Last time I talked about what a Resume should be. Today I’m going to talk about what it absolutely should not be. Since I’ve seen a lot of resumes lately, I’m going to share some of the things I’ve seen that did more harm than good.

6 Pages

It seems like about 6 pages is the norm for a resume that I’ve been seeing. Of all the resumes that have come across my desk lately, the vast majority of them have been 6 pages. Some were 5. Almost none were 3 or less. I haven’t seen a single 1-page resume (you know, what it’s supposed to be).

We had a gentleman come in with one of these resumes, long-form prose descriptions of every little thing he’s ever done. Sitting across the table from him were myself and all the other senior members of the team (it was a small team).

Let me lay a little knowledge on you: We’re busy people. I’m not sitting around all day, twiddling my thumbs and reading resumes. I print off a copy of the resume about 5 minutes before I walk into the interview. I do a quick scan of it, circle the important ideas, write a couple quick notes about questions I might ask, and then it’s show time. Maybe you have an image of interviewers getting together in a little room, hours in advance, discussing the candidate in great depth and preparing everything about the interview experience in minute detail. Sorry, that’s how now it works (at least, not at any job I’ve ever been at).

Almost every time I’ve been a candidate in an interview myself, the first few moments are spent with the interviewers reading the resume while I introduce myself; to become familiar with the highlights because they have better things to do with their time, like work and produce software.

Everybody has something better to be doing. Time spent reading your long, complex resume is time not doing what I’m paid to do: actual work.

Back to our gentleman, he wasn’t doing a great job of really selling himself so we started to ask him questions. “Do you have experience in X?” And then he would say something like “Yes, I did that at a prior company” Then the team and myself flip through the resume to find the relevant section and read it. Silence ensues. This is a big waste of time, and it demonstrates two things: That this person can’t organize important information in a readable way, and that this person can’t sell himself because he expects the resume to do all the talking. Two important takeaways:

  • Long resumes are hard to find important pieces of information in
  • Be respectful of the time commitments of the interviewers, and don’t give them a novel to read before your interview.

Padding Too Much

The resume is nothing but your ticket to an interview. A hiring manager or an HR person or a recruiter or somebody is going to look at your resume, do a quick keyword check and, if you match, invite you in. The interviewers will typically read your resume shortly before the interview starts, and only read closely enough to get a sense of you, and maybe direct some lines of questioning.

Do not put anything on your resume that you do not want to be asked about

Anything you put on your resume can and will be used to direct the questions you are asked.

We had a young woman come in to our office applying for a senior-level position on our team. Her resume was, of course, about 6 pages long but luckily the first page included a quick summary of her skills. So, in other words, the first page of her resume was what the entire resume should have been, and the last 5 pages were garbage. But, I digress.

We were looking for a C# coder, so we weren’t putting too high a premium on other skills. But one thing stood out on her resume, that we just needed to ask about:

“Expert in SQL query optimization”

Wow. That’s actually a cool skill to have. Even if it’s not what we were expressly looking for, that kind of skill (which typically comes from lots of practice and dedicated learning) could definitely transform a good candidate into a great one. Combine that will some teaching ability, and this person has the potential to improve the skills of our entire team. So, I had to ask her to explain, “What do you do, to optimize an SQL query?”

This wasn’t some kind of “Gotcha!” moment, I wasn’t trying to put her on the spot. I was trying to give a self-described expert an opportunity to shine. Instead, what we got was this:

“Well, I would look at the query and maybe try to reduce or re-order the joins.”

That’s it? Reorder your joins? That’s not SQL optimization and certainly isn’t “expert” optimization. So I asked her a few other questions:

  • “Have you ever examined an execution plan?” No.
  • “Can you tell me about indexes?” No.
  • “Do you know what query Statistics are?” No.

I want to reiterate here, because this is important: I would not have asked about SQL query optimization if she hadn’t listed herself as an expert on the topic. When I see things like that on a resume, I ask because I want the candidate to shine. I want to ask lots of questions to find the topics that the candidate is the most passionate and knowledgable at. Everybody is different, some have different strengths and weaknesses, and I’m just trying to get at the heart of the matter.

When you list “expertise” on your resume, even if it’s in a tangential subject and you can’t back it up, I have to seriously start questioning your abilities on every other thing you have written. If her expressed “expertise” was translated as “passing familiarity of”, then how bad must she be at the subjects where she isn’t listed as an expert?

She ended up not getting an offer, and our decision was made in no small part because of this single exchange. If she hadn’t listed expertise in SQL query optimization on the resume, she very well might have been considered much more strongly.

A Brief History of Time

We had a gentleman come in, with another glorious 6-page resume, who listed job experience going all the way back to the early 1990s. Like, not just dates and places, but detailed lists of technologies and techniques. After all, he did have 6 pages to fill.

So, we asked him about one of the things he claimed to have done circa 1995. Silence. He was dumbfounded. He couldn’t remember what he did 20 years ago and, after profuse apology, said he couldn’t really talk about it.

Don’t list anything on your resume that you aren’t prepared to talk about.

Seriously. If you expect me to read the damned thing, don’t waste my time with things you can’t even remember. Anything you put on your resume, expect me to ask about it. Anything that I ask about, you sure as shit better be prepared to talk about. Nothing decreases my confidence in you faster than me asking you about your life and your work and you not being able to answer me.


We had another gentleman come in with a painfully long resume, and he listed every single job he’s ever had, including jobs that had nothing to do with his career. Things like this time he worked at a store, or the time he was a courier, or the time he managed a computer lab.

Nothing belongs on your resume except the things that are directly relevant to the job for which you are applying.

If you want to list out your entire employment history, do it on Facebook or LinkedIn, or some place where there is no purpose except narcissism and “networking”. When you go to apply for a job, take your entire work history, cut out anything that isn’t relevant, condense anything that isn’t recent, and put a spotlight on only the few things which you think are going to be the most interesting to your prospective future employer.

A resume is not “your entire work history”. A resume is a way to earn an interview with a company that has a specific opening. Anything on your resume which doesn’t immediately make the hiring manager say “this is all very relevant for the position I need filled” is a waste of space, time, and energy.

Don’t, as we later figured out this gentleman did, just copy+paste your entire LinkedIn profile into Microsoft Word and call it your resume. If you do this, definitely make sure you go back and check that the formatting works in the new program.

If you can’t even put time and effort into your resume, I sure as hell don’t expect you to put time or effort into the job we need you to do. If your resume is a representation of you, and if it’s an undisciplined, disorganized mess, I’m going to assume that you are an undisciplined, disorganized mess. Somehow, I suspect this isn’t the image you’re trying to craft for yourself.

Final Thoughts

As a computer programming professional, what is my job? I take requirements, I distill those down into workable designs, and I implement. I do what is required, I don’t do what is not wanted. I try to produce a product that meets the immediate needs of the stake-holders.

A job posting is a requirements document. You and your resume are the product. You need to produce and present a product which meets the stated needs of the potential future employer. If you can’t do that on your resume, when your career and reputation are on the line, I have absolutely zero faith that you are going to be able to do it when the fate of the team and the company are on the line.

Get your shit together. Seriously. If you have a resume and it’s longer than 1 page, you have misunderstood the requirements and you are doing it wrong. If your resume uses unnecessary prose and hides the important keywords, you are doing it wrong. You need to start doing it right, as a demonstration to your future employers that you’re going to do what they need the right way too.