After you’ve spent countless hours and days trying to come up with the very best resume possible, the last thing you want to hear is that you’ve made some major mistakes. And yet far too many job seekers, honestly doing the best they can, wind up with at least one of the biggest mistakes any resume can have.
And I’m not even talking about obvious resume mistakes like typos or grammatical errors or unexplained gaps or a resume that simply looks bad, although any one of those can certainly ruin your chances. Nope. There are five other mistakes that can hurt your chances – or maybe even get you to the wrong job. And the worst part of it is, you can be staring right at your resume and not even see these mistakes – until you know what they are. So let’s shine a big light on them…
Resume Mistake #1
Resume boilerplate or not targeted – The resume doesn’t speak enough to the job you’re applying for. In fact, it may be the same resume you send everywhere. Big mistake. Oh, it may have a lot of interesting things that you’ve done, but you haven’t taken the time to help the resume screener see the connection to the job description. They aren’t reading your biography; they are looking to see how well you match the available position. You need to customize your resume to each job, emphasizing those things that directly relate to this particular job, even if you have to help the employer see the connection.
Resume Mistake #2
Including things you don’t want to do – Related to mistake number 1, perhaps you’ve included a lot of things in your resume that you never want to do again, thinking you have to tell all. Now I’m not suggesting lying or hiding key information, but, for example, do you really need to tell them you used to write detailed system documentation if it has nothing to do with this new job and you never want to do it again? Trust me … so many people hate doing that, if employers associate you with that skill and they have a computer system, your name may very well come up for that tedious assignment one day.
While this particular example may be one you can’t personally relate to, it still pays to think about anything from the past that you want to leave behind as you start a new job. If at all possible, leave it off your resume.
Of course, if that’s the only thing you did in one or more of your jobs, then it’s hard not to mention. But, if that’s the case, try to shift the balance a bit. Look for something you took charge of or some special project you worked on or something you created or improved or researched or even learned, and make that a top bullet for that particular job. As best as possible, help the employer see the you of tomorrow, not the you from days you’d rather not repeat.
Resume Mistake #3
Packing your resume too tightly – Some say that a resume screener takes about 8 seconds to decide whether to give your resume more time or throw it into the “no call” pile. I’ve seen it take even less. Your job is to make the resume as attractive and easy as possible for the employer to scan, so they can see how well it connects to the job opening. But you don’t need to tell them everything you ever did!
If you make it hard for them to read (both visually and with too much unnecessary information), not only does it show that you aren’t able to create an effective document, but it shows you haven’t even taken the time to think about what the employer really needs to know. Your next employer doesn’t need to learn from your resume that you like macrame and enjoy walking on the beach. It’s not a match.com profile.
While you don’t need to make it one page (unless you haven’t been working all that long), take the time to eliminate things you don’t need, especially cutting back on accomplishments / responsibilities from less recent jobs, unless they help make your case. And, of course, really emphasize those things that do help your case, since they speak directly to the job description.
Resume Mistake #4
You didn’t include keywords or key phrases – Keywords and key phrases are basically short-cut descriptions of skills or qualities the employer is looking for. These are terms like “financial analyst” or “customer support” or “java programmer” or “copywriter” or “strong writing skills”. While some resumes are still screened by human beings, many go through automated systems programmed to select the best fist based on keywords or key phrases. Even human screeners look for those types of phrases. So you need to make sure that your resume has them in the text and especially, where possible, in a skills summary at the top or in your section headlines.
While you want to make it look normal and not artificially jam-packed with these terms, you also want to make sure they are in there. So use the job description to help you come up with the words and phrases they are looking for. Odds are, those will be the ones that they program their computer to look for. This is also a great way of helping you make sure you have carefully thought about your strengths and included them in your resume in a way that helps the employer easily find them.
Resume Mistake #5
Your resume doesn’t tell a unified story – If you look from the beginning of your resume to your latest position, does it tell a story that makes sense or does it look disjointed – just a series of jobs with no clear-cut connections? And once again, does it speak to the job you are applying for? If you saw this resume for the first time, what story does it tell you?
Of course, not every job you had will be a direct match with the one you are currently going after. But almost every job, even the ones you had when you were just starting out, can be told from a perspective of transferable skills that do relate to the new job. Think about what you did and look to include transferable skills that fit, whatever they may be. Problem solving. Came up with a new idea that saved them money. Worked well as part of a team. People skills. Customer relations. Sales. Administrative skills. Organizational skills. Computer skills. Etc.
Even gaps can be part of a unified story if you find something you did during that time that speaks to relevant skills. Perhaps you helped manage something for your family. Or volunteered. Or started your own business. Or temped / free-lanced (even for a small neighborhood business). Or went back to school. Or took a course and learned a new skill. Or took time off to write a book in your field. (Better have evidence.) Or simply handled something for yourself or someone else that in some way used transferable skills.
Hint: If you are in-between jobs and don’t have a unified career story, start creating one now. And remember to build from the positive. Good for your spirit as well as your resume. And much stronger when you interview.
Hope that helps.
Would love to hear your own take on biggest mistakes. Got any good personal stories or “don’t do this” resume tips for job seekers?
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