Resume Deal-Breakers That Can Cost You a Job

Will that resume get you hired?

It’s tough out there. Especially in this time of economic downturn, where everyone seems to be looking for a job. But the good news is that for every place downsizing, many are still hiring. And what can really set you apart from the pack is a clean, telling resume. 

Whether you are a veteran PR pro, or relatively new to the industry, your resume can tell a story of not only your experience, but who you are as an employee and teammate. The key is to scrutinize your words and provide an easy, organized experience. Recruiters and hiring managers can tell when you've created a resume with a half-hearted effort. 

We talked to communicators about resume deal-breakers—what gets their attention versus what makes them want to chuck it in the garbage. These hiring managers have viewed almost every type of resume, and they know what will make it to the yes pile. 

Accomplishments Over Tasks

Anyone can say they built a media list of 100 travel writers with expertise in goat yoga. But how did that list help the campaign? Showcasing a description of achievements surrounding projects can set you apart. 

“I like to see accomplishments, not tasks that someone performed,” says Laura Gross, president of Scott Circle Communications. “So many resumes are just [lists of] tasks.”

Make it Digital

Most people create and write resumes on a computer, and most employers receive resumes on a computer, making that medium all digital. Utilize tools to enhance your resume with digital detours that can tell your story.

“I have been uber-impressed with candidates who include links to previous work, and I always check the work!” says Lana McGilvray, co-founder and CEO of Purpose Worldwide. “It shows candidates are thinking about how their work will help power our success as well as pride in work. It often gives me and our team ideas on how we can actually bring on a candidate and apply them beyond the roles we are hiring for, [which is] good for all stakeholders!”

Keep It Simple

There’s no need to litter a resume with buzzwords and flowery statements. Put your effort into good writing and the task at hand. 

“Leave out subjective traits and hyperbolic statements,” says Tammy Phan, director of talent at BerlinRosen. “Are you a visionary, creative communicator who's beyond excellent with client services? Instead of saying that, show achievements that illustrate your ability to be visionary, creative and work well with clients. And leave out headshots. Pictures on resumes aren't common in the U.S. and can make you seem very out of touch. And it makes it harder for companies to hire equitably.”

Write it Out

Show that you know how to write. The number-one complaint of almost everyone, no matter what industry you work in, is typos. If you can’t trust someone to write a flaw-free resume, how can you trust them with campaigns and communication?

“When looking to hire in specific industry expertise, there is a big risk in hiring someone who knows the industry but hasn't demonstrated the skills to be successful in PR,” says Vince Galloro, principal at Sunrise Health Communications. “The best example is that the person has not had a job where she or he was writing every single day. This tends to be for closer to entry-level positions where the firm believes it can train its own—it's a great strategy if the firm is committed to it, but if the person is expected to hit the ground running and contribute immediately [and often], no one ends up happy.”

Functional Formatting

Create a well-organized resume that is easy for PR employers to read—they don’t have much time. And keep it to one page, please!

“A deal-breaker for me is poor formatting,” says Meredith L. Eaton, director of North America, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry. “If I have to hunt to find key information that is usually discernible at a glance, it can be really frustrating—especially if you're having to sort through dozens upon dozens of resumes!”

“I like to see the company name and position clearly identified above any further details, as well as the dates you held that position and location. And if your role had multiple facets to it, subtitles beneath that to break out the more tactical things that follow can be hugely helpful! For instance, client management, agency activity or new business may all be good subtitles.”

'We, Not Me'

What’s the best way to display a penchant for teamwork on a resume? It might be easier than you think.

“Resumes are like a media pitch,” says Rick Murray, managing partner at Shift. “The best ones—the ones from the candidates you end up talking with—are interesting, differentiated and believable. They show diversity of thought and experience, an obvious passion for things both in and outside of work, a results orientation backed up by a solid set of accomplishments, and most of all, a sense of humility and pride in a team over ego and self-promotion. All are critical for...who makes it past the first meeting, but the real deal breaker for me is seeing [and/or hearing] too much ‘me’ and not enough ‘we.’”

Share Your Story

A resume is a lot more than numbers. It’s about showcasing who you are and what makes you the best match for a prospective employer. A resume should answer questions instead of create them. 

“I want data and numbers, but I also want you to tell me a story,” says Diana Mitchell, owner and chief strategist at the digital marketing consulting firm, Peoplemover. “How did you get to this point in your career, and why do you kick ass? In fairness, this could [and should] come from a combination of resume, cover letter and LinkedIn. But without a story, it's just numbers and titles. If you can't tell a story to land a job as a storyteller, I have no incentive to hire you.”

Nicole Schuman is a reporter for PRNEWS. Follow her: @buffalogal