The top 5 resume mistakes you need to avoid
Show your resume to a career coach, and they’ll likely highlight some big fails. Some are obvious (a six-page resume can be a snooze to read) while others are a bit more surprising (those catchy buzzwords everyone uses might not be a great idea after all).
We asked three career coaches and resume writing experts for the top mistakes they see over and over, and how you can break these bad habits to make your resume stand out from the rest — in a good way.
Mistake #1: Making your resume too long
This is the “cardinal sin” according to Sarah Vermunt, founder of career coaching company Careergasm and author of Careergasm: Find Your Way to Feel-Good Work.
“Nobody wants to read your novel of a resume,” she says. “And more importantly, nobody has the time!”
Lee Weisser, senior coach at Careers By Design, agrees. “The highlights of your career accomplishments need to stand out,” she says. In other words: Don’t write your entire life story.
What to do instead: Stick to two pages
The golden rule of resumes is keep them to two pages at the most, and all three career coaches we spoke to agreed.
“I’ve written resumes for CEOs that don’t go beyond two pages,” says Kamara Toffolo, a job search strategist. “What you want to pinpoint — and highlight — is the best stuff.”
Mistake #2: Being lazy with your formatting
Is your whole resume in Times New Roman, or crammed full of information without any consideration for design? Don’t hope for the best with employers, the coaches say.
Overusing bullets is a deal breaker for Toffolo. “A lot of people lean on the idea that they need to use bullets for everything and they make it really difficult to scan,” she says.
“It’s like you’re looking at a textbook, and it’s the equivalent of highlighting a whole page instead of a couple points.”
What to do instead: Strive for an easy-on-the-eyes design
You don’t need to be an Adobe InDesign wizard — but do strive for a clean, elegant design with subheadings and bullets only for the most important career details.
Toffolo suggests using a sans serif font, like Verdana, Arial, or Calibri, while Vermunt says spacing things out is key.
“Having white space between sections makes the reader feel like they can take a breath,” she explains.
Mistake #3: Busting out the buzzwords
Weisser says it’s a bad idea to use company-specific lingo or generic-sounding buzzwords. So, if you’re considering tossing around words like “synergy” or phrases like “helped boost team building,” maybe take a pause.
“Those sort of abstract words that you think are going to sound good, without something to back that up, without a clear accomplishment — it doesn’t really mean anything,” she says.
What to do instead: Be specific
Rather than vague, cliche phrases, Weisser says you need to highlight your specific accomplishments.
So instead of saying you were a “team player,” talk about the specific ways you boost morale in your office by spearheading an office running group, for instance.
Mistake #4: Talking about duties, not accomplishments
It’s tempting to just list all the stuff you did in your last few jobs — but think about how boring that looks to whoever is reading. You checked emails, made phone calls, attended meetings. Snore!
“What recruiters and hiring managers would like to see is, yes, you did those things — but what results did you get?” says Toffolo.
What to do instead: Be specific, show results
Toffolo says specific, quantitative accomplishments are the best call.
So if you’re in sales, give specific numbers in terms of how you beat sales goals. Or if you’re a manager, talk about the size of your team and how you boosted performance.
Mistake #4: Making your resume one-size-fits-all
One of the biggest mistakes is having a “vanilla” resume. Vermunt says people often go that route — using the same one-size-fits-all resume for every job application — because customizing a resume seems like way too much work.
“You know what else is so much work? Applying for a zillion jobs with a vanilla, generic resume that nobody is going to look at because you put zero effort into customizing it for the job,” she says.
What to do instead: Customize your resume for each job
Tailor your resume to the specific role you’re applying for, and to the company.
“Your chances of being taken seriously are greater when you speak the language of the employer,” Vermunt says. “For example, if you notice that the job posting uses the word ‘collaboration’ a lot but your resume uses the word ‘teamwork,’ go ahead and use their language instead.”
Oh, and make sure the skills and successes you’re highlighting actually apply to the job you’re going for, Vermunt adds.
“If you’re an Excel macros wizard but that’s not remotely relevant to the job you’re applying for, why on earth would you include it on your resume?” she says.
Got it? Good! Now let’s get to work.