“What did I just get myself into?” I muttered, breaking in a cold sweat as I sat in awe of a spine-chilling entity. This entity was neither human nor paranormal. Instead, it was digital, right in my Gmail inbox, and seemed not to end even as I scrolled down. Eventually, I saw this entity for what it truly was: 30 resumes submitted for a review. At this point, I wished I could run away and escape the responsibility. But like a beggar, I couldn’t be a chooser.
Weeks before this, my social impact project team (Digivention) had publicly promised to reward the first 30 attendees of our flagship events with a resume review. This promise was easy to make because we weren’t planning to review the resumes ourselves. Rather, we had planned to outsource it to a career consulting firm. The estimated cost, however, got us running to the hills.
At the same time, my team members could not handle the resume review due to their preoccupation with other important tasks. As Digivention Founder, this was where I had to come in. The resume review was now my cross to bear.
The thought of checking resumes and giving professional feedback for each of them scared me. But contrary to my fears, the resume review came up trumps, and 30 people had their job search process better optimized as a result.
The resume review was not without its lessons. While doing it, I observed 30 common resume mistakes that prevent job seekers from getting invited to interviews. Let’s quickly go through them:
Some of the reviewed resumes had weird fonts and colors. And to be fair, the creative efforts were commendable. Notwithstanding, a resume isn’t an outlet for typography design, except you’re applying for an artistic job. Illegible fonts and flagrant colors irritate, more often than not, hiring managers who are mostly tired from checking countless resumes. Stick to black and white as your text color and use basic fonts instead.
It’s easy to get lazy and use free online resume templates without modifying them to suit a job application’s peculiarities. I saw this mistake repeated by some of the resume submitters. But when you do this, you risk painiting yourself as an unindustrious professional incapable of handling challenging roles. When using a template, try to tailor it for your desired roles. This is what our CEO and COO, Jonathan Javier and Jerry Lee, did to land jobs at Snap, Google, Cisco, and Lucid.
The keywords in job descriptions are a goldmine for bypassing Applicant Tracking System (ATS). Spice your resume with them and watch your ATS score soar. Sadly, many job seekers write impressive resume content only to undermine their efforts by not including relevant keywords. To turn this around:
When you complete these, include the keywords from the job ad, commonly requested skills, and the company’s tone of voice in your resume.
Although 93% of employers agree that soft skills are an important factor when hiring, they want to see your soft skills in action, not be told. For this reason, exclude your soft skills from the skills section (limit it to only technical competencies) and highlight them under your work experience instead. For instance, you can illustrate your leadership skills by writing “led a team of X people to achieve XYZ, increasing revenue by 30%,” under a past position’s bullet points.
Hiring managers don’t want to just hear about solely the “responsibilities” of your past roles. Instead, they care about your track records and how you can replicate similar feats in their company. Don’t merely include a long list of responsibilities without context. State how well you performed these duties and the value you added.
Before you add any accomplishment to a resume, ask yourself, “so what?” Granted, you assisted your supervisor with writing press releases. So what? How did that contribute to the company’s bottom line or productivity? And by what percentage or numbers? Quantifying your accomplishments with numbers and percentages makes your resume more compelling.
Imagine you’re a hiring manager reviewing hundreds of resumes, which all include the same repetitive words: ‘managed,’ ‘motivated,’ ‘team player.’ Surely, none of these resumes would stand out to you. This is where power words come in. Power words are action words that describe achievements and responsibilities in the best way possible. Here are examples to include in your resume.
The purpose of a resume is to introduce yourself to employers and secure an interview. Including a reference section in it is therefore not useful because it doesn’t tell an employer how you make a good fit for the job and why they should invite you for an interview. If recruiters would request references at all, it’s usually during or after the interview stage and doesn’t need to be included in your resume where you can add more relevant experiences / skills.
Personal details such as your date of birth, religion, gender, or local government have no place in your resume. Including them only makes you susceptible to discrimination.
Unless you’re a college student or don’t have a higher education degree, you should eliminate your high school career details from your resume. Your achievements at 16 don’t define your current standing as a professional or bolster your credibility. Remove them and add better, relevant experiences!
Hiring managers rely on your resume layout (header and section headings) to find relevant information. As such, vague or lengthy headings can make it difficult for them to understand your resume. For better results, keep your resume headings simple, short, and outstanding (underlined or bolded).
While it’s vital to have a master resume (a repository for all your professional information), you should also have different resumes for different purposes. The resume for a copywriting job, for instance, should differ from the one for a social media job. Targeting a resume for an opportunity by including only relevant details depicts you as an individual willing to take the extra mile.
So you dedicated a resume section to explain how you’re seeking a position that will develop your managerial skills? How phenomenal. Sadly, this doesn’t tell an employer anything positive about your professional skills. And so, an objective section is as pointless as water in a basket. Replace it with a professional summary that showcases your value proposition in 1-3 lines.
While reviewing the 30 resumes, I noticed the repeated use of personal pronouns [“I,” “my,” “me]. The justification for this was, “but the resume is about me, isn’t it?” Indeed, the resume is yours, but it’s meant to act as an impersonal description of your professional makeup. Keep your resume business-focused by removing all personal pronouns or articles.
There was a particular resume that listed all the online courses the owner had taken. 10 courses, to be precise. Ordinarily, this should be a helpful move as it portrays the individual as a lifelong learner. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case. Most of the listed courses, it turned out, weren’t useful to the targeted position, and I advised him to remove them. Similarly, delete irrelevant or beginner-level certificates from your resume. List only the credentials that taught you high-value skills applicable to the potential job.
When you enumerate Microsoft Office under the skill section, the employer automatically assumes you can build formulas in Excel, merge mails, and create automated “rules” in Outlook. Except you’re capable of these, remove Microsoft Office from your resume and instead put the specific platforms that you know in Microsoft Office. Else, your Microsoft Office low proficiency level might get exposed in the interview stage or while on the job.
An error-filled resume can prevent you from getting interviewed. “But a misspelling or typo doesn’t determine my expertise,” you may say. Yes, it doesn’t decide your competence. It does, however, characterize you as someone who doesn’t pay attention to details - a red flag for business. According to Fast Company, 75% of employers said they would reject a candidate if they found grammatical errors or typos in the résumé.
Some submitters lied on their resumes in a bid to impress recruiters or make up for their lack of experience. While you can be creative when writing a resume, you shouldn’t channel your creativity into lies or embellishments. Soon, your lies often catch up with you at the interview stage or while you’re on the job, which may lead to termination. As an alternative to lying, cover up for your professional loopholes by updating your skill set, taking more volunteering roles, and handling more (and even independent) projects.
Formatting elements such as margin size can make your resume jumbled up (if it’s too small) and bland (if it’s too much). When you commit any of these mistakes, an employer might be forced to question your capacity. “If this candidate can’t properly format his/her resume, wouldn’t tasks requiring strong organizational skills be too much for her?” Make your resume margins one-inch on all sides to ensure excellent formatting.
When you don’t organize your past positions in reverse-chronological order, your resume reads as hocus-pocus to the recruiter, preventing them from seeing your point. To be safe, either begin with your most recent position and proceed backward, or focus on your skills and link them to apposite experience.
When describing yourself as a professional in real life, ‘Team-oriented,’ ‘result-driven,’ ‘motivated,’ are certainly not the first words you would use. So why should you use them in your resume? Such words, popularly known as buzzwords, say nothing. Don’t state that you’re a team player. Instead, highlight in your resume the one time you exemplified leadership. Did you lead the team to achieve an impact? Or were you in charge of an initiative that achieved a groundbreaking success?
When you don’t include your LinkedIn profile link in your resume, you lose the chance to give recruiters more insights into your entire career history and background. Here’s how to create a custom LinkedIn profile URL and add it to your resume.
If you were a recruiter and you saw JonathanIsTheGOAT@whatever.com in a candidate’s contact information section, would you hire them? The answer is no. Similarly, using an unprofessional email address (think: your burner’s) might not augur well with the average recruiter. Stay on the safer side by using a strictly professional email address.
Except if you haven’t worked for more than a decade, your resume ideally shouldn’t exceed two pages. Highlighting every piece of your career information inhibits a hiring manager from making sense of your value proposition. Your cover letter is the best place to give a full picture, albeit concisely, of your career, history, skills, and qualifications if needed.
Every resume I reviewed was guilty of this. I used to be guilty of this mistake as well. Now I know better. The inclusion of your home address in your resume poses a myriad of privacy issues, particularly if your resume falls into the hands of the wrong person. Here’s a caveat, however. If you’re applying for a local job, it’s okay to include your city and state to indicate your proximity. On the other hand, if you’re for an out-of-town or international remote job, it’s okay to leave your home address details completely.
Bulleted lists are ideal for highlighting duties and accomplishments at previous roles, but be careful not to overuse them. Three to five bullet points per position is the sweet spot for impressing an average recruiter.
Eliminating volunteer experience from your resume simply because its unpaid work is a mistake not supported by recruiters. According to Deloitte, 82% of recruiting managers prefer applicants with volunteer experience. Listing your volunteering experience is a way to show an employer you’re ingenious, you’re collaborative, and community-minded.
So you love gambling? Great for you! However, it would be best if you don’t include such a hobby in your resume, except you’re applying for venture capital or an investment banking position. This is because recruiters are humans with their own biases, one of which might be against gambling. Don’t let your personal interests and hobbies work against you. Instead, include only interests/hobbies relevant to the targeted opportunity.
A top fold is the top one-third of a document. Since recruiters check within seconds, including impressive details such as key accomplishments and skills at your CV's top fold is an effective way to catch their attention and convince them about your value quickly.
After writing a seemingly memorable resume, some candidates cut the chances of their resumes getting seen by saving their resume filename as simply ‘resume.doc.’ In place of this, use a file name that states your name by using any of these formats:
Resume writing is a challenging task. These mistakes make it even harder by sabotaging your efforts. Examine your resume for any of these 30 mistakes and make corrections so you can get an invitation to interview at your dream company.
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Jeremiah Ajayi is an SEO and Content Manager at Wonsulting. He is also a freelance writer, author, and founder of the Wednesday Goodness, a biweekly career newsletter that shares reflections on winning in life and work.
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