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The Birth of the Generic Resume: Packaging Bad Taste

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Will resume madness ever end? Only when everyone stops turning out the dumb things. With all these newfangled resume-producing methods, you'd think we'd come across some incredible resumes-innovative, creative, award winners. Not on your life. What we have is mediocrity that's driving many employers and human resources people to drink. All that is being turned out by sophisticated resume machinery are resumes that look and sound the same. Hence, the generic resume.

It doesn't matter if the type, layout, and paper are different, if the language, approach, and content vary a little from applicant to applicant.

How any employer could spot individuality, uniqueness, and superstar qualities is beyond me. Most resumes belong in one of two categories. The first I call the Conformist (or Wonder Bread) resume. Other than changes in name, career history, and personal information, the resume has the same feeling, tone, and language as millions of others in circulation. The writer's goal is to be the perfect applicant, just like the zillions of other hungry job seekers. With a resume like this, it's not hard figuring out the odds of being picked from the crowd.

At the other end of the spectrum is the Rebel resume, put together by a writer convinced that the way to attract attention is by being outrageous and unique. Some of these resumes are award winners for breaking every resume rule in the book. That's the good part. The bad part is they're so blatantly inappropriate, tactless, and offensive that it's doubtful these applicants will ever capture inter views, no less jobs.

In fact, I collect resumes like these, hoping to get enough to publish a book called The 100 Most Offensive Resumes Ever Written. It's a guaranteed best-seller. One resume I've saved epitomizes bad taste. On three pages, the job applicant summarized his whole life.

He even included three photos of himself at different ages. In two of them, he's bare-chested (very macho) and, in the third, he looks like he just stepped off a hippie commune, circa 1968. That's not all. The resume contains more than you ever wanted to know about the applicant. For example, he disappointed his parents by not becoming a lawyer, his girlfriend's name is Jess (short for Jessica), he's a clean-cut kind of guy who couldn't be kicked out of a group of altar boys, and his goal in life is to achieve the impossible and climb the highest mountains he can find. No joke. The pity is he's a smart man who could be unemployed for the rest of his life if he doesn't wise up and ditch his resume.

Finally, it's mind-boggling when you consider how many resumes contain totally irrelevant information. Robert Half, author of How to Get a Better Job in This Crazy World, has been collecting resume bloopers for over 40 years.

I could reel off plenty more horror stories, but you get the idea. The average resume is atrocious. And that's being kind. I'd like a penny for every time an applicant uses words like these: impacted, implemented, empowered, utilized, growth-oriented, maximize, high-visibility, extensive, challenging.

My favorite part of the resume is the objective. Even resume advocates admit the objective ought to be dumped. Yet millions of job searchers insist on putting this annoying one-liner at the top, immediately souring the reader. An employer has barely digested 14 words before concluding, "I hate this person."

The objective is supposed to tell readers precisely what kind of job the applicant wants. Objectives, like generic resumes, are just a bunch of hollow words. Here are a few lifted from actual resumes (maybe even yours).

"Seeking a position which will utilize academic achievements and hands-on experience while providing for career-development opportunities."

"A challenging and rewarding position as a sales/marketing representative."

"Searching for a high-visibility job that affords me the opportunity to grow with the company"

"An exciting position as a salesperson in a multinational company with opportunities to draw upon my extensive knowledge of the computer industry."

"A fashion coordinator position in which there is room for improvement."

Had enough? Let's turn the tables. What would you do if you ran a company and received a resume with an objective like one of those above? A rhetorical question, right? Case closed. Now you know why resumes aren't working. The average time an employer invests in scanning resumes is 5 to 30 seconds-if you're lucky.

It would be great if all resume-dispensing gimmicks and strategies paid off. Sadly, the effort amounts to a monumental waste of time. Hold on to your seats, here are the numbers. Companies across the country are drowning in paper. U.S. News & World Report estimated most Fortune 500 companies receive 1000 unsolicited resumes each week, and 80 percent are trashed after a cursory review. It s safe to say the average mid-size company gets between 100,000 and 300,000 resumes a year. Talk about spitting in the wind. It's easy to see why corporate recruiters are a little frazzled these days. You'd be crazy too if you had to scan hundreds of resumes daily searching for high-potential applicants.
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