Real HR Stories: What NOT to Do

“We ought to be able to learn some thing second hand.  

There is not enough time for us to make all of the mistakes ourselves.” 

– Harriet Hall

Just for fun (but also, some education, perhaps…) here’s just a sampling of some real life, straight from employers/recruiters (and one of my own memorable client experiences, too!)

I give to you the “Real Resume Reader Pet Peeves & ‘Oh, Please Don’t Do This’ ” stories… job search tips from HR managers & other hiring professionals!

It’s the job search version of “What Not to Wear” – the don’t do’s, turn-offs and professional faux pas.

Remember two things:

1) We can learn from other’s mistakes (what to do and NOT to do!) and

2) Employers get so many applicants, they need – and look for – reasons to not consider many of them.

Don’t make it this easy for them!


First: The Most Common Employer Pet Peeves:

** Mass emailed, generic resumes
** Applying for things you aren’t even remotely qualified for
** Candidates that won’t take “No” for an answer
** Applicants that clearly don’t take the time and effort to customize their cover letter

What to do instead:

>>> Make it clear in both your cover letter and resume how your skills, experience and interest are a great match to EACH employers SPECIFIC needs. This often means tweaking and tailoring your resume and certainly each cover letter to each job for which you apply

>>> Respect their decision if they think it’s not a good match. After all, you want to be happy there too, and how happy can you be in any relationship where the other party just isn’t interested?


And now for a few fun ones – well, fun for us, not so much for these uninformed job seekers! (Yes, I swear these are all taken from real sources – I kid you not!)

A non-example of what not to put in a cover letter: 

I am going through a terrible divorce, foreclosure and then got laid off from a well paying job after more than a decade there.”

Employer’s response: “It’s amazing, what are people thinking? I’m gonna pity hire them?”

What do to instead: focus on the benefits you bring the employer, and how your skills meet their needs.

An example of literally what NOT to wear: 

Employer (a friend of mine):  They ask all applicants to drop off a resume in person, in part, to assess their judgement and professionalism, right from the start!

 “Her resume was decent, but she dropped it off in shorts and flip flops, and we clearly aren’t that kind of company. NEXT! (they didn’t keep her resume)

What to do instead: anytime you are on the premises, look clean, neat, and appropriate, and behave as you would on the job, and your boss was nearby.


Your resume is the first representation of your work:  

“I couldn’t believe it – she pulled her twice folded and worn resume out of her back pocket!”

What to do instead: make sure your resume has a clear, concise, error-free and neat & tidy presentation on paper and on the computer.


Use the language an employer expects:

This example is from one of MY clients, many years ago, in my first job in this industry, as a Career Placement Specialist in a government, grant funded program to help laid-off workers of all levels and industries get back to work.  I’ve never forgotten this guy!

Client’s chosen job title on his resume: “Corporate Gadfly”


Well, what would HR have said your official job title was for that position? THAT is what will be verified in a reference check and employment verification,  for one thing.”


HR Director.” (oh my – he WAS the HR department!)

What to do instead: Me:

OK, so do you think most HR screeners will look for – and want to see – “Corporate Gadfly” as a job title for the type of work  you seek? Or will they use different key words? Will most HR and hiring managers understand what that means, exactly?”

(What DOES that mean, exactly?  Yes, I asked him, but I asked what he was trying to convey with that word choice, rather than saying, “What the HECK are you thinking?” – which is what *I* was thinking!)


I think it will be easier for the right employer to find you if you use your actual, verifiable, standard and expected job title.”

(PS: There’s much more to that conversation – it ended, much later, with me saying,

Okay, well, it’s your resume, and you can try that. If you don’t get any responses, reconsider just using “Human Resources Director” instead.” (!) )

(but now that I’m thinking about this again, maybe this client is an example of the type of HR people that frustrate job seekers?? Ha!)

Any of you have hiring experience?  

Send me your own “Oh no they DIDN’T!” applicant stories!