by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
As a resume writer, I see hundreds of resumes, and the vast majority of them are much weaker than they could be. I see the same mistakes over and over.
This article describes the 10 resume mistakes I see most often. All are easy to fix.
1. Resume lacks focus and doesn’t grab the reader.
A sharp focus is an extremely important resume element. Given that employers screen resumes for as few as 6 seconds, you must build a resume that shows the employer at a glance what you want to do and what you’re good at.
Employers want resumes that show a clear match between the applicant and a particular job’s requirements. A “general” resume that is not focused on a specific job’s requirements is seen as not competitive (it’s also seen as terribly out-of-date).
One way to sharpen your focus is through the verbiage at the top of your resume. It must instantly catch the reader’s eye and identify the area(s) in which you can make a contribution.
To sharpen your resume’s focus, include a summary at the top, underneath your header. This key resume section plays a big role in opening your resume in a powerful way. It draws the reader in, showcasing your best selling points and greatest talents. The summary must immediately demonstrate your value as a candidate.
You can learn more about how to craft a top-notch resume summary by reading the LiveCareer article How to Write a Resume Summary.
2. Resume is duties-driven.
Resumes should consist primarily of high-impact, quantifiable accomplishments that sell the job-seeker’s qualifications as the best candidate.
Never use bland expressions such as “Duties included,” “Responsibilities included,” or “Responsible for.” That’s job-description language, not accomplishments-oriented resume language that sells.
After all, if you were an employer and wanted to run a successful organization, would you be looking for candidates who can perform only their basic job functions, or would you want employees with a proven track record of measurable accomplishments?
Today, with most resumes being placed into keyword-searchable databases, you won’t find employers searching resumes for words like “responsibilities,” “duties,” or “responsible for.” so instead, focus on accomplishments that set you apart from other job candidates.
In each job, what special things did you do to set yourself apart? How did you do the job better than anyone else? What did you do to make it your own? What special things did you do to impress your boss so that you might be promoted?
What were the problems or challenges that you or the organization faced? What did you do to overcome the problems? What were the (hopefully, quantifiable) results of your efforts? How did the company benefit from your performance? How did you leave your employers better off than before you worked for them?
How have you helped your employers to:
Make work easier and more efficient
Solve a specific problem
Be more competitive
Expand the business
Attract new customers
Retain existing customers
Research suggests that content elements that propel employers to immediately discard resumes include a focus on duties/tasks instead of accomplishments, while documented achievements were highly ranked among content elements that employers look for.
For more about how to identify your accomplishments, see our article, For Job-Hunting Success: Track and Leverage Your Accomplishments.
Some job-seekers list accomplishments in a separate section or isolate accomplishments from duties/responsibilities when describing their job functions. I don’t support this practice because everything on your resume should be accomplishments-driven.
If you label only certain items as accomplishments, the reader assumes that the other things you did were not accomplishments. Be sure also that the accomplishments you list support your career goals and that you tailor them to the job you’re targeting with this resume.
3. Resume items don’t consider the reader’s interest.
Resume items are frequently listed in an order that doesn’t consider the reader’s interest. Let’s explain this. Key information on a resume should be listed in order of importance to the reader.
Therefore, in listing your jobs, what’s generally most important is your title/position. So list in this preferred order:
2. Name of employer
3. City/state of employer
4. Dates of employment
I can’t tell you how many resumes I’ve seen that list dates first. Dates can be important to some employers, but they’re generally not as important as what your position was and whom you worked for.
Listing dates first is also a mistake for resumes placed in employers’ Applicant Tracking Systems (which comprises most resumes submitted electronically).
“To ensure applicant tracking systems read and import your work experience properly, always start it with your employer’s name, followed by your title, followed by the dates you held that title,” advises Meridith Levinson in an article on CIO.com.
Your Education section should follow the same principle; thus, the preferred order for listing your education is: Name of degree (spelled out: Bachelor of Arts, for example); name of major; name of university; city/state of university; graduation year; and any peripheral information you deem necessary to include (such as a minor or your GPA).
If you haven’t graduated yet, list your information the same way. Since the graduation date you’ve listed is in the future, the employer will know you don’t have the degree yet.
By the way, here’s the reason why experience and education are listed in reverse chronological order on your resume — it’s assumed that your most recent experience and education are what’s most important and relevant to the reader.
Also consider whether your education or your experience is your best selling point, and which should therefore be listed first. Generally, brand-new graduates list education first, while job-seekers with a few years of experience list experience first.
4. Resume exposes the job-seeker to age discrimination.
Often times resumes expose job-seekers to age discrimination when older jobs are emphasized in their Work Experience sections. At the senior level, list about 15 years worth of jobs in your resume’s Work Experience section.
For older, less-relevant jobs (that is, jobs that are perhaps slightly relevant to the one you’re applying for, but not 100%), describe your accomplishments using fewer bullet points — for example, five bullet points listing accomplishments instead of eight.
Doing this saves space on your resume, space you can use to go into greater detail on more recent and more relevant jobs.
Read more in our article, Resume, Cover Letter, and Interview Strategies for Older Workers.
5. Resume buries important job-relevant skills.
When a job posting lists specific skills required for a given job, be sure to feature those skills (assuming you have them) prominently in the top third of the first page of your resume.
Often job-seekers will tack a Skills section on at the end of their resumes. This is the wrong approach. Your Skills section belongs at the top of your resume, underneath your Summary section.
If specific skills are relevant to your field or the job you’re applying for, list them in the Skills section (that is, if you have the skills).
6. Resume doesn’t contain bullet points.
Use bullet points in your Skills section and Work Experience section to make your resume more reader-friendly. Do not write these resume sections as bullet-less paragraphs!
Use bullet points consistently. In your Work Experience section, you’ll use them next to each accomplishment you list under a previous or current job. In your Skills section, you’ll use them to separate each of your skills.
7. Resume lacks keywords.
Job-hunting today increasingly revolves around the world of resume keywords. Employers’ reliance on keywords to find the job candidates they want to interview has come about in recent years because of rapid advances in technology.
Inundated by resumes from job-seekers, employers have increasingly relied on digitizing job-seeker resumes, placing those resumes in keyword-searchable databases, and using software to search those databases for specific keywords that relate to job vacancies.
Most Fortune 1000 companies, in fact, and many smaller companies, now use these technologies. In addition, many employers search the databases of third-party job-posting and resume-posting boards on the Internet. More than 90 percent of resumes are searched for job-specific keywords.
The bottom line is that if you apply for a job with a company that searches databases for keywords, and your resume doesn’t have the keywords the company seeks for the person who fills that job, you are pretty much dead in the water.
Resume keywords are critically important. Read more about keywords and how to identify the best ones for your field: Tapping the Power of Keywords to Enhance Your Resume’s Effectiveness.
Also, check out resume keyword tools like Jobscan, which optimizes your resume keywords against job descriptions.
8. References are listed directly on your resume.
Never list specific references directly on your resume. List them on a separate sheet, and even then, submit them only when specifically requested by an employer in a job ad.
It is incredibly rare for references to be requested at the resume phase of things, due to the fact that references are usually checked only once a candidate becomes the front runner for a particular job.
Even the phrase “References: Available Upon Request” is highly optional because it is a given that you will provide references upon request. You will waste precious space on your resume if you list references; you’ll also send an indirect message to the resume reader — “I’m not up-to-date on current resume trends.”
9. Resume is the wrong length.
Too often, job-seekers with 10 + years of professional experience will try to cram all of that experience into a one-page resume.
On the flip side, job-seekers with less (sometimes much less) professional experience than that will expand their resume to two pages.
A general rule of thumb is that is fine for job-seekers with 10 to 15 years of professional experience to have a two-page resume. If you try to cram that much experience into a single page, you run the risk of editing out some previous positions that could carry a lot of weight when it comes to the job you’re applying for.
10. Resumes isn’t properly formatted.
There’s a lot for a job-seeker to nail down — properly and skillfully — when it comes to writing a resume. Format is crucial; layout, proper spelling and grammar, and correct length are also crucial.
When you use the resume services offered by LiveCareer, a lot of the guesswork involved with resume writing goes out the window. Learn how to write a resume with us, or use our Resume Builder to get the job done!
Katharine Hansen, creative director and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers, is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for Quintessential Careers; edits QuintZine, an electronic newsletter for jobseekers; and blogs about storytelling in the job search at A Storied Career. Katharine, who earned her PhD in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, OH, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press), as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press); and with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Study Skills (Alpha). Visit her personal Website or reach her by e-mail at kathy(at)quintcareers.com. You can also check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.