Sitting down to build a resume may be tougher than you initially think. There's a lot to consider: for example, have how many skills should you list on a resume? Which relevant experiences and professional and educational accomplishments should you put the most focus on?
Figuring out all of this translates to having to manage a delicate balancing act, one that's dictated by the employer's specific needs, and the sometimes rigid specificities of an ATS.
To improve your chances of your resume making an impression (and getting into human hands), you need to avoid some of the most common resume mistakes:
1. Resume lacks focus and doesn't grab the reader
Employers screen resumes for as few as six seconds, so it's important that you build a resume that shows the employer at a glance what you want to do and what you're good at doing.
To sharpen your resume's focus, include a summary at the top, underneath your header. This draws the reader in and showcases your greatest abilities and talents right up front.
Editor's note: Learn how to write a resume summary statement via this LiveCareer article: How to Write a Great Resume Summary Statement.
2. Resume is boring
Everything on your resume should be accomplishments-driven. It's your accomplishments that will inform the employer as to whether or not you'll be able to contribute to the organization! Make your accomplishments as targeted as possible. If you're applying for a sales position, make sure you note how you boosted sales or nabbed new customers (and note the sales percentages and number of new customers when you do this).
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If you don't have data-driven information or specific numbers to highlight in your accomplishments, focus on things like, for example, having a "reputation for working successfully with previously unhappy clients," or that you "became go-to staff member for relaying complicated medical information to patients of diverse backgrounds," suggests Alison Green of Ask a Manager.
Avoid using terms such as "duties included," "responsibilities included," or "responsible for," which are really nothing more than job description words. Employers certainly won't use them as keywords when using technology to search for candidates, so they're really a waste of effort. When you focus on accomplishments in your resume, you also focus on results, which is what recruiters and hiring managers are most interested in.
For additional insight, check out this LiveCareer article: Great Examples of Achievements to Put on a Resume.
3. Resume layout is unorganized
Key information on a resume should be listed in order of importance to the reader. Resume layout for most will go as follows:
- Header, with contact information
- Summary statement
- Key Skills and Technologies section
- Work Experience section
- Education section
And when listing jobs in your Work Experience section, what's generally most important is your title/position. So the order should be:
- Name of employer
- City/state of employer
- Dates of employment
Listing dates first is also a mistake for resumes placed in employers' applicant tracking systems (ATS).
Your education section should follow the same principle: name of degree fully spelled out; name of major; name of university; city/state of university; graduation year; and other information such as a minor or your GPA. If you haven't graduated yet, list your information the same way with your projected graduation date.
Generally, brand-new graduates list education first, while job-seekers with a few years of experience list experience first.
4. Resume is outdated
When thinking about how many skills should you list on a resume, list only about 15 years of work experience. For older, less-relevant jobs, don't go into as much detail. It's better to focus on more recent and relevant jobs.
5. Resume doesn't highlight the right skills
When a job posting lists specific skills required for a given job, be sure to feature those skills prominently in the Key Skills section of your resume.
How many skills should you list on a resume? If there are specific skills that are relevant to your field or the job you're applying for, always list them in the skills section if you have them.
It's also okay to include links to your work, such as blog posts. "It's best to put as much out there as possible when applying to jobs, because attention is everything in the job search," says Clayton Wert, a job search expert.
6. Resume isn't reader-friendly
It's easier to read a resume that uses bullet points in the skills and work experience sections. Use a separate bullet point for each accomplishment or skill, and remember to ask yourself: "How is it relevant? advises Shelcy V. Joseph.
7. Resume has no keywords
Inundated by resumes from jobseekers, employers use keyword-searchable databases and software to search for job candidates that have the right keywords on their resumes. An ATS will scan your resume, looking for things like the title of the position or specific software skills. Once it spots that on your resume, then you get ranked higher, which improves the chances a recruiter will see it.
"If the recruiter never gets to their information because they're too far down the keyword results list, short of a hiring manager who can pluck that candidate's resume out of obscurity, they'll never be invited in for an interview," says Jill Walser, owner of a resume service.
Learn more about how to use resume keywords through this article: Resume Keywords: A Jobseeker's Silver Bullet
8. References are listed
You shouldn't 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. Even the phrase "references available upon request" is optional because it's understood that you will provide references upon request.
Check out this other LiveCareer article on references: References: The Keys to Choosing and Using the Best Job References in Your Job Search.
9. Resume is not the right length
Too often, job-seekers with 10 years or more 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: it's fine for job-seekers with 10 to 15 years of professional experience to have a two-page resume. Otherwise, you run the risk of editing out some previous positions that could carry a lot of weight with the employer. For those with less than 10 to 15 years—definitely aim for a one-page resume.
10. Resume is not properly formatted
Always proofread your resume for correct spelling and grammar to ensure all the information is true (it's too easy to check information online and being untruthful could kill any job chances). Since hundreds of ATS are being used by employers, it's also a good idea to avoid infographics so that if the resume is converted to plain text, a recruiter still will be able to read it.
Finally, Jeff Raynar, a hiring manager at Facebook, says that he believes the best resumes are the ones that showcase an applicant's talent and keep the writing simple. The best resume, he says, tells a "clear story about who you are and what you've done."