10 mistakes you’re making on your resume

Chances are good that you’re making a few of these common mistakes on your resume. How many are you guilty of?

1. Relying on outdated sources of advice. Resume conventions have changed dramatically in the last 20 years. If you’re reading a book that insists you use an objectiveon your resume or that you can’t exceed one page, chances are good that you’re reading something outdated (or listening to someone who hasn’t hired recently).

2. Including every job you’ve ever had, no matter how irrelevant or long ago. A resume isn’t meant to be an exhaustive accounting of every job you’ve ever held. It’s a marketing document designed to present you in the strongest, most compelling light. That means you don’t need to include every job you’ve ever had, or the part-time work you did on top of your regular job last year, or even your degree in an irrelevant field if you don’t want to. You get to decide what you do and don’t include. The only rule is that you can’t make things up.

3. Listing only job duties, rather than accomplishments. Resumes that really stand out go beyond what your job description was and instead answer this question: What did you accomplish in this job that someone else might not have?

4. Including subjective descriptions. Your resume is for experience and accomplishments only. It’s not the place for subjective traits, like “great leadership skills” or “creative innovator.” Hiring managers generally ignore anything subjective that an applicant writes about herself, because so many people’s self-assessments are wildly inaccurate; they’re looking for facts.

5. Leaving out volunteer work. Sometimes during the course of an interview, I discover someone has highly relevant experience they didn’t include on their resume because it was volunteer work and they thought it “didn’t count.” It counts! Your accomplishments are your accomplishments, even if you did the work “pro bono” rather than for pay.

6. Including inappropriate information. Information about your spouse or children, your height or weight, or your salary history doesn’t belong on your resume. (And yes, people really do include these things.)

7. Getting creative at the expense of clarity. If you’re thinking of trying something “creative” with your resume, like unusual colors or a non-traditional design, make sure your desire to stand out isn’t getting in the way of the whole point of resume design. Here’s what most hiring managers want from a resume: a concise, easy-to-scan list of what you’ve accomplished, organized chronologically by position, plus any particularly notable skills, all presented in a format that they can quickly scan and get the highlights. That’s it. Creativity, while a nice trait, doesn’t trump those requirements, so make sure whatever format you use works in those ways.

8. Having tiny inconsistencies. If you want to come across as someone who takes care in your work and is attentive to detail, pay attention to the small things: Do you have periods after some bullet points but not after others? Do you use consistent verb tenses throughout? Do you randomly start using a different font or type size? These things seem nitpicky, but even small inconsistencies can jump out to an attentive reader.

9. Sending your resume without a cover letter. If you’re applying for jobs without including a compelling cover letter—customized to the specific opportunity—you’re missing out on one of the most effective ways to grab an employer’s attention. A cover letter is your opportunity to make a compelling case for yourself as a candidate, totally aside from what’s in your resume.

10. Believing every piece of resume advice anyone gives you. Yes, it may sound funny coming from me, but the reality is that you can give your resume to 10 different people who are all qualified to give resume advice, and you’ll get 10 different sets of recommendations: Use this font, use that font, don’t go over one page, two pages are fine, objectives are required, objectives are silly—it can be enough to drive you crazy.

The reality is, there are few hard and fast universal rules aside from the obvious (no typos, no illegible fonts, no 10-page rambles, no inappropriate sharing of your personal life). But there are trends—conventions that are gaining majority support. For instance, most hiring managers agree that functional resumes are frustrating and possibly hiding something. And two-page resumes have become completely acceptable these days. But even these trends aren’t flat-out rules. The best you can do is to get a feel for the types of things people care about and why and make choices that make sense for you and the job you want.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 8 comments… read them below }

  1. Nadeem Bhanji

    Having put objectives in every resume I use, I find it hard to get rid of them. How does a resume start without an objective? Does it go straight into work history/ degree information? Speaking of degree info, if one was to leave out the major what would you put down? Just “Bachelor of Science”?

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Yep, you can go straight into work experience or education, or you can start with a “summary” section at the top instead, where you highlight key qualifications (which seems to be the new thing).

      On degree info, I wouldn’t leave out the major. (If you do, people will assume it’s because you had some crappy major.) But if for some reason you want to leave out the major, yes, then you’d just do “bachelor of science” or whatever.

  2. Angela

    Yes, no objective. You start with something called “PROFILE” – a summary of your key qualities in 1 long sentence.

    I had tried to write objective in my resume, and I always find it silly and pointless. I’d probably repeated the position I’d like to apply in the email title and coverletter couple times, and my resume is probably nicely sorted under the job I’m applying at. I know, and employers know, why waste space?

  3. Malcolm

    ot: Do you know any good places to get resumes done?

    I spent 500$ on one it had most of the mistakes you listed. Needless to say it has been a horrible experience.

  4. Pingback: Marketing agency resume advice: 14 tips to get more interviews | Frontline Results Marketing by Karl Sakas

  5. Robert Green

    The biggest mistake people make with their resume is doing it on their own. I’ve literally seen 100,000 plus resumes in HR and recruiting and nearly 100% could be significantly improved. People need third party objective input on a resume. Friends, family, and co-workers are not the answer.

  6. Angela

    For someone who has just graduated from her masters and has only had one ‘real’ job, how long should a resume typically be? I know I don’t have all the experience in the world, but I think my volunteer experience amounts to something. Right now, my CV is 5-pages.. Is this over-board?

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      CV (used for academia) can be longer, but your resume (used for jobs outside of academia) should be one page. With only one job, there’s no reason to go over one page.

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