9 Resume Mistakes That Might Cost You A Job

Some may be obvious, like watching out for typos and misspelled words, but others might be more sneaky job-hunting mistakes.

Editor's Note: This is one of the most-read leadership articles of 2014. Click here to see the full list.

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]

Add New Comment

46 Comments

  • Jeff J

    "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."

    I have mixed feelings about this. Employers understand that candidates are going to send resumes out to a large handful of potential employers. As it is insisted upon that candidates create custom resumes for each potential employer, the candidate needs to make certain that when uploading the resume to the website, the correct resume gets uploaded. Personally, I want to have a copy of every resume I submitted, and I want to make sure that when choosing the file to attach, it's absolutely the correct resume, so I name my files by my name, but also mention which company I'm submitting this resume to.

    I don't work for an HR department, or a recruiter, but downgrading a resume because it has a file name beyond just he applicant's name seems unreasonable.

  • Lucy Mayor

    This is a joke, you can do everything on this list but they'll still hire someone else. A girl i knew wore a freaking short skirt to an interview and got a role with no experience, she just read up on the subject the night before. No-one wants to talk about that.

    It's a vicious circle where employers want experience and graduates don't have much (obviously) so we'll always lose out. It comes to the next generation and university fees are at an all time high and the economy is a mess, house prices are rising but salaries are not. So when i see articles like this about meaningless resume things to change, it just makes it sad.

  • Did you read to what you just wrote? You said that a girl you knew wore a short skirt to an interview and got a role despite having no experience. Yet in the very next paragraph, you wrote that employers want experience and graduates don't have much so they'll always lose out. So which is it?

  • christocc

    You should also use proper verb noun agreement. "There's two problems here..." Actually, there are two problems with this sentence, and they are: that it should read "There are two problems here..." or "There're two problems here...", and the "i" in it's should be lowercase, not capitalized.

    Just sayin's all...

  • Alexis Kraus

    Should add that you should always send your resume as a .pdf rather than a .docx (word doc)... That might sound obvious, but you would be surprised at how many people make this mistake.

  • Arthur Mademba-sy

    Thanks for this great article.... I ask some friends of mind to design my resume and you know what ? i get interview and finaly the position. I recommend you them if like me you are not good with photoshop.... www.branding-me.com enjoy :)

  • 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?