9 Common Resume Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them)
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Writing a resume can be downright intimidating. It’s not that it’s the most difficult thing to write, but there’s just so much pressure riding on it. You want to represent yourself as a qualified candidate, impress your reader, and get invited to interview for a job you want.
With so much expectation, even anxiety around your resume, it’s easy to get stuck staring at a blank page, not sure how to proceed. And it’s smart to proceed with caution, since there are certain mistakes that could mess with your chances of getting an interview.
If you’re just starting out, head to this guide for tips on how to craft a powerful resume that will snag you an interview. And once you’ve got your first draft, read it over to make sure you’re not making any of these common resume mistakes that could drag down your application.
1. Spilling onto multiple pages
A common rule of thumb when it comes to resumes is to keep everything on one page. Although no one’s going to arrest you if you go onto two pages, that one-page rule is a good one for most job seekers.
Picture yourself as a hiring manager. You’ve got to sort through dozens, if not hundreds of applications and pick out the ones that look best.
Overly wordy resumes will probably lose your attention. One-page ones that get right to the point will be more effective.
Of course, there might be situations when it makes sense to go onto two pages. If you’re an academic applying for a professorship at a college, for instance, you might need the extra space to list your credentials and published works.
But for most of us, a one-page resume can say everything you need to showcase yourself as the best candidate for the job.
2. Including everything you’ve ever done
One way to keep your resume to a single page is by knowing what to include and what to leave out. You don’t need to list every job you’ve ever had or every club you joined in college.
Your summer job as an ice cream scooper or freshman year participation in chess club probably doesn’t matter much to a hiring manager looking for a new digital marketer.
Instead of listing every work experience in your past, try to highlight the most recent and relevant. Especially make sure to flesh out relevant positions so the prospective employer sees you’ve held comparable roles.
If you’re new to the workforce or the industry, highlight any achievements you made or skills you developed that could transfer to the new position. Even if you haven’t held a similar position in the past, you likely developed transferable skills that would help you excel in the new job.
3. Forgetting about formatting
Not only is the information on your resume important, but the way you present it is, too. If you have a wall of text, your reader might discard your materials before even learning who you are.
Instead of hurting your reader’s eyes with tiny, plain font and barely-there margins, make sure to incorporate plenty of white space and bullet points.
Put important headers in bold or make them a bit bigger so they pop out. There are lots of resume samples you can view online for guidance.
You can even download resume templates from Google Docs or Etsy. With a template, you can easily craft a well-designed resume that catches your reader’s attention and keeps it on your job application.
4. Leading with a personal objective statement
In the past, career experts recommended putting your personal objective statement at the top of your resume. But including an objective might be a mistake these days.
With an objective statement, you’re saying what your personal goals are. But the hiring manager isn’t all that invested in your goals; they care about achieving the company’s goals.
They want a candidate who will bring value to the organization and help it achieve its mission. So while it’s great that you aspire to be a software engineer or digital marketer, your objectives don’t really say much about your qualifications.
Instead of the objective statement, consider writing a “summary of accomplishments” instead. In this section, you can list accomplishments that are relevant to the position at hand.
Bonus points if you incorporate some of the skills, experiences, or qualifications listed in the job description. With a summary of accomplishments, you’re showing your reader what you’ve already done as evidence that you can make similar achievements in the future.
5. Highlighting education before work experience (unless you just graduated)
If you’ve been in the workforce for several years, highlighting your college degree before your work experiences might be a mistake. While this can vary by field, a lot of managers care more about your work experiences than your degree in philosophy or political science.
Although it’s useful to include your education, make sure it doesn’t overshadow your work experience. That said, you’ll probably want to lead with your education if you’re a recent graduate and haven’t had a ton of jobs.
6. Listing responsibilities instead of accomplishments
“Taught English classes to international students.” “Input data into Excel spreadsheets.” “Maintained calendars for executive team.”
Although phrases such as these might describe your work experience, they don’t say much about what you achieved in the role.
Instead of simply listing your job description, shift the focus to achievements you made in the role. If possible, quantify your achievements, so your reader has a clear sense of what you accomplished.
Try to use powerful words, such as “initiated,” “empowered,” and “advocated for.” When describing each position, remember to focus on what you did in the job, not simply what the job was.
7. Sprinkling in lots of generic cliches
From “being a team player” to “thinking outside the box” to “embracing synergy,” it’s not hard to find cliches littered throughout resumes.
But you want your resume to stand out, not drown in a sea of overused phrases and meaningless jargon. So before sending your materials, cut out the generic terms and use fresh language that will make your resume more memorable and engaging.
8. Failing to incorporate key words and phrases
When hiring for remote jobs, companies might get resumes from hundreds of applicants all over the country or even the world. To sort through all these applications, some organizations use an Applicant Tracking System (ATS).
This program scans resume for key words and phrases from the job description. Those that don’t have certain requirements, such as “2 years of experience in product design” or “proficiency in CSS” could get their materials discarded before a human ever sees them.
So leaving out key words and phrases in the job description could be a costly mistake. To make sure you get past an ATS scan, try to incorporate a few key requirements you see in the job description.
Even if the company’s not using an ATS program, your efforts will show the reader that you understand what skills and experiences the company is looking for.
9. Sending it off with typos or mistakes
There’s nothing worse than describing yourself as detail-oriented and then sending off your resume with typos. Typos, spelling errors, and grammatical mistakes will give off an impression of sloppiness to your reader.
Before submitting your resume, triple-check it for any errors. You might also enlist a friend or family member to look it over with a pair of fresh eyes.
Go through it with a fine-toothed comb so that when you’re finally ready to send, you can feel confident your resume is error-free.
Avoid these common resume mistakes
“I love writing resumes,” said no one ever. Well, maybe professional resume writers enjoy it, but I’d bet most job seekers aren’t big fans.
But your resume is a powerful tool in your job application toolbox, and it can go a long way toward impressing a hiring manager and getting you an interview.
So before sending off your letter, read it over a few times to make sure you’re not making any of these resume mistakes.
And once you’re satisfied that your resume’s in tip-top shape, give the same level of attention and care to writing an awesome cover letter.