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Resume Tips: Most Common Mistakes

Are you being passed over for interviews because your resume contains the wrong information? Get in front of the hiring manager who will change your life by avoiding these common mistakes.

Wrong or Incomplete Header Info

Your header should include your full name, email address, and phone number. It should also include your city and state. Leave off your street address for privacy reasons, as your document will most likely be finding its way to the internet.

  • Pro tip: Edit your LinkedIn URL to omit the sloppy numbers LinkedIn automatically assigns you. The URL should simply include some iteration of your name. Here are instructions.
  • Pro tip: Have some credentials and degrees? Certain academic credentials are acceptable to put next to your name. This includes Ph.D., M.D., and MBA. Other less specific or lesser-known advanced degrees such as MPS, MSOL, MA, MS, ect. are best left to the Education section. Generally, it’s acceptable to list “PMP” after your name if you’re a Project Management Professional. Other professional designations (like CISSP, CMA, and CSM) are more controversial and are probably better left in the Education section. There are different opinions about this topic. My suggestion is to ask yourself if your credential A) is widely recognized, B) is generally preferred for your role, and C) would be considered a “terminal” degree or certification in your field. If you answered “yes” to all three, go for it.

Extraneous Content

Your resume needs to be laser-focused on the job you’re applying for. For example, if you’re an office assistant wishing to apply for an HR job, you probably have a lot of content to choose from. Maybe you engaged in printing, copying, and scanning; customer service; executive calendar management; reception; payroll; data entry; and new employee onboarding. Can you identify what would be important to include and what would be best to leave off for an HR job? If you selected new employee onboarding, payroll, data entry, and customer service to leave on and decided to leave the rest off, you’re on the right track.

Having the wrong keywords can be just as detrimental as not having the right keywords on your document. The ATS scanner (an algorithm HR professionals use to weed out unsuitable candidates) could miscategorize you and kick you out of the system. Even if you do get through, extraneous information could distract the human hiring manager from being able to easily identify your relevant skills.

Too Long

Review your resume and ask yourself, “If I just looked at 50 resumes, would I also want to read this one?” Highlighting concise, meaningful content is the way to get noticed. Generally, we recommend two pages or less including the following (see below for special circumstances):

  • A brief summary at the top of the document. This could be one sentence or several, but they should be concise and directly address the most important aspects of the job description.
  • A keywords section highlighting your most relevant transferable skills. (Depending on your unique situation, you might prefer to instead share a few bulleted sentences in lieu of the summary and keyword sections. This can be especially useful for career changes.)
  • A Career Experience section comprised of paragraphs detailing your day-to-day activities and bullets highlighting your significant contributions. Paragraphs should be limited to 3-6 concise sentences. The bullets should be quantifiable if possible (not all careers lend themselves to this, but you can often come up with something if you get creative about it.)
  • An Education section detailing your education, certifications, and training.
  • A list of professional affiliations.

Wrong Format

Different jobs require different formats. Generally, a one- or two-page documents is appropriate. Some jobs, however, require more content. This includes teaching jobs at higher learning institutions and federal jobs. To apply for these jobs, you need a document that is far more extensive. This is a discussion for another day, but make sure you clearly read the application requirements of the job and apply accordingly.

  • What’s the difference between a resume and a CV? Generally, “CV” refers to academic resumes in The Americas and in Australia. In other parts of the world, the preferred term is “CV,” which refers to the general resume document. It’s just a question of semantics (and paper size…most countries outside of The Americas require A4).

Outdated Experience

Your resume should focus on the past 10-15 years of work. Including older work is generally not relevant to employers and can open the door for ageism. If you are someone whose older work is extremely important to include for some reason, I recommend making a separate section called “Early Career Success” and listing that work there without dates. This is completely acceptable.

  • Some people like to list their number of years of experience in their summary. This is unnecessary because the ATS scanner will determine that for itself. If you wish to list it anyway, I recommend looking at the job description and only listing a few more years than what the description is asking for. For example, if the description asks for five years of experience, I might list “more than 7 years of experience” or “more than 10 years of experience.” I wouldn’t go more than five years over what it’s asking for. “More than” implies there are more than just what you’re stating. No need to open the door for ageism and invite it in.

Business Ownership

Hiring managers may perceive you as “doesn’t play well with others” if you list yourself as a business owner. I know what you’re thinking: business ownership takes resourcefulness, tenacity, and self-motivation to survive. It sure does! But employers are looking to hire employees who have proven themselves to work well in the worker-bee ecosystem, not employers who have been sitting on top of it.

  • Instead of calling yourself a Business Owner, use a functional title that aligns with the job description. Sure, you may need to talk about this during the interview, but at that time you’ll be able to explain it in a way that positions you as a great team player rather than only a leader.

Also, don’t include…

  • Photos and personal information (visa status, family information, date of birth, etc.). In some areas of the world, it is still appropriate to include this information, but not in North America, and many of these other regions are trending toward omitting it as well.
  • Hobbies.
  • Credentials, degrees, languages, affiliations that are completely irrelevant to the job at hand.
  • “Cute” email addresses. “FootballfanMike@gmail.com” might be fun to use with your friends, but unless you’re applying to be the Broncos’ mascot, it’s better if you present yourself with some iteration of your name @gmail or some other currently popular email server. If your email address is @yahoo or @aol, you might consider giving yourself a makeover. (I’m hearing the sound of a dial-up modem in my head!)
  • Content crammed into one page. A one-page resume is great if your career history calls for it. If you’ve had more than two or three roles in the past 10-15 years, you’re probably going to need a two-page resume. White space is key for readability and could make the difference between whether or not you are called in for an interview.

Remember, your resume is a MARKETING document, it’s not a legal rehashing of everything you’ve ever done. Your competitors are surely keeping this in mind as they present themselves, and you should, too.

Still feeling overwhelmed?

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