Worst Resume: Bad Starts

This week we have a four page Java developer resume that needs help in a bunch of places. Again, I’ve redacted the content to protect the innocent.

SUMMARY

The resume started with a SUMMARY. If you read my resume articles, I greatly appreciate summaries.

  • I am a Sr. Java Developer with experience directly managing developers.
  • He has extensive experience in the design and development of multi-tier applications using Java, J2EE, $LISTOF15TECHNOLOGIES.

I advise my Resume Raiders clients to avoid the use of first person (“I”), and I further advise any and all humans to never refer to themselves in third person. Using both within adjacent bullets highlights the issue.

As I’ve stated before, we can use implied first person on a resume, where “I am a Sr. Java Developer with…” becomes “Sr. Java Developer with…” and “He has extensive experience in…” becomes “Extensive experience in…“. These types of errors will be forgiven by many screeners and wouldn’t alone be an offense resulting in a deleted resume, but they get the reader to start leaning that way.

The second bullet listing of 15 technologies is another poor choice, particularly when many of these technologies were somewhat specific and rather niche. To say someone has extensive developing apps using Java, Spring, and Hibernate might be easy to believe. When you throw obscure technologies like R or Lisp into the mix (as this person did), it starts to sound like a bit of Buzzword Bingo.

The summary continues…

  • Responsible for leading a team of four developers in developing Java based applications.
  • Developed web application using $SERVERPRODUCT and $STANDARD compliant $COMPONENT using Java.
  • Used $IDE as IDE tool to develop the application and $BUGTOOL for bug and issue tracking

We’ve quickly gone from a proper SUMMARY into a list of specific individual accomplishments more suited for the EXPERIENCE section. The intent of the SUMMARY isn’t to list several details so much as to provide an overview of what is to come.

Image title

The first bullet listing leadership is appropriate for a summary, but it should be generalized. We could take the top three bullets and write a pretty good summary: “Senior Java Developer experienced in both building web applications and leading teams of up to four developers.

You certainly don’t need to reference an IDE in a summary, and it’s a bit redundant to mention that you used an IDE as an IDE or a bug tracking tool as a bug tracking to0l. That’s what the tools do – we know that already.

SKILLS

Next comes a list of 48 technologies divided into three columns of 16, bulleted and in alphabetical order. There are several problems with this.

For one, the bulleting and use of three columns makes it take up about a half page where five lines would suffice if listed using commas. Let’s assume we’re not grading our resume on space efficiency. What else is wrong?

Listing things alphabetically tells the reader absolutely nothing about your skills, because this method places no weight on any individual skill. You could be the world’s most prominent expert on XML, but if you list things alphabetically the reader might never even see that term. Writers should list technologies based on expertise and knowledge from most to least, where the first technologies listed would be considered primary skills and the last ones might be things you’ve been exposed to infrequently.

CONCLUSION

The sad part is that the rest of this resume was actually pretty good. The experience section had some solid accomplishments and a somewhat impressive work history. Hopefully the first impression wouldn’t cause a screener to jump to a conclusion and reject a candidate before getting to the good parts.

The lesson for resume screeners is to try and give the benefit of the doubt with the early material so you don’t miss any positive signals hidden in the end. The lesson for resume writers is to remember that screeners are reading top down, so make sure the material at the beginning is effective in keeping our attention.

2 comments

  1. thenrick

    You mentioned that the rest of the resume was pretty good. Do you find in some of the bad resumes they are overall pretty sloppy or just a lack of buttoning up certain sections? As I look at some resumes I see I think they were put together in ten minutes others seem to try to hard and add too much.

    • fecak

      This particular resume suffered from a horrible start (a terrible summary and a misuse of the skills section), but the candidate was more articulate in describing his experience. Most bad resumes that I see are pretty much bad from the top down. There are certain sections that are harder to mess up – Education is probably the most obvious, but even a Skills section doesn’t require a whole lot of thought to get right if you know what you are doing.

      There are a fair amount of resumes that add too much, and I’m not sure whether that is the result of trying too hard or just not understanding how to prioritize. If you ask me about my day, I might say it was “good” and tell you a couple things I did. That’s a reasonable response that probably fits your expectations. If I tell you what I had for breakfast, that might start going over the line of what you were looking for (unless the breakfast was indeed EPIC!). If I tell you not only what I had for breakfast, but what type of jelly I used (and how much of it) on my toast, I’m fairly certain I’ve provided more info than you wanted or needed to get the answer about my day. Is my mention of the jelly flavor and amount an effort to make sure I give a full answer to “how was your day?” (am I trying too hard?), or is it me simply lacking the ability to differentiate between a good answer to the question and one that includes far too much detail?

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