Having worked as a writer and publisher of career news and advice for nearly two decades now, I have probably read tens of thousands of resumes. I have also written and rewritten resumes for hundreds of people.
There are a few common missteps that I see over and over again in people’s resumes. Most of them come from an outdated style of resume writing that still lingers on. Here are some common things that I always cut from the resumes I review for clients, friends, and family.
A generic objective statement
Traditionally many resumes opened with an objective statement introducing the job seeker and pointing out what kind of jobs they were looking for. “Seeking the opportunity to expand my skills at a growing organization…” Since this is the first thing that employers will read about you – don’t make it about you at all. Instead, make it about what you can do for them. Customize your intro for every job you apply for into a summary of how your skills and experience make you a prime candidate for the specific job.
Overly fancy formatting
People often like to make their resumes look distinct with distinct formatting. They decorate their document with unusual fonts, tables and graphs, bold and italics, colours.
If you are handing someone a printed resume, some of that might be okay, just so long as the formatting doesn’t distract from the actual content. However, most resumes are submitted electronically. Fancy formatting doesn’t always render itself properly across platforms and programs.
Also, employers often use Applicant Tracking Systems to scan and process resumes, and too much formatting in your document can make it difficult for this software to read. Valuable keywords and skills that you actually have, could be missed.
Keep it simple. Use bullet points and white space to make your resume visually appealing and easy-to-read. You can use bold sparingly for your section headers, but by all means, cut out the clipart.
Outdated contact information
Too often when I review resumes, I see people including too much contact information. Of course, they want employers to get in touch with them, so they pile on the options. A work phone number, a cell phone, a home phone. A mailing address, an email address, a work email address.
Don’t do that. Only include one phone number and one email address. Don’t use a work phone or email – that sends a terrible message to future employers about how you use your current work tools to look for other jobs.
Your home address is optional. Employers are not going to write to you, so they do not need to know your postal code. Some do like to see how close the candidate lives to the workplace. Generally, the closer you are, the more of an asset your address can be on your resume.
Another thing that I often see in people’s resumes is too much information. People tend to list every job they’ve held since they started working along with job duties and responsibilities for each.
Your resume is a marketing document to sell your candidacy for the job you are applying for. It isn’t an autobiography. Highlight your most recent experience and those jobs and accomplishments from your past experience that demonstrates why you’d be a great candidate for the role at hand. Unrelated jobs and work from more than a decade ago are just taking up space and watering down the good stuff.
That’s why, when I review someone’s resume, the first question I ask is, “May I see the job description of the position you are applying for?” Everything is customized to be relevant to that.
I also cut “references available on request” from the bottom of the resume. Employers know that you can hand over your references when they ask for them, so there’s no need to include this line in your resume.
Everybody makes typos. I’ve seen resumes where candidates have made typos in their own email addresses or phone numbers (and they wonder why employers aren’t getting back to them.) Spell check won’t catch those.
I once sent my own resume out highlighting that I was a skilled editor with advanced PhotoShop skills. (Great, but it’s actually spelled Photoshop, something a ‘skilled editor’ should catch before applying for a job.)
We all do it. (Here are the most commonly misspelled words in a resume.) But you can’t do it in your resume; it’s a deal-breaker for many employers. So, proofread your document carefully. Then walk away. Do something else, then read it again after a break with fresh eyes. Then have someone else read it for you.
When you know what you meant to write, your eyes will sometimes show you what you thought you typed, and you literally won’t see an error on the page in front of you.
A typo doesn’t mean you’re untalented, would be bad at the job, or have no command of the language. But it can be an indicator to employers that you miss details, do sloppy work, or don’t care enough about the job to submit an error-free application. Avoid that pitfall.
Read, and reread carefully, and don’t rely on spellcheck to catch your slips.