Your Resume Is in the Trash — 5 Questions Tell You Why

cat in bathroom garbage bin

Resumes take time to craft. I know that. And smart job seekers invest great effort in getting job descriptions and career highlights just right. But in spite of that hard work, your resume is likely landing in the “NO” pile. Why?

It is true that many job candidates show ambition and drive. That is admirable. But too many of us are also forgetting something in our rush to impress — character matters.

I read an article recently that hit on this. It cited a book by Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy, who studied the science behind making a good first impression. She found that there are two questions people mentally ask when they meet you:

  1. Can I trust this person?
  2. Can I respect this person?

At Aha! we receive hundreds of resumes each month. With limited time to review them, we know exactly the skills and characteristics that we are looking for and quickly weed out the ones that do not show those qualities. Obviously, we prioritize people with the right experience. But we are also looking for integrity, focus, precision, effort, and a natural curiosity. In other words, a strong character.

Reading a resume is a lot like meeting someone for the first time. If hiring managers cannot find reasons to trust and respect you, your resume will quickly land in the trash.

So before you send in a resume, put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes. Will your resume inspire trust and respect?

To answer this important question, look at your resume and ask the following before you send in that next application:

Am I being considerate?
Respect the hiring manager’s time, and they will respect you back. This starts with carefully reading the job description and making sure you meet most of the criteria or have a very good reason to apply if you do not. The key is including a simple cover letter if you can along with a short and focused resume. Show that you care by perfectly formatting your resume and avoiding typos. Include relevant work that mirrors the responsibilities found in the job description.

Are my goals clear?
Hiring managers want to know that you take your career seriously and have direction. Make this clear with a results-driven resume. By highlighting major accomplishments, you are showing off that you are focused on achievement. You are proving that you not only have goals but that you work hard to realize them. 

Is there too much jargon?
Do not waste limited resume space on industry jargon or tired cliches. These overused phrases are meaningless. The problem is that they lack transparency. And your results should speak for themselves. So edit out the buzzy language and replace it with clear explanations of your duties and achievements in previous roles.

Do I give credit?
No one expects you to have accomplished everything by yourself. And even if you have, what is that really saying about you? Acknowledge when you achieved results as part of a team. This signals that you are a considerate and reliable team player — the kind who can inspire both trust and respect.

Am I telling the truth?
Too often people exaggerate their skills, inflate their titles, or attempt to obfuscate. An embellishment might land you an interview, but the goodwill will not last long. So be honest from the start to build trust. If you do not have the exact skills required, show that you are eager to learn. If your work history is unique, explain what those experiences will bring to the company. But above all, tell the truth. 

Hiring managers are looking for people who are skilled and admirable. Show them that you are — that you can be both trusted and respected. If you do, you will likely make it to the next round.

But do not stop there. Consider taking this advice beyond the job-hunting stage and into every aspect of your career. Character is developed over time. So continuously work on yours, and you will find that success follows.

What character traits do you think are important when job hunting?

About Brian and Aha!

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product roadmap software — and the author of Lovability. His two previous startups were acquired by well-known public companies. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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