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The Top 9 Resume Mistakes To Avoid

Finger pointing at a resume on her iPad sitting at a desk

It’s impossible for hiring managers to meet every single job applicant face to face. So, they rely on your resume to tell them whether you’re a qualified candidate they should interview. 

But it’s not just your experience and qualifications a hiring manager is looking at when they review a stack of resumes. They’re also looking for red flags and mistakes that could signify a candidate’s lack of professionalism or carelessness. What’s more, they need to be able to read your resume in the first place, which can’t happen if the design or formatting are sloppy. 

Creating a polished, error-free resume is essential to job search success. So, before you submit your application, be sure you’re not making one of these top resume mistakes. 

Common resume errors to watch out for

1. Typos

Typos are number one on our list because they’re so common, and yet so easy to avoid. All it takes to catch spelling and grammatical errors is a good proofreader, preferably two. 

Enlist the help of a friend or mentor and have them review your resume, both on a computer and in print. This is important, since some typos jump out more blatantly on paper than on a screen and vice versa, and there’s no way of knowing which version a hiring manager will be looking at. 

Once you have a “clean” version of your resume, it’s a great idea to come back to it again after a couple days and check it one more time. 

2. Unprofessional or outdated contact information

The big must-haves are your full name, phone number, physical address and email address. Your email address should be straightforward and professional, like your first initial and last name. If it’s been a while since you’ve updated your resume, make sure your address is current. 

You may choose to include links to additional information, like your LinkedIn profile or online portfolio, in your contact section. If you do so, be sure the pages that you’re linking to are current and designed to impress just as much as your resume. 

3. Listing duties instead of accomplishments

This is one of the biggest mistakes we see candidates make, and it’s one that can set you back the most. When you don’t identify your specific accomplishments, it’s impossible for a hiring manager to tell what makes you different from any other candidate who has your same job title. 

Here’s an example of a list that only describes job duties:

  • Filed documents for attorneys
  • Scheduled client meetings
  • Conducted pre-trial research 

Sounds pretty basic–no building of skyscrapers or closing of million-dollar deals here. But check out the same list, re-worked in the form of accomplishments:

  • Converted 10+ years of case documents into digital format and filed them using a custom-built record-keeping system
  • Maintained organized, efficient schedules for 12 attorneys and more than 100 clients
  • Managed more than 50 weekly pre-trial information requests using more than 5 applications, including Westlaw, NexisLexis and Zakta

Those same everyday duties sound a lot more impressive, right?

To help turn your job duties into accomplishments, ask yourself, how did you go above and beyond in the job? What were you praised for by your boss or colleagues? What were some of the positive things cited in your performance review? What did your work mean for the company?

4. Not customizing your resume for the job

Even if two jobs are in the same field–or are for the very same job title–their descriptions and requirements can vary widely from company to company. That means the criteria that applicant tracking systems (the automated systems used to scan resumes) and hiring managers are looking for vary, too. So, you need to revise your resume for each distinct position you’re applying for. 

Check the job description to see what words are used prominently to describe the required skills and qualifications. Incorporate these keywords throughout your resume. Whenever possible, mirror the language used in the job listing. For example, if a posting says “strong time management skills are a must”, under one of your jobs you might describe how you “used strong time management skills to [insert accomplishment here].”

5. Taking up too much space

That goes for the length of your resume as well as the space on the page. 

In terms of length, resumes should be one to two pages, with early career candidates limiting it to one page and more seasoned candidates adding a second. If you have a long list of experience, remove positions that are many years old or are unrelated to the job you’re now looking for. This will allow you to make the best use of your space focusing on things that are directly pertinent to the job you want. 

In terms of white space–the empty space on the page that’s not filled with text–there should be plenty of it to make your resume easy to read. Don’t try to cram more on the page by shrinking the margins or the font size. 

6. Choosing a distracting design

Simple is almost always best when it comes to the design of your resume. It’s better for your resume to look a little basic while conveying all your credentials accurately than to look flashy but the hiring manager can’t find what they’re looking for. In the worst-case scenario, a complex design can cause your resume to get rejected by an applicant tracking system that can’t read it.

When in doubt, you can’t go wrong with a simple or chronological resume format. 

7. Using cliches and jargon

Cliches are words and phrases that are used so frequently they’ve lost their intended meaning and can read as unoriginal. ‘Innovative’ and ‘proven track record’ are two examples.

Use adverbs, like the word ‘successfully,’ sparingly. They’re often unnecessary; for example,  saying you ‘successfully’ did something is the same as saying you did it. If you want your accomplishment to sound more impressive, use a stronger action verb or cite numbers and other quantifiable outcomes from your work. 

Jargon refers to words and phrases that are used by a niche profession, but that are difficult for people outside that profession to understand. Saying you took ABGs for ALOC patients might make total sense to your nurse colleagues, but sounds like gibberish to the HR coordinator who’s screening resumes. As much as possible, eliminate niche jargon in favor of terminology that a more general audience will be familiar with. 

8. Inconsistent formatting

While this mistake ranks lower on the list of offenses that will get your resume tossed from the pile, it can still throw hiring managers for a loop. The formatting of your resume–that is, the style and positioning of the text–helps hiring managers easily find the information they’re looking for. 

Resume formatting should be consistent from top to bottom. For example, if you use all caps for one section header, be sure to use it for the rest of the section headers throughout. The same goes for indentation, boldface, italics and the use of bullet points. 

9. Including personal information

While it’s great that you’re a champion long-distance runner or are active in your church, personal activities and achievements not tied to your career do not belong on your resume. The exception is activities with a strong link to your field, like if you’re a social worker and volunteer your time with Big Brothers, Big Sisters, or if you’re an accountant and serve as the treasurer of a charitable group. 

If we had to boil our resume advice down to a single sentence, it would be this: keep it simple, focus on specific accomplishments and proofread. Happy job hunting!

We suggest hiring a professional resume writing service, such as BeamJobs, to help proof and edit your resume!