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Why Your Great Résumé Didn’t Get You Hired

I wanted to title this article, “Why Résumés are Read by Douche Bags” but that’s only part of the problem these days when you submit your résumé for consideration for a staff position. One of the biggest problems is that many companies use filters for all résumés submitted through their website. In the end, a machine scans a digital document to decide on whether or not a human being will be contacted by another human being.

What is Wrong with Your Resume?

With creativity, can a computer see talent over the ability to code a résumé with the right keywords that are secret, so you have to guess at which of your boundless skills will get you interviewed by something with eyes, that can tell what great work is? It does not compute!

Laundry List Job Ads

Project Planning
Image credit: Bigstockphoto

At one design group, we like to talk about what jobs have been advertised and how ridiculous they sound. It seems, these days, that one has to have three careers as experience to fit the laundry list put out by some employers. You need to be a designer, coder, social media guru, marketing genius and be able to do “light” administrative work just to earn $12-$15 an hour and all the abuse you can eat. The job notice is a red flag to what will be an endless pile of work with little to no respect. Naturally, there are some great jobs out there… and over 1,000 designers ready to sell their kidneys to be the one who’s hired.


Some “experts” claim you need to rewrite your résumé for each and every job for which you apply. I happen to agree with this, not just to make sure the keywords from the ad are included so you can get past the digital filter by having all the programmed keywords written into you résumé, but so that the dimwit assigned to read résumés between bathroom cleanings won’t have to use any imagination due to the lack of knowledge of what a designer actually does to see you are properly fit for the position.

It’s also a good idea to sell yourself for the company and position. For a large corporation, you want to show them you have team skills and very few advancement desires. Including the phrase “willing to take a bite of the sh!t sandwich served to me” is not a good idea, although they want you to say that in different wording. For a small design studio, they want muti-talented people who are flexible, team players and/or able to work on their own. If you can design, handle social media, marketing, client contact and make coffee without bitching aloud, or at least be funny about it, then you stand a better chance of being hired.

Image credit: Bigstockphoto

Oddly enough, smaller studios are all about finding people who will grow with the business while corporate positions are based on breaking your spirit, like a mustang turned into a gelding, to keep the status quo, as stupid as that sounds. If you doubt this is true, just look at the shape of American corporations!

There is, however, a certain curse to having great experience. It’s said that unexperienced hires are easily molded to the company culture and work ethic. The truth is — they cost less, become a willing pair of hands and are easily distracted from asking for raises by showing them something shiny.

There has long been the advice for older, more experienced workers to “dumb-down” their résumés and not list any position farther back than ten years. Of course, that has most people getting out of school and starting their careers as creative directors, which, as we know, happens every day.

For any résumé, the most important thing is honesty. If that means your experience will frighten a prospective employer, then do you really want to work for them?

Gender Discrimination

Before you apply for that dream position, check them out on LinkedIn. Is the staff heavily one gender? If you’re not that gender, then don’t bother applying as it’s just a waste of time. Years ago I applied for a position that was perfectly suited for me. A friend of mine who knew the organization laughed and said it was all women and lunchtime was one big pity party of sobs and ticking inner time clocks of the female employees bemoaning not being married.

Gender Discrimination
Image credit: Bigstockphoto

Sure enough, they hired a young woman who wouldn’t smell of testosterone and who they could push around, just as my friend had warned. The last I heard, the organization was not meeting their goals… and most of the employees were still unmarried.


If you think you’re going to get hired by that cool new startup better hope you’ve just graduated art school and are working at a Starbucks. A young staff without kids, spouses or the desire to go back home at some point in the day are the desired requirements. Young, cheap and willing to stay long hours between drinking binges and liver destruction wins out.

There is also a belief, albeit a false one, that older, more experienced workers have certain expectations and needs, such as more health insurance for kidney transplants, Viagra and hip replacements. There is also the belief that older workers are inflexible and will yell at younger workers to “get off their lawn” and want to rush home to watch Matlock reruns and be with their family. God forbid!

While the natural order of life is for older, more experienced workers to mentor younger workers, so they can step into higher and more demanding positions as they grow, it seems that has become a thing of the past as creative staff more resemble the fraternity brothers at Animal House.

Again, check LinkedIn to see who is employed at the company and if they are old enough to buy their own beer. If not, you might still have a chance to find employment as Chief Alcohol Purchaser.


Yes, there is still racism that abounds in the hiring process. If you’ve missed the recent Hobby Lobby debacle that’s posted all over Facebook, for those who lead happy lives by not watching the news, it’s not just color or national origin but legally sanctioned discrimination of sexual orientation and religion.

Image credit: Bigstockphoto

It’s still considered illegal to ask a candidate their religion and other personal questions but employers can be tricky in their indirect questions. To use an old Woody Allen line, “that guy’s an anti-Semite. I asked if he had lunch yet and he said, ‘no. Jew?’ See ‘Jew’ have lunch?”

There was a time that having a photo of yourself would immediately take you out of consideration as the Equal Opportunity Employment laws forbid hiring managers to consider anyone who was not self-identified on their application and even that has given way to the age of the internet and social media. You just can’t hide a picture of yourself if it’s somewhere online.

Check LinkedIn and see if any executive is holding a bible in their picture or wearing a KKK hood. If you see men in drag, then it’s probably a tolerant and fun place to work!

The Peter Principle

If you’ve never heard of the Peter Principle, it’s the theory that a person will be promoted to a position they can’t handle and become an incompetent. Surely we all know a manager who is an example of this. One of the key problems when someone is a victim of the Peter Principle is the fear they will lose that position and so they tend to hire people that are no threat to their position.

Peter Principle
Image credit: Bigstockphoto

If you have a stunning résumé with impressive experience, you may be a threat to a supervisor who will think you’ll outshine them. There’s nothing you can do about this problem but would you really want to work for a manager or supervisor who will try to sabotage you at every turn? You will dread going to work every day and your best work will be destroyed purposefully, so forget about enjoying your work and gaining portfolio samples.

The Social Media Angle

There are a plethora of articles out there about résumés and why they don’t work or how to make them stellar. This recent article on Mashable, for instance, entitled “10 Reasons I Ignored Your Résumé,” authored by Mike Volpe, the CMO of HubSpot, who’s certainly a respected member of the digital industry, gets down and dirty with the reasons he dismisses a résumé… and the responses are not sympathetic but wrong.

Mr. Volpe, in the type of business he runs, looks for several things that most people in the web design and digital marketing industry need to have to round out their skills and résumés.

Naturally, spelling and grammar count! Using “text speak” is not going to help you, despite the fact you may be applying for a social media position. Another important factor he desires is seeing you are active in social media.

While Volpe, like any other employer will look at your pictures on Facebook, looking for photos you wouldn’t want your mother to see. Professionalism is important as your personal behavior will affect how you fit in with the company’s culture. This also extends to your political or religious postings and conversations/debates you’ve had with others. You might be perceived as argumentative or just a nutcase!

Your Twitter account will also be under scrutiny. Do you post nothing but quotes from dead people or statements about drinking too much last night?

“Don’t tell me you’re a digital guru if you haven’t tweeted in the last three years” writes Volpe. “You don’t have to have a million followers (though I’ll pay closer attention if you do), but you do need to be participating in the conversation on a regular basis by sharing other people’s content and staying current. A few tweets a week is enough; a month long lapse is unacceptable. I’d rather see you using one network well and not have accounts on the others, than have accounts everywhere and use none of them effectively.”

Internet Addiction
Image credit: Bigstockphoto

Another issue that has become the norm for résumés is “simple speak” — being conversational about your experience, quantifying your accomplishments and results (known as measurable metrics, commonly referred to as “how much money will you make my company?”) as opposed to lists of job requirements and duties. Don’t try to make it sound fancy with overused buzzwords. Volpe’s advice is:

“Tell me what you’re doing and what you have done in a clear, concise manner — limit the business babble. No one wants to read about how you “leverage responsibilities to meaningfully impact the organization’s directional strategy.” Tell me what you marketed, sold or championed within your company and how it moved the needle — no gobbledygook required.”


While I suggest reading Volpe’s article, the comments are just as important. Many commenters do not agree and argue vehemently with his assertions. In fact, although he talks about the importance of a résumé free of typos, several commenters jumped on him for misspellings and wrong use of grammar in his article. Oops! I guess he wouldn’t hire himself.

One commenter responds:

“Really? You can’t find me when you Google my name? Maybe that’s because there are too many other people out there with the same name — interesting people like American folk singers and crazy photographer/nude therapists.”

Personally, having been in a position of hiring, I would look for hints at talent, realizing that creatives are not the best at expressing themselves in writing. It may be different for a job that deals exclusively in writing but when it comes to creative thought, it’s the portfolio that counts. Too often résumés are received by hiring managers or someone who does not deal with the creative process.

Image credit: Bigstockphoto

While I don’t suggest seeking out a connection with the creative director when you are instructed to send your résumé to a hiring manager, it’s important for you to remember the points I’ve made. It’s not a world of unicorns that fart rainbows and piss fruit punch. There are douche bags in charge of hiring and no matter how incredible you might be, even if your résumé is tip-top and reads perfectly, there will be foolish reasons you are not considered.

They say looking for a job is a full-time job in itself. Don’t get depressed if you never hear back when applying for a job. 1,000 other people have applied and the most you can expect is a form reply, turning you down with a pat answer. While finding a job is tough and there are fewer positions for certain creative positions, keep trying because those who don’t want you may be the people whom YOU don’t want as employers and eventually you will find someone who sees your genius and will respect your abilities and talent. Isn’t it worth waiting for that job you will love and be excited to get to every morning?

As another commenter on Volpe’s article puts forth:

“I wouldn’t want to work for someone so shallow that he bases a hiring decision on someone’s LinkedIn photo, email address or number of tweets. Idiotic!”

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