When it comes to writing the best possible resume for a job application, there are a lot of pitfalls you should take care to avoid. Throughout the job search, you’ll be applying to a lot of jobs, and the sheer volume of applications might lead to cut corners when writing or editing your resume.
But a rushed application more often than not leads your resume straight to the trash can, so take care to recognize the resume blunders below (and when you're done, check out the 5 resume mistakes we wrote about last time).
1. Giving every past gig equal time
A natural assumption people make when they write their resumes is that every single job they’ve worked deserves equal time and representation on the page. That’s simply not true, and it only detracts from your other, more relevant roles. After all, you don’t want to have your marketing experience and your retail sales gig share the same amount of the spotlight when you’re applying for an email marketing role.
Instead, put your main focus and add the most relevant information in your most applicable jobs. Leave the rest to two or three bullet points maximum, with at least one major and relevant responsibility and one major and relevant accomplishment. That way the job will be seen as additional context rather than an irrelevant distraction.
2. Listing small tasks that don’t feel relevant
Were you a salesperson who also acted as office manager, taking out the trash and cleaning up for your team? If you’re applying for a straight-up sales role, highlighting those duties is distracting and won’t read as relevant to the hiring manager. It will, however, take away valuable real estate in your resume that you could use to put highly relevant accomplishments.
Don’t try to impress with small tasks if you don’t need to. Instead, use that space to pad out your experience by talking more directly about what you were known for on the job. Maybe you have a great quote about your work from a longtime client. Go ahead and dilute that quote into a bullet point about relationship building and client satisfaction. Only add in the small stuff when the job description asks for it.
3. Not including numbers
Employers want to be able to measure your experience, and a big mistake is not giving them something measurable. A highly common resume mistake is to focus purely on responsibilities without giving any information on what you actually accomplished. So start thinking about your experience with a numeric mindset. Don’t just say “Consistently hit or exceeded sales goals.” Say “Regularly exceeded sales goals by 125%, amounting to $1M in additional quarterly revenue.”
Just make sure that the numbers and accomplishments you include are relevant and are actually impressive. Helping a company bump its 30,000 Twitter followers to 35,000 may be impressive for smaller organizations, but for large, million-follower companies, you might not get much attention. Providing added information on budget, percentages, or rates of growth prior to your efforts can help put the data into clearer context.
4. Getting overly technical
Another big thing to pay attention to, especially when applying to larger organizations, is that your resume might not land on the desk of a hiring manager immediately. Instead, it might land with a recruiter who only has the job description but doesn’t know the details of how things actually work. They might not understand what you actually do and how you’re qualified.
It’s because of this that you should keep the “technical” speak and acronyms to only what is absolutely necessary or already in the job description. That way the person screening your resume before it gets to the hiring manager will be able to decipher what you’re saying. Speak plainly and clearly in your resume, and you can send your more jargon-filled resume to the hiring manager at a later time.
5. Having an executive summary that doesn't actually impress
Most resume advice will tell you that an executive summary doesn’t belong on the top of your resume - that it’s outdated and irrelevant. That’s true in most cases. For the most part, job seekers end up including unimpressive summaries that waste space and distract from the rest of the resume.
Only include an executive summary if it has a clear and concise narrative about how your career thus far has led you to become a great fit for the role you’re applying to. Never use the same exact summary for every job, and make it relevant for the employer and job description from the get-go. Otherwise, you’re boring people to tears and detracting from their attention while reading your actual work experience.
6. Being either too succinct or too conversational
Another big part of writing a strong resume is how you end up speaking to your reader. Some job seekers go for a far too succinct and brief approach, with their bullet points reading as short, quick, and robotic. Others go for an overly conversational tone, writing paragraphs of text and weaving a long narrative with each job.
The best approach is somewhere in the middle, where your bullet points are neither too short and blunt, nor too long and unreadable. A great way to figure out whether you took the right approach is to read your resume out loud, either to yourself or to a friend. Strike a balance between your resume sounding natural and flowing while still being succinct and pointed. The end result will be an easily readable work experience.
Here’s a hint that all job seekers need to get: your overly designed resume with multiple columns, colors, and fonts is REALLY hard to read. The hiring manager has been reading a dozen others with normal, readable formatting, and suddenly they have to put extra effort in to read yours (if it even got through their applicant tracking system). And you may think it helps you stand out from the other applicants. Truthfully, it does - but not in a good way.
Avoid this problem by going for neat, bulleted, single-font, single-column resumes. Avoid unnecessary colors, use a maximum of two different font sizes (one for headers, and one for bullet point text), and use a simple font. Let your content do the talking. Don’t let your design distract from your experience.
8. Neglecting outside assistance
How your resume reads to you will be completely different to how it reads to a hiring manager. Often, phrasing that can cause misunderstandings or misconceptions can pile up as you write your resume. This is a natural byproduct of writing about yourself - you may understand why you say things the way you do, but others may not.
The best way to avoid this is to get help from a friend or even former colleague. An advantage they’ll bring is the ability to tell you if you sound too arrogant, uncertain of yourself, wordy, or just plain confusing in your resume. If you tried to build a narrative with your resume, you’ll be able to test if they saw your efforts and can tell it back to you. And you’ll end up with a better product meant for your reader.
While the job search can often amount to a numbers game, that doesn’t mean that volume should be the absolute focus. Your goal should be to have a high number of high quality applications sent, not simply a high number of applications overall. So pay attention to detail and avoid common mistakes and pitfalls. It’ll help you stand out from the crowd of other, lazier candidates.