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’.