One small mistake on your resume can sink your job application. So imagine the impact of 43. I’m going to take you through my ultimate list of resume mistakes.
In total, I counted 43 imperfectly formed mishaps that make recruiters eye-roll, sigh or laugh out loud.
Reviewing your resume against these bloopers will help you craft a resume of both style and substance. (Pro tip: it’s a good idea to refer to this list of resume mistakes every time you update your resume).
Here we go.
(Of course, if at any point you decide that you’d like a professional to fix these resume mistakes for you, consider using my resume writing services).
Mistake 1: Unnecessary Demographic Details.
Your resume should not include your gender, location, age, marital status, sexuality, number of children, health status or anything else that fuels unconscious bias in the recruitment process.
Mistake 6: Hiding Periods Of Unemployment With ‘Consultant’.
It’s true – gaps in employment can be of concern to potential employers. However, attempting to hide the gap with ‘Independent Consultant’ doesn’t hide the problem.
It does exactly the opposite by attracting unnecessary scrutiny and arousing suspicion.
You don’t need to worry about gaps of 3 to 6 months. They can even be positioned as a benefit later during your job interview – that you’re rested, rejuvenated and ready to take on new challenges.
Larger gaps are trickier to fix. Before tackling those I suggest you spend some time sharpening your resume writing skills (start by reading my guides here, here and here) or enlist services of a professional resume writer.
Mistake 7: Including All/Irrelevant Education.
I know you’re proud of that Diploma In Management that you got back in 1922.
The reality is, employers don’t care. They want to see recent or highly relevant qualifications that add to your value proposition.
Review education and professional development related content on your resume with that in mind. Is it relevant? Is it of value? Does it add to your value proposition?
If you have qualifications that do, put them front and centre on the first page of your resume, otherwise, place them towards the end.
Also, consider splitting your education and professional development into two sections. For example, a ‘Selected’ section on the first page and a ‘Continued’ section towards the end.
Mistake 8: Missing Institutions.
One of the easiest-to-make resume mistakes. When listing your education and professional development, the institution you studied at is as important as the course itself.
Failure to include them can give the impression of a sub-standard award, so don’t neglect to include them alongside the course name. No need to list dates.
Mistake 9: Including Referee Details.
Data protection and privacy are two reasons why you shouldn’t include your referees’ details on your resume – especially if you’re making speculative applications.
Referee details aren’t required during the early stages of the recruitment process. If they’re needed in later stages you’ll know about it. For now the standard ‘References available on request’ is sufficient.
Mistake 10: Listing Every Job You’ve Ever Had. Ever.
Only go back further (typically 15 years maximum) if the experience is highly relevant or forms a core part of your value proposition.
Earlier experience can always be ‘name dropped’ into your professional profile if you feel it adds value. For example,
“Building on an early career with market innovator Apple, I bring +10 years leadership experience…”
Mistake 11: Listing Short Periods Of Employment.
When detailing your employment history, your goal is to frame your experience coherently. You must tie together unique aspects of each role to showcase your value proposition.
What should you do, then, if you’ve had a short stint?
In this situation, I recommend that you list the role and date accurately in your employment summary (so you don’t have any gaps). Next, you should place that role in an ‘Additional’ employment history towards the back of your resume, along with your earlier experience.
Don’t try to make it something it’s not – it will dilute your story.
Mistake 12: Not Including Company Info.
Recruiters like to see company names which they recognise because it gives them context (business size, revenue turnover, areas of operation).
If you’ve worked in lesser-known companies then you should include a short ‘blub’ about those companies to helps recruiters understand your experience. Try to keep these blurbs to 1-2 lines and focus on facts/figures.
Mistake 13: Listing All Your Responsibilities.
When reviewing resumes, recruiters look for core competencies. They don’t want a comprehensive list of everything you did during your time in a role.
Typically, responsibilities fall into 5 categories: strategy, finance, people leadership, stakeholders and continuous improvement. The structure of your bullet points should tell recruiters the “what”, “how” and “why” of each duty.
“Shaped a 3-year marketing plan [what] informed by comprehensive consumer data and insights [how], to drive an increase in sales revenue, market position and brand reach [why].”
Mistake 14: Lack Of Action Verbs.
Recruiters want to see competencies which demonstrate your skills and experience in solving organisational problems. In other words, power and purpose.
The easiest way to inject both power and purpose into your resume is by using carefully selected action verbs. For example:
Shaped vision and strategy… Forged relationships with influential stakeholders… Drove continuous improvement…
Be aware of matching action verbs to your level. Choose transactional if you’re at a manager level and those with a strategic slant if you’re an executive. For example:
Execute vs Spearhead Persuade vs Inspire Developed vs Shaped
Mistake 15: Using Company-Specific Jargon.
This is a resume mistake most often made by engineering and military types. If that’s you, you’re probably used to including niche jargon in your communication.
Likewise, your company may use acronyms that aren’t universal across the business world. Recruiters need plain English – they don’t have the time to figure out what you mean by:
“Led the FTRE team to achieve 10% LXR target, YOY…”
Similarly, recruiters may not know the all the specialist competencies and skills required for every job in every industry, so if you have specific qualifications that need to be communicated, add a summary of technologies, methodologies or other niche knowledge nuggets at the end of your resume
Mistake 16: Including Reasons For Leaving.
Your resume is a marketing document and should be 100% positive.
Including ‘Reason for leaving: made redundant’ adds nothing to your value proposition.
Recruiters will have these conversations later in the recruitment process and in a way that allows you to elaborate (positively) on your experiences.
When writing your headline (and beyond!) be sure to avoid using any job titles which belong in the same family as ‘Number Monkey’, ‘Head Honcho’ or ‘Morale Captain’.
Those were (somewhat) cool in 2015. Today they’re a sure-fire way to get your resume placed in the ‘No’ pile.
Mistake 21: A Boring Personal Statement.
One of the most fatal resume mistakes.
Your personal statement lays the foundation of your professional brand. Dull personal statements with generic phrasing are a real turn off for recruiters.
Sentences that start with ‘Results-orientated’, ‘Hard-working’, or ‘Outcome-focused’ should be avoided at all costs.
Mistake 22: No Marketing Hook.
A resume is a marketing document that tells your unique story.
Having a ‘hook’ or ‘theme’ to your personal statement will keep you in the memory of recruiters as ‘that’ professional who did ‘X’.
Research shows us that most people will remember three things about any social encounter or document review. Read over your resume, keeping this ‘Rule Of Three’ in mind. Which three key strengths do you want to emphasise?
By staying on brand, you improve your chances of being remembered and getting that job.
Mistake 23: Covering All The Professional Bases.
Some resume mistakes a result of having too many strengths. This mistake is exactly that – and a common one among high achievers with complex work histories.
Whilst cross-functional experience can be of value, cramming all your areas of expertise into your resume is counter-productive. Expertise spanning business analysis, accounting, marketing and sales’, for example, dilutes your brands and confuses recruiters.
If you have both a breadth and depth of experience, communicate it in a way that complements and elevates your value proposition.
Mistake 24: Rambling Sentences.
A personal statement needs to be snappy, succinct and powerful – a perfect paragraph of no more than 150 words constructed of elegant sentences that highlight your unique brand.
Rambling sentences that join disparate ideas and outcomes will leave the reader lost and disengaged.
To grab a recruiter’s attention, stick to sentences with a maximum of 2 lines and 2 clauses that relate to one core competency.
For example, instead of making this resume mistake:
“Bringing a reputation for helping to optimise financial processes whilst maximising productivity within a challenging fast paced environment, I leverage advanced communications skills to engage with stakeholders and meet tight deadlines.”
Split your sentences:
“I bring a reputation for optimising financial processes to optimise productivity. Leveraging advanced communication skills, I influence stakeholders in a challenging, fast-paced environment to meet tight deadlines.”
Mistake 25: Including An Objective.
Once you’ve applied for a role, your objective is implied. Adding an explanation such as ‘currently seeking new leadership challenges’ is of little value.
Recruiters aren’t interested in solving your problems. Your only objective is to use the real estate of your resume to communicate how you can solve theirs.
Mistake 26: Lack of Personality.
This is one of the most common resume mistakes. Your resume is a representation of who you are – and failing to inject any personality will make it difficult for you to gain the traction you’re looking for.
Be sure to include touches of personality colour across your resume by highlighting not just what you do, but how and why you do it.
Mistake 27: Using the 3rd Person.
Writing your personal statement in the third person is old-fashioned and, quite frankly, makes for uncomfortable reading. It’s also one of the most common resume mistakes made by lawyers.
As an introduction to your brand, your personal statement needs to connect with recruiters on a personal level. Writing it in the first person facilitates that. So instead of:
“Chris is an accomplished operations director with 10 years’ experience in retail.”
“I am an accomplished operations director with 10 years’ experience in retail.”
Mistake 28: Using The First Person.
Whilst a personal statement needs your voice, the rest of your resume should have a more professional tone. Avoid using any first-person references in your responsibilities and achievements section.
‘Led a team of 12 HR advisors’
‘I led a team of 12 HR advisors’
Mistake 29: Not Tailoring Your Resume.
Tailoring your resume to each job is time-consuming. Which is why it’s easy to get complacent and start sending out the same version of your resume to all potential employers.
Unfortunately, this practice significantly lowers your chances of obtaining a positive response. There are two key reasons for this:
Recruiters are relying moreand more on ATS systems for initial screening (how to ensure that your resume passes ATS tests). These platforms use sophisticated algorithms to identify keywords specified with the role. By not tailoring your resume to include the keywords presented in a job advertisement/description, you’ve almost certainly sealed your rejection rate.
The recruitment world is small. Firing off your resume to every job ad that is vaguely related to your future direction means that you’re likely to hit the same recruiter more than once – and they’ll spot this shotgun approach a mile off. This approach lowers your credibility and leaves a lasting impression of ambivalence, which is not a trait associated with top professionals.
Mistake 30: Not Including A Key Skills Section.
The inclusion of a key skills section in a resume is perhaps one of the most debated topics online. I’m an advocate on including key skills in one of two formats:
A grid or table: Including no more than 16 carefully selected key skills that align with the role you’re applying for. This approach will optimise your resume for ATS systems and enable scan reading for ‘human’ reviews.
Bullet point key assets: Up to 4 succinct bullet points that highlight your key competencies and are backed up with a tangible benefit or result. I typically use this approach with executive clients as it elevates their leadership skills and declares loudly the organisational problems they can solve.
Mistake 31: It’s The Wrong Length.
Resume length varies across markets. In Australia, recruiters expect a 3-4-page resume. A longer resume loses impact and a shorter one forces you to exclude the necessary detail.
Mistake 32: Using Tables, Images or Graphs.
Recruiters like resumes that are easy to scan read. Including tables (apart from the one instance I mentioned in #30), images and/or graphs can make your resume ‘busy’.
Added to this, ATS systems (used by 95% of Fortune 500 companies) have difficulty reading them.
Mistake 33: Too Much Text.
Big chunks of text are as off-putting as a ‘Man Vs Food’ style portion of chicken wings.
The font maketh the applicant. Times New Roman has been out of style for about a decade now. Stick to Calibre or Arial, 11-12pt.
It can be tempting to use a more “funky” or “pretty” font, however you can never guarantee that this font is installed on every recruiter’s computer – which means your resume will be out of alignment when someone who doesn’t have this font opens it.
Mistake 35: Including A Photograph.
Unless you’re aspiring to be the next Tom Hardy, Cara Delevingne or Harry Styles, it’s unlikely that your looks will have an impact on your career.
It’s not necessary to include a photograph on your resume.
An obvious resume mistake – but a common one. Check your resume for spelling mistakes, typos and grammatical errors, then get someone else to do it. Any or all the above make you look careless.
Any or all the above make you look caraless. I mean, careless.
Mistake 37: Using Informal Grammar.
A resume is a professional marketing document and needs the tone to match. Simply using formal grammar, e.g. ‘I am’ instead of ‘I’m’ or ‘I have’ instead of ‘I’ve’, elevates your resume to the right level.
Again, this is one of the more common and easy-to-miss resume mistakes.
Mistake 38: Mentioning Money.
Your resume is not a place to start negotiations. And you’re not Floyd “Money” Mayweather. References to salary, terms or benefits expectations come across as obnoxious and distract from what you can do for an employer.
Leave this conversation until either you’ve been asked or made an offer.
Mistake 39: Negative Phrasing.
Recruiters do want to know about the performance you have turned around and the teams you have whipped into shape, but they want to hear about it in a positive way.
Career Coach and Executive Trainer, Kathy Caprino conducted over 8-years of research into the factors that contribute to career success and found that professionals ‘who are consistently more negative than positive in their communications and interactions suffer from an untimely demise of their career potential’.
Stay positive by carefully phrasing mandates and achievements, for example, ‘change fatigued’ instead of ‘change resistant’, ‘unrealised potential’ instead of ‘under-performing’, or ‘multifaceted’ instead of ‘complicated’.
Mistake 40: Poor File Naming.
A poorly named resume file could give a negative first impression before a recruiter has even opened your resume. For example:
Emma_Draft.docx – Doesn’t suggest much effort in preparation John_Sales.docx – Could suggest a second sector choice Alex_2006.docx – Looks like your resume hasn’t been updated since 2006
To remove yet another mistake from your resume use a very simple format: Surname_Name.docx.
(This is, by far, one of the most overlooked resume mistakes).
Mistake 41: Not Aligning Your Online Profiles With Your Resume.
We live in a digital world where 25% of recruiters use social media during the recruitment process to screen candidates.
Your online presence needs to align with your resume and add layers to your professional brand. This gives recruiters a deeper and richer insight into who you are as a professional.
A non-existent online presence will leave recruiters wanting more – not wanting you.
Mistake 42: Not Using Reverse Chronological Order.
Recruiters expect to see the details of your most recent role first, so failure to use reverse chronological order (i.e. your most recent role detailed first on your resume), could be an issue.
You may be seen as more junior that your capabilities or worse, a recruiter may assume you’ve been unemployed 2002.
Mistake 43 (One Of The Biggest Resume Mistakes): Lying.
I’d like to end on a serious note. ‘Embellishing’ experience or achievements on a resume may not be uncommon but it is dishonest and you will get caught.
Being untruthful impacts your credibility, spoils your reputation and blemishes your character. To quote Einstein, “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters”.
Eliminate All Resume Mistakes!
So, there you have it. The ultimate list of 43 resume mistakes informed by over 15 years’ experience in the HR and recruitment sphere.
Use these to refine your resume, enhance your value proposition and propel your career to the next level. Remember – most job applications fail because of avoidable resume mistakes.
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