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The Top 10 Mistakes People Make When Looking for Work

by Jack Molisani
President, ProSpring, Inc.

"Thank you so much for the informative link on resume standards.  These are extremely helpful tips for my job hunt that will give me extra leverage.

L. B., Candidate



Recruiters (both HR and agency recruiters) receive tens if not hundreds of resumes a day, each of which must be read, evaluated against current job requirements, processed, clarified and filed.

If you want them to help you find a job, help them do their jobs.

The Common Mistakes

Presented in order of chronology, not severity.

1. Not Following Submission Directions

  • Read the directions!
  • First Impressions Last
  • Email, Fax or Snail Mail?
  • Formatted or ASCII Resume?

2. Not Building Personal Relationships

  • Develop a personal relationship with your recruiter.
  • You want someone who will sing your praises to the next person in the hiring process.
  • ...especially if you are not an exact match or have some other special situation.
  • Plus, when a cool job comes in, who do you think they will call first?

3. Bad Manners

  • It's poor form to mail your resume to 45 recruiters in one email...
  • …especially when you display them all in the To: field!
  • Keep a log of where your resume has been sent.
  • Don't insult the recruiter. (I'm not kidding–it happens!)

4. Applying When You Are not Even Remotely Qualified

  • Don't apply without considering the requirements.
  • Do apply for jobs that are a bit of a stretch, but at least be in the ballpark!
  • Don't do "shotgun" applications.
  • Pay attention to the "must have" vs. "nice to have" requirements.

5. Not Summarizing Skills vs. Requirements

  • Recruiters get tens if not hundreds of resumes a day.
  • Not all recruiters have the time to read your resume from top to bottom–some just skim for keywords and needed skills.
  • If you are qualified, the recruiter will write a summary of how your skills match the job requirements before passing it on.
  • However, they are not professional technical writers. Do you really want them to decide if you are a good enough match to pass on?
  • Be pro-active: send a matrix of the job requirements vs. your skills so they don't have to do it for you.
  • If you don't have one of the needed skills, this is where you say, "I don't have XYZ, but I do have ABC, which is very similar."
  • Suddenly, you are the recruiter's best friend:
    • They didn't have to search for the information.
    • You typed the summary for them.
    • You pointed out important information they may have missed.
    • All they had to do is verify the information and pass it on.

6. Misnaming Your Resume

  • Remember, recruiters get tens if not hundreds of electronic resumes a day.
  • Put yourself in the recruiter's shoes.
  • Would you want to receive 100 resumes a day named "resume.doc"?
  • Name your resume so it can be found easily: for example, "Joe_Jones.doc"

7. Poorly Writing or Formatting Your Resume

  • Your resume is the first sample of your writing skill.
  • Programmers can get away with bad writing and formatting, but technical writers cannot!
  • Documentation managers judge candidates based on their resumes...
  • …and will disqualify you if you don't apply the same standards to your resume that you do your documentation.
  • Pay attention to:
    • Headers, Indentation and White Space
    • Poor Use of Authoring Tool
    • Misspellings

8. Mis-evaluation of Importances

  • Highlight your strengths.
  • Minimize your weaknesses.
  • For example, put the most applicable information, experience or skills near the top of your resume.
  • Put less- or non-applicable experience near the bottom.

9. Not Anticipating and Answering Questions

  • Recruiters wonder about oddities in resumes, so be pro-active and explain them.
  • Examples:
    • Gaps in Your Work History
    • Your Citizenship or Work Visa Status
    • Moving from Contract to Perm
    • Moving from Perm to Contract (to a lesser degree)
    • Need Relocation Assistance if Out-of-state?

10. Not Keeping Your Skills Current

  • Not Knowing Latest Authoring Tools
  • If you can really just pick them up in a week, how come you haven't already done so?
  • Between chapter meetings, chapter mentor programs, and regional/ international conferences, there is no reason not to stay current.


  • Follow submission directions.
  • Build personal relationships.
  • Use good manners and netiquette.
  • Apply for jobs for which you are qualified.
  • Include a summary of how your skills match the job requirements when you submit your resume.
  • Name your electronic resume so it can be identified.
  • Apply usability factors to your resume like you do to manuals.
  • Highlight your strength, minimize your weaknesses.
  • Anticipate and answer questions.
  • Keep your skills current.


I'm always happy to hear from my readers, so if you have any questions about how to find a good writer or want to report your successes in doing so, send me an email or call me at the number below!


About the Writer

Jack Molisani has been a project officer in the Space Division of the USAF, the manager of training and documentation of a multi-million dollar software firm, and currently is the president of ProSpring Inc., a technical communication and placement firm, and LavaCon: The International Conference on Technical Communication Management.

Jack teaches courses on how to reduce support costs through better documentation and training materials at Cal State University, is a regular speaker at the Society for Technical Communication (STC) and WinWriters international conferences, and was the chairman of the year 2000  STC Pan-Pacific Conference.

He can be reached by phone at 888-378-2333 and by email at




Copyright 2002, ProSpring Inc.