Published April 17, 2014
While good old paper may seem passé in the digital age, LinkedIn hasn't quite replaced the old-fashioned résumé.
"Résumés are the heartbeat of a career search,” says Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter, a career and workplace adviser at Glassdoor. “If done well, your résumé will tell your story and sell you.”
And that hasn't changed with the rise of high-tech options. “Even as technology has advanced and changed the way job seekers find open positions, the résumé remains an integral part of the hiring process,” adds Matt Tarpey, a career adviser with CareerBuilder.
Then again, a less-than-stellar résumé can also work against you. To keep that from happening, we asked Barrett-Poindexter, Tarpey and Maele Hargett, an executive recruiter with Ascendo Resources, to highlight the most egregious résumé mistakes they see over and over—and explain how you can avoid these missteps.
1. Making Grammatical Errors and Typos
There’s no room for sloppiness. According to a 2013 CareerBuilder survey, 58% of employers identified résumés with typos as one of the top mistakes that led them to automatically dismiss a candidate.
“In this day and age, there really is no excuse for a number of grammatical errors,” says executive recruiter Hargett. Common errors she sees include misuse of words (“your/you’re” and “lose/loose”), words spelled incorrectly ("business" and "finance," if you can believe it), and overuse of punctuation (namely, commas).
She also says not to rely entirely on spell check. "It’s helpful to get a second set of eyes on your résumé after you’ve reviewed it yourself." She suggests reaching out to a trusted mentor or colleague in a similar industry, or if you’re a student, using the resources at your college career center or local library.
2. Submitting Incorrect Information
This may seem obvious, but getting simple details wrong will get your résumé tossed into the reject pile, fast.
“When you put an incorrect phone number down or mess up your job titles or dates, it makes your résumé look haphazard,” says Hargett. "If you say you’re detail-oriented, and we catch incorrect information on your résumé, it’s a big red flag."
Even if you make it to the interview stage, the incorrect information will come out eventually. A wrong phone number can easily be called and a job title can be verified with a former employer.
“Sometimes job titles do not match the job duties listed, and we’ll find out upon further interviewing that the title was changed on the résumé to give them an edge,” says Hargett. “Not a good idea—you are setting yourself up for failure.”
3. Giving Everyone the Same Résumé
This may come as a surprise to some job seekers, but your résumé is not one-size-fits-all (jobs). “No two roles are alike—and your résumés shouldn’t be either,” says Hargett.
CareerBuilder’s survey found that 36% of employers identified résumés that are too generic as one of the mistakes that may lead them to automatically dismiss a candidate.
"Instead of sending out a generic résumé to multiple employers," suggests Tarpey, "the more effective option would be to work on one application at a time, tailoring your résumé to fit the job description, and taking the time to truly understand what each employer is looking for.”
“A personalized résumé is focused to the target audience’s needs,” adds Barrett-Poindexter. For example, “if the job description says the role requires market analysis and planning, then weave that language into your résumé content, using real examples of analysis you performed and the results you achieved."
One more—perhaps obvious—note: Don't save versions of your résumé with a file name that makes it obvious that you've submitted a particular version: For example, janedoeresumemarketing or janedoeresumesales. Just keep it simple and save the file as your name.
4. Getting Too Elaborate With Formatting and Style
“Formatting is key,” says Hargett. Don’t let your résumé get out of hand with fonts and graphs and distract the reader from what’s important (how qualified you are). If you’re going to use bullets, they should be the same size and shape in each section and align from page to page.
Because recruiting agencies have to add their logos and sometimes condense a résumé, Hargett suggests that if you’re working with a recruiter, try using a template that doesn’t require you to work within “boxes” (which are difficult to format).
She adds that your résumé style should progress with you,” says Hargett, and remove those early jobs that acted as fillers and thoughtfully design the layout. "It should include clean lines and a different (non-neon) font color to highlight job titles."
There is one place you can be as creative as you like: your language. “Boring language, like using the word 'developed' over and over, puts the reader to sleep,” says Barrett-Poindexter. “Be creative and entice the hiring manager with language that sizzles.” For example, a headline like "Ensuring business roars ahead while attracting/developing top leadership talent" will show a bit more personality and creativity while articulating your achievements.
5. Being Vague
You’ll never hit the bull's-eye with a vague résumé, says Barrett-Poindexter. “Your laser-focused competitor candidate will knock you out of the game.”
“When you are too wordy and vague, we don’t know what you've actually accomplished,” adds Hargett. “Employers like to see as much information as possible up front. Highlight your accomplishments. If you raised money or saved money, put down the actual dollar figure—never give a generality that you can’t verify when they dig deeper.”
6. Squeezing Too Many Words Onto the Page
There’s no hard and fast rule about résumé length, says Tarpey. CareerBuilder’s data shows that for new college graduates, 66% of employers say a résumé should be one page long, and for more seasoned workers, 77% of employers say they expect a résumé that’s at least two pages long.
When trying to condense your employment history and skills into a few pages, “choose the accomplishments that are most in line with the open position’s main responsibilities and with the company’s corporate values,” says Tarpey.
“In general,” says Barrett-Poindexter, “job seekers should make sure they’re answering the requirements within the job listing while also telling their most relevant employment story, including specific achievements that map back to what the employer is looking for.”
7. Omitting Exact Dates
Think it’s OK to leave out clear dates? Think again. “Omitting exact dates of employment often raises suspicion in employers and makes it look like the job seeker is trying to cover something up,” says Tarpey. If you’ve got a large gap in your résumé, Tarpey suggests being up front about it and addressing the issue in a cover letter.
CareerBuilder’s survey found that 27% of employers identified résumés that don’t include exact dates of employment as one of the most common résumé mistakes that may lead them to automatically dismiss a candidate.
“We need to know your tenure, good or bad,” explains Hargett.
8. Not Including Skills
While listing out your "skills" may seem optional to you, many recruiters don't see it that way, though they offer several ways to tackle the task on a résumé. “A list of hard skills and examples of how you put those skills to use in previous positions is a great way to stand out from the pack,” says Tarpey.
Rather than a “skills” section, Barrett-Poindexter recommends weaving them into your profile/summary and résumé achievements sections. “For example, you might lead into a statement on the summary with the words ‘Relationship Building’ and then immediately follow with an example where you applied relationship-building talent, like ‘Managed cross-departmental teams to accomplish a stalled product development project that led to a 25% revenue increase.’”
In that same CareerBuilder survey, 35% of employers cited résumés that don’t include a list of skills as one of the most common résumé mistakes that may lead them to automatically dismiss a candidate.
9. Using an Objective Statement
Current trends indicate the days of including an objective statement in your résumé are gone.
Consider this example of an objective statement:
"Seeking a role as an investment analyst to advance my career in the financial industry."
There’s two problems here: It’s dry, and the focus is on what the candidate wants for himself—to advance his career—rather than how he can solve problems for the potential employer, says Barrett-Poindexter.
Instead of the objective statement above, she suggests, try creating a headline that accentuates your value to your target company, such as:
Transforming complex business problems in the technology sector into focused,
Driving down costs, elevating reporting capabilities and improving decision-making processe