A Quintessential Careers Special 15th Anniversary Report
What are the most common strategic mistakes you see on job-seeker resumes?
Compiled by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
We invited 15 of the top career and job-search experts — our Quintessential Careers Career Masterminds — to share their advice with our readers as part of our 15th anniversary. This question is just one of several, which you can find here: Expert Job-Search Answers and Advice from Career Experts.
Most Common Strategic Mistakes on Job-Seeker Resumes
Too wordy. Job-seekers tend to put far too much text on their resumes. Less is more. When you fill a page with long paragraphs, you lose the attention of the reader. It’s just too much to absorb. A two-page resume with plenty of white-space is always read more than a one-page resume stuffed with text.
— J.T. O’Donnell
The biggest mistake is a resume that rehashes responsibilities instead of celebrating accomplishments. I don’t just want to know what you did, but, more importantly, how well you did it. The reader should understand in a heartbeat where you excel and what you do best. There should be no ambiguity in as little as 5 or 10 seconds about what you do and the kind of position you’re seeking.
— Tory Johnson
I think one common mistake is to start with the wrong focus. Most job-seekers begin the resume-writing process by thinking about themselves. They consider what they’ve done, where they’ve worked, where they want to work next, what skills they have, etc. But the most effective resumes are the ones that start from a very different place — the ones that are 100 percent focused on the needs of the employer. Consider this: we all have far too many skills, experiences, and character traits to ever include on a resume, but if we start from the point of view of the employer, it becomes easier to see what we should include and what can be omitted.
For me, the second most common mistake is to look and sound like everyone else in the mistaken belief that this is the professional thing to do. Instead, I would like to see job-seekers really think about how they can communicate their unique value proposition, not just with words but with the resume layout too. Why look just like everyone else?
— Louise Fletcher
I’ll offer three common mistakes, which spell J.A.M.:
J = Jack of all trades: A strategic mistake many job-seekers make is trying to be all things to all people. Instead, create a separate resume for each and every position you apply for. You need to look like you are a perfect fit, and if your resume doesn’t confirm that, you can be sure that your competitor who does will get the interview.
A = Accomplishments: Most job-seekers know they should include accomplishments in their resumes. But, all too often, when I give feedback to job-seekers about their resumes and mention they need more numbers-driven accomplishments in their resumes, they inevitably say: “I know, but…” and that “but” is usually followed with something like “the position didn’t really lend itself to accomplishments” or “I didn’t have any impact on the bottom line” … which relates to the third item:
M = Money: Forgetting to answer the employer’s silent question: can you help us make money? I can guarantee you, if you can’t help impact the bottom line, your job security will be in jeopardy. Figure out a way to tie it to the bottom line: how did you save money, solve problems, save customers from jumping ship, and so on.
Ignore these J.A.M. mistakes, and you’ll be in a “jam”! Address them, and you’ll “preserve” your job and your future career success!
— Susan Whitcomb
Using lingo that only people from your college or company can understand. For example, Interpersonal Communication 102 doesn’t mean ANYTHING to me. Neither does “lead APT team project for BU group.” Make sure you use common terms. Also, remember that spelling and grammar count. Keep your verbs active and in parallel tenses. Finally, quantify, quantify, quantify. I need to know how much money you saved the company/managed/billed out/sold; I want to know how many members on your team, how many clients you had, how many calls you took in your call center. Give me the facts!
— Maureen Crawford Hentz
Here are the top five mistakes that hold job-seekers back from making a great first impression and capturing an interview.
1. The resume is crafted as a work history, not a sales tool. Why is that bad? The job of the resume is to spur an interview. If you don’t know what the reader needs, you can’t sell it (and the “it” is YOU). Do your homework!
2. The resume is just that — a resume — not resumes. Why is that bad? Resumes cannot be one-size-fits-all. We learned that in number one above! Every opportunity requires that the resume’s message be reviewed and tweaked for that position. Do your homework!
3. The resume is more than two pages. Why is that bad? Because today’s hiring executives, human resource pros, recruiters, and anyone else who may hold your future in their hands is jammed, swamped, distracted, and overwhelmed. Do YOU want to be the person who wastes their time? “Bottom-line it for me!” is the takeaway here. Determine what they need, prove you’ve done it, add some detail, be sure to include how you helped the company make money, and be done with it. You can tell them the rest when you get there, but you won’t get there if they don’t read it and if they don’t understand that you create value. Do your homework!
4. The resume doesn’t reflect your personal and professional brands. Why is that bad? Because you want to attract the right opportunities, you want to fit the culture of the organization, because you want to succeed, and you want that success to be enjoyable and sustainable. And you can only do that if you have the courage to infuse your personal and professional brand into your resume, LinkedIn profile, and all other career documents. You need to express who you are and how you do what you do. Doing so differentiates you from the other job-seekers looking to land. Companies hire people, not just results. Results are critical, but personality, values, process, and passion make the hire when all else is equal among those on the short list. So get a head start by infusing those things into your resume. Do your homework!
5. The resume lacks a focus on impact. Why is that bad? See “bottom line it for me!” in number three. Ruthlessly edit your job history to reach resume nirvana. That’s when the resume resonates with essential information, some important information, and nothing else! How do you know what essential information to include? Well, other than the requisite chronology and education, essential information is “impact information.” It’s all about what you’ve done that can best express your potential to meet the needs of the company or organization. Typically you prove that through accomplishment statements that tie to value and prove potential to do it again. How do you know those needs? See number one above! Do your homework!
By avoiding these five mistakes, you will get your resume in fighting trim, ready to attract opportunities and answer the employer’s mantra “Make me care, and do it fast!” Most of your competitors will not do the work it takes to make this happen. Will you?
— Deb Dib
Most job-seekers don’t realize one important fact: the resume really isn’t about them; it’s about making a connection to the targeted employer. Most people don’t completely understand this key strategy. Instead, they incorporate materials not relevant to their audience and hope potential employers will read between the lines to identify their qualifications.
Since most resumes are either evaluated by an Applicant Tracking System — a computer that scans for key words — or are visually scanned for 10-20 seconds by a busy recruiter or hiring manager, if you don’t make it clear why you are perfect for the job, you don’t stand much of a chance at landing an interview.
It’s not difficult to target a resume. Find keywords in the job description and in the organization’s Website. Focus on job requirements and make it clear you have what it takes to solve the employer’s problems. Incorporate skills, accomplishments, and results in your resume; don’t just write a laundry list of “stuff” you’ve done. Always consider the employer’s perspective. Will he or she know why you are a good fit based on your resume? If not, revise your materials.
— Miriam Salpeter
Failing to step into the 21st century when writing a resume is one of the biggest mistakes that job-seekers make. Those willing to think beyond those outdated, 1990s resume strategies and layouts, typically discover an easier job search with more job roles to choose from.
How can job-seekers avoid these mistakes? Start by developing a branding statement, integrating heavy-hitting achievements, and focusing the resume content towards the right job and industry. Job-seekers would do themselves a great service by seeing their resumes through the eyes of employers as well. Just because a job-seeker sees every skill and achievement that’s important, doesn’t translate to the employer seeing the same.
— Teena Rose
I wrote three books on how to write resumes, so this topic is near and dear to my heart. The worst mistake is selling experience instead of skills. I cringe when I see “twelve years experience in blah, blah, blah.” Nobody buys experience. They buy skills and abilities. Your track record indicates your skills and abilities, sure, and that’s why people make this mistake. But if you can create an impressive track record in, say, four years instead of 12, that’s actually more impressive. More years is not better. Focus on the skills, the abilities, and the track record, not the tenure.
Don’t put more than 10 years of experience on a resume. Just take the dates off your education and stop listing experience older than 10 years ago. If your best accomplishments were more than 10 years ago, you don’t actually gain in a job search today by pointing that out.
Directly related to this is the habit people have of building a resume off a job description. Don’t. When I see “duties included” or “responsible for” on a resume, I know that what follows is going to be boring and obvious. Focus on accomplishments, not duties. What did you do that was important? What did you accomplish or contribute? What did you learn on the job or in special training? What did you create that was above and beyond the scope of the job that was handed to you. That’s what sells.
Also, today, there are many people facing charges of being overqualified. There are ways to ratchet up or down a description of a past job. You always have to tell the truth, but there are many ways to tell the most attractive side of the truth. Don’t call attention to your level of responsibility. For example, suppose you used to be the director of sales, but at this point you’re eager to get any job in sales. Don’t say on your resume that you directed the sales function, or led a team of 12, say you went on sales calls and resolved problems to close major agreements.
While we’re on resumes, here’s something that’s new: The street address is disappearing from resume headings. Don’t list a street address at all. Just name, cell phone, and email. Why? Recruiters can use online tools to look up your house, see into your back yard, check out what car was parked in your front drive, and check the historical and current value of your home. That’s too much information for a stranger to have, to say nothing of the very real problems of stalking and identify theft. You can even leave off the city where you live, and the cities where your jobs were located, which helps when looking for work long distance.
There are lots of career problems that are actually resume problems. If you fix the resume, you fix the career. I covered the most common problems in latest edition of my book, The Overnight Resume, in print for 20 years and available from any library.
— Donald Asher
From the perspective of a salary coach, listing your current salaries or previous salaries or your salary expectations is a big mistake.
Prior to a company making you an offer, the only thing the salary can do is screen you out. What we generally call the hiring process is really more of a screening process. The first pass your resume gets with a hiring decision maker or with personnel is almost always a screening pass.
Employers receive hundreds — if not thousands — of resumes, and they need to whittle them down to a handful to interview. Ironically if you add salary to a resume as extra information in an effort of goodwill, rather than get you “in,” that information might knock you out of contention. Given two resumes one with a salary, and one without a salary, this salaried resume is at a disadvantage.
Pretend you’re in human resources screening resumes. One of the resumes has salary information on it and odds are it is either too high or too low. That resume gets put into the screen-out pile. Even when it is compared to another resume that has no salary information, it is at less of an advantage because salary acts as something to screen you out not screen you in.
So while it looks like a gesture of goodwill, openness, and frankness, it really is an excuse for someone to put your resume in the “do not consider” pile.
— Jack Chapman
I see a lot of ugly, clut ered resumes /i> and it’s a real turnoff because I s e the resume as a window into the candidate’s mind. When reading a resume, I want to feel that the candidate knows what’s important about his/her background and how it fits with the job opening. For example, if the education section is at the top, and the candidate is not a recent college grad, something’s wrong. Not only do I know this candidate has not read resume advice, I suspect that the candidate’s mental clarity will be average or below. Since I’m looking for someone who will exceed my expectations, this candidate is one I’m going to discard. Like most people, I juggle too many responsibilities, so everything I do is rushed. Cluttered resumes slow me down. People love Apple products because they are clean and easy to use — make your resume like that so the content can shine through.
— Eric Shannon
Well, of course, the most common mistake is that the job-hunter talks about all that they want from a job, instead of trying to think through all that an employer wants for that job. Employers as a group tend to assume microcosm = macrocosm; that is to say, the way someone behaves in a small universe (the resume, or interview) reveals how they would behave in a larger universe (the day-by-day job, on offer). Self absorption on the part of a job-hunter’in his or her resume’ is a killer.
— Richard Nelson Bolles
The biggest problem with entry-level resumes is a lack of focus. College students are often engaged in a variety of activities relevant to their career goals such as extracurricular classes, seasonal jobs, volunteering and interning. These are often included on resumes, as they should be. However, the resume becomes cluttered showing a wide range of interests. The employer then has difficulty knowing what the student hopes to accomplish.
Another essential element is to make sure the resume is adapted for different jobs and industries. I’ve seen students use the same resume to apply for multiple positions that have nothing in common with one another. Employers can tell when they are seeing a generic resume that is being used over and over and it reflects poorly on the job-seeker.
— Lindsey Pollak
See also our Resume Tools and Resources for Job-Seekers.
Our 15 Quintessential Careers Career Masterminds
- Donald Asher of Asher Associates
- Richard Nelson Bolles of JobHuntersBible.com
- Jack Chapman of Lucrative Careers, Inc.
- Deb Dib of Executive Power Brand
- Louise Fletcher of Blue Sky Resumes
- Maureen Crawford Hentz
- Tory Johnson of Women for Hire
- J.T. O’Donnell of CAREEREALISM
- Lindsey Pollak
- Teena Rose of Resume to Referral
- Steven Rothberg of CollegeRecruiter.com
- Miriam Salpeter of Keppie Careers
- Eric Shannon of LatPro, Inc.
- Wendy Terwelp of Opportunity Knocks
- Susan Whitcomb of The Academies
Find more information about each of our 15 Quintessential Careers Career Masterminds.
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