate circa 2008?

      1. Katie F*

        Yeah, I meant to write “just now ENTERING our thirties”. I talk writing real good, clearly. Sigh. If only I could go back and edit… that’s going to bug me all day now.

    2. Teacher Nerd*

      This all-resumes-must-be-short line of thinking makes me a bit twitchy, too, but my experiences tend to be different than the average. For example: I’m a teacher, one who teaches at both the high school and college level; I’m about to be published, and I’ve been presenting at conferences since 2004. These facets of my professional development/professional life is important. I realize that many (perhaps most) people don’t work in a field where this matters (or matters as much).

      I went to college later in life; I started when I was 27, and graduated when I was 31 – right when the economy died a horrible death. I was enrolled in a teacher-education program, and during the semester in which I was student teaching, the teacher who led the class that meant once a week to discuss our student teaching experiences discussed resumes, and asked for volunteers to bring in theirs; I volunteered to share mine. One student who apparently had had some experience working for a temp agency or HR (I forget which) said my resume was too long and should be only one side of page page. Perhaps that would have been fine if I, like nearly everyone else in the class, were 21-22, but I was 30, and had done other things. (That particular feedback had come from someone who was about 25. Imagine having an 12-year employment gap where the last job you would had have would have been in high school or immediately thereafter.)

      Because I’d already seem quite a few professional academic resumes that were much longer (four or more pages long), I pushed back and said – truthfully – that I had also worked in a temp agency and looked at a lot of resumes, and that my age and experience made having a longer resume relevant, especially given that I presented at conferences, etc., something no one else in the class had done (including the professor who led the class, by the way).

      People can get stuck in the all-people-under-a-certain-age-should-have-a-one-page-resume mentality without taking into consideration life circumstances and experiences. I remember Alison saying that the one-page rule was not necessarily applicable to those in other fields or industries, but I’d add that the strict one-page rule might also not be applicable to those over a certain age.

      As a postscript, I did see one resume tidbit I’ve adopted for myself: the front side of the first page of my resume lists my employment, but at the bottom of this page, I have a line that says, “You can view a full list of my employment history at [my LinkedIn profile].”

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        But we agree that it’s age-dependent — as I wrote in the post, “If you’re in your 20s, your resume still should generally only be one page; you haven’t had enough work experience yet to justify a second one. If you’re older than that, two pages are fine.”

        1. Teacher Nerd*

          Yes, indeed, “generally” as a statement can make things more flexible. I tend to get my hackles raised when I hear that one should absolutely, with-no-exceptions keep one’s resume to one page based on age. I would hope that hiring managers would be able to differentiate between people whose life experiences at 25 might not exactly mirror their own, and take into consideration how these differences might cause resumes to be non-standard, as opposed to chalking it up to a younger person’s theoretical inability to do things “the right way.” (N.B.; I do not get that impression from you, nor have I gotten that impression from others.)

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Part of the problem is that everyone thinks their situation is the exception that allows them to ignore the rule, when in fact the vast majority aren’t.

            1. Teacher Nerd*

              I view the rule as a bit more flexible, but this is based on my own field where there’s a bit for flexibility with this, and I recognize that not all fields will view this as gently as I would. It might be difficult for someone who’s shifting from one field to another to recognize when there’s a harder line.

            2. fposte*

              And it’s not like people can be exceptions as long as they get your permission–you’re just advising on how hiring managers might look at the document. There’s a reasonable chance that what feels like a special case to 25-year-old Jane with the two-page resume isn’t going to feel all that special to the hiring manager.

                1. fposte*

                  It’s what led me to finally figure out (with help from commenters) how to make an avatar. (For those not familiar, it’s from This Is Not My Hat, by Jon Klassen.)

              1. BRR*

                I was just going to reply with even if your situation is special (and I am agreeing with Alison that people think their situation is more special than it is), the hiring side doesn’t accommodate special situations really well. The “all of these experiences make me who I am today and that’s who you want to hire” time is in the interview in my opinion. I’m sure there are some people who can do it well in a cover letter/resume but it’s really difficult.

            3. the gold digger*

              Part of the problem is that everyone thinks their situation is the exception that allows them to ignore the rule, when in fact the vast majority aren’t.

              This is what your niece said about the people who think the pool rules don’t apply to them. I think this statement can be applied to almost every single life situation.

              1. Allison*

                Totally. My friends were running an outdoor event this weekend, and because the forecast said it might rain, a lot of people asked for refunds. They knew the event had a no-refund policy, but tons of people thought they could give a refund *just* to them.

                1. Elizabeth West*

                  I asked for a refund once in a store that had a no-refunds policy. I was a regular customer there, and I thought they might do it just the once (it was for a t-shirt I had literally just bought an hour before). The clerk screamed at me so loudly that the manager came out of his office with his eyes the size of bus tires and gave me a refund anyway.

                  I never asked again, but it was a while before I went back into that shop. They fired the clerk.

                2. Noah*

                  Yes! I cannot even look at the Facebook page for the airline I work for anymore. People buy a nonrefundable ticket that costs $75 per passenger, per segment plus fare difference to change. Then they are mad about it when it costs a small fortune to change.

          2. Koko*

            Right. Really, the one-page rule is just a proxy that helps you gauge whether your resume is “too long.”

            I’ve found that as I advanced in my career in my 20s, the space I needed to devote to early positions quickly dwindled. Job #1 was entry-level and had a great deal of generic admin work that wasn’t especially skilled. When applying for Job #2, I listed achievements from a lot of that work to demonstrate my organization skills, work ethic, etc.

            But then in Job #2 I did more skilled work specific to my field and had significant achievements to brag about, so when applying for Job #3, all those admin duties from Job #1 because a single bullet, “Provided departmental office support and light administrative duties.” Job #3 wasn’t going to be nearly as impressed to hear about my weekly on-time TPS reports or the initiative I took to re-organize the supply closet as they would be to hear about how I raise gobs of money at Job #2 and launched a successful new fundraising program. It would be a waste of space to spend more than one line explaining that when I was first starting out I did admin work too, like most entry-level positions.

            Similarly, by the time I was applying for Job #3 I was using a total of 4 lines for my entire educational experience:

            Graduate State University, CollegeTown, State
            M.A. in Subject; August 2007-May 2009
            Undergraduate State University, MajorCity, State
            B.S. in Subject; cum laude; August 2003-May 2007

            That section was much longer when I was applying for Job #1, but by the time I’m applying for Job #3, nobody cares about the details of my schooling anymore. My skills section has three lines: “Standard proficiency: software, software, skill, skill” on one line and “Advanced proficiency: software, software, skill, skill,” which takes up two lines.

            Even when applying for Job #4, with my education and skills sections reduced to about 1/4 of the page and Job #1 significantly condensed, I had more than half a page to spend listing achievements from Job #2 and Job #3 without hitting the second page.

            All of this to say that if I get a resume from someone who has had enough jobs to reach two pages, but they’re going into unnecessary detail highlighting experience or skills that aren’t especially relevant to the position they’re applying for, it’s not so much that I’ll think, “They’re not old enough for two pages yet!” It’s that I’ll think, “This is way too much detail; this person can’t decide what information is worth presenting or not.’

            Two pages is just a guideline to help you figure out how much is too much. As long as the person looking at your resume doesn’t think, “Why are they telling me all this? Most of this is unhelpful and they’re making me work to figure out which parts are helpful,” then your resume isn’t too long. (And conversely, I’ve gotten a handful of “one-page” resumes over the years that clearly would have been more than one page if the author had followed standard font size and line spacing conventions…I considered those just as excessive as an actual two-page resume.)

            1. Suz*

              This is a great explanation. I’ve found a lot of resume advice tells you what to include but neglects to tell you what to remove as you advance in your career.

              1. Persephone Mulberry*

                Agreed. This discussion has made me realize I can probably drop my first two jobs off my resume because they no longer add any strengths to my candidacy other than length of time in the workforce.

      2. Teacher Nerd*

        And to clarify, I graduated from undergrad in 2007 (age 31) from a large state university in Long Island, New York. The NYC school district, the largest district in the country, wasn’t hiring, nor were many of the smaller, local Long Island-area school districts, the result of which being I did a lot of subbing and other education-related work such as tutoring at multiple offices, which made resume-writing irritating. This made my resume seem long, and had I forced myself to limit my resume to one page, I would have given the impression that I worked much less than I did.

        1. Young'n*

          To shorten this put it under a general header like Alison suggests for formatting short term contracts.

          Substitute Teacher MyCounty (Various schools)
          Acc 1: Kept kids quite ….

        2. Rob Lowe can't read*

          My resume while I was searching for my first professional teaching job was similar. Even when I limited myself to only the most relevant jobs I’d done in the previous 5 years (which for me did take me back to my undergrad days), I had a few tutoring/substitute teachings gigs plus my teaching internships (which were quite varied – I never listed them all, but I usually listed 2 or 3 of the four total). Now that I’m two years into my first professional job, my resume is one page, because I no longer feel the need to include all of those small jobs to prove that I have relevant experience.

        3. Erin*

          I was a substitute teacher for 4 years. I was hired by a 3rd party temp agency and worked in multiple districts. I just put the agency down on my résumé and the dates I was employed. I was only in a classroom for a day or two anyway and if I put down all individual jobs I had my résumé would be 50+ pages long. How I put it down looks like this: Guest Teacher, company I worked for, grades k-12, all subjects. Seasonal employment from 2010-2014

      3. Trout 'Waver*

        The problem with this is that a hiring manager reading resumes is going to have a thick (50+) stack of resumes to get through. Everyone has unique and special circumstances. Everyone views all their achievements as important, and they’re generally right. However, a resume is a marketing document designed to get you a phone-screen. It’s perfectly possible (and much appreciated) to have a PhD, 20 years of experience, and a one-page resume.

        A multi-page resume in which you describe everything you’ve ever done seems a bit desperate to me, like you’re not sure what’s important so you’re including everything. A well-tailored one-page resume shows me that you can self-edit and that you know what’s important for the job I’ve posted.

        Also, I want to point out that professional academics (professors and researchers) generally use the CV as their professional document, not a resume. They’re very different things, and what you were likely seeing when you saw professional academic documents.

        1. Teacher Nerd*

          True dat; there can be a very marked difference between a Vita and a resume. And certainly it’s not necessary to list ALLTHEJOBS with ALLTHEBULLETPOINTS.

      4. BRR*

        It sounds like you’re talking more about a CV than a resume which has a whole different set of rules. I know I can’t speak for all fields (and hopefully others might chime in) but conference presentations and most publishing would never go on a resume in my field. That’s something you do to increase visibility and could possibly mention it in a cover letter but if I saw it on a resume I would give a side eye. Those things boost a CV though. But we can’t really talk about how to make a good resume or CV simultaneously since they require different formats.

        1. JessaB*

          Yes and you can always do a 1-2 page resume and let them know in the cover letter that you’re more than glad to forward a full on CV if your industry expects that kind of detail and they’re interested based on the short version. My sister would never send her CV before sending her resume (she’s a nurse practitioner with an MBA and a PhD) Her resume is like 2 pages her CV is like a zillion because of the insane amount of publishing she’s done.

    3. Anonymous Educator*

      Well, Alison did say generally, so there may be exceptions. Also, just because you put a job on your résumé doesn’t mean you have to give it 3-5 bullet points. It could be a fairly short inclusion for something less relevant, just so they know what you were doing during that time, and then you can have longer entries for more relevant and/or more recent positions.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        Yeah, that! Especially a short-term gig! It only needs 1-2 sentences, I bet.

        I’m looking at a 3-page resume right now from someone who is in their late 20s, and it is ridiculous. They have 3-6 bullets for every six-month internship or summer job. Too much!!

    4. BRR*

      I definitely agree a lot of people since 2008 have taken many short-term jobs but I think it’s important to remember that a resume is a marketing document. You don’t have to include every job and every job might not be relevant. I think a sentence in your cover letter might be able to explain gaps. I know when I’m part of a hiring committee there is a point where you someone has so many short stints that it doesn’t matter if there are gaps or not because their employment history becomes a tangled mess.

      Coming from the applicant perspective I totally understand the thinking of “I need to put this all in because it’s all relevant and I need to show how I am a great fit for this role.” But I think people can often times scale back a little. Again I recognize that it takes space to show a lot of shorter positions, each has achievements, and how competitive hiring is but I’ve seen tons of resumes that are too much.

    5. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      Yeah, I struggled with this when I was in my 20s.

      Honestly, at 37 it’s easier to keep my resume on one page — because I’ve had longer stints at fewer and more relevant jobs. Back in my early 20s, I was cobbling together the requisite experience and demonstrated skills from a summer internship here, an academic-year office job here, a graduate school fellowship there. They all felt like they mattered because none of them had much to offer on their own.

      1. fposte*

        I think that’s true, and it’s also at a stage in your career where you have less idea of what’s important because you lack the benefit of hindsight. But I think it’s worth doing–when you get an impressively concise resume from an early career candidate with the traditional patchwork condensed into an informative overview, that’s a big boost to an application.

      2. Ad Astra*

        That’s a great point. Now that I’m 28, I’ve been able to totally remove a lot of jobs (or bullet points, at least) because I’m no longer including every remotely relevant detail of my working life in order to demonstrate competence. And I finally got wise and dumped those “extracurriculars that demonstrate leadership skills” that my sorority claimed would be an extremely important factor to hiring managers (that stuff’s really more important to grad school admissions departments, it seems).

      3. Anxa*

        This all day.

        I think Alison’s advice is excellent. I still, STILL, use a two page resume sometimes (I’m 30 now but my work history’s not much better than it was at 25 or even 23), but I’m incorporating more and more one page resumes.

        While I’m still in the cobble phase, I’m at a point where I can pick the best of my shorter term work. And the time of my life when I had 3 jobs at once? A lot of the jobs from that period are “expiring” from my resume.

        This advice of having a longer resume when you were more senior is so counter intuitive at times, because when you’re young and trying to get that first full-time entry-level job, you may have few accomplishments in the jobs you have had in part because they had limited responsibilities. Or your best accomplishments may have been in a less relevant position.

        If I could do it all over, I would have focused so much more on a few jobs and not worried about developing ‘soft skills’ and ‘being well-rounded’ and other nonsense/resume clutter in the first place.

    6. KEM11088*

      YES YES YES!!!! I graduated in 2010 and took several internships to help build my resume since I could not find FT employment. That experience was crucial.

      1. Katie F*

        Plus, you can’t tell people to “just leave off irrelevant jobs” and in the same breath tell them they need to account for “gaps” in employment. I never had gaps – I did what I had to do to pay the bills, as did my husband, and from about late 2007 through around 2011, that meant taking any job that would pay, even if we couldn’t stay there for long thanks to A. businesses refusing to hire more than part time in order to avoid paying benefits/vacation or B. layoffs due to the wretched economy. But if I left off anything “irrelevant”, there wouldn’t be much of a resume to work with… until, about 2011, where I was able to get longer-term employment after we moved across the country to try and find better work.

        I’m to where I could do a one-page resume easily now. But I would have struggled a few years ago, because what was irrelevant vs. relevant would have been a more amorphous question to answer.

        I wish I could just put “Worked series of odd jobs because the entire country was one giant trash fire of unemployment” to explain 2007 – 2011, and then start my employment history after that.

  2. Anon for this*

    I’m hiring for an entry-ish level position right now (2-5 years experience) at our very small, start-up company and I’ve got a couple things to add to this list:

    – Not writing a cover letter.
    – Writing a cover letter so generic, it’s clear you’ve sent the exact same one to multiple very different jobs, but also indicating you believe you’re the best possible candidate for that job.
    – Not explaining in your cover letter why you’re interested in the job/have the skills for the job, especially if the job is a change in fields.
    – Not writing a reasonably professional covering email (i.e., greeting, salutation, indication of the position you’re applying for).

    There are a whole bunch of other things that don’t help, but these are the worst.

    1. Katie F*

      Yeah, I believe it’s very possible to have a resume that is essentially generic and “just the facts” that you use for many, if not all, the jobs you apply to – but tailoring the cover letter is really the important part. I write a brand new cover letter for every job I apply to, every time.

    2. Bob*

      This is why I’m happy to work in IT and have all of my jobs come via recruiters. They set up the interviews so that means no cover letters for me. The rate is negotiated with the recruiter, not the company, so I just need to convince them I can do the work.

      1. Anon for this*

        I know. Cover letters suck and I hate writing them too! But on the hiring side of things, they’re a lens through which I can interpret your resume. IT is likely different, but for most candidates, it’s not necessarily as obvious to me as it is to them why their previous experience is a good fit for the opening, especially amid a sea of hundreds of resumes. Also, I’m hiring for a job that requires extensive, external-facing writing in an environment where you don’t necessarily have a ton of time to polish. Cover letters are a decent first proxy for your ability to write coherently.

        1. CMT*

          I just want to plug AAM’s many posts on cover letters, which have made writing them so much easier for me! I mean, I still don’t like doing it, but it’s a much less stressful process than it used to be.

          1. JessaB*

            Oh yes, I love all the advice I get here. It makes it so much easier to put out a good cover letter.

    3. Felicia*

      In hiring for similar positions, I noticed that lots of cover letters don’t even say the name of the job they’re applying for or say our company name which I thought was a basic thing.

      1. JessaB*

        I don’t know about company name, since it’s obvious, but absolutely you have to put the job. I mean isn’t the whole point of a cover letter why you’d be good at the job? How do you do that without mentioning what the job is? What if the person is hiring for more than one job? How would they know what you wanted?

    4. amysee*

      I’m in a similar position, though we’re looking for just graduated with a BA up to 2 years full-time experience in the field. I’ll second your list and add a few of my own:

      -Typing “Can’t wait to hear from you” and nothing else in the cover letter field of our online application system
      -Not including the requested two writing samples (“incomplete applications will not be considered”)
      -Instead of including two writing samples, uploading two separate documents with identical text offering a link to an online portfolio site (more than one candidate did this). I know it’s easier for them to just send a link to the portfolio once it’s created, but that’s not what I asked for; I asked candidates to choose two things they wrote, append a description of the assignment or context and share that with me. (And we’re not in a line of work where portfolios are standard.)

      When I was first looking for work after college I was told by a very senior someone that just showing up puts you far ahead of most other people in the workforce, which I could not believe at the time… but simply following the directions in a job posting does give you a good leg up over many others, in my experience.

      1. JessaB*

        That’s not just failure to follow instructions, it’s a fundamental inability to understand the task, which was not “show me your stuff,” but “pick your most relevant, best stuff, for this circumstance, and explain why you picked that.” That’s a critical difference in how the candidate is thinking.

    5. Ad Astra*

      I generally don’t write cover letters unless they’re required, and it has seemed to work out fine for me, but I know that goes against Alison’s advice. In my experience, HR and hiring managers don’t really read the cover letters — though I’m sure this is a YMMV situation, and I admit that the safest choice would be to always write a cover letter.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        Some of that’s industry-dependent. I know a few people who work in tech who don’t write cover letters, and they have absolutely no problems getting jobs. I work in independent K-12 schools, and you would get heavily side-eyed / not get a single phone screen if you didn’t include a cover letter with your résumé.

      2. Anon for this*

        How do you define ‘required’? I’ve been surprised by how many people don’t include them when we’ve asked for a resume and cover letter. We receive applications via email, so there’s no way to prevent someone from submitting an application without one, but that seems like unnecessary handholding.

        I see ignoring the requirement as a bad sign. Is it a sign the candidate thinks they’re an exception to the rule? Is it a sign they can’t/won’t follow basic directions? If I get a resume that’s miles ahead of everyone else in the running, I’ll probably do a phone screen, but I’ll be on the lookout for other red flags.

        1. Koko*

          I definitely look way more favorably on resumes with a good cover letter, and mildly preference an application with a bad cover letter over one with no cover letter.

          People who have only ever been on the application side don’t often realize what it’s like to be on the screening side. You have a huge volume of resumes to go through and a short amount of time (after all, you’re doing this on top of your actual job). You spend at best 60 seconds on a resume that really intrigues you. Many get 20-30 seconds. In that time I’m trying to answer the questions, “Does this person have a skills and education background that has prepared them to succeed in my specific role? Do they have experience working in cultures and environments like this one – corporate v independently owned, nonprofit v for-profit, small v large? Do they seem like they would be reasonably happy working for this company, doing the work we do? What special ingredient might they bring to the table that other applicants don’t?”

          A resume by itself (or an overly-long resume/letter) is relying on me to put together the answers to those questions all by myself in 20-30 seconds. That’s a tall order and even if I make a good faith effort, I might just not see what you want me to see because I don’t have time to reflect thoughtfully on every detail. But a cover letter can quickly walk me through all of those things I care about – it tells me what the story is behind your experience, tells me what experiences you rate the most important and relevant so I can more quickly identify them on your resume, gives me a sense of your personality and tastes that don’t belong on a resume but help me answer that nebulous question about whether you’d fit in or be happy here. Done well, a cover letter makes it easy for me to see why I should interview you and makes it far less likely that I’ll mistakenly reject you.

          But at the same time I can’t imagine ever posting a job ad that didn’t say, “Submit resume and cover letter to…” There would never be any ambiguity about the cover letter being required, so if they failed to include one it would be an obvious sign of disregard for instructions or lack of attention to detail. If you’re in a field that doesn’t routinely ask for them, YMMV.

    6. Koko*

      My favorite is when the obvious generic cover letter is made even more obvious by the fact that the name of the employer and the position title are in a different font and size than the rest of the letter.

      I had a guy do that once. He applied for every job we posted in a six month period regardless of what it was, with this form letter about how he was the perfect person for the job at <> because of his skills in rice sculpting, underwater basket-weaving, and bee linguistics, none of which were skills ever relevant to any position we posted.

    7. penny*

      Good list! I’m speaking with all of out interns as they wrap up and have been offering to provide resume feedback as part of that. One just asked me what a cover letter was! To be fair, he hasn’t started college yet, but man I was surprised. He also had a 2 page resume with far too much detail about extracurriculars & volunteer work, so we focused on narrowing that down.

      It does surprise me how many people don’t respond professionally in a basic way . Like we aren’t texting here folks. One thing I’ve noticed with interns is they’ll email you a document with absolutely nothing in the email body such as ‘Here you go/attached is what you requested’ etc. There is a person on this side guys!

    8. SG*

      I’m curious what you think of companies that post their jobs for direct apply on LinkedIn- there’s literally no option to add a cover letter.

    9. vpc*

      Also, including a cover letter or letter of reference for the wrong job.

      I once reviewed one that was, “I would like to recommend Candidate for admission to the nursing program at School” when the actual job was “federal internship in field not related to nursing”.

  3. UnCivilServant*

    there’s so much information about each job that it’s a challenge to wade through it all

    That’s my problem. Because of attrition, so many things landed in my lap that just writing them out made a page long job description. I keep staring at that going “I gotta fix that.” Luckily I don’t currently need to send out my resume.

    1. Young'n*

      Don’t list your responsibilities. List your accomplishments.

      Tailor your list to the top two or three relevant to the job you are applying to.

      1. UnCivilServant*

        When I try to think of the “accomplishments” all that comes to mind was “kept the lights on with all this on my desk”

      2. Anonymous Educator*

        Eh… I think you want to highlight your accomplishments, but sometimes it’s weird if you just list your accomplishments and not at least some of your responsibilities.

        For example, let’s say your job was Receptionist, and you just listed that you streamlined some process or created a new reporting system. Those are excellent to know about, but I really have no idea what kind of receptionist you were. Some receptionists really just answer phones and greet people. Others are database admins. Others support people in other clerical ways. I do want to get a general sense of your daily duties and the scope of your job.

        Likewise, if you’re applying for an English teaching role, I don’t want to see a bullet point list of how you improved such-and-such kid’s test scores. I want to know what curriculum you taught and how many sections and which grade levels. Sure, if you have accomplishments, throw them in. But I also want to know what you did and what you were responsible for.

        1. Anon Accountant*

          There was a good example here that stated “handled 100 daily calls for a 50 person office” and managed “20 outgoing mail packages weekly” for a receptionist to list on a resume.

          1. Anonymous Educator*

            Exactly. Very helpful information to have!

            And I would totally consider those responsibilities, not accomplishments, unless you consider every responsibility to be an accomplishment, as long as you didn’t fail at your responsibilities…

        2. UnCivilServant*

          I’ve never heard of a Receptionist/DBA combo before. We pay our DBAs to tune queries and database parameters. We can find a lot more people who can cover the receptionist duties for less. I’m not sure if a workplace with a Receptionist/DBA is heartless or clueless (I guess it could get there through either). It just doesn’t strike me as a set of roles with natural overlap.

          1. Anonymous Educator*

            Have you worked in a small school before? Many small schools have receptionists act as de facto DBAs, because there is no full-time DBA position to be filled.

            1. UnCivilServant*

              I have not. I’m also guessing they’re not using Enterprise Oracle scaled for thousands of concurrent user sessions either. MS Access maybe?

              1. Anonymous Educator*

                No, not Enterprise Oracle! Definitely something smaller like Access or FileMaker.

          1. Anonymous Educator*

            And I never said it was a job posting. I’m all for hitting the highlights. There’s no way you can fit all of your duties into a few bullet points. My point was that if you list only accomplishments and no responsibilities, the hiring manager can be a bit confused as to what your job entailed.

            1. LBK*

              I think it depends heavily on the job. For something like a receptionist, I don’t think you need to describe any duties that are out of the ordinary for a receptionist. If you have a more niche job or one that overlaps duties outside of what’s expected of your title, then you can include a bit about those (because in a sense they count as accomplishments, showing that you went above and beyond the trappings of your title).

        3. Teacher Nerd*

          Perhaps if you win, like, Most Supreme Trout of the Millennium, I’d include that, but don’t accomplishments sometimes come up in interviews or foll0w-up applications? If there’s something that’s a somewhat unusual accomplishment, maybe in the resume, but…

          1. Ad Astra*

            I think you may be thinking of accomplishments too narrowly. Things like “Met XYZ goal for the year” can be useful accomplishments to list if they show that you’re good at your job. But then… if you’re a teacher like your name suggests, it really can be hard to find specific accomplishments to put on a resume. My husband’s a teacher/coach and, not surprisingly, his coaching resume is much stronger because he can show that he increased participation, won 10 games in a season, etc.

        4. hbc*

          Don’t your accomplishments usually reflect your responsibilities? “Taught 10 sections of grades 3, 4, and 6 with test score improvements across all sections.” “Developed personalized curriculum for bottom 5 students to bring failure rates to half the system average.” (It’s probably obvious that I don’t know jack about teaching, but you get the point.)

          1. Anonymous Educator*

            Yes. I was responding to Don’t list your responsibilities. List your accomplishments.

        5. Koko*

          Personally I only care about duties/achievements that are relevant to the position I’m currently hiring for.

          If someone’s previous role was in “social media and events” but I’m hiring them for an events-only role, all I need to see if their events-related accomplishments. They could leave off every single social media related thing they did if they wanted and I wouldn’t bat an eye.

          Even if you are responsible for 60 distinct items, I would ask yourself, “What five things would my boss say are most critically important for me to get done?” or “What five things can I not mess up if I want to stay employed?” Those are the five things that go on your resume, with maybe one or two items that aren’t critical to your current job but demonstrate skill in an area you’re trying to move into.

          You can often also roll up a lot of smaller duties into larger ones as you move up the ladder. You no longer have to say you did sub-goal A, B, C, and D. You can just say you hit Big Goal A. E.g., instead of breaking down the market areas where you grew revenue and listing your growth figures in each area, it might make more sense just to report your overall revenue growth numbers. Not because your performance in each market wasn’t important – it obviously is – but because the further you go up the ladder the more the big-picture numbers are all anyone above you cares about. They trust you as a mid-level/senior professional to be on top of managing the smaller sub-goals to make sure the big goal gets hit one way or another.

  4. Anon Accountant*

    Should it include accomplishments thst aren’t related to the role applying for? Example of absorbing 100 tax returns and you’re applying for an internal auditor position.

      1. Anon Accountant*

        Lol. Fancy wording for a coworker leaves and management reassigned his returns/work to other people.

        1. Edith*

          Does “absorbing” work in other contexts, or is it just an accounting thing? I had a coworker who specifically requested to take on a huge year-long project so he could include it in his resume. He quit abruptly two weeks before the due date, and much to our shock my team discovered he was months behind. We scrambled, and I did over four months worth of coworker’s work in just under two weeks. It seems like the kind of thing to mention in a resume, but I wasn’t sure how. Absorbing just might be it.

          1. Anon Accountant*

            Yes absolutely. An engineer, accountant, legal assistant, etc who took over another coworkers workload when they left is what I’d call “absorbing”.

            Something like “absorbed 70% of project managers bridge building projects” or “absorbed teapot design and spout construction from chief project engineer”.

            One resume my boss received read “assumed lead role on…”. Hope this helps!

    1. Koko*

      There’s probably some variance here but for me personally, I don’t care. I won’t necessarily ding you for listing unrelated accomplishments unless they’re really far afield or your resume looks like a ridiculous laundry list that I now have to wade through to find the important parts.

      But if you list 5 accomplishments, where 3 are directly relevant, 1 is sort of relevant, and 1 isn’t really relevant at all, I wouldn’t bat an eye at that. I would probably assume you’re applying for a narrow-enough range of jobs that this resume works well enough for all of them.

      When I look at a resume I’m looking for evidence of prior success in the work I’m hiring for. Not just whether you have been a good worker in general. But you get a little leeway on a few less-relevant items because I don’t expect candidates to perfectly understand the role I’m hiring for to the degree I do, nor do I expect them to waste their time customizing a resume to that level of granular detail when it doesn’t significantly improve anything.

  5. Trout 'Waver*

    The whole topic of resume length reminds of the quip “I apologize for the length of this letter; if I had more time it would be much shorter.”

    I just googled to try to figure out who originally wrote it, but it apparently goes back as far as people have been writing letters.

  6. Aam Admi*

    Some people believe the cover letter is a substitute for a resume .
    We are a large organization. One of the departments was closed last year due to work shortage and the half dozen employees there were placed temporarily in various other departments to cover for employees on leave. We got one of those people (James) from the closed dept and their term with us ends soon when the employee on leave returns. James did not bother to apply to any of the vacancies that have come up in the recent past at other departments and keeps saying they (the bosses!) will find something for him. Myself and the other colleagues finally convinced James to apply for a really nice position that another department posted recently.
    James has been with the organization for 20+ years and has not done a resume or interview since he joined our org. He has also not done any professional development other than the few mandatory annual internal training my org provides. My coworkers suggested to him to take guidance from me since I am into ‘HR Stuff’. The first time I had a discussion with James, he wanted to write a long letter instead of submitting a resume. I stressed that he must submit a resume and use the cover letter to strengthen his candidacy. He applied to the posting and left on his annual vacation. I had promised to help with interview practice and asked my co-workers if James ever got an interview call. They told me that James did not submit a resume as I suggested but wrote a letter instead.
    We found out last week through internal grapevine that the position has been filled. My co-workers are screaming age discrimination – how come someone with 20+ years experience did not even get an interview. There will be more drama when James returns from vacation. No one is willing to accept that not submitting a resume killed James chances.

    1. Ad Astra*

      I agree that not submitting a resume was a pretty big error in judgment, but I’m surprised that an internal candidate with 20+ years of experience isn’t at least getting an interview. It’s clear that James doesn’t know much — if anything — about job searching, but he might know a whole lot about how to do the job.

        1. Aam Admi*

          We use an automated system and get lots of applications for every posting. So our managers use the system’s built in features to short list candidates based on requirements in the job posting. If the letter James submitted did not have sufficient information (dates of employment, degree, etc), I think the system would have no way of knowing about the person’s seniority & qualifications.

          1. voluptuousfire*

            He may not have even applied directly to the role itself. I’m surprised HR/Recruitment wasn’t aware of his application since he’d be there 20 years. Usually in that situation I’d gather they’d be told to keep an eye out for his name.

            In one role I had, we would have people submit a resume via our ATS but not submit it to a particular role. They would reach out to their contact, saying we hadn’t reached out to them and it would always turn out they were in the system, just not attached to a job. You’d be surprised at how many people don’t work out the logistics of that properly.

  7. hbc*

    I stopped counting the number of resumes I got that had an objective statement (which I realize isn’t recommended, but I don’t ding them for a decent one) that was to obtain a job in a completely different field. If you insist on having an objective, even the generic “To obtain a position where I can use my skills to grow the company” is better than saying you’d prefer a different job than the one to which you applied.

    1. harryv*

      See my comment right below. Would you ding someone for applying to two completely different job functions at the same company even though they are qualified?

      1. hbc*

        Disclaimer: I’ve never used an ATS, so I don’t know how the mechanics of this could get done.

        For each job, I’d want to see your case for you doing well at and enjoying that job, while acknowledging that you have the dual background and interest. Maybe focus more on your interest in that particular company than you normally would. Ideally, you could tailor your resume to focus on the most relevant skills, but if you can’t, throw in that focus in your cover letters. Basically, if you’ve got one hiring manager looking at both applications (or two comparing notes), you don’t want anyone thinking you’re blowing smoke.

        If you weren’t applying at the same company, I’d fake it that this is The Perfect Job for you. Don’t lie and say you would never want to do project management again, just that you’re most interested in moving forward as a technical manager. They don’t have to know that you’re saying the opposite on an interview next door.

        1. harryv*

          That’s the thing. Currently, I do both program management and manage an operations. If I include all accomplishments and skills then my resume can easily be 2 full pages and seem all over the place. If I follow most advice including AAM’s, then I would have two resumes but I’m not sure how a recruiter would perceive if they comes across both resumes. I’m assuming they will be able to see the jobs I am applying for and access both resumes. I like your recommendation to explain why I have both skillset in the cover letter. I haven’t been doing that. Thanks!

      2. Ad Astra*

        There’s a difference in dinging someone for applying to very different jobs and dinging someone for stating on their marketing document for this job that their objective is to land that job. Of course, the objective issue could be most easily resolved by just removing any objective from your resume.

        1. harryv*

          My concern is in the system and on my applicant profile will have two distinct cover letter and resume. I usually name my cover letter and resume with the job number. But nothing will prevent recruiter from opening the wrong cover letter / resume.

  8. harryv*

    What do you recommend if I have my eyes set on a particular company but the background and skillset I have enables me to apply to different job fields? I have wide range of IT experience and skillset that can fall as a technical manager but also project / program manager. Would this raise eyebrows if I apply to different vacancies and have widely varied resume and cover letter uploaded to the ATS?

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      I’ve heard mixed things about this. On the one hand, I’ve seen situations in which a candidate applying to multiple positions at the same org. was seen as enthusiasm for the org. In other cases, I’ve seen it viewed as directionless and weird.

      Since everything you’re applying for is IT-related, perhaps it won’t come off as the latter?

      1. harryv*

        I really hope so. But this company is notorious for having extremely incompetent recruiters! I know 5 people who work there and all agree that their HR is slow and not very responsive.

    2. BRR*

      I think you might be able to apply to a low number of positions that you’re really qualified for. Even then you might look like a resume bomber depending on the person on the other end. Safest bet would be to only apply to the field you’re more interested in.

    3. Allison*

      It may depend on the type of job, but when we have someone apply to, like, 5 different openings, that can read as either desperate or unfocused. Apply to the one you think you’re the best fit for, and maybe another, and unless it’s a huge organization with a highly distributed recruiting team, the recruiter who does see your resume will know which role you’re best suited for.

      1. harryv*

        From looking at linkedin, I know there are 3 recruiters in the specific area I want to join. I’ve come across job postings which I felt I’m extremely qualified for but didn’t get an interview. I even had an insider pass my resume to the hiring manager but got no response. They said its likely already filled by internal candidate.

    4. Ad Astra*

      I don’t think having varied resumes/cover letters would be a problem, assuming that they’re not contradictory. I assume there’d also be some overlap, like your education. A past job might go in “relevant experience” on one resume and “other experience” on the other resume, but as long as there’s not a huge gap, I think it will be clear that you’re tailoring your resume for the job. Again, it’s a marketing document, not an exhaustive history.

      1. harryv*

        Right. I would feel more comfortable putting a more exhaustive resume to detail that overlap but if I make it more tailored, as a lot of people would recommend, it would seem like two completely different applicant.

  9. Brett*

    I think one key thing to remember is that a resume is not an application and an application is not a resume (at least, not in the US).

    Resumes are highlights; those key pieces of information needed to decide if someone is qualified for a job. An application is a comprehensive detailing of your work history and job duties. Do not put application level detail on a resume, just like you would not put resume level detail (or lack thereof) on an application.

    1. Argh!*

      I have seen online applications that go both ways – one I applied for was so detailed I wondered why they needed a resume on top of it. Another one just asked for places & dates, not job description (just job title).

  10. Curious*

    Would leaving graduation dates off in the education section be a red flag? I have an employment gap due to depression/other mental issues topped off by surgery complications after I got my degree, and since I’m still fairly new to the workforce, I wondered if that was a way to avoid having to answer about why I didn’t work for so long after my degree.

    Most people right now tends to assume I’m much younger than I am and fresh out of school.

    1. BRR*

      In a previous post Alison says candidates start to leave their graduation date off of their resume when they’re about 40. It’s going to depend a lot on how long the time was between your graduation and first job. Some time between the two is ok.

        1. LBK*

          Is it worthwhile to somehow note that you graduated in less than 4 years, and if so how would you do it? I finished college in 3 years but I just list my graduation year as usual. My gut says that finishing college early isn’t totally abnormal to the point that it’s worth mentioning as an accomplishment, although it does usually come up in interviews and people tend to seem impressed, so maybe?

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I’d probably only include it if (a) it was within the last few years and (b) you were looking for additional ways to signal smarts and drive (but if you felt like you already had plenty of evidence of that, maybe not). It certainly won’t harm you to include it though, as long as you meet condition A.

          2. KayDay*

            I graduate a semester early (so in December, not May) and so to indicate that (and also to make it clear that I didn’t graduate one semester late!) I put “University of the Republic of Banana, August 2010 – December 2013,” rather than just the completion date. When I was a recent grad, I would occasionally include it in my cover letter (e.g. “In addition to all the other awesome things about me, I graduated one semester early while pursuing a double major in theoretical chocolate chemistry and teapot engineering”).

  11. Allison*

    When I’m reading a resume, I want to see someone who A) wants the role we’re hiring for and B) has the background the hiring manager is looking for. If you have the “I just want a job, I’ll take anything, I’ll answer phones, I’ll scrub toilers, just please give me a chance!” We’re willing to train people on certain skills for some of our jobs, but for any opening we have, we want someone who wants to do that specific work. If they’re just looking for any ol’ job, there’s no way to know if they’re in it for the long run or if they’re just trying to pay rent until something more relevant to their interests opens up. So even if you are open to doing anything, at least convince me that *our* job is the type of job you’re aiming for.

    1. Argh!*

      Someone who is willing to do anything should apply for a temp job, then try out different things until they know what they like & what they’re best at.

  12. Argh!*

    oh poop. I just sent out a 4-page resume. *shrug* If it goes to the wastebin that’s just a life lesson learned.

  13. Ilovedonuts*

    I disagree with #2 (There’s not much information about what you did in each job – or, conversely, there’s so much information about each job that it’s a challenge to wade through it all.) My resume has highlighted accomplishments in bullet points for both of my 5+ year jobs combined. After that, I just listed my 2 jobs with dates, job title, and employer name. I’ve had tons of interviews with this resume and accepted an offer and start on August 15.

  14. So Very Anonymous*

    I once saw a cv where the candidate literally filled an entire page for each job. Wall of text filling half a page, followed by a bunch of bullet points for each job. Yeah, this is higher ed, but that’s not what an academia cv is supposed to look like!

  15. stevenz*

    In my current organisation I worked with an HR advisor on a new resume. The org has a standard template that forces it to be long. Mine came to 5 1/2 pages which is within the accepted range here. It would take a lot of paring down, though, to use it outside this organisation or this country. For a recent job where I was asked for a relatively brief resume, I got it down to five pages. :-O

    In the past, I have been advised by some HR people to leave dates off. When I did that – if anyone called, at all – the first question they asked was what the dates were. So, yeah, you need dates. Fact is, and I have found this out from lengthy experience, if you ask 10 different “experts” on resumes, you’ll get 12 different approaches. None of them absolutely correct.

    1. fposte*

      Ha. I work with one funder that requires 2-page CVs max in submission, and that’s from academics. I wickedly enjoy slicing people’s CVs down from 10 to 2 pages.

    2. amy*


      For my first real job, I sent in a dot-matrix-printed resume with all the experience I thought was most interesting, including jobs that weren’t relevant at all to the opportunity. The idea, which I didn’t really articulate for a while after that, was that if they really were interested in someone whose priority was the right paper bond and straight lines, we weren’t going to get along anyhow. I was competing against about 50 well-kitted-out applicants, and I got the job, also compliments on the resume.

      Before that, though, I sent an ad for myself to a publishing company for a job that didn’t exist. Big. In a tube. They were trying to figure out what to do with me, what they could create, when I had to make a decision on the dot-matrix job. And it was pretty clear that nothing would happen fast with the publishers, so I took the other job.

      I think it’s a good idea to remember that these things are just meant to communicate enough of who you are, what you want, and what you can do to a particular audience that they know whether or not they want to talk to you. That’s really all. Getting worked into a lather about what the fashion is this year is probably counterproductive unless you want to work in fashion.

  16. caryatis*

    How do people feel about leaving off locations? I’ve been told to list the city and state, but I don’t really see the relevance

      1. CMT*

        Whoa, this is news to me. I’m glad I came back and checked this post. I’m curious about why you’d leave them off?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          There just isn’t any need to include it and it takes up space. Years ago it used to be convention to include it (I think) but it hasn’t been a long time.

  17. Shocked Recruiter*

    I received a resume this week that (I am not exaggerating) was 19 pages long. This was a candidate apply for mid-level management position. Although they may have been a great candidate, I could not bring myself to read it. Given that this person would be doing a fair share of hiring and interviewing, not knowing resume norms lead to a hard NO.

  18. amy*

    Could just be me, but the long resume’s never been a problem for me. I’m nearly 50 and have a long and varied work history. I seldom apply for jobs, but when I do I write resumes and cover letters specifically for those jobs, and so far the long (3-5pp) relevant-experience-only resume seems to work pretty well, particularly when it’s covering multiple areas of experience. I’ve gotten interviews for the last three out of four jobs I’ve applied for: took one, said thanks but no to the second at final-interview-round stage, third employer went for someone with a background completely different from mine, and the interview for the fourth is in a few weeks.

    I’ve found the long resume also winds up telling me something about the prospective employer. If I walk into an interview and the interviewers have already digested whatever I’ve said in the resume, and are asking good questions, this is a good sign: these people are on the ball. If they’re distracted and flipping through the resume and trying to catch up on who I am, exactly, and asking questions that say they’ve latched onto resume keywords without comprehension, this tells me something about what they’ll be like to work with.

    I also include locations. Yes, I know the millennial thing is to leave them off. But in fact we and our networks exist in physical locations, and cultures vary place to place, and these sorts of things are also worth knowing about a prospective employee. It’s also worth recalling that a large chunk of the managerial workforce is 45+, and their conventions are still quite real. In fact I’m trying to remember the last time I was interviewed by people younger than me…I guess one of the interviewers for my current job as about 40 at the time, but everyone else in the room was at least 50.

    Anyway. I wouldn’t pad — never pad — but I also wouldn’t sweat the long resume for a serious job.

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