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Ten Resume Mistakes You Must Avoid

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Marked up ResumeYears ago, one of my job functions was to go to my alma mater’s career fair and collect resumes from prospective future employees. I had a great time because I was only a year or so out of school, I could hang out with my friends, and I enjoyed seeing all different the resumes. In that time, I saw some great resumes and I saw some not so great resumes.

As you read the list below, you might be surprised at some of the mistakes but you couldn’t imagine committing them. With the exception of the “make it readable” rule, I’ve seen them all. Most of the time, I think it’s because the candidate just didn’t notice it or wasn’t aware it was a bad idea. However, if you’re taking a look at your resume, I recommend you review these ten mistakes and make sure you aren’t committing them. :)

This article is part of Bargaineering Career Week 2009, a week-long series focused on your career – how to find a job, how to tailor your resume, how to find the job opportunities and how to nail the interview. This article is the first article of day two – resume reconstruction.

1. Untailored Resume

Employers don’t spend more than a few seconds scanning through resumes so your resume needs to be tailored to the job you’re applying for. You shouldn’t try to be a generalist, be as specific to the job as possible. If you are going after a job that requires certain skills, ensure that the resume emphasizes the positions you’ve held where those qualifications have been in the spotlight. You should not be sending the same resume to every job opening, it should be tailored to the position and time spent in this area will improve your response rate.

2. Typos and Grammatical Errors

Much like your cover letter, your resume has to be perfect when it comes to typos and grammatical errors. I always recommend having a friend, preferably one with better spelling and grammar, look it over for any errors before you post it.

3. Make It Readable

If you’re going to submit your resume online, make sure it’s readable. What looks nicely formatted in Word can come out looking horrific when you paste it into a text box. Make sure that what you submit is readable by a human being. It would be awful if a computer made sense of it and selected you only to be discarded because your resume came out as gibberish.

4. Make It Well Organized

When you organize the sections of your resume, be sure to organize it in the order of importance. I usually list my contact information, followed by my objective, education, accomplishments, skills, and then awards. If you’ve been out of school for quite some time, flip education and accomplishments. You want the most important material towards the front.

5. Focus on Accomplishments

When you list your various jobs, focus on accomplishments rather than what the duties of the job were. For example, if you are an administrative assistant, your resume shouldn’t consist of a list of administrative assistant job functions. It should explain specific accomplishments you completed while in that role. Did you plan events? List those events, size and scope, so that hiring managers understand you were in charge of an event with 500 attendees, rather than “responsible for event planning.”

Whenever possible, try to outline where you helped the company earn more revenue, save on expenses, solve a problem, build business relationships, etc. Focus on things that imtract the bottom line.

6. Use Keywords

With the level of competition for jobs and the pace of technology, hiring managers usually don’t see every resume that is submitted. That’s why it’s important that you tailor your resume to include keywords that the job position is looking for. If the job requires certain IT certifications, you should make sure those certifications appear on your resume. Without those keywords, the software searching the database of resumes will never pick yours out from the masses.

7. Scannable

Since a hiring manager is going to spend only a few seconds reviewing your resume, before they decide whether to look closer, it’s important for you to make your resume scannable. That means using bullets whenever possible and vary the font size and boldness to emphasize former job titles and employers. You don’t want to vary it too much (don’t make it look like a ransom note) but enough so that certain headlines stand out.

8. Keep It Under Two Pages

Years ago, the advice was that you should always keep your resume to under a single page. While this makes sense for a college graduate, the reality is that today people switch jobs more often than they used to and they have taken on a lot more responsible. The “one page rule” for resumes is now more a myth than a rule and you should use as much space as you need to list your accomplishments. However, don’t take this to mean that you can write a novel, just keep it under two pages.

9. Correct and Professional Contact Information

Double check that your contact information is correct. All it takes is a misspelling to your email address or mis-keying in your telephone number to take an otherwise awesome resume and turn it into a clunker. If employers try calling and get a wrong number, they won’t try again.

Also, email addresses are free so stop using that 10 year old babygrrrl8888@hotmail.com or hotboi1976@yahoo.com as your contact email address. Sign up for a more professional sounding email address so employers don’t prejudge you or ignore you because of it.

10. Don’t Mention References

Never put references directly on your resume. Companies rarely call references before talking to a candidate and you don’t want your references’ contact information floating around the Internet. If they want a reference, they can ask you for it. Likewise, references are always available upon request, so there really isn’t a point to putting “References available upon request” on your resume. :)

Those ten resume mistakes are probably the most egregious, but there are plenty more. What was the worst resume mistake you saw? (or committed?)

(Photo: kafka4prez)

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37 Responses to “Ten Resume Mistakes You Must Avoid”

  1. MLR says:

    I’ve always looked at the objective as useless, and I know a lot of HR people would agree.

    Most people put something obvious like “To obtain a job that utilizes my skills in procurement.” At that point, you might as well get rid of it and save on space.

  2. Anthony says:

    This isn’t so much a mistake, but just more a tip.

    I’ve seen some many people who print resumes on regular printer paper. There is special (read “harder stock paper material) paper designed for resume use. It makes it more professional, I think. Also, make sure that your envelopes and cover letter all match, in color, with your resume.

  3. Chris says:

    Another tip along the lines of the paper stock. Use a matching paperstock for your cover letter and envelope if mailing. This is also acceptable for hand delivery.

  4. Wilma says:

    Recently I wanted to apply for a job at a big name cereal factory on a part time cleaning crew. They wanted a resume and wanted it sent via e-mail. I’ve never had to write a resume before because I always worked in factories and distribution centers. This request seemed a bit like over kill and very overwhelming. I still haven’t written one and it’s been over a month. Don’t know if I will bother. I’m frustrated by this request. I’m a laborer for Pete sakes. Why I need a resume and an application is beyond me. But any way, if I should decide to attempt to write one I now have a guide line to go by. Thank you.

  5. Rianne says:

    If you are dropping off a resume in person, don’t go at a time when talking to you will be inconvenient. I work in a restaurant and I guarantee that if someone who comes in with a resume asking for the manager at 3 pm on a weekday afternoon will get a much better response than the same person at noon on a Sunday.

    “Objective: To obtain a full-time position at your business” – useless, except as entertainment for the people seeing your resume.

    Strangest thing I ever saw on a resume that was quite off-putting – a person listed along with their contact info their sex, birth date, and nationality.

    • Neil says:

      I assume the nationality was foreign?

      This is another important point on resume writing – national flavour. If you are applying for a job in London, the expected format and content will be different from a job in Denver. Some countries expect a photo. Some expect gender, sometimes even marital status, information about kids, etc. So if you’re getting instruction from the internet, or applying for an international opportunity, make sure it’s appropriate.

  6. Roofer for a summer says:

    Rianne: sex, birth date, nationality, religion, relationship (married vs. single), head shot, and # of kids, sometimes even profession of parents is mandatory for resumes in some European countries.

    In general: I have interviewed about 50 people a year for the last 6-7 years. I would say about resumes:
    * Never more than one page (even if you have 20 years of experience and you can’t explain it in 1 page, why would believe you can communicate your way out of a cardboard box?)
    * Never less than 10 point font
    * No more that 350 words all in (I want to see white on the page, not just ink)
    * Speed-readability is absolute key
    * Forget about objectives and weird summaries at top of resume
    * Avoid typos, grammar errors and evidence of poor language skills at all costs
    * Think about the “other” section at bottom of resume – add something interesting, not something that points to anti-social or slacker behavior
    * In the resume try to demonstrate key skills needed for the job as mentioned by Jim IN ADDITION to team skills (not a sociopath), conflict resolution (not a yeller), leadership (not a peon), result oriented behavior (knows how to get shit done, not just talk about it)
    * Clean formatting – people expect computer skills, and if you look like you took a 1 credit community college course on “Turning on a computer 101″, it isn’t going to fly
    * Paper is less relevant – most resumes are not handed around physically anymore
    * …

    • ian says:

      You are very specific about 1 page (which i completely disagree with) but then state that that paper is less relevant these days.

      If you have the experience to back up two pages, go for it. It’s not worth excluding important experiences or results that you can bring to the table.

    • NewPerspective says:

      I think all of your advice is excellent… except one point. I agree with Ian that not every employer wants resumes kept to 1 page…. and it might depend on the TYPE of job the person is applying for. In my profession (defense contracting), if I see less than 2 pages, I assume the person hasn’t had much experience and I may not even consider them.

      I guess creating a good resume involves a little bit of mind-reading as well! ;-)

      • Roofer for a summer says:

        At the beginning of an interview day I get a stack of 12 resumes handed to me by HR, printed from PDFs onto regular paper. I then have 15 minutes to scan all resumes before starting the interview marathon.

        In that situation I really prefer a crisp, to the point, not wasting any of my time resume. Plus in nearly every job I have ever held (except for roofing) communication skills were paramount. And as I said a short & sweet resume is a great proof of that skill. Like a famous poet once said – sorry for the long letter, I did not have time to write a shorter one.

        But then again I never was a defense contractor.

        • NewPerspective says:

          LOL… different professions have very different needs and goals. If I was given 15 minutes to scan 12 resumes, I’d cancel the interviews and say we weren’t ready to hire. Then again, I’m looking for a very wide skill set for our work… physics, mathematics, computer science, teaching ability, and critical decision-making ability under pressure. I seldom get a good picture of that without 2 pages in the resume. And usually, WITH enough information, I actually reduce the amount of time I spend Interviewing… because only 1 or 2 candidates really qualify!

    • Roofer,

      I don’t agree at all about the one-page rule. While I certainly advise people to put the most important and most relevant items on page 1, I think that in some fields, and for some people, more than one page is okay.

      Why? Well, it’s twofold. For some of us, in more academic fields, one page simply isn’t enough. For others, going through a career change, for example, it makes sense to put prior experience on the resume. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spotted something I connect with on a resume and called someone in for an interview because of it. You just never know.

    • Aaron Strout says:

      I think these are great suggestions. I wish more companies thought like you did.

      BTW, HT to @AriHerzog for sending me over to this post and in particular, your comment.

  7. athena1224 says:

    Also, along the same lines as the email address, people should make sure their outgoing message on the phone line they list is appropriate. I work with college students and this is one of the things they often forget to check.

    • Soccer9040 says:

      This and their facebook profile. Lots of people have theirs set to Public, which is fine, but if you have anything you dont want people to see…..lock it down. It used to be a joke to try and find someone on facebook before an interview or meeting. Now its practically the 1st thing we do if hiring a college aged person.

      I don’t care about a few drinking pictures like some people would. I would rather work with someone who is qualified and still has a social life, rather then that person who shows up for work and then goes home to never be heard from until the next day. You know who those people are…they never show up to any out of work events.

  8. redivelli says:

    I have often wondered, and maybe you can provide some insight, as to how to best list experience. Is chronologically the way to go? Or most relevant. I tend to lean towards relevant. What if they are equally boring? haha

  9. Daniel says:

    For print typesetting, I have always enjoyed using LaTeX. Not for everybody, but it does produce beautiful pdf output that is easily output as text-only.

  10. Carla says:

    I read on another blog (career) that you shouldn’t have to tailor your resume to each job you apply for. That’s what your cover letter is for, no? Especially if they are not spending much time on your resume anyway…

  11. JPeteQ says:

    Oh my, the voice mail message…I’ve actually had awesome resumes cross my desk (hiring for customer service primarily over the phone no less,) and the voice mail message was enough for me to hang up without leaving a message even. If you’re looking for a position where you’ll be on the phone a lot, make sure your phone presence highlights your skills no matter what. “yo yo yo, this is Becca *smacking of gum* leave me a message and I’ll get a shout out back” is NOT appropriate if you’re looking for a job.

    Also, we hire plumbers. EVERYONE needs a resmue. If a plumber comes in with a resume, he’s bumped to the top of the list. And if you have to fill out an application as well as submit a resume, NEVER put “see resume” as an answer. Those get sent straight to the no pile.

  12. hoht says:

    This is great stuff, learned my lesson when I was applying for a scholarship, DID NOT proofread. Never making that mistake again. :D

  13. AmandaDRowe says:

    The most important thing I look for is “action” verbs. I don’t want to see the job description – I want to know what YOU did. I look at resumes all the time and my biggest pet peeve is a list of responsibilities and not any accomplishments.

  14. daemondust says:

    Word is terrible for a résumé. I got my current job partly because I did mine in LaTeX, a professional typesetting language tailored to math and science texts. Mine is close enough to everyone else’s so it’s still easily scanned, but has that something extra to set it apart, even before they read the text.

    • saladdin says:

      I got my job because my only competition got lost on her way to the interview and was late. True story.

      But what really sealed the deal was in my interview I asked questions that stumped my future boss. It showed I had done my research.

      saladdin

    • Soccer9040 says:

      For most people word is the default word processor they will use. There is nothing worse then sending a .doc resume to someone and then their computer messes up the formatting somehow. Its happened to me before. It wasnt a big dea, but it was enough for me to notice on the one they printed and had sitting in front of the interviewer. The best thing is to create your document and then turn it into a PDF. EVERYONE can view a PDF and you are guaranteed it will look the same as when you sent it.

      I also realize no one typically knows how to create PDFs. You DONT need adobe acrobat to do it. There are tons of free apps out there that create basic pdfs. Do a search for CutePDF (I know…dumb name) but its a rock solid tool. You just hit print as if you were printing to your printer, but instead select the printer “CutePDF” and it pops a new PDF onto your desktop of your document.

  15. zapeta says:

    I definitely think that a custom resume is a good idea. I’ve got several different versions, as some of my experiences aren’t really relevant depending on what I’m applying for and I like to get that space back and use it to expand on items that are important to the job in question.

  16. eric says:

    babygrrrrl and hotboi LOL. So sad yet so true!

  17. BrianC says:

    Definitely phrase your work experience so that it’s relevant to the position you’re applying for.

  18. Keep it on one page, and remember that people only spend 7 seconds on it on average.

  19. jsbrendog says:

    it’s amazing how obvious it is that you would want a resume tailored differently for each place/opening/opportunity and how many people overlook that.

    that is great advice. hard work pays off

  20. On tailoring your resume to the job, be sure to keep a copy of THAT specific resume, with your email or hard cover letter copy to the job applied for.

    Nothing worse than getting a response on a resume and not remembering which one you sent! And it goes without saying that if you do any verbal fumbling on the phone or at the interview in regard to your resume, your candidacy will be toast.

    It does make for more record keeping, but definately worth the extra effort.

  21. Christine says:

    These points all seem so basic but I am amazed at how many people send out generic bland resumes. My favorite of your tips is #9. Definitely a turn off for me to see a cute, personal email address. Additionally unless the objective is very clear cut and job specific I would leave it out completely, an elaborately worded version of “I’m looking for a job” is useless and wastes space. I also hate the use of big words to sound academic, such as utilize for use.

  22. In my profession you’re expected to submit a CV. By the time you finish loading in all your education, post-doc work, jobs, grants & contracts, public presentations, publications, summary of courses taught, and heaven only knows what else, it can run upwards of 10 pages. On the other hand, I often apply for contract work (and sometimes jobs) in the real world, and so I have a two-page resume for the business world.

    I’ve taught resume writing and have been told by HR professionals and by employers that a two-page resume is OK. Personally, I wouldn’t go to work for a company that allowed the person doing the hiring all of seven seconds to review resumes…just imagine how they treat the rest of the slaves, if an employee with that kind of responsibility is treated that way!

    Resumes should be designed so they’re easy to customize, and Every. Single. Resume you send out should respond specifically to the job description, using keywords and positioning data to highlight the most relevant skills and experience. Different professions and trades require different designs; for example, my academic CV always begins with my education, but my real-world resume begins with a list of specific skills followed by relevant job experience.

    LaTex is a cool program but it does have a learning curve. Word can be made to create a presentable resume simply by using the Tables function to force copy to align correctly and to place blocks of copy where you want them.

    The resume and the cover letter should always be printed on the same letterhead (i.e., use the same “letterhead” design in your Word docs). And absolutely: spare your future employer the cutesy e-mail addresses and the inane voicemail messages!

  23. fishboyridesagain says:

    It takes time to tailor your résumé for each job, but with all of the applications that are being submitted these days, it is a low cost way to get your résumé noticed.

    A couple of points that I’d like to add:
    Keep an accomplishment journal. Some suggest sitting down once every year, or even every six months to revise your résumé. Make it easy on yourself by recording the projects you complete. I know that I have overlooked accomplishments at work and school that could have helped me in my job hunts.

    Secondly, It’s always good to have an updated basic résumé ready for those times when an application needs to go out now, and there’s no time to really tailor one specifically. I have ended up saving a couple formats depending on which of my specialties I’m emphasizing.

  24. This might be a no-brainer, but for the love of god, make sure your email and phone number are typed correctly. My boss has a horror story about trying to get in touch with a candidate who had typed his own phone number incorrectly on his resume.

  25. Shelly says:

    Resume length: Depends on what career you are applying for, for pete’s sake! Educational career — you can go as long as you like – no, it doesn’t mean everyone reads everything. That’s why you bullet and bold the Schools, Company’s, etc. The selection committee will want to see what you publish; the HR will want to see your credentials, etc.

    Versus, say, 3-5 years into a Wall Street or a Corporate Attorney career. Two pages will justify your salary; One page says you are still on the first floor and have never been promoted.

    A Senior Administrative Career over 20 years might have 3 pages – the first 2ish listing position – with many bullets of high profile accomplishments and responsibilities. Saying that you ran a 500+ person international conference in France takes up more space than “event planning.” Then you might want to list relevant CE training; consulting; and relevant ad hoc committee meetings for corporate organizations. But an A/P clerk will have no more than one page.

    I can’t emphasis enough that when you have the choice, when sending electronically, use: a)pdf format; b)text format; c) any other format. The reason? You will never know when the “track changes” or “save last copy” will pop up when the reviewer opens the file. It’s a major glitch with the older versions of Word.

    And paper matching envelopes. So old fashion, it hurts. That is, unless you are applying for a job in maybe the design or art fields. It’s the days of frugality. And some of the “textured”, “colored” or “tinted” paper does not scan or copy well — so please, at most, use a heavier, higher quality bright white paper — say the $10 per ream multi-purpose or ink jet paper at Staples. (Yes you can use ink jet paper in a toner environment – it is heavier). No one has ever lost a job because of paper or envelope, design and art fields exception.


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