Your resume is the single most important document when you’re looking for a job. A well-crafted resume is often the difference between landing a few critical job leads and radio silence. Yet there are many common mistakes that we continue to see pop up repeatedly that make your job search that much harder. From indulging dated trends like using an objective statement or including references, to trying to cram too much information into your resume, here are some of the most common resume mistakes and what you can do to correct them.
1. including an objective statement
Once upon a time, it was trendy to start your resume with an objective statement. That day has long since passed. Every recruiter knows your goal is to get a job – preferably the one they’re currently hiring for. You don’t need to waste precious resume space stating this obvious fact. It can make your resume come across as dated.
What to do instead: Start your resume with a short professional summary. This allows your personality a chance to shine, and gives the hiring manager a glimpse into who you are and what motivates you. You can include career highlights, your backstory, what drives you, or any combination of the above. But keep it fairly short. Ideally, keep it to 4-5 lines at most.
2. saying you have references available or putting them directly on your resume
Much like an objective statement, there was a time when it was standard to include ‘references available upon request’ at the end of your resume. And just like an objective statement, this is stating the obvious. Save that space for more valuable content that will persuade the hiring manager you’re right for the job.
What to do instead: Keep a list of your references handy. When a hiring manager wants to see your references, they’ll ask. It’s generally assumed that all candidates have references available. This method also makes it easier to tailor the references you provide depending on the job. For instance, sharing a reference who you know will highlight your leadership skills when the role has a management component.
3. using buzzwords and clichés
There are some clichés that appear on resumes so often they’ve lost all meaning. We guarantee you every hiring manager sees resumes that include phrases like strategic, creative, enthusiastic, and innovative on a daily basis. These descriptions are so commonplace they really don’t make you stand out as a candidate or add much value to your resume. The same goes for trendy buzzwords i.e. synergy, game changer, disruptor, and so on. They don’t have the impact you think they do.
What to do instead: Focus on using action verbs that describe the impact you had. Action verbs are a great way to start sentences on your resume and there are hundreds of great ones to choose from. If you need some help picking interesting ones, check out our resume writing guide, which includes a list of powerful action verbs to use on your resume. Also remember to use keywords on your resume. Skills and competencies you want hiring managers (and automated resume screening systems) to pick up should be repeated throughout your resume.
4. focusing on tasks over achievements
Too often job seekers get caught up in listing everything they were responsible for in their role that they forget to explain how their work had a positive impact. Avoid starting descriptions about your past jobs with ‘responsible for:’ followed by a list of all the things you did on a daily basis. Hiring managers don’t need to know the nitty gritty details of how you spent your time at work. They want to know about the results and impact of your work.
What to do instead: Focus on quantifying the impact your work had. For example instead of saying you were responsible for planning an event, focus on how that event was impactful. What was the turnout or media response? Did that event drive strong sales numbers? Including details and results (especially if you can share specific numbers i.e. a 4,200 attendees, 140% increase in sales, etc.) make your planning of the event seem much more impressive. Always focus on accomplishments over tasks and responsibilities.
5. cramming in too much
It’s natural to want to cram as much information as you possibly can on your resume. After all, loading it up with all your accomplishments can only be a good thing, right? Not so fast. Oversharing can distract from your most impressive accomplishments. When you share every detail, it’s more work for the reader to distinguish what’s actually important. Long blocks of text are also more tiring to read than single lines or bullet points. And you can guarantee if your resume is difficult to read, a recruiter won’t be bothered to put in the extra effort when they have dozens more resumes to consider.
What to do instead: Your resume is a marketing document. It doesn’t have to include every professional experience you’ve ever had. It’s your greatest hits and biggest selling points. White space and clean formatting are important and make your resume easier for hiring managers to read – especially when they glance at it quickly during the first screening pass. Resist the urge to shrink the text size or margins to fit in more info. Make your resume as easy to read and clean as possible. And while we’re talking about keeping it clean and concise… make sure it’s no more than 2 pages long. If your resume is creeping over 2 pages, it’s time to take a hard look at the content and decide what’s really meaningful.
6. being too modest
We’re taught from a young age that bragging and talking about our own achievements is bad form. So many people have a tendency to downplay their accomplishment for fear it will come across as boasting. Yet talking up your achievements is exactly what's required on an effective resume. Women, especially, struggle with confidence and talking about their qualifications and accomplishments. But giving into that urge can lead to a bland, forgettable resume.
What to do instead: The key to striking a good balance between being humble and showing off your accomplishments is to quantify your statements. It’s one thing to vaguely claim you’re an expert in your field with no evidence to back it up. It’s another matter to share facts and figures that support your claim. For example, if one of your key accomplishments in your last role was developing a successful video series, discuss the numbers. How many views did the video generate? How much traffic or revenue did your video generate? Was the engagement significantly higher than average? The more specific and detailed you are, the more weigh your accomplishment will have.
7. not referencing the job description
Customizing your resume takes time and effort. And the chances of an online application leading to an interview are relatively small. Some stats say less than 2% of online applicants are contacted. So it’s understandable that many job seekers forgo this extra step in favour of having a generic document they can use to apply to any job. Yet, taking that little bit of extra time can dramatically increase the odds of your resume making it past the initial resume screening, especially if an automated system is involved.
What to do instead: Take a few minutes to customize your resume for the role you’re applying to. We’re not suggesting overhauling your resume for each application – the time spent to payoff ratio wouldn’t make sense. However taking 5 minutes to ensure you’re repeating the skills and competencies used in the job description will increase your odds of getting a call-back. If that sounds like too much work, consider pre-saving a few versions of your resume tailored to the types of jobs you’re applying to. For instance, have one resume that focuses on your people skills, one that focuses on your administrative skills, and one that focuses on your management skills. This will give you a little room to customize without having to individually tailor each application.