Nine Things to Leave Off Your Resume
Sidestepping biases – ugly and quirky -- of hiring managers and algorithms
Resumes are not the place to be yourself — that designation goes to your bathroom mirror. Your resume is a sales document in which you sell part of yourself. Specifically, the part of you that is a Super Competent Shining Star of Your Industry Who Loves the Job. That’s it. No hobbies. No abbreviated life story. No side interests. “Don’t provide personal information unless it is relevant to the job,” says Joanna Lahey, an associate professor of economics at Texas A&M University, who runs studies tracking resume callback rates. “Avoid putting in anything unusual, unless it is normal for your industry.”
This means that your resume should be devoid of non-work information. Exceptions: If you’re gunning for a gig at Adidas, it is OK to go deep on your ultra-marathoning habit. If you’re applying to write for a weird TV show, fly your freak flag high. Otherwise, silencio. “Personal information doesn’t help sell you for the job,” says Seattle-based career coach Robin Ryan, author of “60 Seconds and You’re Hired!” “From a hiring manager’s perspective, if you’re busy coaching your son’s soccer team, then it takes away from you spending time at your job.”
Here’s what else to omit:
Your address. In today’s remote era, the address of Chez You can actually be a hindrance. “It’s not really relevant in the remote environment, as long as you are really able to work remotely,” says Esther Chewning, an assistant dean at Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business. In fact, an HR person based in, say, Chicago, might reflexively boot you from the application pile based on your location before seeing your brilliance. “Instead put in your LinkedIn URL, or a link to your e-portfolio,” says Chewning, along with your email address and phone number.
Socioeconomic status. Ditch all hints of your class background, including mentions of your university financial aid prize, or all the years you juggled multiple jobs, or your less-than-upscale neighborhood. This is exquisitely true if you are applying to work at a company that caters to an upper class clientele, or markets itself as high end. A series of studies on applications to legal jobs found that law firms overwhelmingly preferred to hire men from higher class backgrounds.
Academic achievement. No one cares about your GPA or honor roll status. I know. This is tough to swallow for Type A perfectionists. “We find very little evidence of GPA mattering,” says John Nunley, a professor of economics at the University of Wisconsin, who studies job application callback rates. The exceptions are jobs in which some academic track record is directly relevant, such as a position at a science lab, or an internship applied for right out of school. Otherwise, skip it. If an employer needs to know, someone will ask.
Minority statuses. Racial, gender and ethnic discrimination are alive and well, and frequently based on names, says Nunley. He sees it “over and over and over and over again, study after study,” particularly against African-Americans. (Research from Harvard and the National Bureau of Economic Research, in particular, support his advice.) If you belong to a group that is discriminated against in your field, consider forgoing your full name in an effort to proceed to the interview round, taking a tip from a survey. “Maybe use a different name on your resume, just to get your foot in the door and eliminate that bias,” says Nunley. Consider a shortened name, nickname, first or middle name as last name.
Orientation, religion, disability, etc. As a rule of thumb, keep mentions of body and spirit off your resume. They can catch the eye of hiring execs concerned about running afoul of federal law that protects from hiring discrimination, over sex and gender orientation, religion, race, disability and family status. “Personal information can oftentimes get the company in trouble,” says Ryan. They don’t want it on file, so don’t give it to ’em unless you know that your particular status will be an advantage in getting hired into that particular role.
All your HOA work. “If you belong to your homeowners association, don’t put that down,” says Lahey, who recently completed a study that found that older adults who listed their HOA duties had fewer callbacks, presumably because people associate HOAs with older adults. “It’s not a negative for younger people,” she says.
Momming mentions. An oft-cited 2007 Stanford study in the American Journal of Sociology found that mothers are “penalized on a host of measures, including perceived competence and recommended starting salary.” One way to offset the penalty is to slide into your resume evidence of your exceedingly high productivity compared to your coworkers, which the same researchers found can counteract the mom penalty. Men, by the way, are not penalized for fatherhood unless they display unusual time commitment to their kids.
That time you waited tables. When you’re trying to land a high-paying job, evidence of your temporary, low-level gigs drops your value. It’s better for a resume to show an unemployment gap than to include low-paying work. Workers who list interim jobs “really paid the price, receiving callbacks from employers at about a 30% lower rate,” says Nunley, who did a 2017 study on the topic. “Being unemployed was not a problem; being underemployed was.”
Want to know what you must include on your resume? Read my column.