5 Signs Your Résumé Is Holding You Back

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By Alison Green

When you're searching for a job, nothing is more frustrating than sending out scores of résumés for positions you know you're qualified for and not getting any interviews. If that's happening to you, your résumé may be holding you back in some way.

Of course, in a tight job market like this one, it can be hard to know if the issue is simply the market and the amount of competition out there or if your résumé itself is putting you at a disadvantage. Here are five of the biggest indicators that it's your résumé that's probably the problem:

1. You're applying for plenty of jobs for which you match the listed qualifications, but you aren't getting interviews. Most people, even the exceptionally well-qualified, don't get interviews for every job they apply for. But if you're applying for dozens of jobs per month – jobs for which you truly do meet the qualifications – and never hearing anything back, chances are good that your application materials are responsible. Your résumé probably isn't going to get you interviews at even half the jobs you apply to. But if it's not even scoring you a success rate of one in 10, that tells you that you need to revisit what you're sending out.

2. You feel like you're a much more valuable worker than your résumé shows. A lot of people think to themselves, "If I could only get an interview, they'd see what a great fit I am." But if you feel that way, your résumé isn't doing its job. If you're a great employee – someone with a track record of achieving at a high level in past jobs – it's your résumé's job to show that. If it's not, you need to rewrite your résumé until it reflects why an employer should be excited to talk to you.

A common response to this is, "But the type of work I do is hard to convey on a résumé." However, being a valuable employee is about getting results for your employer, and there's always a way to describe those results on a résumé. It doesn't have to be as quantitative as "increased sales by 20 percent" or "promoted twice in two years," although those are great accomplishments to include if they're true. Instead, it might be something more like "became the department's go-to source for quickly and accurately resolving billing discrepancies," "built a reputation of working successfully with previously unhappy clients" or "resolved an inherited four-month backlog in three weeks." Whatever it was that made you excellent at your work, that's what your résumé needs to convey. Otherwise, it won't open many doors for you.

3. If you imagine the résumé of someone with a similar work history but who has done mediocre work, it doesn't look much different from your own. Your résumé shouldn't just list what activities you engaged in at each job. Instead, it should convey how well you did them. Hiring managers probably won't be especially impressed by your job descriptions. What they care about is whether you excelled in the role.

If your résumé doesn't convey that you were better than that other guy who had a similar job, there's nothing to make an employer think you're the one worth interviewing. The way you address this is by focusing your résumé on what you achieved in each role and how you excelled, not just a list of duties.

4. It's three or more pages. Job seekers with long résumés regularly protest that they can't possibly fit their full job history on two pages. But many highly qualified, senior-level candidates regularly manage to stick to two-page (and sometimes one-page) résumés. So if you exceed two pages, most hiring managers will see you as someone who can't edit, doesn't understand what information is most important and doesn't respect their time. Are you really willing to accept that outcome just so you don't have to trim down your text?

5. When you do get interviews, interviewers seem surprised by some of the information you give them. If your interviewer seems pleasantly surprised by a work achievement or other qualification that comes up in the interview, it might be something that should have been on your résumé in the first place.

Similarly, if your interviewer seems disappointed to learn that, say, your last job was only a few hours a week or lasted only a few months, that's a flag that your résumé might need to be clearer. You might wonder why you should be clearer about things that might get you disqualified, but otherwise you risk wasting your time interviewing for jobs for which you're not a strong candidate and don't have much chance of being hired.

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search and management issues. She's the author of "How to Get a Job: Secrets of a Hiring Manager," co-author of "Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results" and the former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management.
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