Résumé Rejection Reasons – An Illustrated Guide – Part 2 – Résumé Sections

Part 2 – Résumé Sections

Let us take a quick and critical look at some of the common sections that a résumé is supposed to contain, in roughly the same order in which they are expected, starting with…


Please use your complete name in your résumé header, properly capitalized and spelled the same way as your degrees and documents. I am sorry to have to even mention this, but I occasionally see candidates who misspell their own names.

Résumés with misspelled and incomplete names on a résumé do save the hiring managers some time by allowing them to make an early rejection decision, but we’d rather receive résumés that are good enough to spend some time on.

Some candidate pigeon-hole themselves by adding a byline with their names, mentioning the professional role that they identify with. If you are a recent graduate, realize that calling yourself a ‘Data Scientist’ might look attractive in 2021, but you might lock yourself out of other opportunities if the recruiter does not redirect your résumé for another relevant role, like ‘Software Engineer’, because other roles because you tagged yourself differently.

If you are really mononymous, there is no need for a comma.

Contact Information

There was a time where there was no email. it was a dark time, when one had to submit a printed résumé for each job application, and the prospective employer had to respond by snail mail, or by calling a landline phone. Your complete street address was required in those days. You were probably not born then.

Times have changed, and the world is a better place. The only contact information you need to include in your résumé is your email, your cellphone number, and perhaps your city and country, but only if the situation calls for it.

Landlines are not really necessary unless you live in an area where cellphones don’t work, and adding multiple phone numbers or emails to your résumé could cause confusion. Your complete street address eats up precious pixels, not to mention the recruiter’s time, so put those pixels to a better use.

Give your LinkedIn profile a prominent place in your contact information. It probably has the same information as your résumé, but it may be updated after the résumé is submitted. It also lets the recruiters view your recommendations and mutual contacts, and all of that increases the probability of your application’s passage to the next stage.

Space saved by not adding your address pictured above.


Depending on the country that you’re applying in, including your picture might work against you, so error on the side of caution and avoid adding your picture, especially if it is a full body shot, taken at a wedding that you attended last week, or a scan of your paper photograph. 

Technology recruiters are interested in your experience and skills, so your photograph is really not going to help you land that database modeling position, although a picture might help if you are applying to be a fashion model. In some countries’ laws, photographs can trigger biases and discrimination, so hiring managers may actually stay away from résumés containing photographs.

Avoid embedding your picture in your résumé, but if you really want the recruiters to take a look at your beautiful face for whatever reason, a good compromise is to place your LinkedIn profile in a prominent position. The recruiter could click through and see your profile picture if they want.

If you still insist that adding your picture to the résumé is the right move, go ahead, I can’t stop you, but at least ensure that it retains its aspect ratio and that it is a digital image and not a scanned picture of a printout, the latter smells of carelessness.

Be like Lena Forsén.
Not like a squished Lena Forsén.
Preferably like a professional Lena Forsén.

(Too Much) Personal Information

Similar to the pointless practice of pasting a picture on your CV, including too much personal info that is unrelated to the job application is a waste of space and potentially hurts your chances of getting a job, not because the recruiter does not like your zip code, but because it depicts that you can’t distinguish between what is necessary and what is useless information.

This is not your Tinder profile, so does a recruiter really need to know your age, height, weight, religious or political affiliations, marital status, sexual orientation or your pet dog’s name?

The qualification and the email are the only useful facts in the above list.

Personal Attributes

This section goes by many names, ‘Personal Attributes’, ‘Strengths’ and ‘Soft Skills’ are a few, and it is usually presented as a bulleted list of subjective opinions around your self-image that may or may not be accurate. Hiring managers will take this list with a bucket of salt, after all it is your self image, and you wouldn’t admit to being a little bit tardy, or that you have average problem-solving skills, on your résumé.

You know how awesome you are, but instead of enumerating all your positive traits in a bulleted list, allow the hirer the pleasure of discovering your potential and personality for themselves, during the interview, or after they hire you. Do work these adjectives into other sections’ content, such as Experience or Achievements, with supporting evidence.

A ‘Received the punctuality prize at OfficeA thrice’ in the Achievements section is more believable than a ‘Punctual’ in this list.

If you claim to be “detail oriented”, walk the talk and demonstrate it through proper grammar, punctuation and spelling.
These attributes spark joy in my heart.
Soft(ware)? skills. Very ‘Creative’. I think.
Please tell us what did you do. Please tell us what did you do.


Don’t SEO your CV by overloading it with all the skills that you possess, have read about, taken a Udemy tutorial on, or touched briefly as the name was displayed on your screen – unless you are a hundred years old and have lived on more than one planet.

Even though exceptional candidates do occasionally pop up, but if you are a regular freshly graduated candidate or one with an year or two of development experience, adding a long list of technologies that you [think you] are an expert in, could get you an interview, but the interview would not last long. The hiring manager would do some mental calculations and arrive at the conclusion that the probability of you having lived long enough to invest the time needed to develop an expertise in these fifty technologies, and that too while completing your four year degree and juggling five balls five hours per day, is extremely low.

Relax, and mention the top five or so technologies that you are really really good at, after making sure that those skills overlap the job description. You will ultimately be assessed on how well you know your languages, not how many languages you know.

This résumé came with a glossary, but it wasn’t alphabetized.
This CV had PRESENTATION SKILL, and was partially alphabetized.


Some candidates add a ‘Tools’ section to their résumé, where they list all the IDEs and other software that they have used, however briefly. The rule, or suggestion, of thumb is – if it takes a day or less to learn, don’t mention it.

Notepad++ used to be an excellent editor, but is it really worth a mention on your CV? If you list Microsoft Office as a tool, you may as well add Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox and a dozen other browsers while you’re at it (and some candidates do indeed do that).

Imagine yourself telling ‘I know how to use [Tool Name]!’ to an interviewer – your résumé would benefit from having that tool listed only if your imaginary interviewer responds with a ‘Nice!’ or ‘Awesome, that’s what we use here as well!’ instead of an ‘OK…’.

Typing Speed

This warrants just quick mention for completeness’ sake. I have noticed a recent increase in résumés that mention typing speed. Maybe it is a Millennial thing – typing speed could be an exotic metric for the texting generation, but for a software development position, variables per minute, functions per hour, classes per day, bugs per feature or story-points per week would make slightly better metrics.
Don’t mention your typing speed, unless it is 200+ wpm, in DVORAK.

It’s a good thing we have a typing speed limit at work here.


The Education section is expected to be near the top in case of fresh graduates’ résumés, as they have no professional experience yet, but it is normally placed after the Experience section for candidates with a job history, so unless your education is more noteworthy than your experience, follow this convention.

Use Reverse Chronological Order

Recruiters are much more interested in the university that you graduated from than the kindergarten you attended, so listing your education in the latest first order should be a no-brainer, and yet many résumé authors still make this mistake. Use chronological order when you publish your autobiography, use reverse chronological order when you write your résumé.

If you have started applying for a job while still studying, mention the expected date of degree completion, so if you write ‘2016 – December 2020 (Expected Graduation)’ instead of ‘2016 – Current’ in your Education section, it enables the recruiter to decide if they want to wait till you graduate and keep a position open for you. A ‘Current’ does not tell them whether you are in a two year or a three year program, and when will you be available to start working.

Avoid Course Dumps

Most computer science degrees offer similar courses, but if you majored in a unique topic, or one relevant to the position you are applying for, feel free to briefly mention it in the appropriate section. In all other cases, please do not dump all the courses from your syllabus on your CV. It makes your CV boring. If you are a fresh graduate with a spark of brilliance and the potential to learn, it will show, and you’ll be hired even if you didn’t take the course that is the most relevant to the job.

An alternative is to mention each course along with the academic project that you are adding to your résumé, so ‘Online Applicant Tracking System using Node.js and Angular 3 (Web Programming Course)’ is a superior organization that links your projects to your courses.

If you mention the top three or five subjects from the twenty that you studied – ones that are actually relevant to the job that you are applying for, it shows that you paid attention to the job description and made the effort to tweak your résumé for the position, which earns you some more brownie points, as fresh candidates rarely do that.

Five more seconds wasted here.

Your GPA Doesn’t Matter Much

Your GPA does not matter as much as you think it does. Some companies do have a lower limit on the GPA, but most seasoned recruiters realize that our education system is flawed and there is only a weak correlation between your capabilities and your GPA. If you have a good CGPA, do mention it on your CV, but don’t fret if it is low, and skip it altogether if your grades were below average. If you can demonstrate what you are made of, during the interview, your GPA will be disregarded, at least by me.

This candidate was rejected due to an 88.825% minimum limit.
Skipping the grades would have landed this candidate an interview.

For every degree, certificate and qualification, mention the full name of the institution and its location and not merely its abbreviation, to avoid confusion. For instance, there are dozens of BUs in the world, which one did you attend? Dates matter more for an entry-level position than one requiring a decade or two of experience. When appropriate, eliminate a few characters and keep your résumé clean by limiting the dates to the year only. Recruiters don’t care about whether your graduated in March or September, unless you are still studying, in which case, the hiring manager would be interested in when you’d be able to join.

Final Year Project

Fresh candidates usually mention their FYP in the education section, so if you do, make sure that you have an in-depth knowledge of the topics that your FYP focused on. A significant part of a fresh graduate’s interview is normally spent around their FYP as it is their most complex work to-date.

If your FYP was a group project, you can delight the hiring manager by explicitly mentioning your exact role in the group, as that will save them some time when they don’t have to ask the question during the interview.

Don’t call your ‘Final Year Project’ a ‘Final Year Project Project’.

MOOC Addiction

MOOCs are the MORPGs of the cerebrally inclined. If you have completed more than a dozen MOOCs and intend to dazzle the CV reviewer with that list, try to make sure that you can complement the MOOC list with a project or three that demonstrate that you put your learning to actual use.

These days, those who can, do; those who can’t, do MOOCs. Recruiters are really not looking for people who can create a To-do list in fifteen languages and frameworks. A couple of interesting projects that you created from scratch without following a tutorial make your résumé shine more brightly than twenty introductory MOOCs.

This candidate had breadth but no depth.


Experience is perhaps the most important section on your résumé, and like your education, should be listed in reverse chronological order. You may be tempted to name it ‘Employment History’ or something else, but you are creating a résumé, not a crossword puzzle, and the ATS may not like your interpretation of ‘Experience’, so avoid such creativity. Less is better.

For fresh graduates, ‘Internships‘ replace ‘Experience’, but the principle is the same. Each experience item should not merely contain the job title description that you were hired for, but also a brief description of what you were tasked with and what you accomplished in that position. If you made an impact on the profitability and the bottom-line of your employer, the hiring manager would like to hear that. If you worked at a small, relatively unknown company, a sentence or two about the nature of their business and a link to their website helps the recruiter as well, and anything that helps the recruiter make sense of your résumé helps you.

A résumé with an experience item that begins with ‘Successfully developed and deployed…’ wins against one that starts with ‘Worked on…’, or worse, ‘Had to work on developing…’. Action words and numbers that quantify your accomplishments are the way to go when writing your job experience. There are long lists of action words usable in résumés available online, so find one and use it.

If you ‘Improved IntSys for SomeDep by implementing the NOC-LUA-8L protocol’ at a past workplace, realize that the internal system for some department is something the recruiter will have absolutely no clue about. You should either simplify what you accomplished into something that a clueless recruiter, your grandma or your eight year old brother would understand, or not mention the technical details at all.

On the flip side, do use the names of the most important tools and technologies that you had to got to use during each employment period.

Versatile engineers get to fight on multiple fronts, so you may have designed databases, written back-end APIs and designed front-ends all by yourself in your present role. If that is the case, highlight the skills that are relevant to the job that you are applying for but mention the secondary roles that you filled, to customize your résumé for the position.

I find your lack of enthusiasm disturbing.

Language Skills

Candidates normally mention English, and their mother tongue (Urdu in Pakistan) on their résumé as their language skills, but I personally think that it is a bad idea. Even if English is a secondary language for you, your education was most likely in English, so proficiency in English communication in all forms is an implicit requirement for most jobs.

Being a rock-star developer is sadly not good enough these days. If you aim to work for an international organization, the hiring manager needs to know that, once hired, you would be able to confidently represent his/her team in internal and external meetings where English is the official language.

If your English writing skills are lacking, get your résumé reviewed and edited by someone who knows English well, while you take up an English conversation course to improve your chances for the interview. If your résumé itself demonstrates your English skills through short, concise and clear sentences, you don’t need this section at all.

If you are a polyglot and can speak four international languages along with a couple of dead ones, definitely mention the fact in your résumé. Please do not add C++ or Java – that joke got old in the last century.

The words speak for themselves.
Say no more…

Personal Statement

Hiring managers expect an engaging, creative, relevant, coherent and unique personal statement, objective, or whatever they are calling it these days, if you can’t write one, don’t copy someone else’s life-goals as your own, or fill it up with clichés.

Even if ‘Working at a challenging position in a dynamic organization that allows personal growth’ is all you’ve ever dreamed of, please don’t be another brick in the wall by adding similar sentences to your résumé. Consider replacing the ‘Personal Statement’ with a ‘Career Summary’ – the former is more about what you want, while the latter is about what you have to offer.

Either way, definitely do not copy/paste a personal statement from some Google search results. We will know.

Avoid using ‘I’ – so instead of using ‘I am a front-end developer for the last two years. I have expertise in Angular.js and Node.js’, use bullet-point style text along the lines of ‘Front-end Developer with two years of experience. Expert in Angular.js and Node.js’.

Cheesy quotes in your personal statement are better avoided, but if you do quote Nietzsche, be prepared to discuss his books during the interview. Your personal statement would also be used to grade your English skills, so ensure that it as well-crafted as an international brand’s slogan.

Here’s an assortment of real-résumé snippets that demonstrate how not to write your personal statement. See if you can spot the problems in the personal statements below, and ensure that yours is clean of similar mistakes.

Exhibit A.

Exhibit B.

Exhibit C.

Social Media Profiles

Opinion varies on whether including your social media profiles in your CV is the right thing to do or not, and is usually based upon the opiner’s generation. Gen Xers may think that social media profile links in a CV are unprofessional, Xennials like me may tolerate them, and Millennials and Gen Zers may welcome or even expect social media profile links. There’s no one-size-fits-all, so use your common sense (the one you used to buy that magic juice) to decide whether or not your social media links belong on your CV.

I personally like to see Facebook and Twitter profile links in résumés, as they give me a valuable, uncensored and honest glimpse into the candidate’s personality (and their communication skills), and their social media accounts contain a lot more information than their carefully crafted single-page CV. As a general rule, do not include any URL for your social media presence if you think that your profile, if projected on a huge screen at your future workplace, might cause you embarrassment.

That being said, here is my recommended set of guidelines to help you decide.


Do include your Facebook profile link on your résumé if your posts highlight your academic or professional achievements, your interesting hobbies and your original opinion on life, the universe and everything. Do not link to your Facebook profile if all you do is share memes, or if your posts supporting your favorite sports team tend to bend towards expletives. Make sure that your Facebook profile is public if you do share your URL, the recruiter is certainly not going to send you a friend request.


Add a link to your Twitter profile if you have been retweeting industry-specific accounts and/or your tweets contain original thought, we like people with focus, direction and creativity. Do not link to your Twitter account if your tweets are retweets or political commentary only, or if your account is protected.


If your Instagram account has original pictures taken by you, it might help ascertain that you are an artistically gifted individual, so you can consider adding it to your résumé. If it is full of memes, it does not belong on your résumé.


If you are an online content publisher and have a YouTube account to show for it, by all means, link to it, especially if your content is relevant to the job that you are applying for.


Definitely share your Quora account link if you regularly answer questions relevant to your industry, or even if you are an authority on a unique topic or hobby and your Quora account highlights this fact. Do not link to your Quora account if you have no activity there.


While not a ‘social’ platform, your Github account is the first link that a hiring manager would click if you are applying for a development position. It would add value to your CV if you have contributed to open-source projects, have been a consistent pusher on your own projects or even if you report bugs in the open-source projects you use, as this means that you want to make the world a better place.

If you have written original, clean and useful code and not merely forked existing projects, mention the fact in your résumé when linking to your Github.

Do not link to your Github if it is empty (that does happen) or if you created your account last month and quickly uploaded your university assignments there. It is disappointing to visit such an account.

Behance and Dribbble

Include your design portfolio URLs if design skills are fully or semi-relevant for the job you are applying for. If you are applying for a hard-core engineering position and the technical experience on your résumé is small in comparison with your website design work, it might suggest that you are a designer at heart and are applying for an engineering job because you have a degree. You might still get an interview, but do reflect on what you want to do with your life – it is probably not software engineering. On the other hand, including your design portfolio could be a positive if you are applying for a front-end engineer or a ‘Full Stack’ opening.

Code Pen and friends

Codepen is intended to share and test quick code snippets, so you should use Github to showcase your code instead.

Stack Overflow

As with Github, share your StackOverflow account if you have a good reputation there through answering questions, or even if you ask for solutions to complicated problems that you were stuck with in the past.

The questions you ask say a lot about you. Do not share your StackOverflow account if you were running out of time on an assignment and asked about how to balance a red-black tree during your studies – or such basic questions for which a Google search would have sufficed.

Upwork and Fiverr

Freelancing can be a double-edged sword when applying for a job. On one hand, if you have an impressive set of client referrals, it shows that you are an achiever. On the other hand, if you are too deeply involved in freelance projects, there is a high probability that you will continue to do so after you get a ‘regular’ job, and hiring managers have to consider the possibility that they won’t be receiving 100% of your focus.

In the past two decades of my career, there have been a couple of times when the person I hired was more interested in his freelance projects than his day-job duties, and his performance suffered due to this attention deficit.

In the end, the choice of whether to mention your freelance work and portfolio URL or not is yours, and there is no one-size-fits-all recommendation.


Definitely mention your Medium account if you have written more than one article there. Do not mention it if you go there to read and clap only.


Whether your blog contains your personal musings or your commentary on technology, if the content is not offensive, showcases your communication skills or highlights your creativity and connection with your profession, sharing a link on your résumé would obviously be the right move.

Reddit, Gist, Goodreads and Niche Platforms

The gist of the pattern is, any social network that is an evidence of you being a creative, intelligent, talented and interesting human being (that’s the type of a person that most hirers are searching for) should be included on your résumé. The person reviewing your résumé may not have the time to scan all your social media presence, but if they do, it will help increase your chances of at least landing an interview.

Achievements (and the Prime Minister Laptop)

Some context for the non-Pakistanis – once upon a time, in Old Pakistan, an Oprah-inspired Minister thought it would be a good idea to ‘promote’ the IT industry by distributing hundreds of thousands of free laptops to his future potential voters, because he could – so everybody got a free laptop. The eligibility criteria was to score marks above 60%-70% in school, which is an ‘achievement’ that would probably be tagged as ‘disappointment’ in our Asian tiger moms’ rule books.

If you are one of those students, please realize that a Prime Minister Laptop was not exactly an ‘accomplishment’ per se, it was just an event that you happened to be a part of, along with hundreds of thousands of others. Don’t mention that laptop on your CV, unless you created something worth mentioning using that laptop. Even then, share that worth-mentioning creation of yours, and not the fact that it was created on the Prime Minister Laptop.

I realize that the Millennials grew up around participation certificates where everyone is a winner, but the real world is still ruled by the Gen Xers, so anything that can elicit a ‘So what?’ from your brutally honest friends or your friendly recruiter should be excluded from your CV as a general rule, especially achievements that begin with ‘Participated in…’ if it isn’t followed by an ‘… and won…’.

I’d take a ‘Bought my first laptop from money I earned myself’ over these achievements anytime.

Achievements (and the Tic Tac Toe Résumé)

Maybe Tic Tac Toe was the first game that you programmed, and experienced that Eureka moment. I totally get that, and yearn to relive the excitement of getting my first few programs to run correctly. Unfortunately, you’ve had four years of education since you wrote that Tic Tac Toe (you did write it in your first semester, right?), so your CV should reflect that. At best, a Tic Tac Toe program could be a kata when you are learning a new language, but all it does on a résumé is to eat up valuable space. If you have not created a moderately complex program to replace your Tic Tac Toe entry with, stop your job search immediately and spend a week to create a few.

Any simple project doable in a few hours and already completed by thousands of developers does not belong in a CV – unless the solution is original and solves an interesting problem using a novel approach – a Tic Tac Toe game that can’t be beaten, for instance.

I call such CVs Tic Tac Toe Resumés, because every other day, I get to see one. They receive a 0 score and are crossed off the list of candidates. Don’t make your CV be a part of that lot. To-do List Résumés are closely related and are left for the reader as a thought exercise.



If you believe that your hobbies make you stand out and project you as an interesting person, feel free to ignore the advice out there and include your hobbies on your CV, especially if you have mastered one or more of your hobbies and are a high-ranked local amateur, or something to that effect. If the interviewer runs out of questions during the interview, they can use your hobbies as a conversation piece to assess how deep does your passion go for your hobbies.

On the other hand, if your hobbies are stereotypical, for example traveling, reading, “watching seasons” or music, they do not add much value to your CV and can actually tag you as an average person, instead of the awesome individual that you are.

Do not include hobbies just because they look cool but aren’t actually yours. If you say you swim, and live in a city that has sub-zero temperatures most of the year, with no heated swimming pools, you’ll be asked where you manage to swim. If you write that you play the guitar, but can’t name the notes in an A minor chord, or the open string notes in the standard tuning during the interview, chances are that this will be the cause of your rejection, even if your technical skills are great.

Before all else, though, when you include your hobbies on your résumé, try to do no harm.

Fricket, or Crickbee? I’d rather play a Mind Game.

This candidate writes the best code.

This candidate flies airplanes, raps, makes basketballs and wears wireless headphones.

OK, but what about Netflix?

This candidate couldn’t differentiate between a job website and Tinder.

Extra-curricular Activities

As with Hobbies and Achievements, only share your extra-curricular activities if they set you apart from other applicants. If you participated in a dozen hackathons and speed programming competitions, so did thousands of other candidates. Did you win any? List those events. Your being a member of twenty societies does not impress anyone, unless you achieved a noteworthy accomplishment in a few of them.

If you volunteer for charities, list your achievements rather than just stating the fact. This section should exist only if it adds substance to your résumé and tells the reviewer why you’re a better choice than your competition.

The space you save by not including an unimpressive ‘Extra-curricular Activities’ section imagined above.


If you are a fresh graduate who managed to be involved in research during your academic years, or later, and your work was published, definitely list your publications, but make sure that you follow a consistent and standard citation style, whether APA or MLA, as a carelessly put together publication list would do more harm than good. If you had a co-author who did all the work, be prepared to answer questions around your publications if you are called for an interview.

Our focus is on résumés for fresh candidates seeking a job, but if your résumé is meant to be submitted to a research team or academia, a Publications section becomes almost mandatory.


References will be/can be furnished/furbished upon request/demand” – of course they will, if that’s a requirement before you get the job, the recruiter will ask you for references, and you will provide them if you want to get that job. The section, therefore, is mostly redundant, and you can save some space by not including it in your résumé.

Résumé Rejection Reasons – An Illustrated Guide – Part 1 – First Impressions

You return home after four years of rigorous college education and a CS degree in hand. After catching up on months of lost sleep and millions of missed memes, you decide to finally begin your job search today – before the algorithms, time complexities and other topics that you expect to be asked about during your job interview fade away from your brain.

You fire up your Macbook for that superior user experience, download a résumé template that looks nice, and start filling it up. As it so often happens, you start to feel peckish after typing a couple of words, and pause your résumé writing to acquire some snacks.

You step out into the street. So much has changed since you went away that you don’t recognize your old neighborhood anymore. The first floor of a supermarket carries the juice and chips you want, but you are too tired to climb stairs. A corner shop further away has them, but its front is littered with trash, and that makes it a no-go area in these times of Corona.
You see a shop with a billboard advertising ‘Snakes & Drinks’, chuckle at the silly mistake and move on. They probably sell DoorEatOs. You finally find one with a bright billboard and a display full of juice boxes and chips packets – all good signs.

You are overwhelmed by the available snacking options. Most of the juice brands are unfamiliar, so you scan their labels. One juice box has misaligned printing, and that does not speak well for its quality. You pick another, but immediately put it back as it is squished at the bottom. You settle on a familiar brand with an unblemished package, buy it and head back home.

You open the juice can and resume your résumé writing. As you sip and type, a magical ingredient in the juice neutralizes all of the logical decision-making powers that you had just used for your shopping expedition.

You quickly finish your CV and mail it out to a dozen job openings. You sit in your room for a few weeks, wondering why you aren’t getting any interview calls.

The above is the persona of a typical job applicant in my mind whenever I scan a carelessly created CV, and I hope yours is not one of them. Magic is as good a cause as any to explain why an otherwise logical human being would make multiple, easily avoidable mistakes while creating a document that would determine the future course of their life.

For years, hiring and team building has been a major part of what I do. I have assessed thousands of résumés, most of them do not make the cut, while the multiple vacant positions that need to be filled stay vacant for months. The fraction of résumés that do make it to the next stage are the ones that have that je ne sais quoi that all job aspirants ought to seek.

They say that you only get a few seconds to impress a hiring manager or recruiter with your résumé. It wouldn’t take much to impress any hiring manager, they are not looking for perfection – just a well-crafted résumé that shows the author (hopefully you) has put in some thought and effort – but it seems to be too much to ask for.

I started jotting down this post to share my personal résumé pet peeves with you, in the hope that you’ll see the light, make a few changes and get hired.

Let us begin with an important, yet easily ignored fact – so important that it deserves its own quote.

Your résumé is usually the first work produced by you that your prospective employer will review.

Excerpt from this article.

This work sample that is your résumé was created without any serious time constraints or deadlines, unlike all the software projects in the world (you’ll see what I mean when you get your first job). You had all the time in the world to perfect and polish it. There is simply no excuse that you can use to explain why you did not get it right. If you can’t create quality content for something as important as your résumé, it raises serious doubts on the quality of your future work for a company, if they hire you.

The hiring manager reviewing your résumé is operating under time constraints. He has hundreds of other résumés to scan and many positions to fill, ideally with the best possible candidates. Your résumé is, in fact, you, in the recruiter’s mind, at least until you get to the interview stage and they link a face and voice to the résumé. If your CV does not stand out from the rest and exhibit the traits of a meticulous and sensible person, you stand no chance of being called for an interview (technically, the probability is non-zero, but let us use ‘no’ for effect).

There is a silver lining here – if your résumé avoids all the typical blunders that the other candidates make, then you, along with your résumé, automatically rise to the top 5% candidates that make it to the next stage. YMMV.

The few hours of work that you put into perfecting your résumé can potentially save you from hours or days of fruitless job applications.

Every hiring manager has his or her own mix of résumé features that they notice or consider. What follows is my personal list of attributes that I use to judge (you and) your résumé, along with my opinionated recommendations. I hope they’ll help you.

Part 1 – First Impressions

You start making your first impression way before the recruiter or hiring manager opens up your résumé, beginning with…

Your Email Address

Whether you are emailing your résumé or applying on a web-based ATS, your email address and your name are usually the first thing that a hiring manager views, and judges you on, and hiring managers have to be very judgmental.

Not all email addresses are created equal. You can win brownie points for using an email address on your personal domain, so contact@gordonfreeman.com would work better than gordonf382@gmail.com. If you don’t have your own personal domain, consider registering one, it is not that expensive, just skip a pizza per year. If you’d rather eat that pizza, then a respectable email gordonfreeman@gmail.com works just as well.

If you have an email account on Yahoo or Hotmail, or other almost obsolete email providers like aol.com, then the message it might send is that either you are ancient like me, or you are a fresh graduate who can’t be bothered about email productivity.

While gordon1980@gmail.com contains your birth year, you can do better than that. If a recruiter can remember your email address after putting away the CV for a couple of days, you have a head-start already.

nodrog@gmail.com, your name reversed, looks clever for the first few seconds if you are fresh out of school, but IMO you should reserve your creativity for better things.

An academic email like 1348b1972@myl33tuniv.edu does highlight your link to a prestigious institute, but it is not memorable enough, and you’ve graduated – so move.

Using yourname@yourcurrentjob.com sends a careless and unprofessional vibe – you are expected to search for a job on your own time using your own resources – using your current employer’s email address to apply for another job is awkward at best.

A fandom-based emails like justin_beiber_lover@gmail.com predicts an immature mind and is a quick route for your resume to land into the rejected pile.

When choosing your email address for your résumé, wear the hiring manager’s hat for a minute, and then use your, or the hiring manager’s common sense to decide.

Antelopes, dead or alive, don’t work for your CV.

Résumé File Name

The filename is another first-impression item that impacts the hiring manager’s opinion on your résumé (did I mention we’re hypercritical?). Keep that hiring manager hat on – they may like your résumé enough to want to save the file to a folder dedicated for the job applicants, even if they use a web based recruiting system, so that they would want to be able to find and open it again without logging on to the ATS. Keeping this scenario in mind, you should pick the most appropriate file name. A résumé, by any other file name, does not smell just as sweet.

Here are a few common blunders in résumé file naming that I come across daily, and my (exaggerated) interpretation:

  • CV.pdf, My_CV.pdf, Resume.pdf: Through your laziness, the recruiter has to perform unnecessary renaming steps (read ‘pain’) so they don’t overwriting other résumés and can come back to yours. You probably lack empathy as you don’t care about UX in your ‘products’. You have also forgotten the difference between a class and an object.
  • Donald.pdf, Khan.docx: Even though you are a unique snowflake, your first name is not – yet you are too self-absorbed to see that. There is a high probability that you share your first name as well as last name with other candidates. Also, you don’t remember primary keys and their implications from your database course.
  • Paul Atreides Resume (5).pdf: You have uploaded your CV on the cloud, and each time you need to submit it, you download the file to your Desktop, even though it is already in your Downloads folder. Also, your desktop has 537 icons.
  • Hogwarts_Tom_Marvolo_Riddle.doc, Barry_Allen_CCU.docx: You graduated from an elite institute and want to highlight the fact. You believe that your résumé is going to be fast-tracked because of the association. Also, you were wearing a hoodie with your college name when you created your résumé.
  • Resume_Hari_Seldon_Latest.pdf: Each time you update your CV, you create another _Latest version copy. Also, you have files named Resume_HS_Very_Old.pdf and Resume_HS_Last_Year.pdf on your computer.

If you really want to share the recency of your CV, FirstName_LastName_2020-07 would be a better option, as many CVs lie in wait for a while and gather electronic dust before they are picked up again. Using a variation of this naming scheme makes the hiring manager’s life easier, and takes your CV one tiny but significant step away from their Recycle Bin and towards being short-listed for an interview. 

Résumé File Format

The file extension (or icon) is yet another first-impression thing that the recruiter notices after the file name itself. The file format determines how quickly and easily the recruiter will be able to view it,  so you need to choose a format that would keep the recruiter happy.

I still receive the occasional CV as a png or a jpeg image, or even a scanned image of a printed CV that is pasted into a pdf file, but let us assume that you will not make such mistakes (right?). The two file formats that work best are .pdf and .docx (or .doc). Each has its own pros and cons. Recruiters used to say that a résumé in anything besides Word format is blasphemous and invites rejection, but times have changed.

I prefer receiving a pdf file because it is a read-only format with optionally embedded fonts, it makes no assumptions and reduces formatting surprises. A pdf reader usually also boots up faster than Microsoft Word. If you use a fancy font in a Word document, it might look great on your machine but would most likely make your CV appear to be badly formatted on the reader’s machine, especially if the reader uses LibreOffice on Linux like I do. This problem rarely exists in a properly saved pdf file.

Pdf résumés do have their drawbacks, as some ancient ATS may not be able to properly parse pdf files. If you use graphics and images instead of text elements, this parsing problem is amplified. All things considered though, the pdf format advantages still outweigh the drawbacks.

Résumés, unlike websites, are not expected to be responsive, yet verifying how your CV looks in pdf as well as doc format on multiple devices, operating systems, readers and screen resolutions costs little nothing and does not hurt either.

You should also keep a copy your résumé in both pdf and doc formats handy, just in case a job ad specifically calls for one particular format.

A doc file was printed on paper, and scanned to convert to a pdf here. True story.

Cover Letter

Before the résumé comes the cover letter. Since we are focusing on the résumé, I’ll cover this topic later if there is some reader interest. For now, just one tip – ensure that your cover letter is not the reason that your résumé is not even opened.

I can only imagine.
This candidate had me till ‘I’.

Books I Read in 2019

2019 was one of those years in which I managed to read approximately one book per week, after a couple of decades.
(This is just an excuse to revive this blog that has been dormant for six years).

Sohaib’s bookshelf: 2019


The Cab Driver from Waziristan

In Abbottabad, a Suzuki Bolan is the what you get when you need a taxi – probably because of its turning radius and the ability to squeeze into the narrow lanes of the old Abbottabad. The lanes were constructed during the British Raj days and are more suited to horses than cars. I just took a cab ride, or a ‘dabba (as Bolan is called here) ride’, with a driver who turned out to be from Waziristan. In the 10 minute short ride, he told me a rather long story when the conversation that started with how CNG gas stations are ripping off drivers by using very low pressure, turned to the inevitable topic of Pakistan. Here’s what he had to say (in mostly his own words):

I belong to Waziristan, and my family consists of mostly doctors, including my father. It has been many years since the Army operation started in my home-town. I had land and many shops, and the money I earned was enough to support my family. When the operations started, being the coward that I was, I moved to Abbottabad for the sake of my children’s education. My children study in Burn Hall (established by the British, and one of the top schools until a couple of decades ago. It is now run by the Army/ex-Army people). My shops are all destroyed now, and I have been forced to drive a taxi to earn a living. I can not pay my children’s school fees, and have been trying to talk to the Army decision makers. I have written them letters in which I tell them that I am not asking for compensation for the shops that have been destroyed, or a plot in exchange for the land I can no longer use, I am asking you for a discount in my children’s school fees as I can no longer pay them with the earnings I make from the cab I drive. They respond in the negative, saying we can not do anything for you. Now you tell me what kind of feelings will I have for a country whose army destroyed my livelihood and can not help me educate my children?

When I asked him what he thought of the APC and the talk of talking with the Taliban, he said that if our government had to hold talks with the Taliban on a peace process, they should have done so a few years ago instead of now, when everything is destroyed by the conflict. He gave me the analogy of a family where only one brother is full of mischief. The father, along with his other sons, first of all tries to discuss the issues that the problem child has, and get him to behave. If the son carries on his offensive behavior despite his father and brothers’ advice, only then they can take measures like kicking him out of the house.

Though I may not agree with his analogy, the driver probably had his own brother on his mind, as, just before the ride was over, he told me he has brother who is a captain in the Army. His brother was recently posted to Waziristan, of all the places, and said he will fight his neighbors and family if ordered, because the army is a servant of the government. The cab driver and his family agree.

And yes, in case you were wondering, he wore a long beard.

Staying in Pakistan

I have been asked countless times why I am wasting my life Pakistan and why haven’t I applied for immigration yet. This post has been lying in my blog drafts for many months – today seems to be an appropriate day to publish it. Happy Independence Day.

A few months ago, I asked a friend who was in Sweden for studies if he was planning to come back to Pakistan any time soon. “Are you kidding me?” was the incredulous reply that I got. Last year, the same friend was discussing how to ‘make a change in Pakistan’ with me over Skype.

I was not really surprised by his response. Over the years, I have seen dozens of my friends leave Pakistan one by one. 45 of my 50 classmates from school, and an even higher ratio of my university class fellows are no longer living in Pakistan. I have seen them change from Pakistan-loving students going abroad for just a couple of years to get their degrees, into expats, and later, into ecstatic foreigners updating their Facebook status when their passport color changes from green to blue or red. One by one, their H1B visas have transformed into green cards or European citizenship, their toddlers have grown into teenagers that are no longer fit for the harsh Pakistani lifestyle, and their careers and mortgaged houses have helped them to cut off their remaining ties with Pakistan.

The few friends who still have parents in Pakistan because they could not go through the ‘family reunification‘ process do visit Pakistan every few years, usually armed with video cameras, to film the land of their birth, to show to their friends in the land that they belong to now. To me, they are visitors, though their legal status may still be overseas Pakistani. My own uncles and aunts are amongst those people, urging their nephews and nieces on each trip to ‘not be a fool and apply for citizenship to another country – any country’, promising that a ‘brighter future’ awaits us. Maybe they advocate immigration due to their unease at the thought of people still wanting to live in a third-world country while they made their choice to upgrade their living standards, or maybe they are just proud of their accomplishments – but usually, they sound more like immigration agents than visiting relatives.

Many of my friends still stuck in Pakistan have their Canadian or Australian immigrations in process, they call it their ‘safety-net’ but we know better. They know they will end up joining the rest of the escapees, spend their lives abroad, and perhaps a few of them will choose to coming back in the final years of their lives, just to retire and be buried here. I have seen it happen before. I expect to see it again. After all, it is our own Pakistani mindset that changed the phrase پاکستان زندہ باد (Long live Pakistan) to پاکستان سے زندہ بھاگ (Get out of Pakistan alive) – a phrase that ceased to be funny many years ago.

Imran Khan believes that expats and overseas Pakistanis can bring about an economic revolution in Pakistan – probably because he hangs out in a different crowd than the average Pakistanis, but I doubt that the thought of direct or indirect economic revolution ever crosses the minds of my overseas Pakistani friends. I would love to be corrected on this – I think that except for a handful of Pakistani entrepreneurs who have made mad money abroad, the majority of expats can only bring a few thousand dollars per person to Pakistan on the average as remittances, and that too only while they have immediate relatives alive in Pakistan to send money to. I believe that after two or three decades, their family members will either die or join them abroad, their ties with Pakistan will finally be severed, and they will have no reason to send their hard-earned money ‘back home’, resulting in a Pakistan that got a bit of dollars and pounds over a few years, and lost a lot of talent – many future generations of talent.

The scenario doesn’t seem much different from the international aid that our rulers are constantly begging for – the only small difference being that the aid would be willingly given by people-formerly-known-as-Pakistani . I am not sure if an economist (and I am not one) would confirm or refute my theory, but I believe that those of us living in Pakistan that leave a 50 rupee tip for the waiter, spend 100 rupees on a rickshaw ride or buy a 500 rupees t shirt from a local shop are contributing more to the Pakistani economy than all the overseas Pakistanis that manage to send a few million rupees back home to their families in Pakistan – after working hard for a major portion of their lives – to buy a decent house so that their Christmas holiday visits to Pakistan are more pleasant.

My father was born in India in an area called Dehradun. With its lush valleys and winding roads, Dehradun doesn’t seem much different from Abbottabad. When my father discovered Youtube recently, and was checking how much his birthplace has transformed, I recalled my grandmother’s stories about the 1947  Partition, the loss of life and property that the family had to suffer and the relatives that were left behind. Just as I will not move to Dehradun to grow old and die, it would be illogical to expect my friends’ kids or my cousins to come back to Pakistan, to the villages and mohallahs of their parents, just to contribute to the economy of their parents’ homeland – a country they can’t really call their own – one riddled with poverty and terrorism and all the troubles of the world that their parents ran away from.

Nationalism has been called the ‘measles of mankind’ – living in Pakistan, we have seen more than our share of man-made boundaries turning some men into emotional fools and others into tyrrants and opressors. To me though, choosing to stay in Pakistan is not about nationalism or patriotism – but leaving it is about cowardice and laziness.

My friend and family abroad did not leave to be ‘citizens of the world’, and most of them did not end up trotting the globe to live their lives to the fullest, or to gather wisdom from other cultures. Their reasons to leave Pakistan were more basic. They left to lead easier, more secure  lives, to make more money and to drive fancier cars. The academic types left to get their PhDs, and then decided that Pakistan does not offer the kind of opportunities in their field of their research that would motivate them to come back. For one reason or another, they managed to stay out of this country. There is nothing wrong with choice they made, they are free to live their definition of a good life, but I do wish that instead of coming back to die in Pakistan, a few of them decide to come back to live. As ‘foreign-returned’ Pakistanis, they will automatically be part of the elite class, and will even get to watch the same TV shows and follow the same sports events that they are currently investing most of their remaining lives in.

I watched this video (in Urdu) recently,  in which Hasan Nisar, a brutally honest Pakistani columnist or a traitor/CIA agent, depending on your ideological inclinations, claimed that if America opens its doors for Pakistanis today, all healthy Pakistanis will be gone in less than 24 hours. I think his generalization is off by a few hundred people – there are at least a few of us who will choose to stay when given the choice to leave, not because we hate the West or don’t want to earn more money, but because our definition of happiness involves improving what we can improve in the system that we live in instead of switching to another system to live predictable, easy lives. Some of us who choose to stay in Pakistan, idealistic fools that we may be, do so to try and make a change in our surroundings, a much harder task than changing our surrounding.

As John F. Kennedy put it:

Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men.