What NOT to do: Ten Resume Errors that You Can Easily Avoid
1. Of all of the problems with resumes, probably the most damaging and yet the easiest to avoid are errors in spelling, grammar, and formatting. You would be surprised at the number of resumes that I have seen that I have immediately discounted because of spelling. Everyone makes mistakes, but the resume isn’t a place where you can afford them. While you may not be applying for a job that requires impeccable writing skills, your potential employers have only your written document upon which to judge your native intelligence. It also speaks to your attention to detail, thoroughness, and care – all aspects of an employee that are important to consider. Remember, your resume isn’t just a vessel for conveying information, it is the information too.
If you have poor spelling skills, then you will need to take extra care when proofreading your resume. You may be better off having a friend look at it or even hiring a professional to give it the once over. If you must proofread it by yourself, print it out and read it out loud. You are much more likely to catch errors when reading it aloud than you are when reading it to yourself because your mind will simply fix the errors for you unless you consciously force yourself to look closely.
Grammar errors are equally pernicious. Make sure you are consistent with your verb tenses, that your sentences don’t have extra words (or not enough), and that your punctuation helps to create clarity rather than confusion. Formatting errors such as accidental spacing, run over lines, or shifts in typeface or font size also send a nefarious message to the person reading your resume.
2. Putting down the wrong contact information on a resume happens more often than you might think. It is part of the proofreading that I discussed above but is sometimes even more difficult to catch because you assume that you will get that right and so may not check it. If the employer can’t get in touch with you because you accidentally typed the wrong digit in your phone number, don’t expect them to come hunting you down. You have gone through too much effort creating the resume and applying for the job to get tripped up over something like this, so check it, then check it again. Then…check it one more time.
3. The chances are good that you aren’t just applying for one job. When you are applying for a number of jobs, you should tailor your resume to the position that is being advertised. This shouldn’t require a massive renovation of your resume but anytime you have to make changes in a document, you are setting yourself up to make errors. Be extra careful when you are copying and pasting that all of the relevant information has been updated to the particular version of the resume with which you are working.
4. It is hard for most people to write glowing things about themselves. Generally this is good because modesty is appealing. A resume, however, is not the time to downplay your talents. You have to walk a fine line between gloating obnoxiously and conveying confidence in your abilities. The biggest mistake you can make though is underselling yourself by being bashful. If you were employee of the month, tell them about it – if you were employee of the month more often than any other employee, tell them that too. If you were better looking than the other employees…keep that to yourself.
5. You need to be specific when communicating your suitability for a position. Don’t ever assume that the person reading your resume knows what your job or experience entailed. It may seem obvious to you that a customer support specialist had to be able to maintain a cool head at all times and have an understanding of crisis management and mitigation, but it might not be obvious to others. If you just write the title of the position, they may be left with the impression that ‘all’ you did was answer phones and take notes. Explain yourself, you won’t get a second chance!
6. There is such thing as being too specific, however. If you had a job for two weeks at a fast food restaurant, followed that by a day of telemarketing, and then worked for a month at a bookstore you may not want to include all of that. This is especially true if those jobs were simply in between two longer-term position. Over inclusion can make you look shifty and unreliable. How are they to know that the fast food restaurant closed down two weeks after you were hired, that the telemarketing was for a political candidate who you couldn’t ethically support, and the bookstore only need an extra hand during rush week? Sure, you could elaborate on all of that, but then you have spent way too much of your precious space creating a ‘defensive’ resume and it won’t have been used for the most important task of all: telling them why you will be the right hire.
7. If you are including a summary of qualifications in your resume, make sure that it matches both what you have included in your resume and what the employer has identified as being important. It’s all well and good if you can perform CPR on a cat but if the job is in accounting that doesn’t help identify you as the best choice among potential employees. Look carefully at what the employer is asking for and summarize the aspects of your work history that support an argument that you would be a good person to meet those needs. You don’t want to lift your summary from their advertisement, but it should be easy to recognize the connections. You want them nodding their heads to an imaginary checklist while they are reading your statement. This is another moment in which proofreading is of utmost importance if you are applying for multiple jobs. You will most likely change this statement for each position and you don’t want to be in the unenviable position of supplying the perfect resume…for a different job.
8. If you enjoy mystery novels, you know that one of the things that keeps you reading is not knowing how all of the details come together. Your resume is not a mystery novel. You want to give away all the goods up front, think of it as a one page set of cliff notes to the valuable experience in your life. After reading it, a person won’t know everything about you, but they should know everything that is relevant and important for that particular job. Don’t make them search for clues, assemble logic puzzles, or wade through irrelevant details. If you held a position in which 50% of the responsibilities aren’t important, don’t bother mentioning them. You’re not trying to throw your employer ‘off your scent’ – you are trying to let them know how lucky they are to have found you.
9. Your resume is also not a work of art. You will see countless examples of successful and appealing resumes. Don’t be tempted to include every single bell and whistle. There is such a thing as overdoing it and it can turn your resume into a ball of confusion. The very first time someone looks at your resume and says ‘what is…?’ you’ve lost their attention and a fancy resume won’t cover for other structural issues, so it is better to spend time creating superb content that can then be polished rather than to focus on the presentation of poorly thought out material.
10. You can never include everything about yourself in any document. People spend entire books covering their lives and still have made choices about what to include or omit. Your resume is not your autobiography or memoir. When you start running out of space, it is time to review and prioritize the information that you are including. Sure, you can change your margins and move your font size to 3.5 but that just ensures that nobody is going to read what your wrote. In that case, you would have been better off including less and making it readable. Don’t squeeze words onto your page, it creates anxiety and the very last thing you want to do before you even become an employee is to make the employer nervous.