Resumes - Not so Fast, Please

by Jon Lewis

A while ago I worked on an in-house search for a technology company. The client was seeking candidates with experience in several specific areas, including M&A, software as a service agreements, and cybersecurity. Not surprisingly, given that this was an in-house search, the response from potential candidates was enthusiastic—I sourced a good number of highly qualified candidates who, in many cases, e-mailed me their resumes within minutes of my telling them about the position and sending them a detailed description.

That’s great, right? After all, what more could a recruiter ask for than a near instantaneous resume submission from a candidate? Well, yes and no ...

It is true that, all other things being equal, it is better for a recruiter to receive a resume quickly. However, as this search demonstrated, all other things are often not equal. In their hurry to get me their resumes ASAP a number of the candidates I contacted neglected to take the time necessary to tailor the document to the position in question and failed to include specific relevant experience they told me they had. For example, more than one candidate who told me on the phone that they had experience in the area of software as a service agreements subsequently sent me a resume which made absolutely no reference to that experience. And this happened even though I specifically suggested to candidates that they revise their resumes to emphasize their most relevant experience to the fullest extent possible.

The speed with which some resumes came to me, coupled with the omission of important details I had discussed with the candidate, strongly suggested to me that I was receiving whatever document the candidate had on hand, with no consideration by the candidate of simple revisions which would greatly increase the likelihood of a positive response from the employer. Moreover, this was definitely not an isolated or unusual occurrence. I have seen this same phenomenon many times over my 17+ years as a legal recruiter.

So why does this happen?  There are several possible explanations which I address below, none of them very good justifications:

  • Candidates don’t feel they have sufficient time to revise their resumes.
    I understand that most candidates are very busy with work and don’t relish the idea of spending time on resume revisions. However, preparing an appropriate resume is usually a relatively short first step in the much longer process of securing a new position. If a candidate doesn’t have sufficient time to put together an effective resume they will be hard-pressed to get through the overall interview process, and perhaps shouldn’t be pursuing the position in question in the first place.
  • Candidates are concerned about the position closing before they can put together a properly tailored resume.
    Typically, it is much more important to get the potential employer the right resume rather than getting than getting them some resume quickly. Unless a recruiter advises a candidate that there is a genuine “need for speed” with respect to a particular opening, candidates are much better served by taking the time necessary to put together the most effective resume possible.
  • Candidates think that getting a recruiter their resume quickly demonstrates enthusiasm.
    Yes, recruiters do like to see a high level of interest from a candidate, and can communicate that interest to the potential employer. But when a candidate quickly dashes off a resume which fails to incorporate important points the recruiter has mentioned, that actually suggests inattentiveness and/or lack of real motivation far more than it shows enthusiasm.
  • Candidates believe that resume fine-tuning isn’t really all that important and that a general, “one-size fits all” resume will be sufficient.
    This line of thinking is a serious misjudgment. In fact, a truly effective resume which highlights the candidate’s most relevant experience and uses the significant buzzwords that the client is looking for is often a critically important factor in determining whether a candidate will ultimately succeed in securing an attractive new position, as opposed to being rejected without so much as an initial interview.

My bottom line advice: Candidates should remember when it comes to their resumes that time spent tailoring the document to present themselves in the best light for a particular opening is usually time well spent. I very much doubt Benjamin Franklin had resume preparation in mind when he coined the phrase “haste makes waste,” but it certainly does apply in this context.