Your resumé is probably too long — and recruiters aren't impressed

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Jobseekers are filling their resumés with buzzwords to get past automated systems that are often the first screen on candidates, but it’s turning off the humans.

Two-page CVs are now the norm compared to five years ago, according to resumé builder LiveCareer, which analyzed its internal database of 50,000 resumés and found that lengthy skills sections were behind the change. “Time management” and “critical thinking” are some of the most popular phrases.

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Some recruiters aren’t impressed.

“I don’t have time to sift through what is real and what isn’t,” said Katie Birkelo, senior vice president at recruiting agency Randstad NV, adding that lengthy skills sections are more confusing than impressive. “It’s either a maybe or a no, right away.”

Adding keywords to application materials has been around since recruiters and prospective employers began using automated screens, which became increasingly popular during the pandemic. But skills sections are getting much longer with the collision of skill-based hiring — a focus on what prospective candidates can actually do versus their previous job titles — and the buzz around using artificial intelligence for hiring.

LiveCareer, for its part, views growing resumés as a positive development. The group encourages applicants to take certification courses to lengthen hard skills sections with things like Python and JavaScript and add soft skills such as leadership and active listening to “provide a more holistic view” of what they offer employers.

Younger generations are also breaking the once sacrosanct rule of a succinct, one-page resumé because they think certain skills will pass AI screens, according to Jannette Swanson, who works at the career centre at Vassar College. About one in four organizations use the AI for human resources, according to a January 2024 study from SHRM, with talent acquisition being the leading use.

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“They’re trying to learn how to play that game,” Swanson said.

Donovan Harris, 27, a communications strategist in Washington, D.C., who has “messaging” and “communication” in his LinkedIn profile, says that his packed-with-skills profile has led to him getting jobs.

“Just having those keywords obviously gets you in the door,” Harris said. “I know that people have found my profile from particular keywords or particular skills that show up on my LinkedIn. I have had recruiters reach out because of it.”

With high-profile companies doing big layoffs and the labour market beginning to cool, some jobseekers who aren’t having any luck are stacking their resumés with more skills.

“I can’t figure out why I’m not getting calls, so I’m just going to keep putting more on there,” Birkelo said of the rationale.

Of course, hard skills like Java and Excel are vital to include, especially if you’re in the tech industry, according to Mark Saltrelli, vice president of engineering recruiting at staffing group Kelly Engineering.

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But the risk to resumé stacking is that it can lead to “stretching” the truth, Saltrelli said. Candidates shouldn’t rule out that recruiters and employers will put their skills to the test. Saltrelli requires coding proficiency exams before onboarding to ensure that applicants have been transparent.

“You shouldn’t put something on there because you heard about it or because it’s in high demand,” said Saltrelli. “If there’s no correlation between the skill set and the work experience, that’s a red flag.”

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