Skip to section
Resumes that merely communicate your experience at face value are no longer enough. To stand out and succeed as a top-level job seeker, you must think of yourself as a commercial brand. This means regarding your resume as a marketing document that sells you to recruiters and employers.
For your resume to be an effective marketing tool, it must sell your unique commercial value rather than merely list your accomplishments.
It’s likely that you know this already.
However, what you likely didn’t know is that some common resume mistakes can take you out of the running before you’ve even had a chance to sell yourself.
The initial screening time for resumes is between 6 and 7 seconds, according to a frequently-cited study by The Ladders.
In this time, if a recruiter spots any mistake in your resume, they will disqualify you from the race. Which are most likely to derail your application? Below are my top eight.
By the way, do you want to be absolutely certain that your resume hits all of the right notes? Consider using my:
- recommended free resume builder, if you’re on a budget.
- professional resume writing service, if you’re a mid-career professional.
- executive resume writing service, if you’re a senior leader.
1. Using Overly Flowery Language.
Your resume is a formal, professional document and should be written as such. Avoid unnecessarily colourful language.
While this might be acceptable on your LinkedIn profile, flowery writing can come across as unprofessional on your resume.
For instance, instead of:
“Conceptualised novel IT operating model, utilising model to effortlessly streamline divisional operations and drive exceptional cost-savings.”
You could say:
“Designed an innovative IT operating model to streamline division, increasing efficiency by 41% and delivering $200K in cost-savings in Y1.”
Use simple and concise language to keep your sentences fluent and direct.
Additionally, limit your use of pronouns to the ‘Professional Profile’ section of your resume.
If the recruiter has made it to the main body of your resume, they know who you’re talking about. Pronouns at this stage merely take up unnecessary real estate.
2. Presenting A Laundry List.
Your resume is not a Wikipedia page. It’s not a depository of all existing knowledge about your career.
Think of your resume as a sales page.
As such, it must highlight only the most commercially salient aspects of your career – and only in the context of the role that you’re applying for.
In other words, it needs to demonstrate how you’re able to solve a very specific set of commercial challenges that your future employer is likely to be facing right now.
3. Including An Objective Statement.
No modern professional resume should contain an Objective Statement.
There was a time when it was common practice to include a career objective at the top of your resume. But that time is well and truly past.
A far better option is to replace your Objective Statement with a Professional Summary.
A Professional Summary is comprised of a few succinctly written paragraphs that communicate how you, in your target role, would resolve the organisation’s current challenges.
Here’s an example of what Elon Musk’s Professional Summary might look like:
Expert Tip: In addition to your Professional Summary, include your essential information in the top third of your resume for maximum impact.
Here’s a quick breakdown of what to include:
|Resume Headline||This is a short, catchy statement just below your name that communicates the core of your commercial value. When done right, it creates a point of focus for the hiring manager reviewing your resume helping it stand out|
|Professional Profile||This gives the recruiter a brief glimpse into your “what’s in it for me.” It also serves as an outline of your unique commercial value proposition|
|Key Skills||This is the secret to making it past Application Tracking Systems. It should include six to eight skills that align with or are tailored to the role you’re applying for|
|Contact Information||Include your name, mobile number, email address and links to your professional website or LinkedIn profile|
4. Including Old, Irrelevant Roles.
Do not include every single role you’ve had since university. Instead, curate roles that align with the position you’re applying for.
The sharper the alignment, the better chance your resume will have of standing out to recruiters and hiring managers.
As a rule:
- Include 3 to 6 of your most recent and relevant roles from the past 10 to 15 years.
- List any earlier career history in a summary section, including the titles, tenure and organisations.
The roles you choose to highlight should be targeted. Use them to contextualise aspects of your experience that are key to your target role.
Consider this—you have a lot of operations experience and are applying for an operations management role. However, you’ve been working as a project manager since 2019.
To make your resume stand out, you’ll need to project yourself as an operations manager, despite the detour you’ve taken into project management.
To do this, you need to reframe the project management role to highlight aspects and experiences that are relevant to operations management.
5. Lacking Personality.
A lack of personality is one of the most common reasons resumes fail to make the shortlist.
Think of it like this – your resume is a strategic marketing tool designed specifically to communicate your personal brand. To get through to your audience, it must convey a sense of your personality.
To inject personality into your resume, think about your answers to questions such as:
- “How do you respond under pressure?”
- “How do you solve business issues?”
- “What motivates you?”
(Related: How To Make Your Resume Stand Out).
6. Over-Reliance On Buzzwords.
An effective resume is more than a mish-mash of your previous roles and cliched buzzwords.
It’s a document that clearly articulates how you’re uniquely positioned to solve a specific set of challenges for your potential employer – and why they should hire you over other, similarly qualified applicants.
Buzzwords do precisely the opposite of this. They take up valuable space without saying anything meaningful.
They include words and phrases such as:
- Team player
None of these are differentiators that add value to your resume. Rather, they’re prerequisite qualities for you to even be considered for the job.
7. Over-Reliance On Passive Voice.
Passive writing was not good enough for your high school essays and it is certainly not good enough for your resume.
Still, many professionals fall back on passive voice because they believe it sounds fancy.
This is a mistake because passive writing lacks two of the most critical hallmarks for a great resume:
Passive writing is verbose and hard to read. It comes across as stuffy, detracting from your message and personal brand.
To make your resume easy to scan and understand, stick to active voice and only use passive voice when absolutely necessary.
8. Copying The Job Description.
While a healthy mix of keywords from the job description is essential to get past the Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), this doesn’t mean that you should copy entire sentences from it.
Most job descriptions are written by junior staff. This means that the language they use is often tactical and task-driven.
Borrowing too much from the job description could potentially imbue your resume with the same characteristics, pitching you at a lower level of seniority.
Allow the job description to inspire your choice in keywords, but be careful not to get bogged down and let them dampen your chances at better compensation and an impressive career trajectory.
Resume writing mistakes cheapen your achievements in recruiters’ eyes.
I hope that this guide to eliminating the eight most common resume mistakes has helped you see areas for improvement on your resume – and will help you land the role of your dreams.