Common Mistakes People Make on Their Resumes (And How to Avoid Them)

My first job out of college was working as an administration assistant at a state government agency. I was the “roving” admin, meaning I would bounce from department to department (each of which had their own permanent admin assistant) depending on their needs, primarily to get reports formatted and sent out during each department’s busy season.

The only problem was that I didn’t start during the busy season, so when I arrived there wasn’t much for me to do. I ended up helping the woman in charge of recruiting digitize old job applications and resumes, which is a nice way of saying they put me on a giant data-entry job.

In that first month, I sorted through hundreds of rejected resumes, some of which made me want to smack my head against my desk. Others made me want to find the applicant and say, “Oh honey. Bless your soul,” and then teach them what they were doing wrong. (What can I say? I’m still a writing tutor at heart.)

I started making a list of common, easily avoided mistakes I saw daily, and continued to add to it when, several months later, I was put on recruiting again, this time evaluating applications and choosing which ones to send on to hiring managers.

Below is my list (in no particular order) of common mistakes to avoid when submitting your resumes.

Including a bad email address or missing an email address all together

I don’t know how many applications I saw that included two phone numbers but no email. Also, you don’t need to include two email addresses. Just pick one. And please, for the love of all sanity, do not include a physical address and forget your email. Nothing makes a hiring manager more annoyed than having to mail your rejection letter.

Side Note: Make sure you are using a professional email address. Preferably, this means some combination of your name @gmail.com. Avoid @hotmail.com, @msn.com, @yahoo, or other obscure email providers. Exceptions to this would be an email address from your own professional domain (e.g., [email protected]) or a university email address (janes[email protected]), which can still look professional for college students or soon-to-be graduates.

Having your education at bottom or backside of your resume

Make sure you feature your education in a prominent, easy-to-find location. The first thing I looked for when reviewing resumes was education, a major requirement for our open positions.

Side Note: Make sure to list your highest degree first or use reverse chronological order, whichever makes the most sense for your experience. If you have an MBA, don’t bury it under a high school diploma, associate degree in general studies, and a double bachelor’s degree in cello and philosophy. (For more information read here)

Having too many pages

Almost always keep your resume to one page and never go over two. A resume is a summary of your job experience. If you want to go more in-depth, you probably want a CV instead.

In most cases when I saw three-to-seven-page resumes they didn’t seem thorough, they seemed sloppy. It told me that the applicant hadn’t taken the time (or didn’t have the skills) to trim down their text and adjust their formatting.

Including irrelevant job experience

If you’re having trouble fitting everything to one page, make sure that everything you’re including on your resume is relevant to the job you’re applying for. If you’ve got eight years of corporate experience under your belt, we don’t need to know that you worked at Dairy Queen in high school. Leave off that sales associate job from 1984. If it’s not relevant, skip it and use that space for other experiences that might pertain more to the job you’re applying for.

If you’re on the other end of the spectrum and find yourself lacking in job experience, you need to find ways to emphasize what’s transferable. Skip the lengthy job descriptions (if you worked as a server at Red Robin, most of us have a pretty good idea of what that job entails) and focus on what you did and learned that’s applicable to the job you’re applying for.

Writing in long blocks of text

This is closely related to the previous points. Your resume must be skimmable. If you have a seven-page resume and every job description has a paragraph of text, I’m not going to read it.

To make your text more skimable,

  • Use bullet points. Break your paragraphs up in short points. They don’t even have to be complete sentences. You can take the “I” out of “I worked” and just start with “Worked.”
  • Start your bullets with strong descriptive words. You want those first few words to catch the hiring managers’ eyes as they’re skimming down your paper. Utah State University has a great list of descriptive words to use in your resumes here.

(For more information of how resumes are skimmed, read here)

Neglecting formatting

I won’t go in-depth on the perils of bad resume formatting (that’s a post for another time), but I will say this: you don’t have to be a graphic designer to format your resume well. There are plenty of online templates that make it easy to create a simple, clean resume. However, these also come with their own set of pitfalls.

First, make sure the tone and style of the template match the job. If you’re applying to an ultra-conservative firm, you’re going to want a resume that’s more traditional. If you’re applying to an advertising agency that has nerf guns and pool tables in their office, you may want something that stands out a little more.

Second, make sure the template fits your content. If your template includes a picture, an objective, and a lengthy “skills” section and your resume includes none of those things, you’re either going to have to make big changes or choose a different template. It’s obvious when someone under-customizes a template.

 

Bonus Mistakes

Not submitting your resume with a cover letter/having incomplete application materials

Okay, so this isn’t resume-specific, but I found this to be a big problem, especially when people applied to jobs through third-party websites like Indeed.com. If possible, try to find the original posting on the company’s website. Read the job description and instructions carefully so you don’t miss any required materials. Depending on the size of the company you’re applying for, incomplete applications have a good chance of getting thrown out.

Objectives

There are a lot of strong opinions concerning whether objectives should be included on your resume. Overall, the consensus is that they’re on their way out. My experience working in recruiting only strengthened my opinion that objectives do more harm than good.

Here’s why:

How often do you feel like you know exactly what you want out of a job? Probably not very often, especially if you’re straight out of college. Often you end up with objective statements that are either super vague or overly specific. And the middle ground—an objective tailored specifically to the job you’re applying for—really belongs in your cover letter, not your resume.

I saw multiple applications get rejected by hiring managers because what applicants said they wanted in their objective didn’t match the job description. Hiring managers don’t want to waste their time on a candidate who isn’t a good fit.

Including a physical address, especially if you live out of state

Okay, so this one is more of a personal preference, but I think you don’t need a physical address on your resume. Physical mail is rarely used in hiring nowadays, and if a company wants it, they’ll request it as part of the application. If you’re applying to a job out of state, I’m going to assume you’re willing to or already have plans to relocate. Far away or out-of-state addresses give potential employers more reason to pause, and not for the reasons you want them to.

Spelling and grammar errors

This should be pretty self-explanatory, but it has to be said. Proofread your resumes. Then have your mom proofread your resume. Let your friends, siblings, SO, and high school English teacher proofread your resume. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of sending out your resume to a dozen employers and then realizing you missed something.

 

Final Thoughts: Less is More

Oftentimes people feel the need to include too much on their resume. Leave off employer contact information, references, and other unecceary information that can be found on reference sheets. You don’t need to add “References available upon request” (employers are going to assume that already). Keep it simple, keep it clean, and please, for the love of all things holy, proofread.

Additional Reading:

12 Simple Tweaks That Make Your Resume Easier to Review

12 Tiny Changes That Make Your Resume Easy for Recruiters to Skim

Utah State University – Resumes and Cover Letters

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