A public message to approximately 90 percent of the international job-seeking population:
Your resume could be a lot better. And it is hurting your international job search.
(Honestly, it’s also hurting any domestic job search you are doing, but since that’s not the focus of this site, we’ll leave that to one side for now.)
I know because I have hired a lot of people over the years, and read thousands of resumes. I’ve thrown most of them in the trash. Some made me laugh. Others made me cry. And I’m tired of it.
I want to up your game. It will make your career so much easier. And most importantly for this context, it will make your international job search that much quicker and effective.
Seriously, that’s why I started writing this post. Most resumes are so woeful, so doleful, that I wish my desk had a little incinerator portal within arm’s reach to vaporize the offending sheet of paper.
Most hiring managers feel like this. And incidentally, if their life gets easier, your life gets easier — because they’re more likely to hire you.
Many people forget that when they want something from someone else, they either get it by convincing the other person that, by giving you what you want, (1) he or she has something to lose by refusing or (2) he or she has something to gain by accepting.
You, the job applicant, will be lucky if you are ever in the position to convince an employer that they have something to lose by refusing you a job. (Should you ever reach this point in life, however, pat yourself on the back: it’s a great place to be.)
But you can probably convince them that they have something to gain by giving you a job.
But you have to put yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager. You have to think about what he or she wants, not what you want. They don’t care what you want. And they have the job to offer, not you.
Additionally, in the international context, often the person doing the hiring, needs to also justify hiring you — the international candidate — over a local. So you need to think about what might convince him or her to choose you and not them.
(Golden rule No. 1 of talking to Hiring Managers: think about what they want, not what you want.)
So with that in mind, I’ve dipped my pen in the ink of my rancorous tears, shed after wasting my time on one crappy job interview after another, to write the (drum roll, please) TOP TEN REASONS YOUR RESUME IS HURTING YOUR INTERNATIONAL JOB SEARCH:
(Ahem. Note that most of this advice also applies to domestic jobs. But it counts double for international work, since the competition is often that much more fierce.)
#1: You didn’t use spell check (counts double if you are writing in a second language).
Seriously? Even in the mid-1990s, when I used computers that looks like this, spell-checking software existed. And it worked pretty well. We are now in 2017. Spell-check is AUTOMATIC. That little red squiggle under the word you just typed is probably WRONG.
If a hiring manager sees a typo that the spell-check would have caught, you are done. Finis. Donezo. Why would they take a chance with someone so careless?
Resume –> incinerator.
Palm –> face.
This is even more important with international jobs, and in particular, with resumes that are not in your native language.
You are that much more likely to make mistakes in a language that is not your own.
So repeat after me: spell-check…spell-check…spell-check.
And if you can find a native speaker to review your work, even better. Spell-check catches typos, but it does not catch what I call “word-os” or “idea-os” where you are using weird context or phrases in weird ways.
Hiring managers pay attention to that sort of thing. They may give you a little leeway knowing that you are not a native speaker, but they will not forgive really awkward phrasing. It will make them think — correctly, in many cases — that your language abilities aren’t good enough to cut it.
#2: You are full of sh*t, especially about your foreign language abilities.
Hiring managers can smell B.S. claims in a resume a mile away.
Many of these claims involve entry-level people working in a team that claim full responsibility for what the team did.
You, an entry-level analyst and part of a 15-person team, say you single-handedly reduced costs in your division by five percent?
Sure, that was all you, champ.
Or a junior PR person takes credit for landing a major ad contract. I am sure you helped, but 999 out of 1,000, that wasn’t your victory.
Bottom-line: if you make claims on your resume, you’d better be able to back them up. And if what you accomplished seems out of step with what your role, you had better provide enough detail so the hiring manager doesn’t lump you in with all the other bulls**ters out there.
This is even more important in the context of your foreign language abilities.
ATTENTION: Do not ever, ever, bulls**t your foreign language abilities. It will, as surely as the sun rises in the east, bite you in the ass. You can’t fake your “fluency” when they call you on the phone or want to speak with you in person. If anything, be conservative with your claims here.
And yes, hiring managers do check, and yes, it does irritate the hell out of us when people with high school Spanish claim to “speak professionally fluent Spanish.” Guess what? Those people not only fail to get the job, they often also are the fodder for funny stories with other hiring managers — who will remember your name when you apply to their companies.
Moral of the story: don’t bulls**t.
#3: You discuss useless things about yourself.
To reiterate, it is 2017. Microsoft Office launched in 1990. (For Windows 3.0! I was using MS-DOS back then, writing .BAT files.) Many job seekers weren’t even born yet.
Moral of this story? Telling people in your resume that your skills “include MS Word” is like telling me you know how to write. I would assume it’s true, and you aren’t “wowing” me by showing off that particular attribute.
Worse, since a resume supposedly reflects your best foot forward, it suggests…wait for it…that your MS Word skills represent a pinnacle of your talents. Not good.
Leave this stuff off. MS Word, PowerPoint, Excel (unless you are an Excel wizard, in which case you need to be more specific, like you write your own macros or VBA scripts), and so forth. Seriously. I don’t care about it, hiring managers don’t care about it (regardless of what country they live in), and therefore neither should you.
#4: You discuss responsibilities in your previous jobs, not your accomplishments.
This is a heavier lift, but if you have the discipline to do this, your resume will be in the top 1% of all the resumes in the universe. Srsly. This applies to jobs all over the world, in your country and elsewhere.
Most people talk about their past jobs in resumes in terms of their job responsibilities. The following are all from real resumes:
- “Responsible for assisting customers with technical problems with their electronic products.”
- “Worked side-by-side with coworkers to ensure customers receive a positive in-store experience.” (This one is from a professionally written resume that someone actually paid hundreds of dollars to a copywriter to produce!)
- “Responsible for overall design direction and decisions of engineering design team.”
- “Assisted with daily assignments on the Product Management team.”
I want to kick a puppy right now, just typing this.
The problem with all of the above? They say NOTHING about whether you are someone who would do good work for an employer.
Let’s be clear: A job description is what you are expected to do in a job. A job description is not an indicator of whether you were good, or even decent, at it.
Moreover, hiring managers are uninterested in whether you just fulfilled your basic job responsibilities. They need to know whether you will go beyond them when necessary. That’s what sets you apart from all the other people off the street who want the same job.
Instead, you need to talk about RESULTS.
When you talk about RESULTS, you’re speaking the language of the dude or gal hiring you. People hire you because you will get the results the company wants and needs. Show me you are better than just a job description.
In that light, we’ll rewrite the above to say something like this:
- “Consistently rated one of Best Buy store #753’s best customer service technicians. Always received ‘exceeded expectations’ in employee reviews, and two ‘Employee of the Month’ citations, awarded to just one employee per month out of a pool of 125 people, in a 14-month period.”
- “Responsible for $17,000 in sales in Macy’s women’s wear over two months, and rated in the top 10% of customer service professionals at the store.”
- “Leading six-person engineering design team, developed new chassis weighting 20 percent less and at 80 percent of the previous model’s cost, while coming in 10 percent under budget.”
- “Improved daily assignments process on Product Management team by assigning rotating responsibilities for compiling assignments before daily stand-up meetings, shortening meeting length by 10 minutes per day.”
Do you see the difference?
The original text discusses (1) boring things that (2) hiring managers don’t care about.
That’s a bad combination. Not only does your boring resume make the hiring manager’s life more boring, it also does not result in anything useful for them (like a promising job candidate). So they will throw your resume away and turn to something either more interesting or more useful. Please avoid this.
The improved text, on the other hand, gives me answers to the hiring manager’s questions. Those answers are like aloe vera on that peeling sunburn I got hanging out at the lake. Feels good. And when the hiring manager feels good, you do well.
#5: Your resume is too long for the culture you want to work in.
What constitutes “too long ” varies from country to country. For example, in the United States, a one-page resume is still generally the industry standard. In Europe and Latin America, it is often longer (e.g., two pages).
Nonetheless, in every country, there is such a thing as a resume that is too long.
Generally, you should ask yourself three quick questions before you think of sending a resume that exceeds the standard limit where you live. Ask yourself, “Am I…”
- An academic with lots of publications to my name?
- Famous in my field?
- Writing a resume for a job that generally requires additional information?
If the answers to all of these questions are “no,” don’t go over the standard length FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.
Hiring managers mock people who send in resumes that are too long without having a good reason.
Why? Because 99.99999 times out of 100, you are wasting even more of their time with your overly long resume than you would have with your shorter resume.
Because you thought you had more to say about yourself than everybody else without a good reason, and thus look self-important.
Because thinking you are better than everyone else without actually being better than everyone else suggests you lack self-awareness.
Literally — if your resume is too long, and you are not an academic, famous, or otherwise need to include extra information, you are failing as soon as the hiring manager’s dextrous, elegant fingers detect the extra page(s) of your document.
#6: You use a weird post-modern resume format, and you’re not in a creative field.
Honestly, if you aren’t applying for a job focused on visually creative work, and you send a weird-looking resume like this one, you will usually inspire contempt and irritation.
Seriously. What are you doing? Stop.
Basically the #1 purpose of your resume is to convince a hiring manager to give you an interview. Anything else your resume does beyond this is IRRELEVANT and a waste of time. So ask yourself — will a resume that looks like this help convince someone to interview you?
This looks like you hired Michel Foucault to prepare your resume.
Also, please imagine someone having to turn your resume at a 30-degree angle just to start reading it.
Now imagine that person getting angry at you, throwing your resume in the trash can, and telling all their colleagues about it.
This is even more true in more traditional working cultures, like in much of Latin America. You may be able to skate by in a coastal metropolis in United States like San Francisco with your jacked-up, post-post-modern resume format, but the dude reviewing this in Mexico City is unlikely to share the same perspective.
#7: You have some vague “Objective” line on your resume.
Truth: Your objectives matter very little to me as a hiring manager.
Another truth: The hiring manager’s objectives matter a great deal to the hiring manager.
Ergo, a third truth: You are wasting the hiring manager’s time by listing your objectives on your resume. And people don’t like it when you waste their time.
I know some people say that you should list objectives, like this individual.
In my perhaps-not-always-very-humble opinion, they are wrong wrong wrong.
First, who cares about your objectives? Not the hiring manager. The hiring manager cares about the hiring manager’s objectives.
Second, want to provide some context about why you are applying for the job? Put a sentence in your cover email/cover letter. Use the extra space on your resume to tell me something more relevant, or just make the font bigger so that it’s easier on the hiring manager’s old, crotchety eyes.
Yes, yes, in some cultures, the objective section is almost a pro forma requirement. These exceptions are fine, if you know the terrain well enough to identify them. But let’s not turn the exception into the rule.
#8: You write too much about your hobbies.
Honestly, the best rule is probably to keep your hobbies off your resume altogether. That’s what I have generally done.
Now, some people will list a couple in the hopes that they will generate a personal connection with a hiring manager who shares their interests, or provides a bit of personal color to an otherwise dry process.
Most people actually don’t mind hearing a short sentence or two about your hobbies. Speaking personally, as a human being, if you happen to like something I like, maybe there is a small chance it will make me feel more just a shade more kindly towards you. Sometimes it also makes you seem more human, or gives me some fodder for small talk at the beginning of a job interview.
That said — it won’t ever make up for a lack of experience or other job-related flaw. And there is always a chance you will list a hobby that I hate!
So be careful. You probably don’t know the hiring manager very well.
And regardless, if you spend more than a sentence or two on your hobbies, you are wasting time and valuable resumes space.
“But…but…Jeff,” you may stammer. “I climbed Mount Everest eight times before I was 25, and am an eight-time gold medal winner in Olympic curling. Surely I should be able to write more about this.”
Thanks for confusing the exception with the rule, genius. Yes, eight-time Olympic gold-medal winners get special dispensation. Or if you fly around in a wingsuit on the weekends. But how many people are out there like that? You’ll know you are an exception if you are really an exception.
#9: You provide a long list of your coursework.
You took Organic Chemistry, History of World Cultures, and General Biology I and II?
NOBODY CARES EXCEPT YOUR MOM.
The hiring manager certainly doesn’t care. The hiring manager is generally not even all that interested in what your degree is in.
What they care about is whether you have the experience to do the job they need to fill.
Most of the time that experience does not come from classes. Tough thing to face for many people who have invested a lot in a formal education, but it’s true.
A formal education generally matters only as far as it provides a structure for gaining experience. Yes, there are exceptions, like a degree from a top-10 university, but they are just that — exceptions.
“But,” you say, “I know this guy who applied for a job fixing underwater computer cables at night and he had to prove he had taken Nighttime Underwater Computer Cable Repair I and II!”
Practicing for that Nighttime Underwater Computer Cable Repair II final exam.
Again, thanks for pointing out the 1% exception to the rule. Yeah, there are a few jobs out there where a laundry list of academic requirements are useful. But they are so few and far between that you’ll know ’em when you see ’em.
And whatever the job is, History of World Cultures sure as hell isn’t going to be relevant. Save that sh*t for impressing your date.
#10: You discuss your personal qualities.
Seriously, this one really gets to me. Maybe a third of the resumes I have seen included self-praise sections where the person talks about their personal qualities:
“Superior analytical skills.”
Dude, you won’t convince people you are dependable because you wrote it on your resume.
That’s like expecting people at a party to think you are a cool guy because you stood up on a chair and yelled “I’m really cool” across the room.
You have to prove those qualities through (1) your work experience, (2) your interview, and (3) your references (the most important of the three here). It’s hard, since you and the hiring manager don’t know each other.
But that’s why the hiring manager pays so much attention to interview behavior and what job references say. They are looking for those little cues that tip them off to your character.
So save valuable resume real estate — use it to say something more important.
Some concluding — and positive — thoughts.
So most resumes could use some work. That sounds pretty negative, right?
But there’s a huge silver lining here.
And that is: it’s really easy to fix a lot of these problems.
And as a consequence, it’s really easy to improve your resume quickly.
While some of the points above (particularly #3) can take some time, others (like #1, #9, and #10) can be done in minutes.
A small investment here can generate huge rewards. So what are you waiting for?