Are You Making These Common Résumé Mistakes?

Dana Covit

If you’ve ever been on—or are currently knee-deep in—a job hunt, you know it can be an exhausting endeavour. The competition is stiff and expectations steep. To ensure you get asked in for an in-person interview where you’ll surely impress, you’ll need to pass the first test: The résumé review. Pulled from a stack of seemingly identical pages, your C.V. simply must hit all the marks to make it past the first round and allow you to really flaunt your skills in any real way. Read on for the 17 common résumé mistakes you’ll want to make sure you don’t fall victim to.

  • Spelling and grammatical mistakes. This one is obvious, but it bears repeating because it is so essential. Competing with countless other applicants, you can’t afford to have poor grammar or spelling errors. Especially, if you are going to claim you are detail-oriented.
  • Not customising for the job you’re applying for. Aside from spelling the employer’s name wrong, this is probably the most basic misstep. Customising your résumé for each potential job is an essential key to a strong and effective application. The best way to tailor your résumé is get familiar with the job description and the company itself. If you are applying for a job at a start-up, do not say that your goal is to work for a major corporation. If you are applying for a writing position, highlight your writing experience, and so on.
  • Over-generalization of skills and accomplishments. Specific numbers and figures give your statements carry weight. For example, do not simply state that you increased sales. Instead, state that you increased sales by X percentage. Similarly, in the skills section of the resume, get specific about your levels of proficiency. Though lots of us can make a simple spreadsheet in Excel, fewer among us can also create pivot tables and conditional formulas.
  • Listing an address outside of the city where the job is located. When applying for a job outside of the city in which you currently reside, it’s best to leave off your address altogether. Most businesses only need to see a phone number and email address, and listing an out-of-state mailing address may hinder your chances of getting a callback (even if you are willing and able to relocate).
  • Writing as a narrative. No need to write a novel, here: A résumé is best organised by sections and succinct bullet points. If you have very varied work experience, divide by type or shared theme (marketing, editorial, and hospitality, for example), and then arrange chronologically within these sections. Keep education and skills separate, too.
  • Including every single job you’ve ever had. If you’ve been in the workplace for 15 years, there’s no need to remind prospective employers of your first retail job at the mall. What’s more, any r ésumé that’s over a full page is frowned upon. Even a person with 30 years of experience can edit it down to a page. Tailor your resumé for the job you are applying for and cherry-pick relevant or influential experience.
  • Discounting your personality and interests. Depending on the industry, sometimes it is ok to include bits of your personality in your resumé. For example, if you are whiz at brainstorming, feel free to include that under your skills. It feels work-appropriate, but injects a little levity and character. Save the gist of it for your cover letter, though.
  • Ignoring formatting. Don’t forget font choice and other aesthetic formatting, like paragraph justification and line spacing— overlooking them may do you a serious disservice. A recent article in Bloomberg Business revealed that Times New Roman is “the typeface equivalent of wearing sweatpants to an interview.” It came as a surprise to many, seeing as the font is an old standby of workplace formatting. Instead, opt for a simple and sleek sans-serif font like Helvetica. Similarly, even a résumé with a sleek font can give the employer a headache if the text is jam-packed. Take the time to pause and show your resumé to other people before sending it out. If they find it busy and hard to read, edit down and revise.
  • Listing a G.P.A. that’s less than exceptional. If you’re more than a couple of years out of school, there’s really no need to include your G.P.A. unless it is above a 3.5, at least.
  • Over-doing it with creative formatting. It may be tempting to include graphics, overlays, or any other interesting visuals in an attempt to make your résumé stand out. However, it will likely do more harm than good. When submitting an initial résumé, keep it simple and straightforward.
  • Forgetting to link out. If you have any other online professional presences—be it LinkedIn, a portfolio, or a blog—be sure to include a link. Warning: If you include a link, assume it will be looked at, so ensure it is entirely work appropriate and will not detract from your candidacy!
  • Over-exaggerating and embellishing your accolades. We live in a time where every detail and fact is just a simple Google search away. Make sure that everything you write is indeed true. On the same note, beware of using overly inflated language to describe yourself and your accomplishments. There is a fine line between confident and arrogant—tread it carefully.
  • Not using action verbs to start sentences. Avoid using passive phrases like "responsible for." Instead, use action verbs: "Resolved,” “Organised,” “Led,” and so on.
  • Not prioritising your most impressive/persuasive details above the fold. You have a full page to show off your skills, but it’s best to capture the hiring manager’s attention right away. Include your most pertinent and applicable work experience at the top.
  • Writing in the third person. An outdated mode, referring to yourself in the third person comes off as stilted and strange. Convert to implied first person.
  • Don’t undersell your past roles or feel bound by a title. Sometimes, a title and your responsibilities will not quite match up. If you’re applying for a director position, and believe your responsibilities were commensurate with this position—list your responsibilities. Hopefully, you won’t be discounted your title alone.
  • Laying all of your cards on the table right away. Though you certainly want to show off your best assets in your résumé, you don’t need to go all-out with the details. Think of your resumé as a sampling of your greatest hits—one that should intrigue interested parties enough that they’ll need to bring you in for an interview. The benefit here is that you’ll have new and exciting information to share with your interviewers.


Do you have any other resume best practices? Tell us in the comments!

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