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Common Resume Mistakes To Avoid

The first step to obtaining a job is often submitting your résumé and a cover letter. For many people, this is also the final step. Hiring managers use the résumé process to weed out applicants, to decide whom to invite to the time-consuming interview. Of course, no résumé will be flawless, but you should always try to avoid the common résumé mistakes that will land your résumé in the “don’t call” stack.

Know Your Goal: A résumé has a defined goal: getting you an interview. You should not expect the résumé to get you the job; it is merely a way to start the conversation between you and a prospective employer.

Limited Time: Keep in mind how little time the hiring manager will give your résumé. Most résumés are read in 15 to 20 seconds. While this may not seem fair (you certainly have invested much more time in writing your résumé), think about it from the hiring manager’s perspective. They are likely to get fifty to a hundred (or more!) résumés for any position. They simply don’t have time to closely read every line of every one. So they skim and sort. Your job is to craft a résumé that will survive the skim and sort practice.

You do this by avoiding these ten common mistakes in résumé writing:

10. Too Much Information

The most common résumé mistake is to include too much information about yourself. Your résumé should be one page, front side only. Yes, you are a complex person with many fascinating interests and a wide range of skills. But the hiring manager isn’t interested in getting to know you as a person; they want to know if you could benefit their company in a specific position.

In other words, unless your hobbies related directly to the position, don’t include them. This goes for previous jobs – it is OK to skip non-essential jobs but try to avoid gaps of time.

Use formatting techniques like bullets to keep your information to one page.

After you have included all of the essential information, if you have spare room on your résumé page you can then include your interesting clubs and hobbies.

9. Résumé Template without Any Imagination

Résumé templates in modern word processing programs are wonderful. However, if you simply use their template without any changes, you are making a résumé mistake.

After looking at thousands of résumés each year, hiring managers know the templates and find them boring. So you should adjust the template – change the font, reorder the sections – and keep your résumé in the “call back” pile.

From a business perspective, a standard résumé template says that you either lack creativity or settle for average work. Neither of these is a message that you want to send to a prospective employer.

Your résumé should look professional, and be tailored to the company to which you are applying. A manufacturing firm is unlikely to respond to a wild résumé with graphics and multi-colored inks. A graphic design firm, on the other hand, might love it. On the whole, follow the English proverb “less is more” – making moderate adjustments to the résumé template without being too extreme.

8. Wrong Level of English

This is an especially dangerous résumé mistake for non-native English speakers. Every good writer knows that you must connect to your audience by using the best language. For résumés, this means language that is clear, precise and professional. A common résumé mistake is to write in language that is either:

  • Too casual
  • Too technical

Too casual language means that you have included slang in your résumé. Avoid figurative language. Phrases like “I’m down with leadership skills” or “my results were off the chain” have no place in a professional setting.

Too technical language means you have filled your résumé with acronyms or other jargon that people use inside the industry. This is less dangerous than too casual language, as use of technical language demonstrates knowledge of the career field. However, you must remember that hiring managers, although they have a basic understanding of their company, may not know all the technical terms of their field. Remember that you are trying to start a conversation with the hiring manager, not the head of research and design. We recommend that you sprinkle only a few technical terms into your résumé. Acronyms are deadly; however, including any at all would be a résumé mistake.

7. Wrong Contact Information

Sure, you’re probably thinking you would never make this résumé mistake. After all, the point of a résumé is to get the hiring manager to use the contact information. Don’t skip over this one! It happens surprisingly often.

Missing Contact information – Remember to include all of the following information on your résumé:

  • Full legal name
  • Full Mailing address
  • Home phone number (with area and international codes)
  • Cell phone number (with area and international codes)
  • E-mail address
  • Facebook profile name
  • Personal website

Old Contact information – Often, the résumé you’re writing is a revision of an old résumé. While people change their basic contact information rarely, you might have switched cell phone plans since you wrote that first résumé. It’s best to double check.

Inappropriate Contact Information – Maybe you had some silly fun creating your e-mail account when you were an adolescent. While “techwarriorxxx” is fun, it is not likely to get you a professional job; using “neversober” or “dancesnaked” is guaranteed to get your résumé rejected. A simple way to avoid this résumé mistake is to create a professional email account (jane.smith.83).

6. Ignoring technological skills

Almost every business is looking for people to help their company manage and thrive in the new age of online communication, instant access, and overwhelming information. Simply put, you, as a younger student/professional, are likely to know much more about online technology and culture than upper management. If your résumé does not reflect your computer skills (office programs, design work, online research), you’re making a résumé mistake.

There are many articles about creating a web portfolio to supplement your résumé. This is a great idea, but be moderate. You can overwhelm the hiring manager if your web portfolio is too cyber-crazy. As with everything, creating a clean, non-intimidating, professional image is vital.

5. Focus on responsibilities rather than results

Another common résumé writing mistake is to focus on job descriptions rather than your actual accomplishments. Rather than simply listing your duties or responsibilities (“data entry of claim information”), you should write your successes (“lowest error rate among data entry staff”). You want to show that you’ve succeeded in your jobs, not just that you had them.

Be as specific as you can. It is far more effective to give one excellent specific example (“received three letters commending my customer service”) than a list of vague duties.

Another way to think about this is to focus on the verbs – what you did well in that position. Avoid the vague verbs that everyone uses, such as “managed” or “supervised” – although sometimes you have to use them. The use of active, powerful verbs demonstrates that you are a hard worker, someone who achieves results.

4. No stats/data/quantified data

Numbers are the real language of business. A company or organization that wants to succeed will be data-driven, using real numbers to make evidence based decisions. A common résumé writing mistake is to not provide any actual data in the résumé.

This works well with the points made in résumé mistake #5. An excellent résumé gives specific, useful information. Avoid vague positive language by using numbers and statistics. Replace “excellent team leader” with “97% team satisfaction rate” (as long as those numbers are accurate). Rather than “sold shoes,” write “sold 12-20 pairs of shoes daily.” Remember that there are multiple ways to present data; sometimes it’s stronger to provide “percent growth” rather than “number sold.” Remember, hiring managers skim résumés; numbers attract the eyes of the business professionals.

If your previous employers were not data-driven, you may not be able to include data. Don’t despair. No résumé is perfect; your goal is to make fewer résumé mistakes than your competition.

3. Burying most vital information below the top fold

The top fold is a term for the top one-third of a document. Your résumé should be organized so that the most important information is in the “top fold.” Don’t make the résumé writing mistake of burying your best information.

Because they spend so little time looking at your résumé, most hiring managers will only look at the top third of the page. That’s your window to convince them to keep reading. If they like the top third, then they’ll read the rest of your résumé. If they like the full résumé, they’ll move you into the “call back” stack.

This means your contact information (phone numbers, email) should be at the bottom of the résumé, because the hiring manager only needs information once they’ve decided to contact you. (Of course, you should have your name at the very top.)

What should you place in the top fold?

  • Key accomplishments that relate to the position
  • Key skills that relate to the position

Most résumés list work experience in reverse chronological order. This is the best way to highlight your skills and accomplishments quickly. You should then list the less essential/pertinent information as you move down the page. Of course, deciding what information is more or less important depends on the precise position you for which are aiming. People who always organize their résumé the same way regardless of the desired job are making a résumé writing mistake.

2. Typos and Grammar Mistakes

This is another obvious résumé writing mistake. Of course you know that your résumé should be grammatically correct. However, many people are weak on grammar and spelling; this may be especially true for people who are still learning English.

Do not rely exclusively on word processors to find and fix your typos and grammar mistakes. Many typos are valid words (you meant to say “good” and wrote “food”). But including those typos in your résumé shows a lack of attention to detail – a message you never want to send a prospective employer.

The best way to catch these mistakes is have a friend or family member review your résumé; bring in a fresh pair of eyes who will see what is actually on paper, rather than what you meant to put on the paper.

Whatever system you use, make certain you submit a grammatically perfect résumé to your future employer; otherwise you’re making a huge résumé writing mistake.

1. Generic Information

This is the most important and most common résumé writing mistake. A weak résumé is a generic résumé designed for any and every position.

“Know your audience” is one of the basic mantras of communication. This is true of résumé writing as well. You need to know the company to which you are applying; know their culture, know their products and services, and (most importantly) know their needs. If you understand those needs, you know how to present yourself as a solution. Your résumé should answer the basic question every hiring manager is thinking: how can you benefit my company?

This means RESEARCH! You need to spend some time on the company website. Often you can find advertisements on the internet as well. You should certainly review the company’s mission and/or vision statement.

In your research, look for key words and phrases that you can include in your résumé. For instance, if the company’s mission statement talks about customer service, you should emphasize that in your résumé. Similarly, use key words from the job posting to show that you are the very best fit for their needs.

Most of all, be honest and moderate. If your résumé is nothing but key words from the company’s website, the hiring manager will view you as manipulative and untrustworthy. Once again, “less is more.”

If you could submit the same résumé to a different position in the same company or to the same position in a different company, it is too generic and you are making a résumé mistake.

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