The 35 Resume Mistakes to Avoid
ALTHOUGH THERE ARE countless errors someone can make when creating a resume, at least 35 are extremely common. Despite the fact that many of these errors seem obvious as you read them, a huge percentage of job seekers just like you lose out on excellent job opportunities due to carelessness or laziness.
"Be sure to clearly include all your contact information in your heading. If a potential employer cannot easily figure out where to reach you, he or she might just forget about you."
Once your resume is complete, review this list carefully, then proofread your resume to ensure yours doesn't contain one of the errors that could easily result in it getting filed in the circular bin known as the wastebasket. Even if you are an extremely qualified candidate, most HR professionals and people responsible for hiring others make a point to discard resumes that contain careless mistakes, simply because it demonstrates poor attention to details on the the applicant's part.
The job-search process is extremely stressful and time-consuming. If you're not willing to take the extra steps needed to ensure that you are making every effort to showcase yourself and your qualifications in the best way, why should an employer hire you?
"Make sure to target your resume to the specific job you are applying for. If the hiring manager cannot find a clear objective that relates to the job, he or she may pass over your resume for someone who put in the extra time to clearly state an objective."
In addition to proofreading your own resume, to ensure you haven't made any of the errors on this list, be sure to also recruit a friend, relative, or someone else to proofread your work (including your resume, cover letter, and any other written correspondence between yourself and the potential employer).
The following is a list of 35 of the most common mistakes job seekers make, as well as advice on how you can avoid them. This list is in no particular order, because making these mistakes has a similar negative result when read by an employer.
- A typographical or grammatical error in a resume is one of the worst mistakes you can make. If you refuse to take the time to proofread your resume, why should an employer assume you will take the needed time to do your job properly if hired? There are many ways to ensure your resume is error-free. If you've created your resume using word processing or resume-creation software, be sure to use the spell checker. Next, proofread your resume carefully. Finally, ask someone else to proofread your resume.
- Spelling mistakes are probably the most common resume mistakes. These can easily be avoided, yet virtually all HR professionals say that the majority of resumes they receive contain at least one spelling error. A spelling mistake on your resume demonstrates carelessness and a lack of attention to detail. That's not the message you want to send to employers.
- Avoid stretching the truth. A growing number of employers are verifying all resume information. If you're caught lying, you won't be offered a job, or you could be fired later if it's discovered that you weren't truthful. Lying or misrepresenting your qualifications can lead to disaster. There are multiple ways to handle gaps in your resume as well as negative information in your employment history. Lying, however, should never be considered.
- As part of your resume's heading, don't forget to list your full name, address, telephone number, e-mail address, and personal website (if you have one). Starting with your full name at the top of the page, your contact information should be the first piece of information someone reading your resume sees. They should not have to spend more than a few seconds determining who you are and how to contact you.
- If an employer can't easily reach you to invite you for an interview or offer you a job, chances are another applicant will be selected, even if you're totally qualified. Make sure people can reach you easily by listing a phone number on your resume that's connected to an answering machine or has a 24-hour answering service. Don't rely on someone to take messages for you. Listing a pager number or cell phone number on your resume is an option if this will make it easier for a potential employer to contact you.
- Because most people look for new employment while still employed (and job seekers want to keep their job search a secret), never list your current work phone number or e-mail address at work on your resume. It's easy for your current employer to discover that you're looking for new employment if you start receiving calls or e-mail from other potential employers while at work. If, however, you're being downsized or your current employer is going out of business, it's usually more acceptable to be less secretive about your job search.
- The visual appearance of your traditional printed resume is as important as its content. Choose one easy-to-read, 12-point font, such as Times Roman, New Century Schoolbook, or Garamond. Don't mix and match multiple fonts. Also, refrain from overusing bold text, underlining, italic typestyles, or mixing font sizes. A good resume is one that's easy to read and pleasing to the eye. Too many people try to use more than one or two fonts, combined with bold text, italics, and underlining scattered throughout their resume. (As you can see, this makes text look busier and less friendly to the eye.) The result is a document that's confusing to read and look at.
- If you're applying for a traditional job, don't include clip art or graphic images within your resume. This is only appropriate if you're hoping to land a job as an artist, or plan to work in an industry such as advertising, where employers are looking for creativity. Also, refrain from adding a photo of yourself to your resume.
- As you've already read within this book, there are several different resume formats from which to choose to convey information to potential employers. Although most people will use a chronological resume format, a functional resume or a targeted/combination resume is better suited for people changing careers, trying to cover up large employment gaps, or for people who want to take attention away from negative information in their employment history. These other formats are also useful to someone with little or no previous work experience. Using an uncommon resume format (anything but the chronological resume format) can be both beneficial and detrimental, however. Although using an alternate resume format can highlight your strengths, any HR professional ho typically receives chronological resumes will certainly notice a different resume format and might assume the use of a different format is to hide negative information instead of highlighting positive information.
- Refrain from including any references to your past earning history (salary) or how much you're looking to earn. Compensation can be discussed in a job interview situation once you're offered the job or the employer expresses a strong interest in hiring you.
- Never include on your resume or cover letter the reasons why you stopped working for an employer, switched jobs, or are currently looking for a new job. If necessary, this information can be discussed later, during an interview. Don't include a line in your resume saying, "Unemployed" or "Out of Work" along with the corresponding dates in order to fill a time gap in a chronological resume. If there's negative information or a gap in your employment history, you should discuss this in person with a potential employer during an interview situation. This allows you to put a positive spin on the information.
- Frequent job hopping is something employers don't look favorably upon. Because it's expensive to train new employees, few employers are willing to invest in someone with a record of jumping between jobs frequently. Someone who can demonstrate a sense of loyalty to their past employer will be more desirable.
- Instead of using long paragraphs to describe past work experience, consider using a bulleted list. Most employers spend less than one minute initially reading a resume, so it's critical that key information, such as work experience, is easy to find and is described with descriptive and punchy action words and phrases. Avoid using too much technical jargon (which is different from including keywords and phrases in your resume that describe specific jobs or responsibilities). Someone in an HR department might not understand technical jargon associated with your particular job, especially if it's a technical one, but that same HR person will look for specific words, job titles, or phrases within your resume. Using keywords is particularly important if your resume is going to be scanned into applicant-tracking software.
- Print your resume and cover letter on the same type of paper, and use matching envelopes to create synergy throughout your resume package. Avoid brightly colored paper or cheap 20-pound copy paper. Visit any stationery or office-supply store to purchase quality resume paper. Be prepared to spend between 15¢ and $1.00 per sheet of resume paper (a bit less if you purchase packages of matching paper and envelopes). Bright white or cream-colored resume paper is the most popular. These colors also work best with applicant-tracking software if the employers you submit your resume to scan it into their systems. Use 24- or 28-pound bond paper made of 100% cotton stock. Using paper with a watermark is optional and a matter of personal taste.
- Once you choose your resume paper, select an ink color. Avoid wild colors and mixing multiple colors. Black ink is the most popular and most traditional color. If you choose to print your resume using an alternate color ink, make sure your selection is professional looking. Brown or burgundy are good alternatives. Make sure the ink color and the paper you choose don't clash. Also, make sure the text is easily readable both to the human eye and to computer scanners. If faxing your resume to employers, your paper and ink color selections should be white paper with black ink. If your resume is difficult to read, people won't read it.
- Never send photocopies of your resume. This is highly unprofessional. Use a laser printer to generate copies of your resumes from a computer or have it professionally typeset and printed.
- Don't staple your resume to a cover letter or fold it. If mailing your resume to a potential employer, use a large envelope. One of the reasons why this is important is because wrinkles in your resume (or staples) make it difficult for a company to scan your resume into applicant-tracking software. If your resume doesn't scan properly, your chances of being considered for a position diminish dramatically.
- Don't waste words. Every line or sentence in your resume should say something important and specific about you, your educational background, your work history, or your accomplishments. All sentences and bulleted points should be short and to the point. Your sentences should be under 20 words each, and all paragraphs should be ten lines or less. Remove redundant words and phrases.
- Use an impersonal voice. Many resume-creation experts recommend removing pronouns (such as I, you, he, she, it, or they) from your resume. Statements such as "I managed an office of 20 people" or "I was responsible for boosting sales 35% in one year" can make you appear arrogant. Instead, write your resume taking an impersonal approach. For example, the statement "Responsible for boosting sales 35% in one year" has a much better tone. Don't waste the reader's time providing him or her with irrelevant information.
- Don't emphasize keywords if you're creating a traditional printed resume; focus on using action verbs and descriptive phrases. This adds more power to your resume. Refrain from using clichés (overused phrases or words), such as "hard working." Use a thesaurus or the list of action verbs/phrases supplied at the end of this book, and find creative and powerful ways to communicate your main points.
- Aside from careless mistakes in a resume, one of the biggest reasons a qualified candidate often gets passed over for a job is because the resume wasn't targeted to the position for which they were applying. A resume can either be too broad or not specifically targeted to a job. If after someone reads your resume, he or she can't immediately conclude that you're a qualified candidate for the specific job for which you're applying, then your resume isn't serving its purpose, and you should rewrite it. Ideally, you want to specifically target your resume for each job for which you apply. This means using the same job titles and descriptive words and phrases used by the employer to describe the job opening in the ad or job listing.
- Don't include personal information unless it sets you apart from the crowd. Some people choose to put personal information about themselves at the bottom of their resume. For example, they list hobbies or special skills that don't directly relate to the job for which they're applying. Unless each piece of information on your resume specifically showcases you as an ideal candidate, refrain from including it. For example, if you're applying for a bookkeeping position at a medium-size company, listing that your favorite hobby is deep-sea fishing is irrelevant. At the same time, you want to demonstrate, through your resume, that you're a well-rounded person with skills and experience that the employer may find useful. One possible exception to this rule is if you know your company has an active softball team or the employees often participate in a specific recreational activity together, such as golf. Then, you might want to mention you're an active participant in that sport or activity. If you have won competitions, awards, or other recognition in a sport or hobby, you might want to include that. This can easily be done, however, during an interview and doesn't necessarily need to be mentioned on your resume.
- Don't include fluff in your educational background and previous work experience. Although you want to list specific accomplishments achieved while on the job in each position you've held, avoid including information that's unimpressive, unimportant, or that won't be of direct interest to a potential employer. Instead, focus on the skills, accomplishments, and personality traits for which you know the employer is looking.
- It's easy to make vague or generic statements about yourself and your professional accomplishments on your resume. Make your statements concrete, and support them with quantitative information as well as qualitative information. Provide back-up support for the statements you make on your resume. For example, if you list a sales manager position, mention your achievements during the time you held that job. Making a statement that as sales manager, you managed a salesforce of ten people and that your previous employer's sales rose 22% in six months demonstrates you held a position of responsibility and generated results.
- As you're writing your resume, don't forget to focus on the general skills for which you know the majority of employers are looking. You definitely want to demonstrate at least some computer literacy and your ability to work well with others. Emphasize teamwork on your resume, focusing on leadership or managerial positions you've held in order to demonstrate you can take charge of a situation or a group of people. These are traits employers look for, and failure to demonstrate them could result in your missing a good job opportunity.
- Don't make it hard to find information. Make sure the sections of your resume are clearly defined. The main sections of a resume are the: Heading, Job Objectives, Education, Accreditation and Licenses, Skills, Work and Employment Experience, Professional Affiliations, Military Service, References, and Personal Information. Choose what information about yourself should be included under each of the headings. The actual wording for each resume section can be modified. Also, only include the sections that apply to you.
- Don't clutter your resume. One mistake too many people make is leaving in too much extraneous information. Keep your resume short and simple. Try to use simple words, and begin sentences with action verbs.
- Don't overlook an opportunity because of an unfamiliar job title. Many industries use their own set of job titles. For example, Internet-based companies typically hire web designers, web developers, web content creators, or site managers as opposed to traditional graphic artists. If you're a graphic artist looking to work for an Internet company, make sure you describe your skills as a graphic artist, but also mention your proficiency using the programming languages and software tools commonly used in the industry, such as Shockwave, Director, PhotoShop, Illustrator, Java, and HTML.
- Never plagiarize a sample resume you find in a book or simply insert your own name and contact information. Although this book doesn't offer a large collection of sample resumes, many other how-to resume-writing books on the market do. Sample resumes are designed to provide you with formatting guidelines and advice on how to promote your achievements within your resume.
- Try not to send a resume not addressed to an individual. To ensure that the resume you submit to a potential employer actually gets read (or reviewed), be sure to address it to a specific person within a company. Make sure the person's full name is spelled correctly and that you use his or her job title both on the envelope and in your cover letter. The chances of your resume getting read are greatly reduced if you send it blind.
- Don't use the wrong type of resume. In addition to several popular resume formats, there are three basic types of resumes: traditional printed resumes, electronic (digital) resumes, and scannable resumes. Make sure you know what type of resume you're trying to create. A scannable resume, for example, is one that's printed on paper, but that's designed to be scanned into applicant-tracking software and initially evaluated by a computer as opposed to a person. An electronic (digital) resume is one sent via e-mail, posted on the Web, or otherwise distributed electronically.
- If you're an accomplished professional, make sure your most important accomplishments aren't lost in your resume. Choose several of your greatest achievements and make sure they're highlighted and won't be missed by someone glancing at your resume for ten to fifteen seconds.
- As you write your resume, especially one targeted to a specific employer (for a specific job opening), make sure the contents of your resume target the specific needs and concerns of the employer. Don't just modify the "Objective" section of your resume. If necessary, edit your entire resume so it caters to the needs of a specific employer for which you'd like to work. Obviously, creating a targeted resume involves a bigger time commitment and a better understanding of a company's needs, but this is one of the best ways to capture the attention of a potential employer—especially one for which you would really want to work. A targeted resume is more likely to capture someone's attention than a generic one sent to dozens of employers.
- Don't include references to your age on your resume. In today's business world, ageism remains a common problem. If you're perceived to be too young or too old for a position, you might not be considered. Thus, your resume should offer little or no hint of your age. Using a chronological formatted resume makes it possible for an employer to calculate your approximate age based on the number of years you've been working, but this requires work on the part of the employer. You do not even need to mention your graduation date (which is an obvious way to calculate the age of most candidates, unless you graduated later than usual). If a company requires your college transcript, they will let you know—and if they do, it means the company is seriously considering you, so you've probably already met with an HR or hiring manager who will know roughly how old you are, so your age will matter less.
- Finally, if your resume does not answer the following questions, it needs to be rewritten:
- What skills do you offer to the organization?
- Are you worth the salary you're hoping to earn? Do you offer at least that much value to the employer?
- How can you help the company face its current challenges, overcome obstacles, or achieve greater success?
The good news is that the traditional approach to a career—which used to be to stay with one company for decades, if not for your entire career—is no longer expected. Most companies now realize that employees move from one company to another more frequently. So as long as you stay at a job and a company for a reasonable amount of time (which could be a year or two), employers no longer perceive this as frequent job hopping, but a desire to move quickly to a desired level and to get ahead.