17 Résumé Writing Mistakes That Would Totally Horrify HR Managers
Your tiny font isn't fooling anyone.
Applying for a job is fraught with questions and second-guessing: Am I qualified for this position? Would I actually enjoy it if I got it? Could I have answered that interview question better? But few aspects of the job search generate as many questions as the résumé—a single sheet of paper that determines your professional future.
It’s often scanned for just a few seconds as the hiring manager sifts through dozens of other applications, so it needs to make an immediate, positive first impression. Any mistake could be the difference between you getting an interview or being tossed into the reject pile. So what are some of these mistakes when it comes to your résumé, and how do you avoid them? We spoke with HR experts, recruiters, and managers who make hiring decisions at their companies to find out some of the most common errors applicants make on their résumés. Their responses might surprise you!
Having just one résumé
Applying for jobs can be time-consuming, especially if you’re trying to get your résumé out far and wide. But one of the most common mistakes applicants make is sending out the same résumé for vastly different positions.
“Oftentimes, a job seeker will submit a résumé that may look really nice and even be quite impressive. But failing to mold your résumé to the job, our needs, the kind of work, etc., shows a lack of focus and attention to detail,” says Ron Auerbach, a job-search consultant and author of Think Like an Interviewer: Your Job Hunting Guide to Success.
He urges applicants to always tailor their résumé to the job to which they are applying, emphasizing the skills and experience most relevant to that particular position.
Getting too artistic
Sure, you want your résumé to stand out, but avoid getting too creative. Adding clip art or other visuals or laying the text out in an unconventional way might seem like it will help you stand out from the pack, but it’s more likely to just lead to the hiring manager taking you less seriously.
“You are first judged by how your résumé looks and feels, meaning its visual appearance,” says Auerbach. “So even if your résumé’s content is the best in the world, it won’t matter if your overall visual appearance is bad because the perception will be that you are unprofessional.”
For Laura Handrick, workplace and careers analyst for FitSmallBusiness.com, one of the biggest no-nos in this regard is the use of colored or otherwise unconventional paper, whether textured or even spritzed with a scent.
“That’s just irritating and makes me wonder whether the person has proper professional boundaries,” she says. “I recommend job seekers stick to plain white durable copy paper. You don’t want your résumé to stand out for the wrong reason entirely.”
Having grammatical errors
This should be obvious, but a surprising number of applicants still overlook the importance of basic grammar when pulling together their résumé.
“If the person can’t put a sentence together properly on their résumé, what are their company emails likely to look like when I hire them?” asks Handrick. “In fact, misuse of any word may give me pause. I want to hire someone who can communicate with their peers and clients in writing, and whose work I don’t have to double check to make sure it’s correct. These days with free apps like Grammarly, there’s really no reason to submit a résumé with grammatical errors.”
Using flowery language
As bad as misusing words may be, the habit of applicants to use exaggerated language or flowery words to convey what could otherwise be stated simply and succinctly is also frowned upon.
“There seems to be a trend of adding a lot of fluffy words to résumés,” says Cydney Koukol, chief communications officer for Talent Plus, an employee development organization. “When there is a bank of just words on a résumé that describe the person, a lot is lost and usually gets overlooked. … The fluff may be a reality but most of the time it’s just that–fluff.”
Using multiple pages
Perhaps the most common mistake made by applicants is including too much information in their résumé—letting it run for two or three pages. The motivation make sense: You have a lot of experience and want to convey it all. But think of your résumé from the perspective of the hiring manager who is having to sift through dozens or even hundreds of these. They’re not getting past the first page and may even see multiple pages as a sign you don’t respect their time.
“If the résumé is longer than a page, I dismiss it immediately,” says Dana Case, director of operations at MyCorporation.com. “Résumés should be short and concise. One page will suffice no matter how many jobs you have had previously.”
Packing in the text
Of course you think you have a lot of relevant experience and accomplishments you’d like to share with the selection committee. But that can sometimes lead to the urge to cram in every single bit of information onto a single page, fiddling with the font size and margins to fit as much detail as possible. And that doesn’t impress the reader with your experience.
“Cramming too much text onto your one-page résumé is an eyesore,” says Rebecca Safier, founder of Remote Bliss, a job board and resource for remote professionals. “Instead of cramming everything in there, choose the most recent and relevant job experiences. Pick and choose each word carefully, so you can say a lot in a few words. Sometimes, less is more. And a clean, eye-catching design is more important than including every job you’ve ever had on your CV.”
Using outdated experience
Speaking of the dangers of cramming too much information into your résumé, another classic error is to include your whole job history, dating back a decade or more.
“Showcasing your experience is important, but putting things on your résumé that date further back than five years becomes unnecessary and unimportant,” says Jordan Wan, founder and CEO of CloserIQ, a recruitment firm that works with organizations to build their sales organizations. “You can explain all of your skills in your cover letter; stick to your most recent employment on your résumé.”
Not celebrating your promotions
On résumés, we tend to focus on where we worked and for how long, but the steps up the ladder that we made at each company tend to get lost in the layout. And that’s a major missed opportunity.
“Any promotion is quite the accomplishment and as such, should be highlighted,” says Wan. “Make sure to note how long you were at each leg of your journey with said company.”
Adding overblown titles
If you’ve been working as a freelance graphic designer, there’s no need to call yourself “CEO and founder” of a pseudo company that consists of you working out of your apartment.
This is doubly true for those relatively new to the workforce. “Intern experience is critical to landing your first job out of college, but that doesn’t mean you’re an ‘industry professional’ just yet,” says Shirley Paolinelli, director of human resources at The Motion Agency, a marketing agency based in Chicago, Illinois. Instead, she suggests using verbiage such as “(your industry) intern seeking a full-time role” or “aspiring (your industry) professional” or “soon-to-be graduate seeking a full-time role.”
Using cliché phrases
You know them when you see them—those turns of phrase that are so familiar they seem like just what a résumé reader would want to see. But don’t be tempted by the comforting sound of a cliché—it just makes you come across as a cliché yourself.
“Do not include overused terms or phrases like, ‘out of the box thinker,’ ‘team player,’ or ‘hard worker,’” urges Michael Stahl, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of HealthMarkets, an independent health insurance agency that distributes health, Medicare, life, and supplemental insurance products. “I think these are all traits that are assumed a person should or will have. You don’t need to include things like this in a résumé; instead, be prepared to have examples to share that exemplify how you are a team player, an ‘out of the box thinker.’”
Bryan Zawikowski, a 25-year recruiting vet who is the vice president and general manager of the military transition division for executive recruitment firm Lucas Group, has some more words to stay away from. “‘Multitasking’ is overused and does not describe specific experience,” he says. “The word ‘seasoned’ makes me think of a cooking show. ‘Game changer’ is one of many overused sports references. ‘Change agent’ is better, but not by much.”
Many applicants simply list the responsibilities they had in their previous job and that’s not exactly a riveting or impressive read. “Giving a general job description doesn’t communicate anything about what you accomplished in the role,” says Safier. “So try to shift your language to highlight your achievements, rather than giving generic descriptions that could apply to anyone who held that same position.”
And not quantifying achievements
While it’s important to convey what you did on the daily at your previous jobs, it’s much more effective to list your achievements in the positions, putting the focus on what you accomplished, rather than what the baseline expectations were for your job.
“When I’m looking at résumés, I’d like to be able to see the results the candidate produced,” says Regina Barr, founder and CEO of Red Ladder, Inc, a corporate consultancy and professional development company. “How did they save the company time or money? What did they do that helped the company make money? What did they do to improve efficiency? If I can’t easily figure this out then I move on. Plus, what they do or don’t call out helps me get a sense of what the candidate does or does not consider important and also gives some insights into their thinking.”
Writing to the job you have
Remember that the résumé is not a summary of your job experience—it’s an advertisement for why you are a great fit for the job to which you are applying. The distinction between these two is often overlooked by applicants, according to Keirsten A. Greggs, founder of TRAP Recruiter, LLC and a recruiter with almost two decades of experience.
“Job seekers aren’t writing to the job they want, they are writing to the job they have,” says Greggs. “Recruiters and hiring managers are looking for evidence that your skills and experience can be utilized to solve a problem at their organization. They are looking for synergies and transferable skills.”
Including a professional objective
It was once the norm to include an “objective” at the top of a résumé—a couple of sentences that explained your goal for the position to which you were applying. But not any longer!
“Writing a personal objective at the top of your résumé isn’t encouraged anymore,” explains Safier. “Hiring managers aren’t as interested in your personal goals as in what you can contribute to their company. Rather than writing your personal objectives, consider putting a summary of accomplishments at the top. Highlight your experiences and achievements that are most relevant to the job at hand.”
Including “references available”
Zawikowski describes including the phrase “References available upon request” as a “waste of space and stating the obvious.” Like an “objective,” including this line was once the norm for applicants, but now it just comes off as superfluous. The recruiter knows you’ve got references and they’ll ask for them—no need to say it.
Using unprofessional email addresses
Still using the email address you created a decade ago using your college nickname? Might be time to update that.
“Many candidates make the mistake of using unprofessional email addresses—such as a game lover using GTAhero@gmail.com—which leaves a very bad impression on the employer,” says Brett Helling, who runs GigWorker.com. “Your email address is part of your professional identity. So don’t let it ruin your job opportunities for you. Create a professional email address on Gmail or Outlook using your first and last name.”
Not syncing with your online profiles
These days, a recruiter is likely to take a look at your job experience on LinkedIn (if they didn’t get your résumé from there to begin with), so it’s important that you make sure this is as updated as they physical résumé you submit. It doesn’t need to be identical, but it should be consistent in terms of the order of the jobs you held and your general timeline.
“Make sure that your résumé, LinkedIn profile, and any other job profiles you have all say the same thing,” says Wan. “If different experiences are listed on different profiles it will confuse the employer and make you seem disorganized.”
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