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The Most Common Resume Mistakes And How To Fix Them

From choosing the right verb to leaving off one crucial word, there are three simple ways to boost your chances of getting the job.

The Most Common Resume Mistakes And How To Fix Them
[Photo: H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images] [Photo: H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images]

Reviewing 300,000 resumes gives you some perspective on the art and science of making an impact in a single page. For Ladders, a membership-based job-matching site for professionals, assessing and analyzing the results of 300,000 resumes from its users surfaced a few common errors that can have a big impact on whether a job candidate even gets a chance to proceed to the interview stage.

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Overall, their review found three areas where resumes missed the mark:

  1. 80.4% had errors in former job experience descriptions
  2. 71.6% miscommunicated skills
  3. 68.7% were missing accomplishments

Use Verbs To Describe Your Experience

Marc Cenedella, founder and CEO of Ladders, explains that job seekers don’t always use verbs as effectively as they could to showcase their previous work experience. “The biggest temptation is to list all your past accomplishments,” he contends. “Avoid it. Nobody wants to read your ‘ingredients’ label–the comprehensive list of everything and anything that you contain.” Jobseekers spend “millions of hours” looking up synonyms for “improved,” Cenedella says. This is a complete waste of time. “None of the three layers of reviewers are grading you for verbal facility, he says.

Instead, Cenedella recommends having every bullet point include a verb that indicates success. “Words like ‘hired’, ‘managed,’ or ‘responsible for’ describe the job, but not your success in it. Use ‘increased,’ ‘decreased,’ ‘grew,’ ‘reduced,’ etc. to make your descriptions meaningful to your future boss,” says Cenedella. For example, don’t say, “I managed a group of six staff in the operations group.” Do say, “Increased efficiency by 17% by process improvements in a team of six.”

Showcase Your Skills At The Top

People typically miscommunicate their skill set at the top. “The personal summary at the top of a resume is a critical place to show off your three or four most defining skills,” he explains. Leaving those out leaves the recruiter wondering what you’re really good at.

“Show them, at the very top of your resume, what job you want, and why you’re qualified for it,” Cenedella advises. “You’re not naming every skill and experience,” he asserts, but it’s important to give an overall sense of what you can do. Being clear about what you want to do next based on your current skills can make the difference between having the resume land in the round file, or proceeding to the next step in the application process.

Use Numbers To Communicate Your Accomplishments

You may not need to do an “ingredients list” of all the skills you’ve amassed, but the Ladders resume analysis found that a significant number of job seekers were underreporting their accomplishments. A study from Deloitte last year found that hiring managers valued volunteering, but candidates often don’t mention their volunteer activities when they apply for jobs. “Volunteering is a terrific, low-risk way to burnish your resume with objectives achieved, missions accomplished, and results produced,” says Cenedella.

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But, he says, an even bigger issue is that people do not provide enough of their quantitative accomplishments on their resumes. “The more you can put a number to success,” he maintains, “the easier it is to communicate to your future boss.”

His advice: Count the number of $ signs and % signs on your resume, because those are indicators of achievement that can be quantified–and are more persuasive to a hiring manager. Then, he says, double them by rewriting your responsibilities. “The minimum you should have,” Cenedella contends, “if you’ve been in the workforce for over a decade, is 20.”

If a competing applicant neglects or refuses to use quantitative measures in their resumes, and you do, you’ll be way ahead, according to Cenedella. “That’s because you will be communicating with your future boss in a language that she understands: dollars and cents, personnel and resources, customers and market share,” he underscores.

Seasoned Is Only For Steaks

Finally, Cenedella argues that it’s time for a common resume tactic to get the boot. Ditch the word “seasoned” if you’re trying to shortcut a way to explain that you have a lot of experience. Cenedella says it could be construed by the person reading the resume that the applicant is old or dated.

“To describe yourself as ‘a seasoned professional with over 15 years’ experience’ is to say nothing that compels your audience to hire you,” he explains, and it’s a wasted opportunity. Again, he reminds job seekers to focus on successes or skills that enabled you to achieve goals. Instead, he recommends using phrases like: “steadily progressing,” “industry-leading,” “respected expert in my field,” “goal-achieving,” “tested and proven,” or other gripping phrases that highlight the story and the pitch you want to make. Says Cenedella: “Leave the ‘seasoned’ for the steak.”

About the author

Lydia Dishman is a reporter writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, and innovation. She is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.

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