9 Resume Mistakes That Might Cost You A Job

Some may be obvious, like watching out for typos and misspelled words, but others—like cookie-cutter copies or file names—might be more sneaky mistakes you're making when looking for a job.

While good old paper may seem passé in the digital age, LinkedIn hasn't completely replaced the old-fashioned résumé.

"Résumés are the heartbeat of a career search," says Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter, a career and workplace adviser at Glassdoor. "If done well, your résumé will tell your story and sell you."

And that hasn't changed with the rise of high-tech options. "Even as technology has advanced and changed the way job seekers find open positions, the résumé remains an integral part of the hiring process," adds Matt Tarpey, a career adviser with CareerBuilder.

Then again, a less-than-stellar résumé can also work against you. To keep that from happening, we asked Barrett-Poindexter, Tarpey, and Maele Hargett, an executive recruiter with Ascendo Resources, to highlight the most egregious résumé mistakes they see over and over—and explain how you can avoid these missteps.

1. Making Grammatical Errors and Typos

There’s no room for sloppiness. According to a 2013 CareerBuilder survey, 58% of employers identified résumés with typos as one of the top mistakes that led them to automatically dismiss a candidate.

"In this day and age, there really is no excuse for a number of grammatical errors," says executive recruiter Hargett. Common errors she sees include misuse of words ("your/you’re" and "lose/loose"), words spelled incorrectly ("business" and "finance," if you can believe it), and overuse of punctuation (namely, commas).

"Don’t solely rely on spell check," she says. "It’s helpful to get a second set of eyes on your résumé after you’ve reviewed it yourself." She suggests reaching out to a trusted mentor or colleague in a similar industry, or if you’re a student, using the resources at your college career center or local library.

2. Submitting Incorrect Information

This may seem obvious, but getting simple details wrong will get your résumé tossed into the reject pile, fast.

"When you put an incorrect phone number down or mess up your job titles or dates, it makes your résumé look haphazard," says Hargett. "If you say you’re detail-oriented, and we catch incorrect information on your résumé, it’s a big red flag."

Even if you make it to the interview stage, the incorrect information will come out eventually. A wrong phone number can easily be called and a job title can be verified with a former employer.

"Sometimes job titles do not match the job duties listed, and we’ll find out upon further interviewing that the title was changed on the résumé to give them an edge," says Hargett. "Not a good idea—you are setting yourself up for failure."

3. Giving Everyone the Same Résumé

This may come as a surprise to some job seekers, but your résumé is not one-size-fits-all (jobs). "No two roles are alike—and your résumés shouldn’t be either," says Hargett.

CareerBuilder’s survey found that 36% of employers identified résumés that are too generic as one of the mistakes that may lead them to automatically dismiss a candidate.

"Instead of sending out a generic résumé to multiple employers," suggests Tarpey, "the more effective option would be to work on one application at a time, tailoring your résumé to fit the job description, and taking the time to truly understand what each employer is looking for."

"A personalized résumé is focused to the target audience’s needs," adds Barrett-Poindexter. For example, "if the job description says the role requires market analysis and planning, then weave that language into your résumé content, using real examples of analysis you performed and the results you achieved."

One more—perhaps obvious—note: Don't save versions of your résumé with a file name that makes it obvious that you've submitted a particular version: For example, janedoeresumemarketing or janedoeresumesales. Just keep it simple and save the file as your name.

4. Getting Too Elaborate With Formatting and Style

"Formatting is key," says Hargett. Don’t let your résumé get out of hand with fonts and graphs and distract the reader from what’s important (how qualified you are). If you’re going to use bullets, they should be the same size and shape in each section and align from page to page.

Because recruiting agencies have to add their logos and sometimes condense a résumé, Hargett suggests that if you’re working with a recruiter, try using a template that doesn’t require you to work within "boxes" (which are difficult to format).

"And make sure your résumé style progresses with you," says Hargett. Remove those early jobs that acted as fillers and thoughtfully design the layout, she says. "It should include clean lines and a different (non-neon) font color to highlight job titles."

There is one place you can be as creative as you like: your language. "Boring language, like using the word 'developed' over and over, puts the reader to sleep," says Barrett-Poindexter. "Be creative and entice the hiring manager with language that sizzles." For example, a headline like "Ensuring business roars ahead while attracting/developing top leadership talent" will show a bit more personality and creativity while articulating your achievements.

5. Being Vague

You’ll never hit the bull's-eye with a vague résumé, says Barrett-Poindexter. "Your laser-focused competitor candidate will knock you out of the game."

"When you are too wordy and vague, we don’t know what you've actually accomplished," adds Hargett. "Employers like to see as much information as possible up front. Highlight your accomplishments. If you raised money or saved money, put down the actual dollar figure—never give a generality that you can’t verify when they dig deeper."

6. Squeezing Too Many Words Onto the Page

There’s no hard and fast rule about résumé length, says Tarpey. CareerBuilder’s data shows that for new college graduates, 66% of employers say a résumé should be one page long, and for more seasoned workers, 77% of employers say they expect a résumé that’s at least two pages long.

When trying to condense your employment history and skills into a few pages, "choose the accomplishments that are most in line with the open position’s main responsibilities and with the company’s corporate values," says Tarpey.

"In general," says Barrett-Poindexter, "job seekers should make sure they’re answering the requirements within the job listing while also telling their most relevant employment story, including specific achievements that map back to what the employer is looking for."

7. Omitting Exact Dates

Think it’s OK to leave out clear dates? Think again. "Omitting exact dates of employment often raises suspicion in employers and makes it look like the job seeker is trying to cover something up," says Tarpey. If you’ve got a large gap in your résumé, Tarpey suggests being up front about it and addressing the issue in a cover letter.

CareerBuilder’s survey found that 27% of employers identified résumés that don’t include exact dates of employment as one of the most common résumé mistakes that may lead them to automatically dismiss a candidate.

"We need to know your tenure, good or bad," explains Hargett.

8. Not Including Skills

While listing out your "skills" may seem optional to you, many recruiters don't see it that way, though they offer several ways to tackle the task on a résumé. "A list of hard skills and examples of how you put those skills to use in previous positions is a great way to stand out from the pack," says Tarpey.

Rather than a "skills" section, Barrett-Poindexter recommends weaving them into your profile/summary and résumé achievements sections. "For example, you might lead into a statement on the summary with the words ‘Relationship Building’ and then immediately follow with an example where you applied relationship-building talent, like ‘Managed cross-departmental teams to accomplish a stalled product development project that led to a 25% revenue increase.’"

In that same CareerBuilder survey, 35% of employers cited résumés that don’t include a list of skills as one of the most common résumé mistakes that may lead them to automatically dismiss a candidate.

9. Using an Objective Statement

Current trends indicate the days of including an objective statement in your résumé are gone.

Consider this example of an objective statement:

"Seeking a role as an investment analyst to advance my career in the financial industry."

There’s two problems here: It’s dry, and the focus is on what the candidate wants for himself—to advance his career—rather than how he can solve problems for the potential employer, says Barrett-Poindexter.

Instead of the objective statement above, she suggests, try creating a headline that accentuates your value to your target company, such as:

Financial Analyst
Transforming complex business problems in the technology sector into focused,
data-backed solutions.
Driving down costs, elevating reporting capabilities and improving decision-making processes.

Christine Ryan Jyoti is a Washington, D.C.-based freelance writer.

This article originally appeared in LearnVest and is reprinted with permission.

[Image: Flickr user CharlotWest]

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32 Comments

  • I love how "Employers" are being called out on being too incompetent to be able to hire someone else. I have to say, I work hard on updating my resume and I even have an English major, with a BFA, read over it for me and make sure it's 100% correct and ideal. With that being said, I still never hear back from jobs that I know I'd excel in and I do have a degree myself. Now I know why they say "Degrees don't mean as much as they used to." I see people with less education perform better in professional settings than some people who waste years in four year schools. I'm not saying this is true for every college student, but it applies to experiences I've had in real life. I'd hate to end up being like any employer who's clueless, or just passes up true talent or qualified candidates based upon something irrelevant in the long run.

  • I'm an HR leader who regularly reviews resumes and I can tell you that I abhor objective statements...they send the message that you don't really know what job you want. Better to let your experience and positions speak for themselves. You can include extra details about what you're looking for in your (brief) cover letter. Just some advice from the job search front lines.

  • Joe Udeoji

    Can you suggest a objective statement for someone with a Master in Public Health degree? No particular focus. Thanks

  • Joey Kadish

    These are all great points. As a college student, I have attended resume workshops and all have said to include a mission, "objective," statement. I have never done so, nor have any of my friends, so I wonder why professionals at my school still tell us to. Also, in terms of #3, as a student, I found it difficult to change my resume to fit different positions. Aside from moving some of my involvement around, editing what I actually have done was hard because I haven't had that much experience.

  • Nicholas Crawford

    You should use the objective statement in a couple of ways. 1. when you are circulating your resume in unsolicited circles, you never know where your resume will end up. When a resume randomly appears on my desk I need to know what that person is interested in so that I can do my job (recruiter people). 2. When you are submitting your resume to an open requisition you should use the objective section to share something about yourself. I never have a chance to read a cover letter first, so the objective section is an opportunity to share yourself with the reader. I think of the objective section like an elevator speech. It's your 30 second opportunity to sell yourself. You can use your cover letter to go into more detail and share more of your passions or interests and why you think you would be a good fit for the position.

  • Rae Cotton

    Isn't "selling yourself" what the article referenced in the objective section? It was saying that an objective as most people write them is not selling themselves, but rather telling what the applicant wants from the company.

    I don't believe in objectives, have never used them and this viewpoint has never hindered me getting a position... but the article does say if you want something to fill the objective place - use a "headline that accentuates your value to your target company."

    I'd also like to say that I have structured or proofread many friends and coworker's resumes and the objective was a much more recent item that started showing up - I advised them all to take it out... and everyone that I have helped with resumes got the job offer they wanted with in a week or two.

  • Juan Marco

    Summary of #3:

    3: Taylor your resume to the specific job. But don't let them know you are doing it!

  • Harrison Grimwood

    Tailor* Comma after "but". Really shouldn't be an exclamation.

    Why not let them know a resume is catered to them specifically?

  • Sean Doyle

    I strongly disagree with point 9 regarding use of the objective statement. The example used is a terrible objective statement, and what is encouraged to use instead is pompous and frilly. An objective statement should include how you will add value to the company, however, contrary to what the author states here, it is important to express what the job seeker wants out of the working relationship also! This shows the employer that the job seeker has an investment in this position specifically and can also see the bigger picture; how the person filling the job will add value to the company but equally important is showing how the job will play an integral part in developing the job seeker as well.

  • Sean Doyle

    I strongly disagree with point 9 regarding use of the objective statement. The example used is a terrible objective statement, and what is encouraged to use instead is pompous and frilly. An objective statement should include how you will add value to the company, however, contrary to what the author states here, it is important to express what the job seeker wants out of the working relationship also! This shows the employer that the job seeker has an investment in this position specifically and can also see the bigger picture: how the person filling the job will add value to the company but equally important is showing how the job will play an integral part in developing the job seeker as well.

  • Cindy Nason

    What I've been seeing lately is older job seekers omitting all dates of employment on resumes to prevent employers from trying to figure out their age. In my opinion, when that critical information is missing it only hurts the individual. I may pass someone over because I don't see the experience I'm looking for or suspect that they may be trying to hide something.

  • MjGillot Artist

    So... would you consider hiring an older job seeker if they did include the dates?

  • "While good old paper may seem passé in the digital age, LinkedIn hasn't completely replaced the old-fashioned résumé."

    But MyUnfold has, especially paired with LinkedIn. #KillTheResume

  • Evan Jacobs

    In my opinion, objective statements are the elevator pitch of the resume. They're meant to give a tiny bit more context to you as a person that the data underneath does not, and dangle a carrot for the recruiter.

    It has to be extremely unique and relevant to why YOU should have this job, in two sentences or less.

  • I see somewhere between 100 and 300 résumés a day. The advice here is spot on. Particularly the grammar. And I am so grateful they mentioned the "objective statement." It is generally sloppy, generic, and a total waste of my time. Your résumé is a glorified list. Thoroughly understand the position for which you are applying and you will know what points to include in your résumé. When I get a résumé the first thing I do is spell check it. Then I glance over it for grammar. Then I do a CTRL-F search for half a dozen words, hoping to find a minimum of 3 of the key words I'm looking for. If the résumé makes it past all three of those steps, then I'll read the cover letter.

  • John Tyler

    and your ability to select talent is zero. that's the problem. those capable of identifying greatness don't do the lowlife grunt work. brainless morons like you do. loser. ugh.