Avoidable Sins on Resumes and Cover Letters

For the past little while I’ve been sifting through a pile of resumes from UBC students, coming from all four years and four or five faculties. While I don’t have a database containing 20% of entire Sauder’s resumes like one of my dear friends *cough*, I did see enough to get a chuckle out of a few.

Papers Resumes Cover LEtters

Feel free to skip the following in italics: These are mostly based on true stories meant for amusement and not to debase anyone’s resume that they submitted in good faith. I do not claim to be an authority on resumes and cover letters for college students and is not promising jobs and/or rejecting any of these applicants on a public forum. All quotes are rephrased by me and any similarities are entirely coincidental (god, I’m putting disclaimers on practically every blog entry, this is getting ridiculous.)

1. Using almost the exact same cover letters for completely different positions.

“In a recent conversation with a colleague, I learned that you are seeking applicants for the Vice-President/Director/Manager position”. So did you REALLY have a conversation with a colleague? How many colleagues DO you have? No, in fact I don’t believe you spoke to a colleague when you submit two of these to me in the same wording (yes someone might just be your interviewer for multiple positions). For goodness sake, at least change some your highlighted skills so that your cover letter isn’t exactly the same past the first sentence. All that “I am confident that I will be a beneficial contribution to your organization” is losing credibility, do you know what this organization is?! One of these days you might seriously regret putting down the wrong company name.

2. Having an objective statement that is totally unrelated.

Sauder discourages Objective Statements, but I know some resume workshops still use it, so I’ll give this a pass. If you’re applying to be say, master chef specializing in Italian dishes, and your Objective statement reads “To be an ESL teacher for high school students”, I have three conclusions. 1) You forgot to change it 2) You’re too lazy to change it, or 3) You see that as your long term goal but in the mean time you can’t get any positions in that field so you’ll apply for a random unrelated opening to buff up your resume and wallet. Either way(s), I think your chance just plummeted.

3. Wild exaggerations.

Okay, admit it, we ALL do it. It’s what years of literature class taught us – the art of BS, buffing up mundane accomplishments so they sound spectacular on paper to strangers. TO STRANGERS. That’s the key thing here. For inter/intra-faculty activities in particular, it’s very likely that the person looking at your resume is a peer, someone who may have done similar EC’s as you or even worked WITH you at some point. I once led a team of web design-savvy people to work on this three-months long project that involved collaboration with several other teams. In a recent resume that I came across, a guy who was the head of another team that I collaborated with wrote something like, “increased efficiency of web design team in addition to my own group of x number of people by….” DUDE, I was picking up YOUR slack for three entire months. Not cool.

4. Incompatible file types, or the dreaded .docx

Most .docx files can be automatically converted now (who came up with the brilliant idea at Microsoft in the first place?!) My Mac crashing while trying to download a XML converter was partially the reason why I decided to write this. Don’t make other people work to open your files. Stick to .doc or even better .pdf (personal preference for the pdf – it doesn’t mess up formatting which is a huge plus).

5. So… what exactly is your GPA? ie. Random, unsubstantiated numbers on your resume.

One resume I received originally had a GPA of ~3.7. Two weeks later, for another position, the same person sent one in with a 4.0. Wow, I’m so impressed by the almost miraculous improvements this person made over the span of ten days! Congratulations. A friend also remarked to me that it’s funny how so many people have “raised/helped manged/funded $10 000 for project x”. It’s always $10 000. Some rich guy most be writing a lot of 10 grand cheques out there.

6. Starting the address with “Dear Sir or Madam”

Do your bloody primary research. From Comm299, “Call HR and find out the hiring person’s name!” It shows that your care.

7. Using duty verbs instead of achievement verbs

Another piece of nugget I will always be grateful for learning from Philippe Desrochers in COMM 299. Duty words basically restate the job description while achievement verbs make clear how you exceeded expectations on the job. Observe: “Sold large number of products and marketed to large companies” versus “Improved store profitability by regularly exceeding sales quotas by up to 50%”. I won’t go too much into this considering we spent three weeks on this in class. More info can be found here or a visit to the Business Career Centre.

8. Having outdated, incorrect contact information

One individual had three different phone numbers – one on her application, one on her resume, and yet another one on her cover letter. The first one was not in service; the second, international long distance. It’s not as if I’m a random person who tried to get your phone number at a bar. We’re trying to give you a job here! Make it easy.

There are of course the obvious ones such as “no typos” and “parallel structure” in addition to the plethora of styles and preferences that career building websites love waving in our face. I skipped those. Have any more? Comment below.

We Interrupt Our Regular Programming

… to bring you this special message.

I just got the funniest email from the Sauder School of Business, parts of it are reproduced below. It’s titled COMM 299 Winter Term 2 – Assignment #1‏. Homework in university over the winter break?! Hmm… it’s an online assignment/survey type that takes 40 minutes, so I didn’t mind too much. Then I read the rest of the email.

For the second term of your Comm 299 class you will be learning all about how to figure out what you want in a career and how to land your dream job. It is a very rewarding and powerful part of the course. […] Developed at the Harvard School of Business, you will receive much personal value from this assignment. See below for details.

Assignment #1: CareerLeader online assessment (5%)


1. Pay the MANDATORY $17.50 (taxes included) fee online at [URL]
2. Take the online assessment using the following details at [URL]
3. Print out the “Narrative Report” and bring it to class during week of Jan. 12-16 […]

* The system is setup to ensure that you can take the assessment immediately even if you do not pay before taking the assessment. We recommend you pay before beginning the assessment to avoid forgetting. But you must pay nevertheless no later than March 31 at noon. Failure to do so will result in your grades being withheld resulting in a “0” grade for the course. [emphasis added]

Wait what?! It’s a 5% assignment, that requires payment, and if we don’t pay we fail the course?! Such a bright outlook for the future of business schools. So apparently the cost is there because the class taking the assignment is very large. This is ALMOST as a good as paying $45 for a piece of paper with a password on it so I can do my econ labs online.

P.S. – Lack of updates due to exam season. I’ll be done on Tuesday and will be back with a TON of uber awesome posts =D

UPDATE: You know what? I did get some great insight from this CareerLeader survey. My professor is a huge fan of this assessment so I thought, hey, there must be some merit to it eh? Although the results weren’t what I expected, it did open my worldview to other possible career options to complement my law school journey after undergraduate years. COMM 299 is slowly becoming one of my most enjoyable classes this term. But come on Sauder, couldn’t you subsidize this?!

Word of the Day

Lame /leɪm/:

(adj) Walking around campus for an hour at night trying to find parties and failing to do so

That pretty much sums up Part 1 of A Commuter Student’s Tale of Experiencing UBC Nightlife, a bestseller no doubt. And the party we were originally eyeing was the Soc Student’s Midnight Terror De-Stresser/Bzzr Garden which turned 1) to be really really empty even at 10pm and 2) was for 19+ despite what was stated on the promo pages. Grr.

Letter to Anonymous

Dear Anonymous Student,

When you wasted five minutes of the class’s time on the proper way address the guest professor who was filling in for the day, I did not mind. We all like a little curiosity. However, when – a few minutes later – you waved your hand in the air again interrupting the prof’s lecture, you got my attention. Our prof nodded to give you the chance to speak, at which point you proceeded on a full-out rant on how useless you thought this course was, how you failed to understand its real-life applications, and how you believed the textbook “got nowhere” in its “vagueness” after six chapters. The prof decided to push back his lecture and open a little discussion.

Then, Anonymous Student, we heard about your “extensive experience in managing” others as well as a detailed, play-by-play description of some interview you participated in for a company.  Furthermore, you stated that you are not convinced that this course would help you in the future, and that it was “almost like psychology”, and that because it lacked the quantitative precisions of disciplines like calculus, accounting, and other courses in your “background”, it is unworthy of the attention of academia (I paraphrase of course, though I believe I put it more eloquently, hmm?)

Anonymous Student, there were more than fifty other students in the room plus a professor who had a Doctorate on the subject and is renowned for his expertise in the field.  Although you had every right to voice your concerns about the curriculum, I can’t help but think that during a LECTURE by a GUEST might not have been the best place to do it. I commend the said professor for giving you unlimited floor time to talk and for appreciating your challenging questions. Though for me personally, I think I got your point the FIRST THREE TIMES you made it.

I’m sure there were people in the room who agreed with parts of what you said. I FOR ONE would be willing to listen to you after class or in a small group setting with the professor during office hours. However, the manner in which you presented your displeasure was completely unprofessional, inconsiderate and disrespectful.

With your confident – though slightly verbose – speaking abilities, I have no doubt that you will have success in future meetings with clients and employers. However, I couldn’t help but notice how VERY ironic it was when you said that you believed you were a “good manager” and that the course’s material paled in comparison to the experience you got from the real world. If there was one person who needed to take this course on management and motivation, it would be you.

Regrettably yours,

Phoebe Yu

P.S. – I still think you are a wonderful person and probably a brilliant student. But yesterday, your actions and words were disappointing.