Effective resumes feature killer content, consistent formatting, and an attractive design. Careless mistakes, lack of detail, and general sloppiness can hurt your chances of making it to the interview, even if you're fully qualified for the position.
Here are 10 common resume mistakes to avoid – and tips on how to keep them out of your resume. If you get to the end of the article and still feel uncertain about how to avoid these mistakes, consider creating your resume with our professional Resume Builder.
1. Typos and grammatical errors
By the time you finish writing, editing, and tweaking your resume, it's easy to gloss over misspellings and grammatical errors. However, those mistakes can make you seem careless to a hiring manager. Correctable slipups send the message to potential employers that you lack attention to detail and don't check your work. It's a surefire way to torpedo your chances of securing the job you want.
According to Jason Patel, who worked in George Washington University's career center, these errors suggest you'll be careless on the job too.
"If you can't bother to check the document you send to hiring managers when you need a job, you likely won't care about checking your work when hired," Patel said. Patel went on to found Transizion, an organization that helps young people from all backgrounds get the tools and support to succeed.
Good writers follow a simple rule: everyone needs an editor. The simplest way to combat spelling and other errors is to have someone qualified give your resume the once-over. You can also ask a family member or friend to read through your resume and look for any errors. To a fresh set of eyes, spelling mistakes and grammar issues will leap off the page, and a second opinion can be invaluable on your resume.
2. Generic, boring information
When you're preparing to apply for a job, remind yourself that there's a hiring manager somewhere with a huge pile of resumes to review, many of which look alike. Picture this person. They are who you need to impress, and blasting a generic resume to job boards isn't going to cut it.
Tailor your resume so it shows your potential employer that you're ready to hit the ground running. At the very least, make sure it shows you've read the job description, meet the minimum qualifications, and can perform the work.
Even if your resume already fits their job description, take some time to update and tweak it. Highlight any specific experience that matches the job description and add data and metrics from your work experience to show how your work has impacted past employers.
3. Being vague on details
When listing your experience, you want to show both what you've done and what you've achieved. Not everyone has a shelf full of awards, and most hiring managers don't expect them. However, if you've helped create value, reduced inefficiency, cut costs, or increased the bottom line, be sure to say so.
Some people may counsel you to phrase all your duties as accomplishments, but we recommend a more natural mix of what you've done and how you've helped your previous employers. When in doubt, keep it simple and be specific by using data and metrics.
4. Too many unnecessary details
Knowing which details to cut can be tough. Start by removing any information that is irrelevant to the job description. Extraneous information includes professional and educational experiences that don't apply to the position. This "padding" won't help you secure the job, and it can obscure your relevant experience and credentials.
Again, customize your resume each time you apply for a position. Look at the job ad and include the skills and experience it calls for prominently. Doing so will require a few minutes of editing each resume, but the extra time will pay off. A tailored resume shows initiative.
5. Lack of focus
Employers screen your resume in as few as six seconds, so make sure your professional summary sums up your abilities in a few sentences. Include a short description below your header – one or two sentences is ideal – that draws in the reader and showcases your abilities and talents.
6. No keywords in sight
In some industries and organizations, your resume needs to jump through hoops before a human ever sees it. When they are overwhelmed by resumes from job seekers, employers often use keyword-searchable software to eliminate unqualified candidates and identify those whose resumes contain the right keywords. An applicant tracking system (ATS) will scan your resume, looking for things like the title of the position or specific software skills.
Once the ATS spots these keywords on your resume, you'll be ranked higher, which improves the chances a recruiter will see it. To maximize your chances of showing up, pay attention to the wording on the job description and try to match it in your resume whenever possible.
7. Disorganized layout
Your resume should list essential information in order of importance to the reader. Here's a quick guide to ordering your resume's layout:
- Header, including contact information
- Summary statement
- Skills summary (including technical skills and soft skills)
- Work experience section
- Education section
When listing jobs in your work experience section, start with your title/position. The order should be:
- Name of employer
- City/state of employer
- Dates of employment
Here's an example:
Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency
New York, New York
January 1960- August 1963
Your education section should follow the same principle: name of degree (don't abbreviate); 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 in the same way with your projected graduation date. Here's another example:
Bachelor of Science, Chemistry
California Institute of Technology
Class of 1983
LiveCareer makes it easy to build a resume that's appropriate for your industry and easy for both recruiters and ATS systems to scan. Our wide variety of resume templates and tips will give your resume the overhaul it needs.
8. Including references (unless requested)
Here's one way to keep your resume short and sweet: don't include a list of references. Type them out on a separate sheet of paper, ready to submit if the hiring manager or recruiter requests them later. Of course, read the job description carefully to see if the employer wants references along with your resume. In that case, include them.
9. Too long or too short
Too often, job seekers with a decade or more of professional experience will cram all that experience into a one-page resume. On the flip side, job seekers with less — or even zero — relevant professional experience will try to find a way to fill multiple pages.
A rule of thumb is to have one resume page per decade of work experience. If you're wondering how much to include in your resume, here's a quick way to break it down:
- If you have 10 to 15 years of professional experience, your resume can (and should) fill up two pages. Go any shorter, and you run the risk of editing out previous positions that could carry a lot of weight with the employer.
- If you're a recent graduate or someone with fewer than ten years in the workforce, aim for a one-page resume.
10. Missing cover letter
No job application is complete without a well-written cover letter. Use this document to show that you've researched the position and can explain why you are a high-quality candidate. Your cover letter serves as an invitation to review your resume, so make it an attractive one. Your resume then completes the package, offering details that back up the pitch in your cover letter, and separating you from your competition.
Finding a position you're qualified for is only the first step. Your next job is to make the best possible case for yourself. By avoiding these simple mistakes, your resume stands a better chance of landing you an interview.