5 Common Resume Mistakes That Can Sink Your Candidacy

Published: Mar 21, 2013

5 Common Resume Mistakes That Can Sink Your Candidacy By Skip Freeman, "Headhunter" Hiring Secrets

While, ultimately, the claim that the traditional resume is “dead” may indeed prove to be true, significant to note, currently it still has a LOT of life left in it! As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, some high-tech companies seem to be moving toward the video-oriented resume (or some other “non-conventional” format), yet the vast majority of companies today continue to rely upon the more traditional, written resume. That means, of course, that savvy job hunters need to continue to concentrate on making sure their resume brand them as true professionals and not as rank (and “sloppy”) amateurs.

That said, an embarrassing number of professionals continue to repeat the same—yet all really quite avoidable!—mistakes in their resumes, and these mistakes more times than not result in one predictable outcome—the candidates are immediately eliminated from further consideration! How do I know this? Because, as professional “headhunter,” I see resumes containing these mistakes each and every business day of the year, and so, coincidentally, do most other “headhunters” and hiring professionals.

The 5 Most Common Resume Mistakes I See

Certainly, not every “problem” resume that pops up on my office computer screen contains all of the five mistakes mentioned below, but statistically, and with regard to my executive recruiting firm, Hire to Win, these are the five most common ones:

1. Confused—and confusing!—design and layout. The “good” news is the same as the “bad” news here: Most word processing programs today provide users with the capability of easily and quickly creating good (and varied) design and layout for virtually any document, including, of course, a resume. In the hands of someone who understands and appreciates what constitutes good design and layout, the results can be excellent. In the hands of someone who does not have such understanding and appreciation, however . . . well, that can be an entirely different matter.

Imagine picking up, say, a newspaper or magazine, and finding wall-to-wall copy, indiscriminate (and inappropriate) use of Italics, bold face, underscores, a dizzying array of type faces and sizes, etc., a total lack of “white space” or other graphic/design devices/elements typically used to “break up” and “highlight” the copy, etc. Wouldn’t be very “inviting” reading, would it? Now, imagine, as a hiring professional, receiving a resume which features such design and layout faux pas.


2. Misspellings, grammatical errors. Having misspellings in any professional document or publication has never been deemed acceptable, but today, with the “spell check” feature on word processing programs, it is totally unacceptable and inexcusable. There is only one conclusion that can logically be drawn today about the professional who has misspellings in his/her resume: He or she was simply too lazy to use “spell check”! (Will he/she be equally lazy if selected for a position under consideration? Probably).


Now, you may get a little slack with grammatical errors. Why? Because the truth of the matter is, the vast majority of Americans today don’t have an extensive knowledge and understanding of English grammar. Oh, they know, usually, though certainly not always, if a subject and verb don’t agree, but get beyond such grammar basics and most are simply lost (although, certainly not all are lost!). Indeed, most people wouldn’t recognize a dangling participle if one were . . . well . . . dangled in front of them! Nonetheless, when in doubt about a question of grammar, you should check it out, and that is easily done on the Internet today!

3. Lack of clarity, focus. In a perfect world, every professional’s resume would quickly and clearly illustrate his or her particular skill set(s), previous and current positions held, specific duties and meaningful accomplishments and achievements (using dollars and cents, percentages and other pertinent quantitative measures). It would also be laser-focused toward the new position being sought, i.e., what the candidate has to offer the hiring company, how he or she can “make ‘em money,” “save ‘em money,” or both. Obviously, the world we live in today is anything but perfect.

Far too many resumes today practically defy the hiring professional to determine, first, what, specifically and significantly, the professional has done in previous positions, or is doing in his/her current position. And, second, precisely (at least by inference), how his/’her past and current experience and achievements can easily translate into significant and relevant benefits for the hiring company.

Many are the times that I have to scratch my head and wonder precisely what it is the candidate is trying to convey about himself/herself and why my hiring company clients should even care!


4. Incomplete/ incorrect contact information. I wish I had a dime—no, make that a penny!—for every time I have attempted to reach a prospective candidate who “looked good on paper” at the contact phone number or email address indicated on his or her resume, only to be met with a “I’m sorry, the number you have dialed is no longer in service . . .” message, or, I am forced to leave a voice mail message that is never returned. Or, equally bad, to have my emails rejected because the prospective candidate apparently made a typographic or other error in his/her email address.


5. Inappropriate length. Oh, the perennial question: How many pages long should a resume be? Answer: In most cases, ONE page; in very rare instances, such as very top level management resumes, TWO pages, MAXIMUM! The typical fate of those resumes which do not adhere to this principal?


With Just a Little Bit of Care . . .

To be sure, this blog is not a comprehensive treatment of all of the resume mistakes that I (and other hiring professionals) see each and every business day. Nor is this an exhaustive treatment of those mistakes that you should assiduously avoid, if you desire to be perceived as a true professional instead of a “run-of-the-mill” amateur who is “just looking for a job, any job.”

Simply by taking greater care and practicing more focused concentration, you should easily be able to avoid making these mistakes (and other equally harmful ones) when creating your professional resume. Make sure you do!

Read more biotech career tips. Find more biotech and pharma jobs by visiting the career center.

About the Author

Skip Freeman is the author of "Headhunter' Hiring Secrets: The Rules of the Hiring Game Have Changed... Forever!" and is the President and Chief Executive Officer of The HTW Group (Hire to Win), an Atlanta Metropolitan Area Executive Search Firm. Specializing in the placement of sales, engineering, manufacturing and R&D professionals, he has developed powerful techniques that help companies hire the best and help the best get hired.

Check out the latest Career Insider eNewsletter - March 21, 2013.

Sign up for the free weekly Career Insider eNewsletter.

Related Articles
* 3 Common Resume Problems – Does Your Resume Fall Prey to One of These?
* How to Create an Engaging Resume That Won’t Bore the Employer
* Do You Have a Resume or a ‘Job Description’?

Back to news