Anyone looking for a job these days knows the path to an interview is paved with more than its share of challenges. The stepping stones include networking, résumé prep, social media optimization, pre-interviews—all this even before you get to the job interview.
The most challenging step for many is résumé preparation. That’s because CVs are screened by a bot and often by a time-pressed recruiter. If you fail to impress, it could be curtains.
Fortunately, there’s a new study that highlights résumé mistakes to avoid. It was done by Mateja Vukomanović of OfficeNeedle, a site that offers guidance in best business practices. Below are the biggest résumé mistakes identified by the 2,800 employers interviewed:
1. Poor grammar or typos
A full 75% of employers said they would reject a candidate if they found grammatical errors or typos in the résumé.
Proofread your résumé carefully to fix grammatical errors and typos. As for spelling, don’t rely entirely on spell check. While it catches misspelled words, it won’t pick up wrong words, like “their” when you mean “there.” Also have someone else with a good eye look it over. You wouldn’t want a typo to keep you from your dream job.
2. Excessive length
A majority of employers polled (57%) said they would likely reject a résumé that’s longer than two pages. That’s no surprise, since the OfficeNeedle study shows that half of employers take between one and five minutes to review a résumé, and a quarter take less than one minute.
If you’ve had a short career span, keep your résumé to one page. For a longer career, two pages should do, but don’t go beyond that. If you’re finding it hard to compress your résumé into that shorter length, you have provided too much detail.
3. Doesn’t show achievements
A third résumé mistake, according 43% of those interviewed, is failure to show the impact you’ve had in the various jobs you’ve held.
It’s too easy to describe the responsibilities you’ve had rather than the results you’ve produced. Instead, provide clear measurements of your successes. For example, if you’re in sales, you might say that you brought in 10 new clients for a total revenue of $2 million per year. If you’re in HR, you could mention that you designed a new onboarding system that doubled retention. If you are in manufacturing say that you improved quality control by 15%. These impact statements should be the bulleted items in each job description. The more you have, the better you’ll look.
4. Not tailored to job
A fourth error that can turn off a potential employer is submitting a résumé that’s not tailored to the position you’re applying for.
In the study, a full 46% of employers said they wouldn’t bother to take a second look at a résumé if it’s not tailored to the desired position. That makes sense. What employer wants to feel he or she is one of many? And who would hire you if you don’t bother to show how your experience qualifies you for the role?
To tailor your résumé, study the job description and make sure the key competencies they’re looking for are easy to find on the page. Use the same language and even the same words, where appropriate. But don’t go overboard using key phrases, or you’ll have sentences that are clunky and don’t make sense. Vukomanović advises that you read your résumé out loud to make sure the prose is smooth.
5. Poor layout
A fifth misstep has to do with the layout. The employers surveyed in this study want you to make it easy for them to read your résumé. A majority complained that they don’t like to see job history or education history starting with the oldest at the top. Instead, go chronologically from most recent to oldest. Vukomanović advises that you give the most attention to the recent positions, keeping the descriptions of your oldest jobs shorter.
If there are gaps in your résumé, there is no need to explain them. Only 18% of employers said they would like the résumé to explain any gaps. And only 25% said they would want an explanation for why you might have had a very short tenure in a position. These situations can be explained in a cover letter or interview.
Finally, your layout should be devoid of fancy fonts, and avoid using more than one font. Forty six percent of the employers surveyed said they might reject a résumé if it uses more than one font. The most popular font choices, according to another survey, are Calibri, Times New Roman, and Arial, in that order.
6. Insufficient details
Another common misstep is not providing enough information to the employer. Almost all employers in the study (93%) said they want to see your phone number in the contact section of your résumé. Fifty seven percent complained about résumés that did not include the full name of a candidate’s educational institution (for example, putting UCLA, rather than University of California, Los Angeles). Twenty one percent of employers said they could reject a résumé that provided an email with “suspicious number combinations and silly names.” And 21% said they want to see how the candidate acquired skills not related to their education or working experience. They want to make sure those skills were actually acquired. In short, your résumé should provide all the facts with accuracy.
7. Overly general language
A final flaw to avoid is the use of overly general language, rather than providing clear, polished descriptions of your work history. Fourteen percent of employers were left with a “bad impression” if language on a résumé is too generic.
So avoid broad statements like “I worked with the media.” Instead, say, “I established a strong relationship with the media and through it gained visibility for our executives on both TV and in the business press.” Instead of “I sold bonds,” say “I oversaw a team of fixed income specialists, and together we brought in $100 million in annual sales.”