Top 15 Cover Letter and Resume Peeves

BY MICHELLE LIM

1. Spelling Errors, Typos and Poor Grammar
Two words – Spell Check! Always use it. You have no excuse. Nothing puts a recruiter off more than a cover letter or resume riddled with spelling, typographical and grammatical errors. This is a sure-fire way to get your application thrown out. Remember that your resume is your only “face” to the recruiter. A grammatically correct cover letter and resume is expected and will not score you extra points but a grammatically incorrect one will seal the fate of your application. So do put in the effort to make sure your application is cleaned up. Use the spell check feature often and get a friend who has a good command of the English language to edit the application.

2. Too Duty Oriented
Resumes should be more than a rigid listing of job duties. This is the second most common complaint among recruiters. A well-written resume should provide details about your accomplishments and the business benefits and results attributable to you. Where possible use figures and percentages, so that your achievements are measurable and definite. Use of action verbs is encouraged too as it gives the reader the impression of activity and initiative.

3. Inaccurate Dates or None at All
A resume that does not contain dates or contains inaccurate dates immediately sends up a red flag and your resume may be immediately discarded. Explain gaps in employment in your cover letter but not in the resume itself. Use volunteer work, education, training and courses to explain these gaps as they show you were productive during these periods. To play safe, use a reverse chronological approach and list your employment history with the most recent jobs first followed by the not so recent ones. Line up the dates visually so that a recruiter can skim through the dates and quickly get an overview of your employment history.

4. Inaccurate or Missing Contact Information
A resume is created for the sole purpose of getting you an interview. Now, how can anyone contact you if your contact information is missing or inaccurate? This may seem like a really silly issue but you will be surprised how many resumes neglect this simple point. Recruiters will not bother to track you down, they will simply move on to the next candidate.

5. Exaggerated language
Ditch the legal speak and archaic prose. Use simple and concise language to get your message across. Perhaps it’s due to our British heritage, a lot of cover letters and resumes are seeped in a language that is not only outdated, but also redundant. To make matters worse, it takes great mastery of the language to carry off the use of such language.

Consider this: “I would forever be indebted to your kind self, should you find the propensity to invite me to a meeting in the nearest future.”

Who speaks like that? In this century or any other for that matter. A more appropriate sentence might read “I would appreciate it if we could meet soon.”

6. Poor Formatting
Different typefaces and boxes may look nice on paper, but if the resume needs to be scanned, they can cause confusion. Recruiters suggest keeping your resume in plain text. Do not use tables or graphics. If you are asked to send in a pure text file and you have done your resume in WORD, cut and paste it into NOTEPAD to see how it will look as a text file. You can then make any minor formatting changes as necessary within NOTEPAD to ensure you have a readable text file. Keep your font simple and easy to read on a computer screen. Do not use italics or extremely difficult to read fonts like Edwardian Script.

Font size is just as important as style. Most people seem to have settled on 10 point Arial as their default font in most of their applications. For headings, recruiters have shared with us that 12-point bolded is the best choice. They have also indicated that their second best choice is Times Roman. However, 10-point Times Roman, (unlike Arial), is too small for a computer screen. It is recommended that if you choose to use Times Roman, use a 11 or 12 point font.

7. Long Resumes and Paragraphs
Recruiters simply do not have time to read long resumes. A resume should never be longer than 2 pages. For a fresh graduate with limited professional experience, 1 page is the general guideline. Situations that are associated with long resumes include: too many jobs meaning an unfocused career or poor written communication skills. All of which make for an ‘undesirable’ candidate. Focus on the skills and accomplishments that directly apply to the job you are trying to get. Every word counts. So do not dwell on the specifics of each job, but rather on the specifics that make you stand out.

Recruiters want a resume to be short, concise and to the point. No recruiter has the time to read long paragraphs, which look like a narrative out of literature. Get quickly to the “meat” of what you are trying to communicate about yourself. Your resume should be easy for the reader to “scan” your text for your skills and accomplishments. Consider using the following formatting techniques: Use blunt, paraphrased bullet-points. Use appropriate amounts of “white space” to help guide your reader

8. Unqualified Candidates
You may want a job, but if you don’t have the skills and experience needed, recruiters will feel you’re wasting their time. Look at the job description. Be sure to highlight the skills they are looking for with a bulleted list of your related qualifications at the top of the document.

9. Personal Information Unrelated to the Job
With the limited time recruiters spend on your resume, you don’t want to distract them with your age, height, weight and interests unless they’re directly related to the work you want to do.

10. Lying or Misleading Information
It is common and very tempting to spice up your resume by stretching the truth here and there to land the interview. Employers do expect that and will accordingly peg down the resume a notch or two (especially with resumes that sounds too good to be true). This does not mean lying is condoned in any circumstances. We all want to portray ourselves in the best possible light but there is a line between trying to do that and outright resume fraud. And it is becoming more commonplace for companies to do extensive background and reference checks on a candidate’s background prior to hiring.

Thus, exercise extreme caution! Be prepared to back up every single point in your resume with explanations and evidence. The most common misleading information is:
· Inflated titles and jobs responsibilities/achievements
· Inaccurate dates to cover up job-hopping or gaps of employment
· Half-finished degrees, inflated education or “purchased” degrees that do not mean anything
· Inflated salaries
· Outright lies with regard to specific roles and duties

11. Resumes Written in the 1st or 3rd Person
Avoid writing resumes in the first person. No recruiter or future employer wants to read a resume full of “I did this and I did that...” Furthermore, writing a resume in the first person often leads to it becoming too verbose. Writing a resume in the third person was also slated a major “pet peeve” among many recruiters. A resume is simply a quick marketing piece about the job seeker’s background and how it matches the requirements of the position. It is not a biography for a book jacket cover. For example: “Mr. Lee is an excellent engineer, who has achieved many successes...”

12. Pictures, Graphics or URL Links
Singapore employers do appreciate a good and professionally taken photograph of yourself in your resume. It provides a human face to a piece of paper and often, it also acts as a preliminary gauge of whether you are a suitable candidate. Few employers will employ a candidate because they are attractive, but a well-groomed candidate is sure to attract interest. Thus, it is very helpful to include a photograph of yourself in the image that is relevant to the job you are applying for. A safe bet would be a full frontal shot in professional attire (shirt/tie/suit or blouse/suit in conservative colours) with your face and hair neatly groomed. Recruiters are appalled at some of the types of photos that candidates provide. Photos of yourself relaxing on the beach or a cropped-out picture of your head from an obvious group shot is not appropriate!

Do not include any other graphics to make your resume more “attractive”. They are often distracting and not appreciated. They will also greatly increase your file size.Most employers do not have time to visit your homepages so avoid including that information in your resume. The only case where a web site URL is required is if you are a creative professional. Then you are expected to have an online portfolio as well as provide references to websites you have designed before.

13. Resumes not sent as a WORD Attachment
Unless specifically requested otherwise, your resume should be sent as a Word Attachment. Do not send your resume as a Excel, Powerpoint, Mac file, etc. A recruiter simply does do not have time to download and convert special files. In addition, do not send your resume in a ZIP file. No resume should be long enough to warrant compressing it. Another top reason for avoiding formats other than Word or a plain text file is that it becomes increasingly more difficult to download into many HR and recruiting systems. Often a recruiter will not have a job for you today. If they cannot enter your resume into their recruiting system, they will be unable to match your resume with any positions that do become available. This also goes for mailed and faxed resumes. Unless specifically requested otherwise, recruiters are looking for easy to open Word Attachments.

14. Not naming Your Resume
Imagine receiving hundred of resumes all named “resume” or “latest_resume”, etc. When recruiters are opening and scanning through hundreds of resume, it is very helpful if you use your full name as the name of the resume to help recruiters identify the documents they are working with.

15. Objectives or Meaningless Introductions
Instead of an Objective that can pigeonhole your focus too narrowly or an introduction that adds nothing to your background, use this top piece of real estate to really sell yourself, by creating a headline. Tell them who you are and what you do immediately. Come up with one powerful sentence or phrase to “grab” your reader. Think of this like a headline to a major front-page news story. What is going to grab that reader to want to read further? This headline should be customized to match the job description and “hot-buttons” of the recruiter.


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