Worst Resume Mistakes You Can Make

Remember to focus on your target audience



closeup of resume objective and Experience
Can you spot what's wrong with this resume?

It's likely most job seekers have heard about a prominent figure losing a job as a result of a resume lie written early in his or her career. This kind of huge mistake attracts a lot of attention. However, most "worst" mistakes aren't headline grabbers or news stories; they are mistakes almost every job seeker makes when on the prowl for a new opportunity.

If you have a resume, and it hasn't been professionally written, one of these "worst" mistakes likely lurks in your materials.

It's all about you.

This category of error can be one of the toughest to identify, because you think your resume is all about you. Think again. In fact, while it is a document to market your accomplishments, your resume's job is to connect with the hiring manager. To be most successful, it should appeal to its target audience.

Check your resume for these overly self-centered red flags:

An objective. "A position with a growing company where I will feel fulfilled and get experience necessary to achieve my goals." While most objectives are not quite so self-centered, the nature of the objective is that it focuses on the job seeker and not the employer. Regardless, the objective is a dated vestige of resume days gone by; avoid it in favor of a "headline" and quick bullet points that clearly connect with the employer's needs.

"I, me or my." While some resumes break this rule successfully, in general, resumes should be written in the "first person implied." For example, "Oversaw 50 employees" instead of "I oversaw 50 employees." If your resume is peppered throughout with self-referential language, it will probably strike the reader as a bit "me centric." (Note: keep this in mind for your cover letter, too. While you can say "I, me or my" in your letter, make sure you aren't beginning every sentence with "I.")

Oversharing. It's very nice that your family is the most important aspect of your life, but the resume isn't the place to discuss it. Incorporating too much personal information, especially when it is not a requirement of the job, is a key indicator of the job seeker's preoccupation with what he or she wants or needs. In the U.S., resumes should never include personal information, such as age, marital status or religious affiliation.

Seeking experience. It's the very rare employer who wants to hire someone who does not already have the skills necessary to do the job. If you are looking for experience, that is fine, but keep it to yourself and focus on the skills you do have to help qualify you for the job.

Careless Errors

The biggest category of resume mistakes are the ones you will probably never notice when you edit your own document. These resume killers don't make the nightly news, but they are your job search's worst enemy.

Careless errors. Spell check does not catch all spelling errors; do not rely on it to proofread your resume. Ask an eagle-eyed friend or take other steps to edit your materials. For example, try reading it backwards, print it in large font and read the words aloud to a friend. Sometimes, you'll be able to catch misplaced words and spelling or grammatical mistakes.

Formatting. While resumes may have their formatting stripped for an initial read via an applicant tracking system, it's possible your actual resume may make it into the hands of a hiring manager. If you have an awkward page break, too many fonts or inconsistent formatting or spacing, the hiring manager may decide your lack of attention to detail disqualifies you for the job.

Missing the Point

Your resume's goal is to convince the hiring manager of your qualifications. Your job is to submit a resume that clearly conveys how and why you are a good fit. Unfortunately, many job seekers make the big mistake of failing to read the job description. (Learn about other killer job seeker mistakes .)

Target your materials. Read the job description carefully and decode what the employer seeks in an ideal employee. (Review my series of "Job Descriptions Decoded" for advice and specific information about how to successfully target your resume.)

Unnecessary details. No, you don't need to list every job you've ever held for the past 25 years on your resume. Generally, it's appropriate to include the last 10 or 15 years of experience, but be sure to focus on the most relevant experience. Especially if you're transitioning to a new field, feature the experience in past jobs that's more relevant and interesting to your new target employer. Don't spend a lot of time listing things you've done that have nothing to do with your goals.

Include accomplishments and skills. Resumes that are a laundry list of "stuff" usually fail to make the cut. What you've done in your past may be relevant, but don't forget to incorporate language addressing your skills and accomplishments. For example, if you worked on a team, make a point to indicate your specific role in the end product.

When you write an error-free resume that accurately portrays your experience and takes into account what the employer hopes to see, you'll be way ahead of the competition.

4 Tips to Get the Mediocre Out of Your Resume

Take a cue from your high school English teacher



Resume written on old typewriter

As we were growing up, our mothers dutifully worked hard to make us humble, hardworking, good team players, and punctual. That's fine and good, but if you dare put any of those characteristics on your resume, either in a summary or listing of capabilities, you are effectively guaranteeing that your resume will be tossed rather than read. Your resume is your shot at showing why you're special, not how well you were brought up. Unfortunately, too many people write their resumes as if their mothers (rather than hiring managers) were reading the document.

When crafting a resume, turn off your mother's voice. Ironically, all the characteristics that might make you a great human being translate on a resume to a potentially mediocre and boring employee. Your assignment in writing your resume is to paint a compelling picture of why you're a phenomenal candidate. No one is perfect, but you should be exciting, amazing and someone that the hiring manager just wants to meet. It's all in the words and phraseology that you choose to describe yourself.

Example: At the very top of his resume, one friend listed the following as his main qualifications: "Solid organizational skills, good communication skills, knowledgeable in social media."

Can you spot the implied mediocrity in his choice of adjectives?

If I'm hiring a coordinator or administrator, I want them to be great at organization and amazing at communicating with clients and customers. If I'm hiring a social media assistant, I want the person to be far more than just "knowledgeable." My grandmother is knowledgeable about Facebook. My social media assistant is a whiz kid.

Luckily, there are many tools today to help you turn yourself from just another nice person into a serious prospect worthy of consideration for an open job. Here are a few of them.

Remember your high school English teacher and use action verbs. Every year there are standard resume buzz words and loads of advice on how to use them or abuse them in a resume. For instance, check out these research results from a CareerBuilder survey that show common resume terms that make recruiters cringe.

Instead of buzz words, consider sprinkling your resume with power words, verbs that put oopmh or action into your resume. Here's where high school English class comes in handy. There are distinct differences between adjectives and verbs in resumes. Verbs are true power words generally showing you can get things done. Examples include: launched, managed, led, developed, and created, to name a few.

Contrary to power verbs, buzz words are frequently overused adjectives such as unique, detailed, solid, good, adaptable or flexible. These words imply that you don't have results to report and are punting to describing yourself instead of your work.

Think of your high school math teacher and show your work. Contrary to popular belief, your resume is not about you. It's about your work. This is the most common mistake I see on many resumes sent to me for review. Worse, I usually see this error at the very top of a resume in a summary that describes the person and what she wants in a job rather than the prospect and what he can bring to the job.

The person: Dependable team-player interested in working in a challenging environment
The prospect: Effective project manager known for motivating teams under tight deadlines.

Resumes are your chance to "show your work." Your work--not your self-descriptions--should make you shine. That's why numbers that show results are so powerful. For instance, which employee are you most likely to invite for an interview?

Person A: Dedicated salesperson with exceptional attention to customer service and meeting all
sales quotas.

Person B: Effective sales representative who grew accounts by 10 percent in three months and created a new sales category to grow business by $25,000 in the first quarter rollout.

The math wins every time because it goes beyond describing you as a person, and instead shows the results of your work.

Show your varsity letter. Mom taught us how to be nice people, and we frequently hear how people like to work with people they like. Certainly, hiring managers don't want to hire difficult personalities, but before they spend even a minute assessing your personality they first want to know if you're a great prospect who can do the work, get the work done, and not be undone by the work in high-pressure situations.

You can be the best team player in the world, but the hiring manager needs specialists in building her team. Generally, we make the mistake of selling ourselves as a cheerleader when the team needs a solid quarterback to call plays, or a broad-shouldered offensive lineman who can take getting bruised, or even a flexible goalie who can keep his eye on the puck and where it's likely to go.

It's important to know the role you're interviewing for and how you have trained to perform that very position for the good of the team. That is very different from being a team player.

In summary, remember the old saying "it's business. It's not personal." Your resume is about you as a business person. Although it's a reflection of you, it's not about you. It's about your work and how you're effective in a business environment. Use your resume to show what you've done and how you've done it. You can let your smile and handshake in the interview show them you're a nice, solid, stand-up kind of person. You need your resume to first get you in the door to that interview. Mediocre and nice won't cut it.    

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