Over time, we reviewed a lot of resumes, and honestly, we have felt a range of emotions about them, from frustration when someone does not even bother to make a decent attempt, to amusement at some odd choices, to helplessness when you see someone with potential but they just can’t bring it across on paper. Finally, through this website, we have a chance to offer assistance to those who are truly interested in preparing a proper resume.
In the earlier post Your Resume and You, we discussed the idea that your resume should focus on the needs of your intended audience. But in this post, we want to give you a detailed point-by-point approach of things you should try to avoid.
You should note though, what is regarded as a resume Don’t (meaning a mistake) sometimes depends on the bias of the advisor; therefore, please think carefully about what you are trying to convey in your resume, and if one of the “Don’ts” we identify contradicts your intention, then IGNORE it. For example, I once followed a common resume “rule” of sticking to one page and I am convinced I under-sold myself for a job because of it. Now we ignore that “rule”. We’ll try to explain more in the points below.
The best way to think about your resume is that it needs the Goldilocks approach – not too little or too much of anything – all aspects need to be just right.
How do you do this?
- Firstly, remember you are not the only person applying for the job. Make an effort to do your resume properly: you are competing after all. We have seen so many half-attempts that we can’t help but wonder if the candidate was serious about the job. At the very least ask someone to read it for you and give feedback before you submit.
- You need to put yourself in the position of the intended reader and do your best not to annoy them – they remember during interviews, or worse, discard your resume. Don’t distract them or make them suspicious. Instead get them to focus on you and what you could contribute – that’s the way you get called for an interview.
- Assume the recruiter has several resumes to review. For example, we once advertised in the press for 2 jobs for 2 days and received 64 resumes – imagine the response if it had run for a week instead.
Resume readers are looking for any reason to reduce the pile, so they can focus on the promising candidates. Don’t make obvious fumbles that cause your resume to be discarded immediately.
So here are the most common resume Don’ts we have seen, in no particular order of importance.
Our pet peeves
We have several small but relevant points, so we are just going to group them together as “Pet Peeves”. Remember, if you think we’re nit-picking, feel free to ignore the point. But if enough of these appear and the reader at that point in time also finds them annoying, the “peeves” might eventually affect how your resume is regarded.
- Why head up your resume, with the word “Resume” or “Resume of X”? What else would it be?
- Grammatical errors or typos. Yes, we all make mistakes but it is unbelievably distracting to the reader. Unfortunately, it conveys that you are sloppy and inattentive to details.
- Your name is missing from the second, third, etc pages. If it accidentally gets detached from the first page, how does the reader know whose resume it is?
- Including a comment about references. The usual is “References available upon request”. Ummm thanks for pointing out what we already know…we ain’t hiring you without a reference. The next sin is listing a couple references. Why waste space? We are not calling them until we interview you, so references are unnecessary until then. And no, we don’t care that you have the President or Prime Minister as your reference; it is just not relevant at the stage of applying, UNLESS you are asked to provide.
- Missing or inadequate contact info. We will try to call or email once and then we move on. If you applied for a job, then please monitor your identified means of contact.
- Using an unprofessional email address, which is usually the address you used while in school.
- Not including a company description for past employers. We often work for companies that aren’t necessarily household names. It’s appreciated when you include a brief description about the company (and we mean brief!).
- Including potentially discriminating information. We never understand why candidates would include any information that could potentially put them at a disadvantage: please drop your age, sex, religion, marital status, etc. And for heaven’s sake, do not include a headshot unless it is expected or required (modeling, etc).
- Using puffed up language. Yes, you are trying to encourage someone to hire you, but readers, especially experienced readers, can immediately see through exaggerations and your attempt to make something sound more important than it is. We distinctly remember seeing a candidate describe his job using the word “global” six times in two sentences. We didn’t bother to continue reading.
- Poor formatting that makes it too hard to read. Why are you making me work to hire you? Nope. We move on to the next, easy-to-read resume. See below for more detail.
- Using first person pronouns (“I”).
Lies, Half-Truths and Innuendos
Do not ever lie or mislead on your resume – not even a little. We don’t think we need to say more.
We distinguish this from our pet peeve of using puffed up language. Most of the time puffed up language is just choosing words that make you or your job sound more important (probably you over-used a thesaurus). We tend to let puffed up language slide a little because we expect you are trying to sell yourself. But note, if you get called for an interview, you will probably be grilled about your perceived importance to make sure it really was as important as you made it sound.
Assume everything on your resume will be verified, whether or not you are aware of it. You will kill your career if it is discovered that you lied or misrepresented anything on your resume. There is no recovering from this.
Highlighting duties instead of accomplishments
The most common resume mistake (and best way to have your resume discarded) we have seen is candidates listing a bunch of duties for each job instead of accomplishments. The most common signal is it starts with “Responsible for…”. Why would an employer be interested in what you were responsible for? They want to know how you added value. Because you were responsible for something does not necessarily mean you actually added any value while you were responsible! Adding value ultimately means you improved something or you left it in a better state that when you found it.
This takes a little getting used to, but you need to always remember a resume is not a job description. When you start a new job, you expect to get a JD, or position outline, or some document that indicates what you are responsible for, which forms the basis for your appraisal/evaluation. Your resume is, however, not a job description. As we described in Your Resume and You, it is a marketing document. You are marketing yourself for a job.
We also understand that some position titles have very little meaning to an outside person, so it absolutely makes sense to describe in a sentence or two your main job responsibilities. But the rest of the space needs to be dedicated towards what you accomplished in the role.
Several people struggle to describe their accomplishments. Sometimes because they have none: they come to work, do a job, and add no additional value. Others have several accomplishments but they just can’t articulate them. We suggest to try one or both of the following: (a) describe what were you most proud of in your job or (b) if you had 30 seconds, how would to describe your most important contributions. Use (a) and (b) as the basis to describe your accomplishments.
This is a fairly long post, so we’ll pause for now and continue in More Resume Don’ts. Hope it’s been helpful so far. Let us know in the comments below!
If you need more personalized resume advice, why not check out our Career Coach advisory option? We’d love the opportunity to help you!
In the meantime, there are a number of great books on the topic; here’s a top rated option from Amazon!