IT Employment

10 mistakes that could ruin your resume

The goal of a resume is to let a potential employer know why you're the best person for the job. Here are 10 practices that impede that goal.

There is one goal for your resume: To show a potential employer why you are the best person for the job. However, there are so many things that can get in the way of what should be a clear message. Here are ten of the most common mistakes made in resumes.

1. Your focus is wrong.

This may be one of the most difficult concepts for job hunters to grasp, but your resume is not something you create for yourself. You create it, format it, and organize it so that it's easy for a hiring manager to gauge your fit with the job he or she is offering. It's important to tailor your resume to each job you apply to. I promise you, no hiring manager is going to study your resume for specifics that would apply to the job at hand. Your resume has to make them obvious.

For example, if you're applying for a project manager position, highlight any experience and accomplishments that show your expertise in project management, even if you have to switch to a functional resume format to do it. While the bulk of your work experience may be in tech support, it's really not applicable to the job at hand, so don't concentrate on the day-to-day minutiae. Concentrate instead on those instances where you demonstrated leadership, ingenuity, and organizational skills.

2. You have typos in your resume.

Hiring executives have a low threshold for resume bloopers. A study on working.com claims that one out of four executives will toss a resume into the wastebasket if they spot a typo. But sometimes even the most careful people can miss a typo or two. Here are some tips for making sure you're sending out pristine copies of your resume:

  1. Enlist detail-oriented family members, friends, or mentors to proofread your resume and provide honest feedback.
  2. Take a timeout. Before submitting your resume, take a break and come back to it with a fresh set of eyes. You might catch something you missed the first time.
  3. Print a copy. It's easy to overlook typos or formatting mistakes when reading a resume on a monitor, so print it out for review.
  4. Try a new perspective. Sometimes readers inadvertently skip over parts they have read previously. Review your resume backward to help avoid this problem. You can "read" it from bottom to top, or from the right side of a line to the left. This takes away the mental expectation that sometimes tricks us into thinking a word is spelled correctly, etc.
  5. Read it out loud. This can also help you find phrases that don't make sense.

3. Your resume is too long.

There are all kinds of opinions as to how long a resume should be. Most people say to keep it to one page, but many people say that two pages are OK, particularly if you have 10 or more years of experience related to your goal or you need space to list and prove your technical knowledge.

Either way, the goal is to keep your resume lean yet meaningful. List only your selling points that are relevant to the job at hand and let go of some details that have no bearing on your current goal. You may have become proficient in Windows NT in a previous job, but it's not something that would have a bearing on a job today.

4. Your resume is not very "readable."

Never underestimate resume formatting. Consider that some hiring managers have to look through hundreds of resumes for each job opening. Also consider that those employers will usually take, at most, only thirty-five seconds to look at a one-page resume before deciding whether to keep or discard it. You should design your resume so that employers can read the document easily and process information quickly.

To judge the formatting of your resume, ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I using too many fonts? It's best to stick to one or two fonts. You can vary the size and add bold if necessary to make headings stand out but don't go overboard. You don't want your resume to look like a ransom note built out of newspaper clippings.
  • Am I overdoing the emphasis thing? As I said in the previous point, you can create emphasis by using bold, italics, underlining, etc. However, you don't want to mix methods or overuse them. You would not, for example, want to CAPITALIZE, ITALICIZE, AND UNDERLINE pieces of text. It's overkill and hard on the eyes.
  • Is there too much text on the page? There's nothing more intimidating to a reviewer than blocks of dense text on a resume. Here are some things to keep in mind: Set your margins at about 1-inch all around, use bulleted points to break up paragraphs of text that list your accomplishments, and make sure your sections are distinct. Don't be afraid of white space! If you have to choose between crammed-in text and an extra resume page, go with the latter.
You can see in Figure A how much more readable the list of accomplishments are when put into bullets separated by white space.

Figure A 

bullets.png

5. Your name appears in the Word header .

Your name should appear prominently at the top of your resume, but even though it looks kind of cool, avoid using Word's header feature for this information. (Using Word's header feature will make your name appear automatically at the top of every page of your resume.) The problem is a lot of scanning software used by HR departments won't work on headers and footers so your resume could get lost in the shuffle.

6. Your resume doesn't include keywords.

It's an unfortunate fact of life that many organizations use scanning software (mentioned above) when vetting resumes. This is often done as the preliminary step in weeding out any people whose qualifications and experience don't match the job being filled. So be very sure that you pepper your resume with relevant keywords. That is to say, don't use one in every sentence and don't use keywords that you don't have experience with just for the sake of sneaking in under the radar. Sooner or later you'll have to own up. The actual job description is the best starting place for finding relevant keywords.

7. You list your experience instead of your accomplishments.

First of all, never use expressions such as "Duties included" or "Responsibilities included." These lists outline only what was in your job description; they don't say whether you did them well or not. And they don't show how you stood out from the other people in your company who were doing the same things.

To help rewrite your responsibilities to accomplishments, try asking yourself:

  • What special things did I do to set myself apart?
  • How did I do the job better or differently than anyone else?
  • What did I do to make it my own?
  • What were some problems or challenges that I faced?
  • How did I solve or overcome those problems?
  • What were the results of my efforts?
  • How did the company benefit from my performance? For example, did it make or save money or save time?

It might help to use an accomplishment tracker template like this one available from TechRepublic.

8. You use vague verbs and subjective adjectives.

Avoid, at all costs, those abstract verb phrases like "Assisted with..." or "Handled..." or "Managed...." Those phrases can mean almost anything. Every time you're tempted with one of those phrases, ask yourself How? How did you assist with something? What exactly did you do? Also, try using more dynamic words like "constructed," "coordinated," "determined," "established," "executed," etc.

On the same ticket, it is very easy to say you "skillfully completed" some task or that you have "extraordinary people skills." But unless you can back those statements up with concrete evidence, it's just you saying something good about yourself. So explain why your task completion was skillful. Did it come in under budget and within time restraints? What evidence do you have of your great people skills? Did you get recognized for this in some way? Were you assigned more end users than other staffers? Any detail that you can offer in explanation will help.

9. Your resume is like all the others.

We're not saying that you should make yourself stand out by formatting your entire resume in a cursive font. We're saying that, since you're a tech pro, a prospective employer is probably going to expect something a little more advanced. Toward this goal consider:

  • Including a link to your online portfolio. Online portfolios can be anything from a blog or a website, to a dedicated solution (something that's just a portfolio, without any of the extra stuff). Make it something that loads fast, is visually professional, and showcases your accomplishments, mission statement, career progression, and leadership aptitude. Before you put the link in your resume, ask yourself how well the site answers questions any potential employers might have about you.
  • Adding a QR code. A QR (quick-response) code is a two-dimensional, barcode-like image  that, once scanned, directs potential employers to carefully selected, customized web pages for more information about a job seeker. It's a tech-savvy way to illustrate your strengths.

10. You lie/exaggerate on your resume

Decision makers routinely conduct background checks and online research to verify a resume. And sometimes what they find out can embarrass you down the line; a lesson learned the hard way by former CEO Scott Thompson. At the very least, don't claim education that you don't have. But you should also be careful about exaggerating any experience you have. It could take only a few targeted questions in an interview to reveal your deception.



About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

22 comments
Hozycat
Hozycat

As we can see, competition is rising at some rate, choosing the right advertising solution become critical for any company. Entrepreneurs and business owners has now started to emphasize more on business analytics and business intelligence, they're becoming more conscious on choosing an advertising solution with return of investment.

http://www.management-mentors.com/about/corporate-mentoring-matters-blog/bid/99582/How-do-successful-executives-learn-their-most-important-leadership-lessons

Ghani100
Ghani100

Excellent article. I will update my resume as a result of gaining the knowledge provided. Thank you Toni! 

EGM42
EGM42

#5 is wrong. It should read "Don't put your name ONLY in the header." You should always have your name in the header if your resume has more than one page. You should also format the header as "first page different," have a blank header on the first page, and have your name in the body of the first page. Besides, the format you want for your name on the first page is not the same as the brief reminder you want on the other pages.

grayknight
grayknight

Good list. I don't know what people mean that there can't be 10 things to look for, all of these items are things that if you do them will make better resumes. Sure, don't make the resume too short or overly focused. However, this is good information for most people.

Organic53
Organic53

#3 is incorrect, many recruiters and hiring managers have said they would prefer a longer resume to skipping information

#5 is incorrect, if you know how to use Word headers, it will not do this


captainanalog
captainanalog

I agree that a focused resume is best. Does this mean that I should omit my education from applications for the grunt jobs for which I must apply just to pay the bills?

jglover
jglover

I tend to agree with most of the items listed but....1. Don't over focus a resume. If you leave some stuff out in order to focus it, you may end up hurting your chances. Nowadays, the person with the most well rounded experience will have an edge over the ones who are specialized in a lot of situations. For #7, I say list both. If you upgraded your company to Exchange 2010, list it as an accomplishment but if you have 10 years Exchange administration experience, that counts for even more with some.. Lastly, 10. I could not agree more having been the "victim" of a person who overpadded their resume. I hired a person for a position taking care of 3 remote offices. The position required minimal supervision and his resume was full of accomplishments and keywords. Looked great. He has 12 years experience in support and had everything I was looking for. He even interviewed well. His references checked out fine. When he started the job, I found quickly that he did not have anywhere near the expertise he claimed. He had no idea how an Active Directory domain worked even though he listed 10 years AD administration experience. He did not know the difference between multicast and unicast even though he listed extensive knowledge of TCP/IP. Needless to say, he lasted a little over a month.

impalassz
impalassz

point number 10 I have always made sure that I am completely honest with employers who interview me. I recently had a few interviews and some questions had come up with certain software if I had any experience with it and simply said no. Although they said it wasn't required, just to see if I had experience. Make sure to always tell the truth even if it's your dream job and certain questions come up, yet if you don't have experience just let them know. You know any employer who is interviewing you and asks if you have experience with such and such you say yes be prepared for them to grill you with questions. It's going to happen.

xangpow
xangpow

If ALL recruiters worked the same and read the same this would work. But recruiters are people. So you cant say do this and that because someone will look at a resume made by YOU, Toni Bowers, and throw it away thinking "this resume is garbage." And that is if you can get by the machine. Ah you didnt talk about that little tidbit did ya. Before any resume get in front of a human it has to get passed a machine. So your whole argument could be mute from the start.

Treknology
Treknology

A CV and Résumé are two different things. The CV is an extremely short (1-2 pages) addressing the most significant information. The Résumé is a detailed work history.

I have never submitted an application since the Rise of the Internet, so all my experience dates back a bit. When I first developed my own Résumé, I used the format of a professional recruitment agency, which was a lean layout that was easy on the eye but used up more pages. To keep the reader engaged, it was peppered with little bits of humor, e.g., in High School I worked part-time as a Transparent Wall Maintenance Engineer -- washing windows.

If I got past the phone call stage, and was asked to submit an "application", I would generally fax it directly from the computer (email wasn't an option). The covering letter would be the equivalent of the CV. It would reference our phone calls, and address the specific details of the position. If I got that right (like a fish hook), the reader would then embark on the 10-page Résumé and know me better as a person.

Lastly, I NEVER provided written references. I would explain that having written such reference for other people and having read those I had received, they were always couched in positive terms. I would then point out that the phone references I had supplied were people I knew would tell the TRUTH in answer to a direct question. The hardest one I had write took an hour to get past, "This is Douglas Adams' Marvin the Paranoid Android in the Flesh. Do not try to engage her Enthusiasm as she does not have one."

Here, in Australia, Job Seekers on welfare are _obliged_ to apply for a minimum of four positions in any two-week period, including unsuitable positions. In regional areas particularly, this means that employers have to sift through four hundred compulsory applications to find the genuine ones. Fortunately (unfortunately?), I am on disability support, so I do not have such obligations. This means that if I need to look for something part-time or casual for supplemental income, I have to make an impact that says, "I am a serious applicant for this position." The presentation of my Résumé says that I am not a mere typist nor a word processor operator. I am a Typographer. In the DOS version of MS-Word I could turn out a better product than someone using PageMaker--thank you Apple, for putting the tools in the hands of those who could afford them but couldn't use them.

I said at the beginning of this verbose posting that I haven't "submitted" an application in a long time. Given my age and experience, and being in a regional/rural environment, verbal contact is usually sufficient to get two or three days just to get those extra funds that are needed.

Everything is too fast. People don't have time for people any more. It's demographics and statistics. For younger people, get your Résumé in order and a CV as well. You are *selling* yourself. You have to show what you can bring to this employer. When you make that first phone call due to an advertisement that's when you have to get your foot in the door. So brush up on your verbal skills as well.

Did you get to the end of this without skipping? I hope it was informative.

wizardtranslations
wizardtranslations

#10. Scott Thompson made $7.3 million for half a year of work and found another CEO position less than a month after getting fired... not exactly the best example of bad resume Karma.

jamjube
jamjube

If they are using scanning software and keywords and do not want to take the time to actually READ a resume, then, I do not want to work for them anyway. Imagine the degree of contact that management has with the staff in such an organization. If they are getting so many resumes that they have to have scanning and keyword software, then they have likely been lazy in writing their spec for the person they are looking for and lazy about the degree of effort they want to put into their hiring.  Sheeesh .... 


PS Comment about the resume being "not very readable"!  What? By a machine???? In that case, I'll just submit the thing in binary.

tvmuzik
tvmuzik

What worked for me Continues to work for me.

Adam_12345
Adam_12345

There no such thing as 10 points of resume. Every employer sees different aspects of an enmployee the same as every human sees every issue in different colors. Nevertheless there is undoubtedly the truth in a saying that sometimes something must be ruined to be built again and it also refers to resumes.

kjohnson
kjohnson

The purpose of a CV (resume) isn't to convince a potential employer that you are the best person for the job. It is to convince the employer to give you an interview.

gechurch
gechurch

@Organic53 Wow - way to be a jerk and bring nothing useful to the table! This is a free article with some useful advice. Why be so negative? Calling #3 incorrect is just silly. I've got no doubt many recruiters want to see all relevant information. I've also got no doubt those same recruiters don't want to wade through irrelevant information, so the key is thinking carefully about what is actually relevant to the job and including only that. To my reading, this is exactly what Toni is advocating

captainanalog
captainanalog

@xangpow  

Your resume must get PAST a machine.

Your argument  could be  MOOT from the start.

See rule number two.

BaliRob
BaliRob

@jamjube I could not agree with you more. What ever happened to convincing the interviewer that one 

has very real interest in working for this company and has worked hard at understanding what the 

company's ambitions are and the place they occupy in their trading environment vis-a-vis (sic) the

competition. Most importantly showing themselves to be what the company is looking for.



impalassz
impalassz

@Adam_12345 I definitely have to agree there. Every employer is different so whatever industry it is you just have to make sure your resume is tailored for the specific job.

Phil.A
Phil.A

@Adam_12345

2. You have typos in your resume.

Try to not have typos in your replies about resumes either, like mis-spelling "employee" ;-)

cralton
cralton

@kjohnson .....agreed, or more is the case, to convince/circumvent the agent so your CV makes its way to the employer

frederik
frederik

@Phil.A  Try to not misspell words like "misspelling", when you are correcting typos in other people’s replies.

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