3.4 Résumés and Online Applications

Jordan Smith

A résumé is the central document of your job application because it is what employers focus on most when judging an applicant’s suitability for doing the job they are hiring for. Does the candidate have the right combination of core and soft skills to do the job? Did they acquire those skills with the right combination of education, employment, and other experience? Are they able to put a document together in a clear, concise, correct, organized, and reader-friendly way? Unable to appear in person to make the pitch at this point, the applicant’s résumé conveniently answers these questions. It is convenient because (1) it proves the applicant’s writing ability and (2) interviewing every applicant in person about their skills would be logistically impossible. The goal of the résumé, then, is to convince the employer to include you in the small selection of candidates they will interview to find the right person for the job.

Can you get to an interview without it? Sometimes a small-business owner will sidestep usual human resources (HR) best practices and hire without placing too much emphasis (if any) on the résumé. In most cases, however, the résumé is key to the hiring process. If that process is a communications test, the résumé, packaged along with the cover letter, is the written component. Sometimes one writing mistake—even just one little typo (LedgerLink, 2009)—can fail you out of the running so you do not proceed to the oral component (the interview). Employers demand perfection in the résumé for the following reasons:

  1. Enough applicants may set the quality bar high by delivering a flawless résumé. When the hiring manager’s task is to whittle down a pile of a hundred applications to about five for interviews, even one writing mistake in a résumé gives them the reason they are looking for to dump the résumé in the shredder, thinning out the pile a little further. They might even feel vindictive about it because a résumé riddled with errors is insulting; it says to the employer: “I’m not bothering to fix up my résumé because you’re not worth my time.” This is why writing errors often rank as hiring managers’ #1 pet peeve (Vandegriend, 2017). If 90% of résumés have errors and can be shredded upon first sight of one, the hiring manager’s job of sorting through a hundred applications then becomes selecting the five most qualified from among the ten flawless ones remaining after the quality-of-writing cull.
  2. A perfect résumé speaks volumes about how conscientious a job applicant can be about the quality of work they do. If a résumé is poorly written, the employer can safely expect a similarly poor quality of work if the applicant became an employee. That may be untrue and unfair, but the employer has nothing else to go on besides this document and the cover letter to make a snap judgment about whether the applicant would be suitable in the position. A perfect résumé shows that the applicant cares about what the employer wants, knows how to deliver it, and could potentially continue to do the same if hired.

Employer expectations are high and rising. Gone are the days where a printed résumé was all you were responsible for. Today you must also project a professional image online in whatever employers find when they Google-search you—because they almost certainly will. Even your electronically submitted résumé must be written with a consideration of the electronic filters employers use to scan applications and pre-select only those that truly answer the job posting’s call.

Generic Résumés

Since 93% of employers Google-search job applicants to see how they present themselves in social media differently from their application (Jobvite, 2014, p. 10), a two-pronged approach to professionalizing your web presence is absolutely necessary. First, remove anything that makes you look unprofessional. Adjust your privacy settings to minimize your personal presence in public searches. In Facebook and Instagram, for instance, this means setting your entire profile to private (available only to friends) except what the sites force you to make public. Since over half of recruiters have reconsidered a candidate based on what they see on social media (Jobvite, 2014, p. 11), your publicly available profile picture, for instance, should be a decent headshot rather than a spring break party picture.

Second, professionalize your social media presence by actively posting career-oriented content that will be the first “hit” employers see when they Google-search you. When this content takes the form of a résumé, it is a “passive” one in that you put out a generic version for people to find rather than a targeted one in response to a job posting. In combination, passive and targeted résumés can be a winning combination. On its own, however, a passive generic résumé is useless. Consider the following strategies for how to win an interview with a combined approach to résumé building.

Generic Résumé Topics
  • An Effective Passive Generic Résumé: Your LinkedIn Profile
  • What’s Wrong with Sending a Generic Résumé? —It’s Spam
An Effective Passive Generic Résumé: Your LinkedIn Profile

If you have not done this yet, professionalize your web presence by assembling a well-developed LinkedIn profile. The site and others offer plenty of advice on how to make the most of the social media platform, so search a few out to get a picture of the consensus on what makes for a successful profile. A good, current place to start is The Most Effective Ways to Use LinkedIn (Doyle, 2018) because it links you to several in-depth guides for building each aspect of your profile.

If you have done this already, show potential employers that you are fully committed to your profession by continually updating your profile as the site adds and develops features. Keep building your network and adding content related to your field. Show that you engage in professional activities online because you are a motivated professional rather than toss a profile together as a one-time exercise because someone told you to.

As you gain more professional experience throughout your career, add it all to your LinkedIn profile to make it a master CV (“curriculum vitae,” meaning “course of life” in Latin) from which you can extract targeted résumés for particular job applications. It is okay if your targeted résumé and CV cover the exact same content in the beginning of your working life because you will not have much to put in either; employers will understand that when they see the year you graduated from college. As you gain more experience and can be picky about what you include in a targeted résumé, however, your LinkedIn CV will provide employers with a fuller picture of what you have been doing with your life. They will be impressed that (1) you were able to present to them a slice of that history relevant to the job at hand, and that (2) you are so much more well-rounded than your targeted résumé lets on. They will see that you have depth.

What is Wrong with Sending a Generic Résumé? —It’s Spam

To be competitive in any fierce job competition, a generic résumé—i.e., the kind that you made a hundred copies of to get your first job and handed out to every shop on the street that had a “Help Wanted” sign in the window—just is not going to cut it. Indeed, it ranks among the top 10 pet peeves of hiring managers (Vandegriend, 2017) because, like spam, generic résumés just give the busy hiring manager more useless junk to sort through. Even a well-developed passive résumé like a LinkedIn profile is not enough on its own. (Do not be surprised if your LinkedIn message inbox is not flooded with job offers if you do nothing other than post your profile.)

To have any chance of succeeding in this game, actively apply to job postings and make your applications stand out with superior quality, knowing that your application will be just one of dozens, perhaps even hundreds, vying for interview spots. When an employer goes through the pile of applications that make it past the electronic filters, the résumés targeted specifically at that job make the generic ones look unprepared to compete. Along with those marred by glaring errors, generic résumés are the first to go into the shredder. They annoy hiring managers because they mean more work, but they are easy to spot and reject when the goal is to thin out the pile.

Can you land a job with a generic résumé alone? If you are what a small business without dedicated HR personnel is looking for regardless of what your résumé says, yes, probably, you can get that job mostly by networking your way into it. If you are up against some serious competition in a strict, application-based hiring process driven by sound HR practices that seek to eliminate bias, however, anything less than a targeted résumé does not stand a chance. What is a targeted résumé, then?


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3.4 Résumés and Online Applications Copyright © 2022 by Jordan Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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