Transcript of Resumes from Hell Interview with WZRD in Chicago

Authors Jon Reed and Rachel Meyers appear with Dan Demchuck of WZRD in Chicago to talk about Resumes from Hell and share some job hunting tips.

Dan Demchuck: You are listening to WZRD Chicago, 88.3 FM, The Wizard, Northeastern Illinois, the University's home of free-form, non-commercial radio. And as I said earlier folks, I do have a fantastic interview for you now. I want to say hello to Jon Reed and Rachel Myers, authors of Resumes from Hell. How are you guys doing this morning?

Rachel Meyers: Hi Dan, great.

Jon Reed: Doing well Dan.

Dan: Fantastic. Unfortunately though, I don't know any characters named Dan here in the studio. We are all just wizards while on the air. We're completely anonymous.

Rachel: Is that right?

Dan: Yes ma'am.

Rachel: Are you like the grand wizard or something?

Dan: No, no, no. We don't go that far. But of course it's all in fun though. See, that would be one of the things I wouldn't have written on my wizard's resume. I would have left the grand wizard thing for another time. You guys, your book is so funny. It's called Resumes from Hell, and it has got to be one of the best "how not-to" books that I've read in my entire life. What gave you guys the idea to do this book?

Rachel: Jon and I were both professional recruiters for many years, and the bad resumes just kept coming in. For the years we worked together, we would take all the funniest resumes and we would hang them up on the walls of our cubicles. Over time, it became really clear that we had plenty of material for a book.

Dan: Now for the legality of it all, how much of the changing did you have to do name-wise? That must have been really hard. I know you said you did this for years as recruiters, but how long did it really take you to compile this great little handbook, this trusty handbook that I now have that's gold for me entering into the job world shortly?

Jon: Let's start with the legal question for a minute. What helped me decide to move forward is that you can get sued these days for basically anything.

Dan: Oh yeah.

Jon: If you're going to live your life in fear of litigation, you're not going to live a very happy life anyway. So at some point you have to hold your nose and take the plunge.

Dan: Of course.

Jon: But what we realized is that we could be true to the spirit of the book's examples while changing certain specifics regarding people's names, because it really wasn't people's names that was funny. So we altered things that wouldn't change the resume but made it so that it couldn't be linked back to any particular person. But as far as how many resumes, I don't know. We've never really tried to figure that out, but I would say that the book was pared down from 50,000 resumes.

Dan: And what percentage of those would be ones that would contain some of the common flaws that made it to the book?

Jon: Well, we pared it down to only the funniest stuff. Everyone knew that I had a joke file in my office that I was pretty serious about maintaining. I had never thought that it would become a book. Whoever was in charge of the initial resume routing and screening for the office was told that the funny stuff had to come my way. And I just collected it and the file got bigger and bigger. One day, we found ourselves unemployed. We found ourselves in the midst of a dot com crash with a fat file of funny resumes. We just kept getting it out and having fun with it. One of the early breakthroughs that happened was that we realized there were these different categories of mishaps. That's one of the things we have a lot of fun with in the book as you probably noticed.

Dan: Oh yeah. We've got a chapter of people who are putting in their "Hobbies and other Strange Pursuits." One of my favorite chapters was "Voicemails from Hell." I ended up laughing out loud in my office reading it. Those were unbelievable. If you're just tuning in, I'm talking now with Jon Reed and Rachel Myers, authors of Resumes from Hell. It's just been a great read. And once again, I appreciate you guys calling up and spending some time with us.

Rachel: Hey no problem. Thanks for having us.

Dan: Another thing I liked about the book was that you preceded each chapter with specifications as to what you really shouldn't do as pertained to the specific topic of the chapter. That's really helpful because that's more of the straightforward stuff that you put in there.

Rachel: In the intro to each chapter, that's where we take what is funny about what you're about to read and apply some real world examples of why it's important to avoid these mistakes, and take a more serious approach as to why these things are big blunders and why you need to avoid them.

Jon: We were talking before the interview about this, about what makes a good resume. And Dan, this ties into your favorite chapter, "Voicemails from Hell." One of the classic mistakes is actually to write a perfectly good resume, but forget that your new employer judges you by the totality of the correspondence and how you interact with them. So the "Voicemail" chapter is a good example of: okay, maybe you had a great resume, but maybe part of your follow up was a little wacky. I'm now calling it the "get ready for the mother load" principle because I just got a resume the other day and the resume was from a consultant with an outstanding business background. But the cover letter was an email cover letter, and all it said was, "get ready for the mother load."

Dan: Oh boy.

Jon: So you've got to think about all the correspondence that gets attached to the resume, and the voicemail chapter fits into that. That's one reason why we expanded the scope of the book a little bit to include that stuff.

Dan: Let's talk more about what is necessary and what isn't necessary in a resume. I know we have a lot of students listening in as well, and we've got a few here in the studio with us right now. They're all going to be heading into the job market at various times in their life. You guys compiled the most extreme examples in this book, but as you said, many of these things we all need to look out for. Like you were saying, the one line cover letter, "get ready for the mother load," that's hilarious. And in the book, there's this one: "Hello Cyber Sleuths, I've been looking for a company like yours for over a year. When I saw your job listing, things suddenly became," and this is of course in all caps, which is another thing that you pointed out later on too, "VERY INTERESTING. The job you offer seems to be right down my alley. I have about six gazillion questions to ask you, but this is only the first contact. I guess I should proceed with the standard resume stuff first…" And that was the cover letter in its entirety there?

Rachel: Yep, that's it. I don't think it required anything more.

Dan: (big sigh) I would have to do that after every page while reading this book. Just let out a sigh and go, "What were they thinking?"

Rachel: Definitely.

Dan: I hope that some of them are at least employed now. I don't know, maybe they can end up suing you guys and make money that way.

Rachel: Yeah right. Actually, I think that one of the things that made our time collecting these resumes easier, was that we were recruiters during the dot com boom and we were in the IT industry, that was our focus. Back then, people who were in the software industry were really cocky. They made money hand over fist and they could get away with behaving like that and having these over-the-top resumes and being really bold in their cover letters. And so it made for some really entertaining interactions with folks.

Dan: So do you think that they actually used the same kind of tone when they were seeking their initial positions? Do you think that their attitude actually scored the job for some of them, and that they were just trying to go with something that was working for them prior when they sent you guys a letter?

Jon: That's an interesting question. One of the main reasons why people have trouble with resumes is because they have a desire to stand out. They're thinking, "Well, there's probably going to be 100 resumes for this job, so how can I really get attention?" I think part of it comes down to that. So the guy who sent the email, "Get ready for the mother load," he's thinking, "There's going to be a lot of resumes coming in for this job, but only one of them is going to say, "Get ready for the mother load."

Dan: Exactly.

Jon: So I think some of it comes from that "impulse to stand out," and some people carry this with them into the job market. Maybe later on, they get more arrogant about their experience. I will say that sometimes it works. My client actually interviewed the "get ready for the mother load" guy because he said, "If he thinks he's that good, I'm going to find out." But I don't think I would have. I don't need a new co-worker walking in to show me his mother load.

Dan: So in some cases then, these kinds of "I'm great" approaches did lead to an initial interview.

Jon: Yeah, I think so. I would categorize these resumes into a lot of different types of mistakes. And if I had to pick one, I would say the most acceptable mistake is sometimes being a little over-confident, because sometimes it can get you an interview, like it did for "Mr. Mother load." But you should keep in mind that when I saw that, one of my first thoughts was, "I would never work with this guy."

Dan: Of course. Some people get turned off right away by that type of cockiness.

Jon: Yep. You just have to understand that you're taking a bit of a chance there on the personality of the hiring manager you're dealing with.

Rachel: You have to realize that every job has a gatekeeper. Every job that you're applying for, there's somebody who is making an instant decision about you. You probably have ten seconds to make an impression on that person. If you rub the gatekeeper the wrong way, even if the manager that you're going to be working for doesn't mind having people who are cocky on his or her team, if you have done something in your resume or cover letter to rub the HR person the wrong way, that resume never gets any further than that HR person's desk. You're either going into her joke file or you're going into the trash. So you just have to be really wary that all jobs have gatekeepers. And if Jon had been more annoyed by this guy than he was, he may never have even sent the resume to the client. So it's definitely a risk to do things like that. As Jon said, some of the blunders that people make are much bigger than others. We have lots of people in this book who are bashing their former bosses - huge mistakes that never play well.

Jon: Like the person who says, about their former employer, "Hook up your Caller ID before you call, these people are slime."

Dan: Yeah, make sure you block your call. You don't want them to end up calling you back.

Jon: And then the person who listed his mother, his older brother, and his cousin as references. Those are like more on the extreme side of things that I think even a college graduate without a lot of experience would realize, I probably shouldn't put my mother down as a reference.

Dan: I was just going to ask, what do you guys think are, like what is the in your opinion, worst possible mistake, the most glaring one that you could do that would immediately get your resume into the circular file or joke file?

Rachel: Oh man, good question. That's a tough question. Like the worst mistake you can make on a resume . . .

Dan: Like what would immediately turn an employer off?

Jon: I would say the first thing is a wacky email address.

Dan: Yeah, that was a great little excerpt in there as well.

Jon: And there's more that come in every day. I was getting one just a day ago that was from someone who sees himself as a cool dude. I don't want to say the exact email address, but it had to do with cool dudes. This guy is trying to present himself as a professional. - so the warning flag for me was this guy can go out and get a free Yahoo or Google email address with his name on it. If he doesn't have the time or interest in doing that, it's hard to take him seriously as an applicant. He's going to use his personal correspondence address instead. Not that many people fax resumes anymore. So much of it comes in by email. So that's the first thing a lot of times you see before you even open the resume file, is you see the email address.

Rachel: I guess a question is whether you can hire someone whose professional judgment is that far off the mark. As the hiring manager, you're going to have serious reservations about that person.

Jon: How can I take someone seriously who's like, It's great that she loves coffee, but it just makes you wonder what that has to do with anything.

Rachel: On a related note, get rid of those automatic signature lines at the bottom of your email. Those were some of the funniest ones we ever got. We have a gentleman in the book whose email signature says beer, beaches, barbeque, and babes.

Dan: That was great.

Rachel: He's like the boy from down under. And so it's losing sight of professionalism in your correspondence. This is actually one of our harder ones we were talking earlier about, confidentiality and the legal hurdles we had to overcome. One of my favorite examples is somebody whose signature tag line included a poem about lunacy and how they were losing their mind. Jon: He's battling the dark forces of the universe.

Dan: Some of those were just really scary. Even the ones where they were talking about former employers and how they're just so bitter with them. It sounded like you wouldn't even want to let them know you received the resume for fear of the repercussions you'd get if you don't respond to it afterward.

Rachel: That's right. That's right. So yes, Jon had to, since we couldn't publish that person's poem in our book obviously, Jon had to rewrite the poem.

Dan: And it was a fine job. It was still very disturbing I have to say.

Dan: Where is that in the book?

Rachel: Right next to the guy signing his name on his cover letter. His last name was Simmons and he made the "S" a big dollar sign.

Dan: That one's great. Very truly yours, William G. $immons.

Rachel: It's wacky.

Dan: Well I think you know, in the job market, if you're William G. $immons, you've got to make that cash right? The poem though that we're referring to, this is just so tripped out that he did this:
"And if you look in me, of great deceit, you might find dreams of insanity, but think again my friend, resist the voices you may hear inside you'll find no need to fear my lunacy." That's just like unbelievable.

Jon: It's part of his email correspondence with his signature. So when he sent in the resume that came right along with it.

Dan: It's like no one would even have known about his lunacy had he not given us forewarning at the very end of it. Right?

Rachel: That's right. Exactly.

Dan: Just one of those little hints to keep out of the resumes. Just keep the poems about how crazy you are to yourself.

Rachel: And any indication that you're going to come back and go postal on your coworkers.

Jon: I think a lot of us want to live in a world where people accept us for who we are. Sometimes people want to put that kind of thing on their resumes because they figure, "Well, if they can't accept me for who I am, I don't want this job anyway. I want to be myself." There's nothing wrong with that as long as the job offers are rolling in. But if the phone's not ringing, then take a look at your strategy a little bit. What I always say is, "Roll out your idiosyncrasies gradually." Some of these distinctions are a bit more subtle, like for example, there's such a trend towards higher risk hobbies, things like snowboarding and hang gliding. It might never occur to someone who's in college that listing those on a resume might not be totally appealing to the employer. Because you're thinking, "Well, this makes me seem like an adventurous, well-rounded person. But when I'm looking at it, I'm thinking about insurance and liability.

Dan: Exactly.

Jon: When I see those high risk hobbies on a resume, I think about going to visit you in the hospital when you're in traction and I need you finishing up a report. And so that's where I think some of the subtleties come as far as making a good resume. Some of these are not as obvious as remembering not to put a strange poem under your signature. Sometimes it's about understanding that hiring managers have a different perception than you do of what's appropriate and what's appealing and what's not.

Dan: Oh of course. There are just so many examples in here. There's about 30 chapters in the book here of different specific headings, with at least five examples per chapter of just blunders that people made - things like we're talking about here that would scare off employers. So are you guys thinking about possibly doing a book, like an actual "resume how-to book" then from the author's of Resumes from Hell, you know, how to write the one that's going to get you the damn job?

Rachel: It's not a bad idea. It's funny; this book came to us so organically. It was a project that we had so much passion for. So I don't know. I don't know whether we want to take on a serious resume book kind of project.

Dan: It would be a big shift change. I would want you to do it completely tongue in cheek though at the same time. Anyone who wants to send us some examples of theirs, just email it right along. (Editor's Note: Jon and Rachel are indeed now working on a "serious" resume book that the promise will be as fun as Resumes from Hell).

Rachel: That's right.

Dan: I was going to ask you about this too: I'm a skateboarder and you guys have this goofy burnout looking guy on the front of the book with a skateboard and I'm like "Oh man, once again we're getting demonized."

Rachel: Well as long as you're not showing any crack you're okay.

Dan: Exactly. I'm not doing that but I finally understood now after you said about the high risk activities and stuff.

Jon: Well you brought up a point too which is that we do have about 21 illustrations in this book by a really fantastic illustrator.

Dan: Oh yeah, Rusty Johnson.

Jon: And that illustration of the skateboarder who has a butt coming out of his pants, that went with an entry about someone who was going off on dress codes. So the caption which was, "Dress codes seem superfluous and dishonest." This was someone who was criticizing dress codes coming in, so we thought we needed to come up with an image of someone who might find dress codes unacceptable.

Dan: Yeah, that's pretty good.

Jon: But on the other hand Dan, you are a skateboarder, but would you bring your skateboard to a job interview?

Dan: No, of course not. Anyplace else but that actually. I would have the three piece suit on and my skateboard at my side. I mean it might look good for photos, but not necessarily for the job interview, right?

Rachel: That's right. Exactly.

Dan: There are just some hilarious ones though, like some of these sloganeers that would put a slogan beneath their names like Jeff P. Flighting, "A team player who will put your company in the best light and never do anything you will have to apologize for or have to defend."

Rachel: That's right. He had that as the header underneath his name on his resume.

Jon: I like the one on the next page too, "Have passport and don't use tobacco or firearms."

Rachel: You know if you have a multiple page document, at the top of a second page you'll have page 2 or something, well he had, on page 2, "Have passport, don't use tobacco or firearms, on every single page.

Jon: What's funny is that I haven't thought about firearms until he brought it up. But now that he brought it up, it makes me wonder if he does have a little bit of a fetish that he should come clean about.

Rachel: That's right. What's funny is that the whole thing about the dress codes and firearms, to be bringing this stuff up before you've been asked, there's a sense of jumping the gun on a lot of these resumes and cover letters, a sense of people getting into way too much detail too fast. To be going off about dress codes or to be going off about how you're going to go in there and turn the company upside down and straighten things out. You're projecting coming to their company with guns blazing. And that really turns people off.

Dan: Of course. That's something you might want to wait until you're actually hired to do. I'd wait until at least the first week or at least when the benefits kicked in before I started attacking my employers. What about this one though, here in "The Odd Self-Sell" chapter -- this one was just --great; "created assembly language virus that spreads through .net files without affecting their execution, resides in unused area of the secondary vector table, scrambles as DNS entries and unscrambles them on the fly, never released in the wild." Great, let's have this guy come by and work on our computers. He's just waiting for the opportunity. The book is just so bewildering to read. It's unbelievable the stuff that's in there. I can't stop laughing when I read it. Do you have any other great tips that you think that any of the students should possibly look out for that maybe did not make it to the book?

Jon: Well here's one that we didn't spend a lot of time on in the book, but is something that I think is significant, which, Rachel, you can comment on too, but it's surprising how many people don't actually go to the trouble of spell checking. But the other catch of course is that sometimes if you're blasting through a document with spell check and you're not paying attention, you can wind up substituting the wrong words. In that chapter where we have "extra circular" activities, that goes through the spell check just fine. Sometimes the spell check can kind of mangle a document a little bit, so I think that's the other thing, is just understanding the tools you're using aren't necessarily going to be error free. So I think that's one thing that I like to keep in mind. Rachel: Definitely. Another thing to consider: from a resume writing point of view, it's good to always be thinking of the flow of your resume and your career progression and how you got from Point A to Point B. If your resume has you flipping burgers at McDonalds, then the next entry says that you were the director of a group of 20 people, as a hiring manager I'm going to be suspicious of that. I'm going to want to know how you got there. How did you make those transitions? How did this build upon itself? And that goes for your career and educational history as well, to really show that progression.

Jon: In the introduction to this book, one of the things we touched on was that you have to let go of trying to get a lot of creative satisfaction out of your resume. But I realized later that that's not totally true because what people really need to figure out how to do with resumes is how to find ways of creatively describing their skills and experiences and put them in the best light. And a lot of times Rachel and I talk about it as quantifying your skills, finding ways of helping future employers to understand the value of the things that you did. One key aspect of this is looking at the position in terms of: are there things I did that have lasting value?

Dan: And pertain of course to the job you're actually applying for now.

Jon: I had a really interesting situation recently helping a restaurant manager work on her resume. At first she just thought, "Well if I'm a restaurant manager, that's self explanatory." But what does that really mean? So what I was encouraging her to think about it things like: how many hundreds of people came through the door each night? How many times did you turn your tables over? What were the cash receipts? What were you responsible for? How many people did you supervise? Customer satisfaction is a little bit harder to measure, but maybe there are ways of measuring that as well.

Rachel: Maybe reducing complaints that came in. Maybe they used to get ten complaints a night and now they only get two.

Dan: So even the jobs that of course aren't even IT or office professional work, there are certain ways to bolster yourself, even without high tech qualifications. You just have to think of what's important that you do there.

Jon: Without a doubt. I think a lot of employers are looking for just a sense that you can see a little bit of the big picture. So even if you're just waiting tables, you see the big picture and make an impact on your employers by offering suggestions for better systems, better ways of approaching things, handling the dinner rush, or whatever it is that you're doing. So there's some really appealing ways to describe your experience, and as Rachel said, a lot of it comes down also to figuring out how to structure those experiences so they add up to something. And that brings us to our third point that we emphasize a lot, which is to customize your resume for a particular audience. I would say upwards of 80 percent of the material in our book was not sent specifically to us, so in other words, the people sending it didn't take the time to think, "Well I'm sending a resume that says dress codes seem superfluous and dishonest, to someone whose clients have dress codes." So the person never gave that any thought. They just blasted it out to 100 people. When you structure your resume around a particular goal or objective, that really helps you, and then when you understand what that company in particular is looking for, you can customize the resume to that opportunity. Some of that may come out in the cover letter as well, where that's where you do a little more customizing. But the more you understand about who you're speaking to, the better.

Dan: Of course.

Jon: It's rare that I see a resume or cover letter where the person has taken the time to understand my company, what my business challenges are, what my reputation in the field is, where I'm trying to go next. And that kind of cover letter is really appealing to read. And so when you put that kind of thought into it, that really goes a long way towards improving your chances.

Dan: Excellent I really appreciate you both coming onto the show. Jon Reed and Rachel Meyers, authors of Resumes from Hell. Thank you guys so much for phoning in with all these great, constructive tips, and a hilarious book.

Rachel: Awesome. Thanks for having us.

Dan: Everyone make sure you go out and pick yourselves up a copy of Resumes from Hell. It's going to be one of the best resources you can get, as well as one of the funniest reads you're going to have all year. Jon, Rachel, thank you so much again for coming in and sharing all this with WZRD's listeners.

Jon: Sure, no problem.

Dan: So if someone wants to reach you, then can find you at

Rachel: That's us.

Dan: Fantastic. And, of course, your books are available, you can find them in commercial book stores too, right?

Jon: Yeah, you can. Sometimes you may have to "special request" it, but most book stores have access to it, and you can get them on line at Amazon.

Dan: Fantastic. If you guys want to hold on the line for me, I'll be back to wrap up with you in just a bit.

Rachel: All right, great, thanks Dan.

Dan: Thank you so much for calling in. Jon, Rachel, we'll be talking to you guys soon. You are listening to The Wizard, WZRD Chicago, 88.3 FM.

Editor's Note: This transcript has been slightly altered and revised from the original audio version for readability.