Once upon a time (maybe) it seemed that we could just write a resume, or get a friend who’s a better writer than us write our resume. You could polish the intro statement into a work of art. Craft each job description so finely that they were as short as possible while still conveying your work history in eloquent prose.

Then, having finished this masterpiece, you were armed with the perfect document to wow employers across the spectrum of roles that interested you and land your dream job.

I’m not sure if this was ever true, but it certainly isn’t now. That finely-tuned resume should actually serve only as a template for the ones you actually send out.

The biggest mistake on a resume? Using the same one over and over again. The shotgun approach doesn’t work. Employers can spot a generic application in a nanosecond, and they don’t like it. Hiring managers want to see a document that tailors your skills and experience specifically to the job they posted, and demonstrates what you can do for them.

Five other common resume mistakes (that generally stem from the biggest mistake on a resume):

1 – Not matching your title to the job

The title of your resume should match the title of the job you are applying to. If your resume has a different title, it looks like you are applying to a different job. Don’t make the hiring manager try to guess how your particular career title matches up with the position they are hiring for. Make it clear. If you’re applying for the Office Manager position, send in a resume with ‘Office Manager’ in the title.

2- Describing job responsibilities – not accomplishments

Hiring managers know what job descriptions match your old job titles. There’s little mystery in what an Editor or a Customer Service Representative does. The unique and interesting part is what you alone accomplished in that role. What set you apart? What have you done, learned or accomplished there that can be particularly useful to your potential new employer. Use numbers if you can.

3- Not tailoring your work history and accomplishments

All of your jobs, community or voluntary work can potentially be relevant if you can highlight how the skills you learned and used benefit your new employer. You have to market your transferable skills to the target company’s business needs. (You’ll know what these are from carefully reading the job description that you are applying to.) Sell your experience.

4- Listing too many jobs

As much as I said that every job and community activity can be relevant, it is also possible to list too many on a resume. I don’t believe that a resume has to fit on one page, or even on two if you need more space to sell your story. However, everything that is included has to be compelling. Descriptions of irrelevant jobs that you held a decade or more ago will only serve to take up valuable space and water down the good stuff. Keep it recent, and cut to the essentials.

If you have valuable accomplishments from many older jobs that you think it is important to include, consider using an ‘Other Relevant Experience’ sub section underneath your recent work history where you can bullet point these wins briefly.

5- Not proofreading

Need I say it? Employers expect you to try hard, pay attention to detail and produce quality work on the job.

What does it say to an employer about a candidate who can’t even present an error-free document when they are most trying to impress them in order to land the job in the first place? That you’re either not that good, or that you don’t care that much. Either way, you won’t be getting the call for an interview.

Proofread. Take a break. Proofread again. Then have someone else proofread it for you.

The real ‘masterpiece’ resume is the one that speaks to an employer so much that it is as though it were written just for them personally. And that’s because it has been.


See also:

How to tailor your resume to any job posting

How to optimize your resume for the 10-second skim

Should you put a picture on your resume?


12 surprisingly high-paying part-time jobs


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