It can be frustrating when you find a job opportunity that would be a perfect fit for you. Then you spend hours polishing up your resume, and apply with a friendly cover letter well before the deadline. And then you wait. The employer never responds to your application. You don’t land a job interview.
Because let’s be clear. Your resume’s most important job is to get you to an interview. It is a marketing document that should convince employers that you are a viable candidate for the job and entice them to want to find out more about you in a job interview.
That interview seals the deal and leads to an actual job offer. If you don’t get that interview, your resume hasn’t met its objective. Some of the reasons you don’t hear back from the employer are often completely beyond your control. However, you can maximize your chances of a successful job application – and getting to that all-important interview – by steering clear of some of the biggest and most common mistakes that candidates make in their resumes.
The top 7 resume mistakes to avoid
- Not tailoring your resume to the specific employer/job opportunity.
- Listing duties over accomplishments.
- Writing too long – or too short – a resume.
- Overlooking the details of your contact information and file name.
- Not proofreading a resume carefully.
- Lying on your resume.
- Not optimizing your resume for Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS).
1. Not tailoring your resume to the specific employer/job opportunity.
This is the most common mistake that candidates make in their job searches. They prepare one professional, polished resume that summarizes their work history and education, and then they send it out to every job opening they can find in their field.
Even within an industry, each job opportunity will have different challenges and a specific focus. Companies will have distinct workplace cultures and styles. You must take the time to customize your resume and cover letter to the specific nuances of each position you apply for. Focus your skill descriptions and achievements for direct relevance to the needs of that job and company. Employers can immediately spot a generic, one-size-fits-all resume, and they do not like them.
Focusing on the employer’s most relevant information may shorten your resume as you cut out unrelated experience or skills, but that’s okay. Having fewer skills in your resume can actually be an advantage – since listing too much information can water down your more relevant skills and make it appear as though you are not a right fit for the role.
Candidates often find it easiest to describe their work experience in their resumes by simply listing what they were responsible for day-to-day in each of their past positions. The trouble is – this is not very interesting. Most people in a similar role would have had the same basic duties. So, that won’t make you stand out to potential employers. What sets you apart are your top achievements on the job.
What were you recognized for by your employer? What did you launch, improve, streamline, or which targets did you exceed? Populate your work history with how you stood out on the job and what you accomplished – which a different employee in a similar role might not have achieved. Think of the times you went above and beyond. The more relevant you can make these to the job you are applying for, the better.
We were once taught that a resume should fit onto one page. Some people shrank their font sizes, expanded the margins of the page, and crammed their text into tight paragraphs to summarize their work history, all on a single sheet of paper. The result was an unappealing wall of text that somehow still didn’t contain all the relevant information that it could and wasn’t esthetically pleasing to read. Don’t do this.
On the flip side – don’t try to stretch out your text or use irrelevant filler information to pad your resume so you look more experienced or accomplished than you are.
Your resume should be as long as it needs to be to communicate the relevant skills, experiences, achievements, and credentials you have for the job. For mid-career professionals, this is usually two pages. If you are applying for your first or second job early on in your career, maybe the one-page format is right for you.
Just make sure to put your key selling points up front in your professional summary and make everything that follows an asset to your candidacy. They’ll keep reading if it is interesting to the employer and relevant to the role they are trying to fill.
Some of the subtle details of your resume could be revealing more about you to employers than you realize. Think about your contact information, and what it communicates. You might want to reconsider listing your company email address. Use a personal email address and phone number as your contact information on your resume. Using contact information associated with your current employer can send the message that you’re looking for work on company time!
Be sure to proofread these. Spell check won’t catch a typo in an email address or a phone number; if an employer cannot get in touch with you, nothing else in your resume matters.
Also, when you save your resume, consider the name you give the file. Many people just call their document ‘Resume.doc’ or ‘Resume2022.doc.’ If the hiring manager is saving the applications from the candidates they want to follow up with, they may end up with a folder full of similarly named files, causing confusion. Consider making it easier for them by titling your document with your name and the name of the job, like this: ‘Joe-Candidate-Sales-Rep.doc.’
Everybody makes mistakes now and then, right? Why should a typo kill your chances of being interviewed for a job? Because your resume is your best shot at showcasing the quality of work you can produce – under optimal circumstances. You are writing it in the setting you choose, on your own time – you are trying to impress an employer with your professionalism and attention to detail. If even under those conditions, you cannot generate error-free work, how will you perform on the job, with impatient clients, fast-paced workplaces, and tight deadlines?
That’s why many employers will automatically reject an application with a single typo, spelling mistake, or grammatical error. Proofread your document carefully. Watch out for these most commonly misspelled words in resumes. You should also take a break after writing your resume and read it again later with fresh eyes before sending it to an employer. If you have time, have a friend read it over as well. Since you know what you meant to write, your eyes often gloss over any discrepancies from what’s actually on the page.
Be sure to watch out for these other common resume mistakes that spell check won’t catch.
It can be tempting to exaggerate or stretch the truth to impress employers in your resume. I mean, once you’ve got your foot in the door and you’ve proven you can do the job, what does it matter how you got there? It matters. People have been fired from jobs years later – even ones they were successful at – when it was revealed they lied about their credentials to get hired.
Starting a new job is the beginning of a professional relationship. You don’t want to enter into that under dishonest circumstances. Plus, the things that candidates most often lie about are easily confirmed in a routine background check. These include their education, past job duties, and dates of employment. Even if you are not using your previous boss as a professional reference, the HR department will still verify when you worked there and what your role was.
Being caught with falsehoods in your resume will not only result in you not getting hired, but it can also harm your professional reputation with everyone involved. Don’t lie in your job application, even if it doesn’t blow up in your face, it will still be hanging over your head.
Many employers use software filters to scan resumes for relevant skills and experience before the hiring manager even sees them. So, if you are not getting a response to your job application, it could have been screened out at this critical first step.
Read the job description carefully. Then describe your credentials with similar words and phrases used for the job requirements in the ad. The job posting gives you insights into the language the employer uses to refer to essential skills and work experience. Some Applicant Tracking Systems scan your resume for keywords and information. The better you match, the higher your resume will rank among other applicants for the job.
You should also use simple formatting. Too many design elements, images, and colours can confuse the software and result in a lower ranking for your resume. Don’t include a photo of yourself – or an avatar or a bitmoji – in your resume.
If you are applying for a modelling or an acting gig where your appearance matters, employers will ask for a photo. Otherwise, it’s probably best to leave it out.
Keep it simple.
Keep it relevant.
Employers often receive many more applications for a job than they can read through. This is why not every candidate gets an interview – or often a response at all. You can increase your chances of being among the successful candidates by tailoring your resume to the specific needs of the job you want, listing your most relevant accomplishments, paying attention to detail, and submitting a polished, honest, error-free application.