Ask a Resume Writer: Why Is My Resume Getting Picked Apart in Job Interviews?

“I’m landing interviews with my resume but spend most of the time having to defend weaknesses. What’s going on?”

The good news: Most job seekers vastly underestimate how much power their resume has in shaping the hiring process. How you’re perceived, how difficult of an interview process you have, and yes, how big the initial offer is hugely dependent on what information you provide to an employer and how accurately you address their pain points.

The bad news: Most have no idea how to pull the right levers on the resume to make this happen. But you will.

Here are the big warning signs hiring managers pick up on and what to do instead.

1. Does not speak to job requirements

Does your resume answer the job ad? |

The job posting is the question. Your resume needs to be the answer. Here are some quick tips: 

  • Skip the general “objective” section in favor of a few bullet points that directly play to the challenges listed on the job posting. For example, if a company is looking for a marketing manager with a strong background in live and digital brand experiences and you’ve spent the past few years working in this domain, call it out right at the start. Don’t make employers hunt for fit with the job. Make it obvious from the very first lines.
  • Break down the job posting into five or six “core skills” that are essential to success, and create accomplishments within your work history that highlight them. For example, let’s say you wish to highlight consumer engagement. Here’s an example of an accomplishment: “Consumer engagement: Achieved a 15% increase in engagement through the development of new subscription-based products with integrated feedback channels and guiding the development and execution of five customized consumer events throughout the Northeast and Southeast.”

2. Too many ‘red flag’ qualifiers

red flag
Hiring managers are trained to spot red flags. |

Be very careful about trying to make up for a lack of experience by using qualifiers, such as “with knowledge of” or “gained exposure to.” Hiring managers are trained to pick up on these terms and treat them as potential vulnerabilities. If you have some knowledge of an area or skill (but don’t have substantial work experience with it) you can add them to your “education” section under an “advanced training” sub-heading.

3. Inconsistency with dates

Months and dates shown on a calendar
Make sure your work history is accurate. |

You need to be absolutely ruthless about making sure your timeline is correct and completely accounted for. Zero excuses here.

  •  Stick to the same date format. If you’re using month/year keep it as is throughout your entire work history. Don’t try to hide gaps by listing dates with the year only. Hiring managers are trained to spot this.
  • Address any gaps by inserting a “career note” such as: “Career note: Completed advanced AutoCAD training at XYZ University and took on freelance graphic design projects for upstate NY tech startups (3/15 to 8/15).”
  • Explain any overlapping dates.

4. Seniority regression

Dwight as the boss on "The Office"
Did you become a boss only to regress? | NBC

Why would someone who’s reached the director/VP level suddenly take on a manager position? This can give hiring managers pause. If you switched industries (a common reason for seniority-level regression) make this change clear.

Some companies have strange job title naming conventions that don’t jibe with industry standards. In these types of situations ask yourself: Can I credibly substitute a more accurate job title? A good rule of thumb is if your former boss would balk at your being called the revised title, don’t do it.

5. Online presence doesn’t support the resume

Woman looking on social media applications on a brand new black Apple iPhone 5S
Make sure your brand is clear and consistent on social media. | Babii

A big part of establishing trust these days boils down to having a clear and consistent presence across all platforms, be it the resume, your LinkedIn profile, or anything else an employer would be exposed to. Double-check to make sure who you are comes through effectively online (especially LinkedIn), and pay special attention to possible conflicts with the resume or “off-brand” information.

6. Wrong tone

resumes in folder saying rejected resumes
Hiring managers will reject a resume that doesn’t match the tone of the job. |

The “tone” of a resume refers to the level you need to come in at. A chief financial officer is going to frame the ideas and accomplishments in his resume from a different point of view than a finance manager. A great CFO has to function well from a vision and strategy side, often having to find answers in opaque situations. But the parameters of success for a finance manager are different, more “in the trenches” operations and execution-driven. A CFO who comes in at a finance manager level will raise flags, as will a finance manager who solely highlights the vision and strategy side of things. Wrong tone.

Here’s a good test of tone: Find a colleague, trusted friend, or hiring expert who understands the role you’re after, show them your resume, and ask whether they’d consider this to be a strong candidate. What’s off? This will give you some good clues as to whether you’re striking the right tone.

Anish Majumdar is a nationally recognized career coach, executive Resume writer, and LinkedIn expert. Click here to get Anish’s free Career Challenge video series, which shows you how to avoid the three biggest pitfalls experienced by job seekers: