Photos on Resumes (aka 20 Resume Writing Tips)

Living in Los Angeles for over a decade, I’ve seen a lot of head shots. And driving around in practically every city in the country I’ve seen the ugly mug of more real estate agents than I can count on many a bench, bus and billboard. I’ve seen artists put samples of their work on business cards, black and white pictures of animals on books and even the picture of technical authors on the inside jacket of books (for the record my picture has never been in one of my books, although Apress has tried to get me to give them one a few times now).

If you’re applying for a position as a Systems Administrator, one place I don’t need to see a picture of you is on your resume. It’s not that the people who actually put their pictures on their resumes aren’t nice looking. Every resume that I’ve received that had a photo on it have been guys and they’ve all been regular looking, even good looking guys. Up to about 3 or 4 months ago I had received thousands of resumes for over a decade without a single photo on one of them. I’ve had scenes from movies some of the video guys worked on pasted into the top of their resume and I’ve had various little snippets of artwork pasted to the header. It is a trend that recently started and for some reason looking at a photograph on a resume actually bugs me a little.

Maybe it’s because it seems so real estate sales-like to do so Not that there’s anything wrong with people who sell real estate plastering their face everywhere, it seems like it’s just kinda’ part of their gig. Although for the record none of the guys that put their photograph on a resume had a mustache, which I tend to attribute to selling real estate for some reason. Maybe I don’t like photos in resumes because it reminds me of all the band photos on the Hall of Douchebags… But the last thing I need is to see you staring back at me in a trite pose, with your slightly spiky hair, your well pressed shirt, your khaki pants  (why are your pants even in the picture?!?!) and a smile that says “I won’t be doing any real work here, as I won’t have time because I’ll be explaining how important social media is while I only tweet quotes from songs I like – you know, the ones by Yanni and John Tesh – but my klout score is 100″.

Who cares why I don’t like it, but it made me think of writing a few tips about resumes, having reviewed thousands over the years:

  1. Don’t put a picture of yourself on the resume (you probably figured out I’d say that by now).
  2. Don’t send me infected files. If you write your resume in Word, virus scan it before you send it to me (I actually feel the need to say this as I’ve gotten at least 50 over the years that were riddled with stupid Macro-viruses).
  3. Don’t list technology that you saw once (or maybe you didn’t see but you think maybe you saw or at least think maybe you discussed in a meeting). Instead, list the stuff you actually know something about because I will more than likely ask you a technical question about any technology you put on your resume. And the more arcane that hardware or piece of technology is, or the more uncommon it is, the more I just want to ask about it because it intrigues me.
  4. Don’t just give me a big list of technologies that goes on for about a page. I realize it may increase your chances of busting your resume through the old search criteria machine, but it gives me a very strong suspicion that you have never used any of the technology on your resume more than once.
  5. Don’t use some font I’ve never heard of in a Word document. Also use a conservative font, not the Treasure Island font. The fact I remember the fonts name and not yours is a problem.
  6. Spell check your resume. I write books, so I’m a bit funny about spelling errors, especially when they’re underlined with lame squiggly marks in the document you sent me, indicating that they were likely blatant on your machine had you cared enough to actually look.
  7. Don’t include a link that involves any media with sound that auto-plays when you open the page as an example of work you are proud of. I’ve always wondered who built sites like that, and telling me doesn’t help your cause…
  8. Be succinct. I don’t need a 30 page play-by-play of every time you called a support desk to have them fix a problem for you instead of doing it yourself. The ability to communicate succinctly (whether in the written form, on a call or in person) is one of the more underrated job skills to look for when hiring, no matter what the blathering in this post indicates.
  9. So far I told you not to expand on the truth, but don’t outright lie either – we, and many other companies, do background checks.
  10. Don’t list every Microsoft or Apple test you’ve ever taken – the fact that you got an MCITP or an ACSA tells me pretty much what tests you took.
  11. Feel free to include a sanitized email address. Yes, I am intrigued by the fact that Google would actually give you that as an email address, but their lack of bad judgement is nothing compared to yours for putting it on a resume.
  12. Be relevant. If you spent 5 years teaching English in China, I don’t really need to know that. Actually, scratch that; some people may care. I don’t but some people who have way more free time than I do (which is likely occupied by listening to Yanni on computer speakers rather than using their headphones while they’re at work). If you are skilled with a tuba, feel free to include it, if a flute, don’t. Never include the flute (thanks @bynkii for that)!
  13. Don’t claim to have worked for someone that you didn’t work for who I personally know.
  14. Don’t tell me where and when you went to high school. Especially if you’re over 40…
  15. Do list relevant job experience succinctly and relevant post-high school education.
  16. Do include a cover sheet. Until I got married I never read them, but my wife corrected my mistake and I’ve found the whole cover letter thing to be a great addition to my resume review experience.
  17. Feel free to throw a little personality in that cover letter, but not too much. Especially if your personality sucks, then I know that ahead of time and don’t bother to call you back.
  18. Don’t list the wrong website as where you found the job listing (e.g. “I loved your posting on Dice” when I posted the job to Monster).
  19. I’m sure there are thousands of other things that have come up, but I’m sick of reliving some of the tedious moments of resume review.
  20. Don’t put a Google map of your physical location in your resume. Remember, if I have your address, I easily know where to send ninjas to get retribution for you clearly trying to crash my machine by sending me an infected Word document with John Tesh music embedded in there.
  21. I lied, there are actually 21 (I can lie, you can’t). Don’t tell me your sex (I can probably guess that part), age (why do you think I don’t want to know what year you graduated high school), sexual orientation, race or anything else I’m not legally supposed to ask about during the interview process. I have never ever ever given a crap about any of it. I only want to know if you’re awesome at computer stuff, not who ya’ shag.

They’re certainly not all bad. I’ve had great luck over the past few months reviewing resumes. It just so happens that while there are more good ones these days, there is an equal number of really bad ones. There are some really sharp folks out there on the job market and I wish we could hire them all. But since we can’t, it would be a good idea to start with the above bullets (as succinctly written as the average resume I might add) if you’re sending me your resume.

Oh wait, I just thought of another:

23. Preferential treatment given to all who submit their resumes in Markdown, or as one massive regular expression. I guess I could have written this one a bit differently: know your audience.

As a friend from Twitter and someone I respect (@peelman) brought up, if you ask 100 people how to make a resume, you’ll get 99 answers. There’s a lot of people in different job functions who have different rules who apply to them. As such, take what I mention here as being kind hearted and a composite of how I review thousands of resumes, not an overall outlook on how to build a resume for every type of job on the planet. Also different geographies and sizes of companies mean different types of people reviewing resumes… All great food for thought! :)

5 Comments

  • Karl Kuehn
    November 14, 2011 - 4:35 pm | Permalink

    Charles: where those people who sent you pictures on their resumes from Europe? If so, then you have missed that that is a near-requirement there. Some of them might just be folowing through on what they think is a requirement. Of course that might say something about their readyness for U.S. business customs, but that is probably another conversation.

  • November 14, 2011 - 4:40 pm | Permalink

    Given the conversion rate for the Euro, I can’t afford to hire them anyway, so moot point! ;)

  • November 14, 2011 - 5:19 pm | Permalink

    I CALL DISCRIMINATION!! EUROPEANS ARE PEOPLE TOO!!!

  • Jason B
    November 14, 2011 - 6:00 pm | Permalink

    wow mine must have really sucked because I didn’t even get a email or call back.

    • November 14, 2011 - 6:03 pm | Permalink

      DOH! I just took over the jobs mailbox a few weeks ago. Someone else had been filtering them before that. But I can’t imagine yours sucked! Feel free to send again if you’d like (this time just send it directly to me)!

  • Comments are closed.