You May Be Surprised What Your Executive Resume Document Properties Reveal

Oops Resume Gaffe.jpg

Transparency in Government—Good.

Transparency in Your Executive Resume Document Properties—Not So Good.

What File Meta Data In Your Resume Can Show

Many casual users and even some frequent users of Microsoft Word do not realize that the metadata that Word keeps about your executive resume document under “Properties” is very extensive and can reveal a lot more about you than may be wise.

Microsoft makes it clear that hidden text, revised text, comments, or field codes can remain in a document even though you don’t see such information or expect it to be in the final version. This includes personal information you may have entered when you registered your software, such as your name or e-mail address. Properties you have filled in, such as “author” or “owner,” are not automatically removed and can actually persist as the document moves on through different owners. This is particularly easy to miss if you are using a template created by someone else, or starting from an existing document and modifying it.

Your digital fingerprint trail can include notes and comments, deletions and insertions that were recorded via “track changes,” etc. Readers can see hidden text. They can look at who authored or last modified your document and how extensively it has been edited. Without taking a few precautionary steps, prospective employers and recruiters viewing your resume can also see all of your markup and comments history. You may have thought you’d removed information about these things, but without following the proper procedure, that may not be so.

Unintended Data Reveals by Government, Military, and Corporations

There have been a number of high-profile instances where embarrassing information thought to be hidden was revealed. One memorable incident was a U.N. report regarding Syria’s alleged involvement in assassinating the former Prime Minister of Lebanon. Everyone viewing the report could browse changes made throughout the editing process, including a number of name deletions for high-ranking officials that were suspected to be involved in the assassination plot. Oops!

Zdnet tells of how “pharmaceutical giant Merck was put in the hot seat because of changes made to a document regarding the painkiller Vioxx.” They go on to say “There have also been document data leaks at the White House, the Pentagon, the United Nations and others, according to compiled research from Workshare, a maker of software that strips tell-tale hidden data out of files.”

CNET recounts an incident that left the Democratic National Committee red-faced after circulating a memo regarding Supreme Court nominee Alito with hidden data “None of [which] amounted to earth-shattering revelations, of course, but taken together they offered a level of detail into the Alito memo that the DNC had not intended.”

Unintended revelation of private or proprietary data can happen not only with Word documents, but also with PDFs, PowerPoint, Excel, and other files. Just a few of the high-profile cases of metadata leaks cited by a 2011 report include:

  • Google: Google revealed private financial forecasting when hidden data was left in a PowerPoint presentation before posting it for the Wall Street community

  • Microsoft: Through hidden data within Microsoft Office documents, the Associated Press found that Microsoft’s advertising campaign highlighting a customer that switched from Apple to Microsoft’s software was in fact a member of their PR firm

  • Whole Foods: Court documents containing hidden information disclosed Whole Foods plans to close stores, revealed how Whole Foods negotiates with suppliers to drive up costs for WalMart, and disclosed the company's closely held marketing strategies

  • Barclays: An Excel spreadsheet contained 179 contracts within hidden columns that were then accidentally submitted in Barclays buyout offer of Lehman Brothers assets

  • Google: Hidden metadata revealed Google as the submitter of a PDF document to the Australian Competition Commission and Consumer Commission (ACCC) protesting the removal of all payment options except PayPal by eBay Australia

  • AT&T: AT&T revealed confidential information about spying on their customers when a PDF file was released that included hidden information

The New York State Bar Association Journal wrote an excellent report on the dangers of metadata in 2017, reprinted on this site.

View this excellent infographic to see the anatomy of a document’s meta data.

How to Remove Hidden Meta Data in Your Executive Resume

In most cases, hidden meta data in your resume is not going to embarrass you in front of the world as it has some of the above companies and government entities, but it could cause some awkward moments, nonetheless. If your resume has gone through multiple revisions, been handled by more than one editor or author, or been repurposed from another document, hopefully this has convinced you to double-check your executive resume file before disseminating it.

In MS Word under the “View” tab, you can click on Properties at the far right to access a great deal of information about your document. Information is also available by going to File menu under “Info.” There you can see everything from how many words are in the document, who the author is (you may wish to change this to your name instead of a third party who wrote or processed it), total editing time, etc.

View Tab in Menu Bar

View Tab in Menu Bar

Word File Menu - Info

Word File Menu - Info

Click on the “Check for Issues” button next to “Inspect Document” where you can discover and remove as desired a plethora of things including comments, personal information, embedded documents, collapsed headings, headers, footers, watermarks, invisible content, and hidden text.

If you use “Track Changes” to log ongoing editing of your resume, be sure to “Accept All Changes and Stop Tracking” and then go through the “Check for Issues” exercise before you send it out to anyone.

Word - Track Changes

Word - Track Changes

Word’s online support site details how to review and remove hidden details you do not want reviewers to see in your document.

Also consider reading entries under the search term “hidden data” in Word’s internal Help menu, where topics include:

Remove hidden data and personal information by inspecting…

Display empty cells, null (#N/A) values, and hidden data…

View additional information and hidden content that has…

Macros or VBA code found

There is even a “Video: Remove Personal Data from Files” that will walk you through the process.

Privacy and information security concerns are why I typically enter all client changes to an executive resume on my original that has never used comments or track changes – as an extra safety measure. Even if you think there are no comments, tracked changes, or other information you would rather others not see in your document, I strongly recommend following the above procedures before you send your resume out or post the file online.

To add another layer of safety, you can download a free program called Doc Scrubber by Javacool software. It will automatically scrub your document and save the file under a different name (filename ending in ‘scrubbed’), so you know it’s clean.

Other Considerations Regarding Your Privacy

There are other ways when you are engaged in an executive job search that privacy can be compromised or embarrassing or identity-endangering information revealed. For example, you may wish to consider how much personal contact information to include on your executive resume.

On LinkedIn, there are a number of things you may wish to consider:

Privacy Considerations on LinkedIn