Ask the Recruiter: Avoid these 2 resume mistakes

by Julie Rutherford

Our Senior Director of Recruiting Operations & Engagement Heather Pederson joined us for another segment of Ask the Recruiter! For this edition, we answer some of your burning questions about the job application process – how to best present your weaknesses, what to ask hiring managers and more.

Read on to get the full scoop and learn more about how to excel in your job search. And check out the video below for Heather’s advice on things to avoid on your resumes!

What’s the first thing you look at when reading an application?

The person’s most recent work experience as well as their professional summary.

What is the most common mistake that you see on resumes?

There are two common mistakes that I see quite often:

  1. The candidate has not customized their resume for the position that they are applying for. In many cases, it might even list another position that they are looking for. For example, it’ll say “I’m seeking a marketing director position” and instead they’ve applied for a marketing analytics manager role.
  2. The resume is very stylized. Using a headshot is a big no-no. Fancy graphics, six columns, and personalized elements make it hard for recruiters to get the information into their ATS (Applicant Tracking System we use to search and identify candidates for jobs) and it often goes into the system looking like gobbledygook instead of the actual content that they are trying to share with the recruiter.

Would you apply the “no stylized resume” rule to graphic design positions as well?

For graphic design jobs, you really need a portfolio. The portfolio is where you want to be really creative and show off your style, as well as your tone of voice as a creative person. The resume is really intended to fill fields in an ATS. It’s to get recruiters and hiring managers the information that will move you forward. It’s not as important that a creative person has a stylized resume–it’s much more important that they have a really beautiful portfolio.

What are your go-to behavioral questions?

For me, there are two places that I go when I’m trying to understand a candidate’s skills and experience.

First, I want to hear really specific examples about how they’ve been successful in a role similar to what I’m looking to fill. When I ask “Tell me about a time when you led a successful digital marketing campaign?”, some of the pitfalls that people fall into is using the word “we” as in “we did this, the team did that” and they struggle to share their specific role and achievements in that campaign.

They also really struggle to get specific–a lot of candidates cannot give me what I like to call “impact metrics” or “impact statements.” If you were working on a really successful digital marketing campaign, you should be able to tell me about your role in that campaign and the results of that campaign. Even if it’s just at a high level. Get specific and outline your role.

The second is that people struggle to give me an answer in the STAR format. When you get asked a behavioral question you should be able to give an answer to a recruiter that outlines Situation, Task, Action and Results with examples. Using the STAR format helps the recruiter sell the candidate to a client and it helps the candidate sell themselves in the interview.

What kind of questions would you ask to figure out if a candidate would be a good cultural fit for a client?

A lot of that depends on the client. Having as much information about the client and hiring manager prior to conversations is helpful. I ask questions related to the pace and cadence of work that someone is comfortable with. For example, if someone is very meticulous and not comfortable with change they may not be a good fit with a creative agency environment where things are changing every second and work is at a breakneck pace.

On the flip side, if the client is a smaller association or a medium-sized business and a candidate has never worked in that environment (like they’ve only ever worked in large organizations), I would ask about their desire for growth and advancement. When you work in a small organization, the pace and career trajectory would look a little different and you might stay in a role longer. I want to understand if that’s going to be satisfying for a candidate or if they’ll leave in just a couple of months.

So, pace and cadence of the role itself and the candidate’s expectations for the future and their ideal next job.

What is the best way to discuss a weakness in an interview?

I always want candidates to be honest. I think you can share weaknesses while at the same time sharing strengths. For example, let’s say your weakness is “I struggle with ambiguity.” If you’re going to share that challenge then also say “here are three other things about how I show up at work every day that can still support you as my client.” So in this example, if you say you’re uncomfortable with not knowing what each day is going to look like, also share that you are great at creating a plan to minimize ambiguity in a process, coming up with solutions to problems or using technology to collaborate in different ways to help reduce ambiguity.

It really depends on the client and role. There’s never going to be a single disqualifying feature of a candidate. It’s specific to the role and the client and what THEY need in an employee to be successful.

What is a quality that makes people successful in interviews?

The secret is preparation. I find that candidates who practice and are overly prepared are candidates that get the job. In so many cases, you’ll meet a candidate, especially in the marketing and creative space who say they are excellent communicators but they don’t spend any time preparing the STAR specific examples. They haven’t done their research on key problem areas that the client is trying to solve. They show up a little bit arrogant and they do not put their best foot forward.

What are some questions candidates should be asking hiring managers and recruiters?

Let me start generally. I like to give candidates this analogy: lots of times candidates can be like a Dyson vacuum–all they’re doing is sucking from you. They want a job and they want information. I try to help candidates understand that need to add value to the recruiter or hiring manager in addition to asking questions.

If you’re in an interview with a hiring manager and you’re having a good conversation, you might want to ask a question like “What’s the biggest problem you have?”, “What’s a struggle that you have right now on your team that you want this role to solve?” or “How can the role that I’m being interviewed for right now help you?”. In that situation you’re not just demanding information from them–you can then let them know the value you can bring to them based on the answers they give you.

With a recruiter it’s similar. You want to ask questions along the same lines: “What are some of the positions that you are looking to fill?” or “What skills are you looking for?”. This helps you get clarity on the role and more information you could even pass along to a colleague who might match what they are looking for.

How strict would you say the years of experience are in a job description?

I think the requirements around years of experience are flexible and aren’t typically hard and fast rules–especially if a candidate has equivalent experience. For example, someone might only have one year of formal work experience but they have two years of various internship experiences or performed that job in a volunteer capacity. If someone doesn’t have the exact amount then explain what you HAVE done and whether you are a quick study. Maybe you don’t have work experience in Adobe Analytics but you are Adobe Analytics certified and have done coursework in it.

A lot of the time, if candidates don’t have the experience, they won’t apply or they discount themselves. This happens a lot with female applicants. I would challenge them to apply especially if they have experience in a different space like an internship or equivalent coursework. An important note: they do need to explain how what they’ve done is applicable.

How can you tell if someone is a quick study?

Some of it is communication style. If they are able to articulate strong, specific examples of when they’ve gotten up to speed or taken a leadership role, then I’m more inclined to think of that candidate as someone who could hit the ground running. Unfortunately, that’s a bit biased because not everyone can articulate these things well. They could be neurodivergent or there might be something that prohibits them from articulating that in a way that is clear. If a candidate does struggle to communicate verbally, they could always write it out and share it with me so I can place it in their candidate profile.


Looking for more advice and tips? Check out this previous blog post from our Ask The Recruiter series.

Posted in Job Search Tips