Can you recover from a Nic Cage resume bomb?

By now I’m sure most have seen the Nicholas Cage resume faux paus.   A job seeker attached a picture of Nicholas Cage instead of her resume and cover letter.  Hilarity ensued for those that read the story but for the actual job seeker (if she’s real), she was probably mortified.

No one has ever sent me a picture of Nicholas Cage (yet)  but I have received a few questionable attachments.  Some job seekers have sent drafts of their materials, resumes and cover letters in track changes, resumes and cover letters in a non-compatible format,  papers or other writing assignments and my favorite, a blank word document.

Usually if I have time, I’ll contact the applicant and let them know that the resume they sent was actually blank.  I do this primarily because they’ve probably been sending that word doc entitled “resume 2012” for some time now without any response and won’t understand why until they actually open that word document.

How does one recover from this?

Step 1: Apologize profusely and point out that your faux pas in no way reflects the quality of work that you would provide as an employee.

Step 2: Make a joke (if you’re funny).  Depending on the sector and type of position they might welcome your sense of humor.  Make sure your joke is appropriate (and funny).

Step 3: Move on.  We tend to look at the closed door for so long that we let other opportunities pass us by.   You sent a blank document to a prospective employer.  Is this the only position that you’re applying for?  No!  You’ve apologized and provided the correct information.  If they get back to you, great! If they don’t, that’s great too.  There are plenty of other positions that you can apply for.  Mistakes happen.  As a job seeker and employee you’re supposed to be perfect but the reality is that mistakes will happen.  The most important thing is that you accept responsibility for your mistake and make an effort to correct it.

To prevent situations where Nicholas Cage and his crazy eyes can make their way to your job application, set up some safe guards.

-Entitle your documents something that accurately describes what they are, “M.Honeypot_resume 2012.”

-Once documents are attached, open them and review them to make sure they’re correct.

-If you have gmail, set up a send delay just in case you spot something that shouldn’t be sent to a prospective employer.

-Save your emails as drafts and come back to them in a few hours. Sometimes a fresh pair of eyes can spot mistakes.

-Don’t save gifs of Nicholas Cage and his crazy eyes.  (Probably the most important thing to do).

For those who have not seen it


Post-Application Follow Up

As a jobseeker, follow-up seems necessary.  You’ve sent in your application and days or even weeks have passed and you haven’t received a reply. Is your resume stuck on an admin’s desk?  Did someone accidentally delete it? There must be some explanation as to why you haven’t received a phone call.

As an employer, the honest explanation is that we’re not interested.  If i’m screening resumes and I see a gem amongst the rubble of poorly constructed cover letters and resumes, I contact that person.  If I want to interview you, believe me you will absolutely know.

I know that it’s difficult to just relax and move on the next possible position especially if you haven’t received any confirmation of receipt but it’s probably in your best interest and will benefit you in the long run.  

Don’t resend your resume and cover letter because they will know that you resent it.  They’ll figure either you’re just applying to so many jobs that you’ve lost track of where you’ve already applied, or that you’re trying to follow up without really following up.  

Don’t send your resume and cover letter via multiple means.  Most application instructions will say email, maybe fax, possibly (but not likely) mail.  Choose one and stick to that one.  If I haven’t called you when you emailed me your resume, I’m not calling you when you fax it in and mail a hard copy.  I’m definitely not speaking with you if you physically bring your materials to my office and ask to speak with me to discuss the position.  (This has happened more than once).

Don’t call inquiring about the status of your application.  If someone is interested they’ll call you.  No need to have that awkward phone conversation where you say your name and they have no idea who you are and you remind them that you applied and they try to let you down easy by saying it’s either filled or they’re still screening.  I hate those convos.

Definitely do not email asking, “when will I be interviewed?” Interviewing isn’t a courtesy extended to all applicants so don’t assume that it will be extended to you.  If they want to speak with you, believe me they will.

Don’t follow-up a few days after you’ve sent in your application.  Things do happen. Resumes can get lost or deleted.  Someone might be on vacation and hasn’t gotten to your beautiful masterpiece.  I’ve had several people email their resume on a Friday and contact me on Monday asking about their status.  Let some time pass. Ideally if you absolutely must follow-up, a polite check-in reiterating why you’re a good fit and conveying your interest can be ok after a few weeks.   

Regarding follow-up after an interview, I’m all for that but again make sure you’re polite, clear, and concise. Use your follow up to address any concerns that might have come up during the interview and to convey interest and enthusiasm in the position.   A crafty way that someone followed up for a position we were recently trying to fill was by sending in an article that addressed a job function and discussion topic that came up during the interview.  I thought this was really smart because it showed that she was thinking about the position and what she could do in that role and it showed us that she was still interested without being abrasive or pushy.

To some extent, you shouldn’t think about applying for a job differently than dating.  The same crazy red flags apply.  If you give a guy/girl you just met your number on Thursday and by Saturday you have multiple missed calls, facebook, twitter, and google plus invitations, and a handwritten letter at your door, would you go out with that person?  Most likely not.  A potential employer feels the same way.

Cocky vs. Confident

At some point during your job search (or life in general) someone has told you that you need to be confident.  If you’re confident in your abilities you can convince others that you’re a walking ball of skills and education fit for whatever position you choose. Unfortunately the line between cocky and confident has become muddled.  What should be an assertive pitch reaffirming why you’re a good fit has become a condescending brag-fest.

A few years ago I had a young client that used cocky and confident interchangeably.  Some of it had to do with the tone that he used when he talked about himself and his experience.  The bulk of it had to do with his inflated sense of self that could not be backed up with an achievement or tangible skill.  His pitch was that he should be able to command 60K per year because he was management material.  Not a past manager, his point was that he had the potential to be a manager.  He didn’t have a bachelor’s degree and didn’t have any management experience but wanted an “office job” where he would be a supervisor.  We tried to work with him and suggested starting off as an admin, learning the ropes, etc.  He declined because he felt he was management material and wouldn’t accept anything less.

I admire the gusto and focus on an end goal but it’s also important to be realistic.  If you have a condescending tone and start demanding a position or salary that you are not qualified for without any type of back up to prove why you should even be considered, you do not come off as confident.  That’s kind of like walking into college orientation the first day and saying, “I want my diploma now.  I know that I will do great here so let’s just cut out middle man and send me off to graduation with a diploma in hand.”

Your goal is to highlight your accomplishments and relate them back to what you can do for the company/organization.  You want your interviewer to be impressed with what you’ve achieved but also to think about what kind of contribution you can make to them. It isn’t just an opportunity to talk about all the awards you’ve won, or promotions you’ve received.  What do these accomplishments really say about you as a worker?  What do they say about your commitment to service and advancing the company’s/organization’s goal collectively?

Go over your elevator pitch and practice questions with an (honest) friend or spouse and ask them to rate you on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being cocky and 10 being confident.   People hire other people that they like.  Even in ultra-competitive fields where cockiness is seen as an attribute, no one is hiring you if they don’t like you initially.

Know Your Audience When You Market Yourself

With any piece of writing that will ultimately be seen and scrutinized by another individual, it’s imperative to make sure that you know your audience and market yourself accordingly.  Some positions want to see your creative side.  Others want to see a mature professional.

I posted for an Associate Executive Director position.  Below is an excerpt (unedited) from a resume I received:


• Hustler

• Confident

• Innovative

• Personable

• Self Driving

• Heavy Scheduling   


• Creating One Liners

• Learning Languages 

• Talking In Accents

• Photography

• Traveling

Offer me a job because … I ran out of milk … so I made cereal with coffee mate … holla at me Martha Stewart.

There might be a position out there where a sense of humor and the ability to generate one-liners is paramount as a job function, but for my position this wasn’t  the case.  Figure out the culture of the work environment before you interject one liners that reference coffee mate and Martha Stewart.


Tell Me About Yourself…

Probably the most difficult question to answer.

Most interviews will begin with, “tell me about yourself and what brings you here today,” or some variation of that statement.  This is your opportunity to intrigue your interviewer with your personal elevator pitch.  It’s an opportunity to focus the interviewer on your strengths and successes and to make them think about what kind of impact you could possibly have within their organization.  It is not the time to discuss your favorite pastime or random hobby. (One person told me about their love of “hanging out” and dancing then asked what I wanted to know).  It’s a great time to highlight important information. The employer wants to know what you deem as important information.

Ideally your pitch should be about 30-60 seconds long. Too short – what did you really tell your interviewer, too long – did you lose them along the way?   It should effectively summarize the pertinent strengths that you possess and relevant accomplishment. You want to sound confident and composed so take time developing and practicing your pitch.

Where to start

Your pitch is specific to you and will sound the most authentic coming directly from you but here’s a roadmap to help get you started (feel free to tweak and adjust as necessary):

1. Most recent degree and college information (mention what you studied, how it relates to your professional interests, specific skills learned or licenses acquired, etc.)

2. Previous jobs and accomplishments (mention relevant accomplishments achieved or skills learned that would make you a good fit for the position that you’re interested in).

3. Segue into current interest (link your previous experience with what you want to do now).

Example:  I graduated from XYZ University in 2009 with a Masters Degree in Social Work and earned my LMSW in 2010. My concentration in community organization, planning and administration provided a solid background in necessary management and leadership principles, advocacy, and program development.  As director of workforce development for ABC Settlement, I put my educational skills to practice and effectively designed a standardized evaluation program that allowed all program directors and senior management staff to have a realistic view of program performance in real-time.  From this project I realized I wanted to work on a tool that allowed an agency with multiple departments to evaluate each program individually against contract demands and collectively against each other; the senior program officer position and DEF Global seemed like the right fit to transition into this role.  

You want to sound authentic, not rehearsed.  Draft your pitch and practice. Practice it in front of a mirror then practice in front of a friend.  Practice until you feel comfortable.

When you’re called for an interview, the employer is about 75% sure that they could offer you a position.  The actual interview is your time to alleviate any fears and affirm to them that you are most certainly the right candidate for the position.   The best way to do this is to start the interview with a confident, composed highlight reel of your past experience that will make them think of how great of a job you will do for their company if hired.

“I’m Interested in Any Position That’s Open…”

This might very well be the truth but the employer doesn’t need to know that.  With each application that you send you’re trying to convince the employer that you’re the best candidate for that position.  Out of the hundreds of resumes that they’ve received, they should contact you because you will do the best job in that particular role.  How can you convince them that your specific mix of skills and qualifications make you a good fit for that position if you tell them that you’re interested in any position that they have open?

Whenever I see this blurb in an intro email or even worse an actual cover letter, I hit delete.  In some rare instances, I will actually reach out to the candidate and ask them to review the positions listed then get back to me with an updated cover letter for the position of interest.  I usually tell them that positions vary so much and listing “any” doesn’t give me a good sense of their skill set or interest.

As a jobseeker many years ago I made the same mistake.  Either there were multiple positions that I was interested in from that particular organization or I wanted them to know that I was flexible in case the position I was applying for was already filled.  What I didn’t realize was that internally, good candidates get passed around regardless of what position they’ve indicated on their application.

You do want your employer to know that you’re flexible but you always want them to know that you have purpose and drive.  Sending a generic cover letter and resume with an intro email that basically says that you’re interested in any position that’s open will convey to them that you’re lazy.  Take the extra time to review positions, assess your skill set, and apply to the one that best fits you.

When Aggressive Networking Goes Wrong.

A job candidate sent his resume and cover letter on Monday morning.  On Tuesday, I received another copy of his resume and cover letter.  I also received a LinkedIn invitation on my personal account, in addition to his resume sent as a message to my LinkedIn account, an invitation to my supervisor’s LinkedIn account and the same message.  This was all by Tuesday afternoon.

I know that it’s good to cover your bases, but all of that activity in such a short amount of time was suffocating.  

He did not receive a call back.