One of the things I do as a career consultant is review my client’s resumes and cover letters as they stand. Sometimes it’s a grim undertaking and I usually go through a number of stages of grief.
First, it’s hope that I’ll finally work with someone who doesn’t have any glaring mistakes on a resume they’d consider “career-fair ready”.
Then, the skepticism creeps in when I see that the alignment of bullets is off or that one single date appears italicized instead of bolded like the rest.
Finally, it’s heavy-hearted indignation that I am, once again, forced to re-write an entire resume because most people are idiots don’t fully think through their experience and take the time to plan before sitting down to write.
Reviewing someone’s resume can be a grim undertaking. The times I’ve done it, I usually go through a number of stages of grief.
I’ve only ever had one resume that took me on that kind of emotional rollercoaster.
The most common mistake people make on their resumes.
I quickly discovered that he was making the one mistake that I see over and over again on millennial resumes to varying degrees. He wasn’t properly synthesizing things he had learned, skills he had picked up, and accomplishments that made him uniquely marketable.
Basically, he was selling himself short. Very short.
Luckily for him, he had the funds to pay an objective third party to look at his resume, tell him it was below the bar, and help him fix it.
But instead of shelling out, you can just keep reading to learn what the other issues with your resume could be.
Then fix them, land some interviews, and score that job you want!
What you’ll need before we begin
There are a number of tools that you need in your mental arsenal in order to successfully write a great resume.
The most important is common sense. If you don’t have that, I cannot help you.
You need to be able to put yourself in the shoes of the person that is reviewing your professional resume. What qualities are they looking for? What kind of language do they want to see on your resume? What are the things that will stand out for the position or field you are job-hunting in?
Think like a hiring manager.
Excellent writing skills
An article on Salary.com had a great way of phrasing it – “your resume isn’t just about you”.
Sure, the topic is about you…but the content is written for others.
You need to make that content jump off the page, which can seem an impossible task when you are given an 8.5 x 11 inch sheet of white paper to work with.
Ability to synthesize experiences in a “good” way
People oftentimes sell themselves short because they don’t properly synthesize their marketable experiences and qualities.
You need to be able to concisely state the things about your history that speak to the job you are seeking and show potential employers the link…don’t trust them to find it for themselves.
So…what’s wrong with your resume? Let’s go through the major mistakes you are all making on your resume. Don’t worry, I made them too…and they are all fixable.
You don’t market yourself well
Don’t just describe what you’ve done. A bullet point under your “professional experience” section cannot simply be a laundry list of the daily tasks you completed and the skills you developed.
It’s great that you have time management, leadership skills, and the ability to multitask like a superhuman.
But what you need to be doing, instead of telling employers what you have done, is illustrating how the experience you have makes you the best candidate for the job. Show your accomplishments to the hiring manager – include numbers and details so they can start forming a mental image of you as the superhuman multitasker that you are.
You describe your job history…but don’t take it as far as you should
You have to connect the dots from your experience to your desired position. Why should a potential employer care about your time as team leader of the evening shift at your local pizza place?
Dig into the details – what was it about your experience that makes you most proud?
You want to take hiring managers by the hand and lead them through the most relevant and instructive points of your past experience. Don’t give potential employers a choice…make them see what makes you uniquely marketable. Hammer home your awesomeness in words.
That sounds intimidating, I know. But don’t worry, it’s quite simple…
As you go through and finish that sentence for each experience you’ve listed, you’ll uncover the bits of your experience that are truly marketable.
This is the easiest way to show hiring managers the link between your experiences and accomplishments and the position you seek. There are translatable skills to be pulled from any experience and it is your job to do that and present it in a pretty package for recruiters and interviewers.
You don’t have enough content
I don’t mean word count. I mean you are missing the meaty information. Statistics, bullets that speak specifically to the job or industry you are angling to break into.
It is easy to write a professional resume filled with…well…filler. Don’t fall into that trap. Take a step back from the document once you’ve written it and make sure that each word included on the page is 100% necessary. If it isn’t, delete away!
The fewer words you have on the screen, the higher the chance that each individual word will be read by a hiring manager. You need to include effective content and be efficient and intelligent about your word choice.
If you are not a strong writer, this is a great excuse to work with a career consultant or the career center at your university.
Your resume needs to be concise and contentful, there is no hard and fast rule saying YOU need to be the one to make it so…
You don’t include enough numbers
Did you increase sales, land a record number of new clients, or decrease expenses? If you have done anything notable and included it on your resume, the next question you should be asking yourself is what statistic can you include to drive home the point?
Your professional resume is too general
Get specific. Each time you submit your resume it should be catered to the specific job you are submitting it for.
By all means, create a master template that covers all of your employment history and notable accomplishments and experiences. From that template, you should be able to cherry pick the entries that speak best to the job you seek with that specific version of your resume.
Your resume is boring
This is where being an excellent writer is necessary. Make the bullet points descriptive and colorful, but find a way to be professional while doing so.
You don’t have to do this alone. We aren’t all wordsmiths. Get some help from a friend who you know is a great writer or look into options for a professional career consultant. For those of you with access to your university career center, make an appointment. Don’t let that valuable resource go to waste!
You aren’t focusing on key points of your history
You don’t have to write about every single accomplishment. Pick the ones that align best to the type of work you are seeking.
Otherwise, the things that should be highlighted for recruiters will get lost in the rest of the words on the page.
You’ve included information that hiring managers don’t care about
Here’s where the commonsense comes into the equation.
Don’t include five examples that all speak to the same qualities…instead, include one and make it good. Also, don’t include your high school GPA. Nobody cares (really, nobody).
You haven’t updated your resume
The real problem here is that you are being lazy or disorganized. Make sure that your experiences are up to date and you don’t have gaps on your professional resume.
Your resume needs a full revamp after each year in the professional world (I aim for three months and keep a recurring calendar reminder on my mobile phone).
Your resume is too long
One page, normal borders, and a font size no less than 10. That’s all you get! Be concise and particular about the information you are presenting.
Your tone is too negative
Including information about why you left a previous job could harm you, even if it was due to a horrible boss. Save the explanation for the interview.
You don’t care enough
If there are typos or formatting mistakes, that is usually an automatic “pass” by recruiters.
There is absolutely NO excuse for turning in a professional resume with spelling mistakes, grammar mistakes, or other objective issues that can be fixed by running a simple spellcheck.
There are also resources like Grammarly, which allows you to check grammar, vocabulary, and spelling for free. Use it!
You’re being too weird
I’m weird. It’s fine. I accept it. But my resume makes me look like the consummate professional. My weirdness will be revealed at the first company holiday party, and I’m okay with that.
By all means, be yourself. Tell your story. But don’t try to incorporate sarcasm or overly flowery fonts on your resume unless you are looking to go into a creative profession.
Stay professional in your tone and formatting. Set yourself apart with your experience.
Also, generally speaking, don’t include photos on your professional resume. If you have a headshot where you are fully clothed and not scowling…save it for LinkedIn.
You’ve lied…and it is obvious
Please, please, please. Don’t lie on your resume. I promise you it’ll come back to bite you at some point or other.
Either you’re going to get a great job and sit there, wondering when the axe will fall and your secret will be discovered…or you’ll get found out and miss job opportunities.
Assume you will be background checked. Assume your references will be contacted.
If your dates overlap, you include roles at companies that don’t exist, or there’s other generally fishy information on your resume…there’s a good chance that a recruiter will notice. Do I need to explain why that is bad?
Maybe your resume is just fine
If you’ve gone through this list and you haven’t made any of these professional resume mistakes, there’s a chance that you’re just fine. Be patient, the job hunt takes time, no matter how amazing of a candidate you might be.