Most of the time, you’re counting on your resume to do the heavy lifting when it comes to your job search. Lots of people don’t bother reading cover letters (especially since most are so horrible – click here for more) and focus more on resumes, which are quick and easy to scan. That said, people make the same mistakes time after time. I have to admit that when I get sent a resume, I almost scan for these mistakes automatically, to figure out if I should weed the person out. Is that wrong? Maybe, but to me it says a lot about attention to detail and quality of work. So get out your resume and start marking.
Is it one page?
Ok, truth be told – I personally don’t mind a two page resume, provided it’s filled with quality stuff that you couldn’t get on one page. But the problem is that right or wrong, a bunch of people feel the opposite and given there’s no way to find out before sending your resume in, it’s best to just stick to one page. Also, while it’s best to PDF, if you send your resume in Word format, make sure the (blank) next page doesn’t appear. You can fix that by decreasing the margin at the bottom of your first page.
This whole one page resume deal is really a North American thing, though. Different rules definitely apply in other countries. One guy from Germany that I met at a recruitment event in London years ago gave me a seven page resume ‘book’ that had been bound and produced by a professional graphic designer. Sure, seven pages is way too long for London standards but he’s the only one I remembered and talked about in the coming days after the event! While we’re on the topic of varying international norms when it comes to resumes, please PLEASE don’t include your picture, your marital status, your dad’s name, or your religion. Yep – I’ve seen all of these many times!
Do you have a boring, generic ‘objective’ statement?
Ugh – these are hideous. Too often, I see objective statements about how someone wants a ‘challenging’, ‘rewarding’ opportunity for a ‘hard-working’ individual with ‘good communication skills’. Doesn’t that sound like something everyone would say? It doesn’t differentiate you or add any value. It just takes up valuable resume space. Now I personally don’t use this as I feel my other content is more valuable, but you can have a statement here. If you choose to do this, it needs to be really specific, and that means you need to tailor it to each role you apply for. For example, you might say something about your goal of contributing to the evolution of digital marketing at one of the leading advertising agencies, leveraging your experience in both social media and analytics. Now just don’t accidentally send that out to all the management consulting firms and investment banks you’re also applying to ;) You might also use this if you’re making a bit of a lateral move, from one industry to another or to a new department.
Can you conjugate a verb consistently?
So this is one that seems so obvious and stupid, but I find people making mistakes with this on probably 8 out of 10 resumes that come past my desk. Here is a typical example:
ABCD Accounting Firm – Intern: May 2013 – Present
- Prepared for client meetings, including agenda, slide decks and marketing materials
- Supported partner with plans for internal change management project.
- Due diligence for potential M&A transaction
- Helping with campus recruitment presentations
See the problems? Hint – At least four things are wrong with it. Both of the bottom two bullets don’t follow the same/consistent format as the ones above… The first two start with verbs and use past tense. The third doesn’t start with a verb at all and the fourth uses present tense. The second bullet also has a period at the end of it, where the others don’t, and finally the third bullet has a space it shouldn’t have before the text starts. Even if your bullets look right, make sure you formatted things properly – i.e. via the tabs/indentation, not by hitting the space bar a bunch of times. If you send a resume in Word especially, this is really easy to see, and tells me that you don’t know how to use Word properly… Again, going with PDF eliminates this problem.
Are you a ‘helper’ or a ‘doer’?
On the topic of verbs, you need to choose your words carefully. Some people tend to pick really weak words, like ‘helped’, ‘observed’, or ‘participated’. These aren’t very active verbs, and don’t show what you contributed to an organization. Instead, find ways to demonstrate how you added value, using words like ‘coordinated’, ‘managed’, ‘arranged’, ‘developed’, ‘planned’, or ‘led’. Of course what you write needs to be true, but I find so many people sell themselves short. Do you feel you can’t do this without stretching the truth? Share an example of something you’d like to talk up a bit in the comments section and I’ll show you how it could be improved, without having to cross your fingers behind your back as you send it off.
Are you still listing your McJobs?
Almost once you have *any* office-type work experience whatsoever, start taking off the McJobs. Do you really think that a major multinational company is going to be impressed that you bagged groceries, hostessed at the local restaurant, or made skinny triple hazelnut lattes? Unless you want to be an admin assistant who now fetches said lattes, leave this out! Even if you have only spent a week or two in an office, I guarantee you your resume is better served by describing that in detail than it is listing your hourly wage positions (the only exception being management… If you managed people, this is gold and you should make sure to emphasize your role in hiring, training, and day-to-day management). One client I worked with was asking if she should put some upcoming retail experience on her resume, even though she was going to be paid under the table. This was someone who had not one or two, but four really solid internships. I explained that unless she wanted to be in retail, not only would adding retail experience not help her, it would hurt her.
Now these are just the top offenders. Want an in-depth, line-by-line guide to resume success? Sign up here and get my ultimate resume checklist totally free.
So tell me – what did you spot on your resume? What would you add to my list of the top resume mistakes?