Imagine that your resume has finally found its way to the hands (or screen) of your potential new boss. They start reading through your well-crafted pitch that lays out why you're an ideal candidate for the position. But something jumps out at them right away, and it's not your credentials. Your resume or cover letter contains a typo, misspelling, or an incorrectly capitalized word.
"Grammatical and spelling mistakes are simple things, and they happen early on in the hiring process," says Tom Dimmick, who serves as vice president and practice partner of executive search firm The Tolan Group. "Remember that the employer usually has more candidates than openings. Spelling and grammar mistakes are easy tools to narrow the field of candidates."
According to a recent study by staffing firm Robert Half, here are some of the most frequent – and troubling – red flags that executives see in resumes and cover letters:
- Poor formatting
- Sloppiness or typos
- Too much unnecessary information
In addition to making sure your materials are free of errors, be sure to format and customize each document for the job you're seeking. Even in tight markets like technology, hiring managers say candidates can't be lax about attention to detail.
Luke Stratmann, the metro market manager at Robert Half, recommends getting a second set of eyes for your application materials.
"Ask a friend or family member to review your resume and summarize its key points for you," says Stratmann. "Make sure the most valuable information is being conveyed to readers. Also, enlist the help of someone to proofread and check for typos."
How to avoid formatting mistakes
Formatting may standards change over time, especially in specific industries. But clean and simple resume layouts are more likely to impress hiring managers. You can explore LiveCareer's fresh collections of Resume Templates and Resume Examples, and adapt those resume layouts for your needs.
"Formatting can make a strong first impression," says Stratmann. "It should be clean, orderly and readable. Refrain from graphics or distracting fonts and use bullet points where they're appropriate."
Commonly seen resume errors and mistakes
Recruiters will tell you that they see the same mistakes show up over and over. They're simple to make — and any one of them can quickly lead to a rejected application. Thankfully, they're very easy to catch if you're paying attention. Consider this your checklist to review before you send your application to a prospective employer.
1. Grammatical errors that are easy to miss
When you're rushing or your eyes are tired from reading your own writing, it's easy to mix up "their" and "there," to" and "two" and "your" and "you're."
These homophones — words that sound alike but have different meanings and are spelled differently — are so commonly confused that even diligent professionals mix them up in their resumes. Errors like this can sneak past your computer's spelling and grammar check, but they stick out like a sore thumb to hiring managers.
2. Run-on sentences
Run-on sentences occur when you connect two independent clauses without a conjunction. They can also occur when there's a comma splice — two independent clauses connected with just a comma (and no conjunction). Some examples:
- Incorrect: We reduced our budget by 15 percent, our team won an award for innovation.
- Easy fix: We reduced our budget by 15 percent, and our team won an award for innovation.
- Also correct: We reduced our budget by 15 percent. Our team also won an award for innovation.
Less is more when you're talking about sentence length. Look for places where you can break one long sentence into two sentences that are simple and clear.
3. Periods where they don't belong
Full sentences require a period at the end. Bulleted phrases do not, and because bullets are common in resumes, you'll want to keep a sharp eye out.
For example, the following summary is a full sentence and requires a period:
I'm an experienced educator with a track record of helping my students meet their goals.
These bulleted phrases don't require a period:
- Improved test scores in a 2,000-student school
- Led a student team to the academic bowl regional finals
- Developed forward-thinking teaching methodologies
4. Inconsistent tense
When you're crafting your resume, use past tense when talking about previous jobs or positions. Stick to the present tense when referring to your current position. Most importantly, be consistent throughout each section. Switching between terms like "work" and "worked" throughout your resume reads awkwardly and confuses the reader.
5. Possessives vs. contractions
Another common mistake is confusing possession with contractions. The word "your" is a possessive. It describes something that belongs to you. However, the word "you're" is a contraction of the words "you" and "are," and it implies action rather than possession. Confusing the two suggests you don't check your work or lack attention to detail.
6. Incorrect apostrophes
Job seekers sometimes add unnecessary apostrophes to words they intend to make plural. It's a common error. Here's an example:
"Supervised staff of 10 employees."
There's no need for an apostrophe in "employees," because it's used as a plural, not as a possessive.
Make sure to capitalize the first word of each sentence and each bullet point in your resume. Also capitalize proper nouns, like company names, places, and schools.
Armed with this information, you now know how damaging a few small errors can be to your chances of impressing a potential employer. But hopefully, you also feel more confident in your ability to spot these mistakes before you submit.
If you think you'll need a little help bringing resume across the finish line, use LiveCareer's free Resume Builder, and get top-to-bottom assistance with the construction of your resume.