I have read hundreds of résumés in recent years and learned a lot about the people behind them and their (professional) life in coaching. Open and honest in a protected space and unlike any HR manager or often your own partner experiences. Over time, I realized that almost all CVs – in tabular form and at first glance factual – always convey messages about the people behind them that many applicants are not aware of. Your résumé probably also reveals more than you think. Here are seven hidden résumé signals to recruiters that you should know about as a job changer. Make a conscious decision about which picture you want to convey about yourself in your résumé.
Your last job was hell and you’re done
You already have a few years of professional experience under your belt and the first glance at your résumé reveals what you have done and achieved over the years at various employers and in great positions. A picture-book career from school to an apprenticeship or university studies, starting your career until today – almost until today. Because the last time at your current employer screams on your résumé that it was just hell. Because you were bored or under-challenged, your boss or colleagues bullied you, you were deprived of responsibility or you even got sick in the end.
It’s logical that you don’t write about it in your résumé. But the result, which is visible to every observer, is that the description of the last position differs greatly from the other stations in terms of content and often also purely optically. While the five years with the penultimate employer take up three-quarters of a page with 15 indentations, you only give the last four years a meager three sub-items – the content of which also seems so turned that every outsider asks himself what you have been doing there in the last few years. It is they who are most interested in every new employer.
My tip: Try to put aside for a moment the anger and frustration that you may still have with everything that you have experienced in the last few months. Instead, remember what made the time at this employer so special and valuable. From a distance, consider your daily tasks, your area of responsibility or the projects in which you were involved. I ask many clients to describe their last job to me – so that, as an outsider, I can see them working there. I understand that they have all been very stressful lately and am always shocked by what is going on at some employers. But none of this plays a role in your résumé. A reader is not interested in how things are going at your (ex) employer (they don’t care either) and your new boss or HR manager doesn’t have to empathize with how you fared there. You want to get an idea of your previous professional life and have to decide whether you have the specialist knowledge and experience required for the target position and whether your personality fits into the company and team. So make sure that the stations in your résumé are balanced proportionally to their duration and that the content of the last or current position matches the rest of the résumé.
You think frequent job changes are a problem
You don’t believe how often I see résumés in which the motivation to change is delivered free to the door with every change of employer: insolvency of the employer, self-resignation during the probationary period, closure of the plant due to relocation of the production site, takeover by an investor, operational dismissal, Strategic realignment of management, etc.
Many applicants are of the opinion that it is part of the good form of a résumé to explain every job change in a plausible and credible manner without being asked. When I read, I always have the feeling that applicants are making themselves small. If we talk about it, it often turns out that it is you yourself who have a problem with your frequent job changes. Because they are convinced by their environment or because some of the changes are still associated with stressful memories. But at this early stage in the application process, it is none of your business’s business why you decided to quit a job 15 years ago or why you chose this and no other subject. After all, employers do not write in any job advertisement why a position became vacant and what happened to the previous employee – even if every applicant is somehow extremely interested.
My tip: Avoid explaining the reasons for changing jobs in your résumé. Justification weakens. Trust that you will have enough time in a personal conversation to talk about the background of your résumé and your personal motivation for certain decisions in your life.
You’re trying to cover up gaps
So far I have hardly seen anyone with a formally complete CV. Where there were no months between school or apprenticeship and studies or the search between two jobs took longer than expected in the notice period. Where parental leave, caring for relatives or sick leave was part of life. However, with some résumés, my attention as a reader is drawn more to the gaps than to the actual professional content between them. Namely everywhere where every tiny gap is identified and provided with an explanation.
I see 6 months of “professional reorientation” 10 years ago, but the positions before and after are similar. I see 4 months of “sabbatical” since the last employer as the current status at the top of my résumé, but in truth, the job search is now taking longer than expected in the Corona crisis. In a résumé, I see “time off and job search” four times for two / three months between each of the positions and at that moment I think about the fact that I am probably sitting in front of a perfectionist, for whom a résumé is above all a completely correct document has to be.
Gaps are an eyesore on the resume and not allowed, according to popular belief. Whoever has gaps is sorted out. I wonder where this belief came from. Sure, I understand any employer who is interested in why someone looked for a year between jobs or didn’t work in the past 5 years. Why someone learned to cook and worked in this profession, but switched to a controller 10 years ago. And of course, employers question whether you can return to a certain level after 5 years of parental leave. But if I talk to my clients about these supposed gaps in coaching, it usually shows that it is they who have a problem with them. However, if you are at peace with these (in-between) times, then they are no problem for the reader of your résumé.
My tip: For all times without employment, think about whether it is yourself (!) It is important that a reader of your résumé learns what you have done and experienced during this time. That you have been abroad, spoken languages and experienced different cultures. That you took the time to raise children or care for loved ones. That you have thought intensively about your professional direction in the future. Or that you were absent for a long time due to illness and are now fit again. If it is important to you or your target position, list these times on your résumé. But not because gaps are taboo and you have to justify yourself to recruiters.
You have a problem with your age
Some résumés literally scream that they tried to cover up their own age. Almost every applicant over 50 is of the opinion that she/he hardly has a chance on the job market – and so it is probably safer to delete the date of birth from the CV, so the assumption of many experienced professionals.
Yes, you don’t have to reveal your date of birth on your résumé if you want to protect an employer from discrimination. If you’ve been following me for a long time, then you know that with my motto “Applicant, show the edge!” I am in favor of more clarity in the application. What is the point if you are in the job interview and there is great amazement to sit across from an “old hand”? And let’s be honest: tell me when you graduated from high school and I’ll tell you how old you are today (roughly). Every reader can also estimate your age based on your résumé. So why not play with your cards open? Show that you have no problem with your age and that you are proud of what you have achieved and experienced in recent years.
You are a chat bag or a micromanager
As an HR manager, what would you think of an applicant if you had ten pages of his CV for a position as managing director and three pages full of training courses and IT certificates in your hands? My first thought would be that I’m dealing with a pedantic IT nerd instead of a managing director who gets to the point and can distinguish unimportant from essential.
I don’t believe in the rule of “no more than two pages in a resume”, but you should be aware that the length of your resume has something to do with it. Anyone who, as a manager, believes that they have to list every short training course from 20 years ago meticulously correctly in their curriculum vitae, is giving just as much insight into their attitude and leadership style as a manager. Anyone who writes novels about activities and successes for every position and the résumé is more of a lyrical essay than a brief overview could be stamped as an annoying chat bag even before the first interview.
My tip: For each position, only list the most important activities, tasks and successes that, from your point of view, made up this time at an employer – more in bullet points than in full sentences. It is not about absolute completeness or comparison with a job reference, but it is important that the reader can get a good picture. While young professionals usually get by with a 2-page curriculum vitae, for experienced professionals in their mid-forties / the early fifties it can be 4-5 pages. Make yourself aware that, depending on the position, the depth and level of detail of your résumé convey something about yourself and your personality.
As a manager, you are not a philanthropist
Sometimes managers sit across from me in coaching who tell me so casually that their employees annoy them and that they would much rather work on their own exciting topics. Yes, it happens, especially in corporations and large organizations, that the best experts are promoted to bosses at some point – even if they are not born philanthropists and have no desire at all for leadership. But who rejects an offered management position? – but that’s a different topic.
How can I only recognize such cases from a résumé? It is the position in combination with the explanations for this. Does someone there write more objectively about technical topics and tasks for a position or is a team player who is also aware of his employee and managerial responsibility as an elementary part of his tasks in this position? Many of my clients in leadership or management positions forget when writing their résumés that leadership and personal employee issues have enriched their experience.
My tip: Decide which signal you want to send with your résumé: If you are a strong team player and if you love developing people in a leadership role, then show it when describing your previous activities. If, on the other hand, you are more of a loner and specialist and need employees who think similarly in a management role, then you should communicate this clearly (in the cover letter).
You are only just good enough for being the best
Grades in or out in the résumé? This is a question I discuss a lot. I am of the opinion that grades in the field of studies, training and school are not everything and that recruiters can take a look at the systems, but there are CVs that shout out loud: “Look here, I always have to and be the best everywhere! ”In addition to the usual grades with reference to the year ranking and degrees – of course only from elite universities – scholarships, grants and honors are listed in abundance – preferably in combination with well-known employer brands as proof that it really made it. If I get to know the people behind it and if we talk about their values, then they are often the ones for whom status is completely unimportant and who are not the “posers” at all. But the résumé speaks a completely different language. A first impression that many of you are not aware of.
My tip: think about and decide for yourself which message you want to send out with your résumé. If you are the status and recognition-loving type and if it is important to you to proudly boast of your top grades, then take them in. But then also consistently for all degrees. If you think that there are other aspects that define you and the course of your life, then just leave the grades out.
Expertise scores, personality decides
In my opinion, many applicants focus too much on the numbers, data and facts about their specialist knowledge and professional experience in their résumé and cover letter. They forget that every time a job is filled, it is also about personality and people as new employees and colleagues. Yes, a résumé has to be formally correct, but hardly any applicant has an eye on what resonates between the lines.
Perhaps you too can use this post and my selected examples to develop a feeling for what your résumé may convey about you as a person, your personality, attitude and the real course of your life. Use this awareness to give a potential new employer an even better picture of you and make it easier for them to make a good selection decision. Because every application ultimately serves your own self-protection.