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
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:
- Enlist detail-oriented family members, friends, or mentors to proofread your resume and provide honest feedback.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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,
- 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
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.
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,”
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
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