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Top 13 Resume Mistakes (That Kill a Good Resume)

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This post is part of a series called How to Create a Great Resume (Ultimate Guide).
Best Resume Format: The Ultimate Guide to PDF vs Word
What is the Difference Between a CV vs Resume?

Recruiters review thousands of resumes every month. It’s not an exaggeration to say they’re tired of reading the same information, told in different iterations, over and over again.

It’s also because of this sheer volume that they've mastered what makes a good resume tick, and know all too well what gets a bad resume sent to the trash.

In this article, I’ll focus on resume mistakes and what you can do to fix them.

Avoid Resume Mistakes
Resume mistakes to avoid (illustration).

Job Hunters Beware: Are You Making Any of These Mistakes in Your Resume?

1. Title Inflation

Have you ever seen a 20-something with a “CEO”, “CFO”, “CMO” or any manner of executive job title in their resume? It’s pretty common these days with the proliferation of startups. Such titles aren't always impressive though.

“In our industry, we call this title inflation. Being a “CEO” of an unincorporated company with zero revenue and zero employees is a clear sign that we should either throw your resume away, or take a far more critical look at it”, says Matthew Mercuri, Director of Human Resources at Dupray.

Yes, having your own startup or business shows an entrepreneurial spirit but for many fresh graduates and young professionals, an executive title is just a poor attempt to hide lack of professional employment.

“Working as a busboy at a local restaurant usually impresses HR professionals much more”, continues Mercuri.

2. Lack of Career Progression for Long-Term Employment

Some employees are just loyal to the company. Others are lucky enough to get promoted many times with one employer. If this were the case for you, how would you put it in your resume?

As one entry–company name and employment duration—with multiple secondary points detailing your career? This is the common strategy applicants follow, and it’s not working in their favor.

MarissaL Klein, EVP and Founder of Choice Fashion & Media, says, “People who have been with a company for a long time tend to make this mistake – they list the employer and the duration but there’s no emphasis on their promotions or career progression.”

For example, if you worked at a design agency from 2000 to 2016, put it at the top of your work history in bold font. Break down promotions underneath in a smaller bold font, followed by a choice list of your achievements and responsibilities in each role.

3. Poor Layout and Design

A good resume should have a logical progression and clear layout so whoever reads it quickly gets an overview your career. 

Ansel Resume Template
Minimal Ansel Resume Design Template, for sale on Envato Market (GraphicRiver).

Julie Fantom, HR & Operations Director at Wilson Fields, warns applicants “against using colored paper and clip art”. 

Discover more resume tips, to avoid poor resume design, or use a resume template, like the one above, so you start with a great design:

4. Referencing Employers You Had Issues with

Some candidates think they can get away with referencing employers they had bad blood with. 

Jesse Harrison of Zeus Lawsuit Funding says, “The applicant was fired from a job because of misconduct, yet he included it as a reference.”

It’s a different issue if several employees got laid off. But if you got singled out because of absenteeism, poor performance, or misconduct, don’t include it on your resume. It’s not worth the risk.

5. Responsibilities, Not Achievements

One of the most common resume errors is a candidate’s failure to demonstrate on-the-job achievements. They just describe their responsibilities. But not why those were important, or how it affected the company.

“I once critiqued a resume of a successful salesperson. But you wouldn’t know he was that great if you read his original resume”, says Joe Flanagan, Senior Resume Consultant at Velvet Jobs. 

Listed below one of his job titles was ‘Handled an account base of clients’. Not too impressive, right?

Flanagan continues, “With a little coaxing, I discovered that ‘handling an account base of clients’ can be fleshed out as, ‘Handled an account base of 45 clients and increased it to 115 clients within 6 months, and generating average $125,000 revenue per month.’”

See which sounds more impressive?

6. Sloppiness

Food stains and those coffee rings on your resume make for a bad resume. This document serves as the first example of your work and sets the bar for what potential employers can expect of you.

“I received a hand-delivered resume from a presentable job seeker. After opening it, I found the paper wrinkled and stained even though the envelope was clean. I didn’t even bother reading it because it showed an extreme lack of attention to detail”, says Garrett Collins of Nu’u SEO.

7. Too Academic

“I’ve come across resumes that looked purely academic. Candidates listed the courses they’ve taken, their GPA, and the honors they received—all impressive. But there's no mention of any practical skills. Not even how their academic experience translates to their chosen field”, says Monica Eaton-Cardone, Co-founder and COO of Chargebacks911.

It’s okay to have no experience, everyone has to start somewhere. An all-academic resume only shows that you’re a good student. It doesn’t show your potential, such as your skills, work ethic, and type of employee you’re going to be.

Fresh graduate? Follow this guide on creating your first-ever resume the right way:

8. Irrelevant Skills or Basic Skills Everyone Expects You to Have

Touch typing, using MS Word, and searching the web are all basic skills people expect you to know. Don’t waste space mentioning them.

Are you scared that recruiters might miss your resume on their database, unless you list it all? Don’t be. I can’t imagine a job where a recruiter will search ‘touch typing’ or ‘proficient in MS Office.’

Recruiters search for technical and job specific keywords like “Graphic Design using Adobe Photoshop,” or “Making Pivot Tables in MS Excel.” Leave off the generic stuff but don’t leave out the special programs and equipment used in your profession. 

9. Unnecessary Information About Previous Employers

“Even if you feel like you’re being helpful, there’s no need to list the exact date you started (e.g. July 1 2014), supervisor’s name, their contact number, previous salary, and reason for leaving”, says Lavie Margolin, Former Career Counselor and Founder of Lion Club Job Search.

Including your reason for leaving an employer might cost you an interview. If you’re not careful, the recruiter might jump to the wrong conclusions—that you’re a job hopper, have work performance issues, or don’t play along with others. Who’s going to defend you or address their questions when this happens? Leave all this for the interview, and only provide this information when they ask.

Stating your previous salary is always a gamble. You may not get interviewed if your previous salary is higher than expected. But if it’s lower than their job offer, then you could be leaving money on the table.

10. Spelling and Grammar Errors

“Attention to detail,” and “Keen eye for observation” are soft-skills listed in many resumes. But how do you prove this?

TaraRist, HR Manager at Policy Expert, shares one way to prove you don’t have this skill:

“There’s nothing worse than a candidate claiming ‘attention to detail’ as a skill, only to find their resume covered with errors.”

She’s right. Relying on a word processor’s grammar and spell check doesn’t show attention to detail. The same goes for online tools, such as Hemmingway or Grammarly. While both are helpful, they’re not fool-proof. Have someone else go over your resume, or read it out loud to detect potential errors.

Personalize a Resume in Word
Learn how to customize a resume template in MS Word.

11. Too Much Information Burying Important Details

“It’s rare for recruiters to read a resume cover to cover if they can’t find at least one glowing accomplishment related to the job vacancy”, says Jason Carney, HR Director for WorkSmart Systems.

A good resume isn’t padded with too many details that make it hard for recruiters to qualify you as a candidate. Remove irrelevant or outdated details about your career. “Think of a good resume as a short ad, not a biography,” continues Carney.

12. Using a String of Keywords

Relevant keywords related to your job title and industry play a huge role in your resume. Just don’t overdo it and make sure it makes sense.

“Don’t pile a long list of keywords on a resume without a clear strategy or reason”, says Resume Writer DebraAnn Mathews.

Below is a problematic excerpt Matthews provided. It's supposed to be a list of skills, but reads more like a list of equipment, and is a good example of what not to do: 

“Areas of expertise / equipment include:
aseptic tanks, Oakes mixer, versators, autoclave cleaning & sanitation, CIP / SIP sterilization, powder blending, blend tanks, bagging machine, separators, liquid compounding, Urscdhell cutters, Fitz mill/press and Hollman presses, distillation and extractions, 5000- and 6000-lb. blenders, colloid mills, centrifuge machines, 1000-gallon percolators, chemical reactors, open and vacuum kettles, 300-gallon liquid verterseductors. 
Computers: Plc computers, HMI computer system, electronic batching, 
MAPS for AS400

Learn more effective resume writing techniques: 

13. Personal Information

“Don’t include personal information, such as age, gender, or nationality. Don't include pictures,” says Lauren Fach, Digital Media Maven at University of Advancing Technology. Even if the recruiter doesn’t want to judge or discriminate, you’re making it easy for them to do so.

I went through a soft-skills training with a previous employer a few years ago. One of the participants was a recruiter from our HR department. During our break, another trainee asked what she thought of the resumes they receive. 

To which she answered, “They read pretty much the same, so it’s boring. But we often get a laugh passing around resumes with ugly pictures.”

Bias or discrimination pertaining to personal information is a bit more subtle. Professional recruiters and HR managers don’t let negative bias cloud their judgement. But bringing up unnecessary details upfront causes them to stop and think about what you wrote.

Hesitations Like These Might Come Up:

“Wait, what does that mean?”

“How will this affect team dynamics?”

“Do I need to worry about poor communication skills because English is just a second language for this candidate?”

“Will there be schedule conflicts or should I expect a lot of leave requests because of this candidate’s religion?”

All these subtle biases can surface and make a recruiter question your qualifications. Freelancers competing in a global market experience this, too.

Learn more about how to make a professional resume:

Basic, Yet Still Important

Some of these resume mistakes may seem elementary to you. But since recruiters still complain about them, you can bet these mistakes are still rampant. You might be guilty of these resume faux pas, too.

Use this article as a checklist and go over your resume right now. 

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