There’s no tip-toeing around the importance of a resume — it can be the difference between landing an interview with your dream company or sitting at home and never hearing back from a potential employer. With mouths to feed, bills to pay and countless other financial responsibilities, your resume can be a priceless tool.
So if it’s this important, there has to be a tried and true formula for writing a resume, right?
With the variety of jobs available and the differing expectations from employers, there’s no one-size-fits all approach to crafting the perfect resume. Experts agree that each version you create should be catered to the specific position for which you’re applying.
But experts also agree on a handful of common resume mistakes that will likely have your resume soaring into the trash bin. We consulted a panel of career professionals to help us compile a list of what NOT to do. Follow these tips to help keep your resume at the top of the stack.
26 common resume mistakes to avoid at all costs
Our resume experts have a lot to say on this topic. So grab a cup of coffee and join us as we outline 26 ways you can keep your resume out of the “No” pile.
When it comes to basic resume etiquette…
1. Not proofreading
It’s clear there are many possible mistakes job candidates can make when crafting their resumes, but for many hiring professionals, one stands above the rest. “The worst, most egregious mistake? Typos, misspelling and poor grammar,” says Lynda Spiegel, founder of Rising Star Resumes. A resume littered with errors is the quickest way to convince prospective employers to move on to the next resume.
2. Being forgettable
Establishing a “personal brand” can feel awkward and self-promotional at first—but hey, you are here to show prospective employers what you have to offer! “Create a compelling tagline and statement that helps to quickly define your differentiators,” suggests Jason Sherman, President of SHERMAN communications & marketing.
3. Using too many buzzwords
A big mistake can be using buzzwords instead of demonstrating what you’ve actually accomplished. For example, instead of saying, "I am great team player," try providing details that are true to your experience, such as, "I worked in a team of five," says Anna-Jane Niznikowska, career coach at Telegraph Street.
4. Underestimating the power of keywords
“One common mistake is not being found by recruiters due to the lack of keywords,” says James Hu, co-founder and CEO of Jobscan. Pay attention to the words and phrases used in the job description and be sure to include some in your resume. That way you’ll be sure to catch the eye of the initial screeners who will then pass your resume along to the hiring managers who make the larger decisions.
5. Focusing on intangibles
It’s tempting to fill your resume with unnecessary adjectives or generic information to make it appear more robust. But job candidates should always try to link their achievements to real, solid numbers, according to Jasmine Elias, marketing manager at Kizkaz. “I don't want to hear that you created a new social media strategy, I want to know what the results were.”
6. Stretching the truth
This probably seems like another no-brainer. But hiring professionals run into this more often than we’d like to believe! “Lying on a resume can cost you the job,” says Tracy Vistine, lead recruiter for Messina Group. “Companies require background checks and if your experience does not match your resume, an offer will be rescinded.”
7. Being too lengthy
There’s no hard-and-fast rule for this one, but many professionals recommend keeping your resume between one and three pages. The important thing here is to consider the fact that the person reading it will like be reading dozens of others. Making your information easily skimmable by labeling sections and including bulleted lists could help it get past the first round of screening.
8. Recycling resumes
We briefly mentioned this already but it’s worth highlighting again. While many jobs are similar in nature, a resume must be tailored specifically to each job you are applying for, according to Niznikowska. No matter how sneaky you think you are, most employers can tell the difference.
When it comes to personal information…
9. Using an unprofessional email addresses
You know that email address you thought was hilarious when you created it during your junior year of high school? Chances are, hiring managers won’t get as much of a kick out of it as you did back then. “For goodness sake, use a professional email,” says Leanne E. King, president and CEO of SeeKing HR. A good rule of thumb for this one is to incorporate some variation of your first and last name.
10. Misspelling your email address
It may seem hard to believe, but one of the most common mistakes employers encounter is an incorrect email address, according to Salary.com. With email being one of the most prominent points of contact in today’s digital age, it’s crucial you get this one right.
11. Listing multiple phone numbers
It is not necessary to list all your contact numbers, King says. To keep it simple, include your primary line, but be sure the one you do provide works and has a professional voicemail greeting in case you’re not around to answer an important call.
12. Getting too personal
A big no-no on your resume is including information on your hobbies or interests. But that said, sometimes sharing unique things about yourself can be the differentiator between you and another qualified candidate. The trick here is to be sure the info you choose to include can translate to employable attributes. For example, it can be helpful to share that you coach little league, but not that the Yankees are your favorite team.
When it comes to your qualifications…
13. Burying (or omitting) your accomplishments
Employers do care about your education, but most are more concerned with how you’ve used your degree since you earned it. For that reason, Sherman suggests leading with your experience and accomplishments and then moving on to listing your credentials.
14. Being too modest
No one likes a show-boater but you don’t have to sell yourself short. Your resume is your chance to make a great first impression to prospective employers, so don’t hesitate to share any achievements or awards.
15. Including irrelevant experience
If you list every responsibility you’ve had in every position you’ve ever held, you will appear to lack direction. Pay attention to the job for which you’re applying and what that specific position will require of you. If some of your experience doesn’t fit in with the position, you shouldn’t clutter your resume with it, Sherman asserts.
16. Appearing uncommitted
A common red flag is listing a handful jobs that lasted less than 1-2 years, especially in a row. “One might be expected,” says SEO manager Jonathan Poston, “but more than that and you'll be labelled a jumper." If your work experience looks like this, try to work in a way to explain the constant shifting, such as relocation, salary upgrade or something equally relevant.
17. Misrepresenting gaps in employment
You should never fudge your dates of employment to duqguise any gaps during which you weren’t working. Remember that these things can easily be verified through HR. It’s much better to explain the absence than it is to be deemed a liar!
18. Digging too far into the past
There’s no hard-and-fast rule for how far back you should dig into your work history, although many professionals suggest capping it off at the last ten years. Employers don’t need to know about every summer job you held through high school or that you waited tables during college last decade.
19. Overlooking your volunteer work
“This is a social world, so include your volunteer efforts especially when they speak to critical skills or experience required for the position,” King says. Whether you’ve volunteered at a local church, coached children’s sports or worked on the administrative side of local fundraiser, highlight that in your resume! It can speak not only to your experience, but also to your character and willingness to do more than is asked of you.
20. Omitting your ongoing education
Current college students often wonder about this one. Rather than simply listing the high school you attended, applicants should list the college they are enrolled in and the expected graduation date, says Andra Laca, senior digital marketing coordinator at The Centrics Group. The same applies for college graduates currently pursuing post-graduate education.
21. Listing generic skills
It is crucial to be clear and concise when listing your qualifications. This might require doing a bit of research on relevant industry lingo in order to ensure you’re speaking the right language! “I've seen resumes that list ‘Internet,’ as a skill,” Speigal jokes, “Really?” Instead, consider saying something like, “ample experience with web-based research,” or “proficient in website maintenance.”
When it comes to the layout…
22. Crowding the page
In the midst of flaunting your accomplishments and qualifications, it’s also important to leave some white space on your resume, King says. This makes it appear more inviting and interviewers often like to make notes in the margins.
23. Using bright colors
It’s only natural to want to catch an employer’s eye in the midst of dozens of resumes, but using signature colors should be avoided, according to Vistine. You want to be sure your resume doesn’t look amateur and that your experience and qualifications can speak for themselves.
24. Adding too many bells & whistles
Just because you have access to clipart or Photoshop doesn’t mean you have to use it when building your resume. “Some folks get too creative and end up making their resumes look like the cover of a fashion magazine,” Sherman says. Once again, let your experience do the talking. A flashy-looking resume may indicate that you’re overcompensating for a lack of qualifications.
25. Inconsistent font usage
Pick a font that is professional and easy to read and stick with it. If your font varies throughout your resume, that can be distracting or possibly viewed as sloppy by prospective employers. A good rule of thumb is to use a font with serifs if your resume will be read in print, while sans-serif is ideal for web-based viewing.
26. Irregular formatting
Clear and consistent formatting speaks volumes about process and professional presence, King says. This can include making sure your section headers all match (same font size, all underlined, etc.) and maintaining consistency with the style of bullet points you use throughout. Staying on top of this will give your resume a more polished look.
Ready to take the next step in your job search?
Phew! Did you get all of that?
Crafting a resume can be both overwhelming and challenging. So bookmark this list to make sure you avoid these common resume mistakes every time you’re revising yours for a new job opportunity. With a resume that’s polished, professional and concise, you’re one step closer to catching the eye of prospective employers!
Now that your resume is up to par, it's time to start preparing for the interviews that will hopefully follow. Check out our article: 6 Body Language Tips for Successful Job Interviews.