Common Resume Mistakes

By Cynthia M Piccolo

Except when nepotism is involved, or an employer requests only a completed application form, your résumé determines whether or not you reach the interview stage. Since a poor résumé can be your worst enemy in your job search, make sure that you avoid these common résumé errors:

  • Spelling, punctuation, and/or grammatical errors. You work at Hopsital X? Your version of a "comma fault" is that you never use any? If you can't represent yourself well, why should an employer believe that you'll represent them well? Make sure you proofread your résumé before you send it.

  • Poor presentation. Avoid haphazard use features such as bold, italics, and bullets. Don't use a hodgepodge of different fonts, because it'll make your résumé look unattractive and make you look like you're using a computer for the first time. Similarly, don't use unusual fonts or characters that the employer's software may not support, because this would result in a bizarre-looking résumé, filled with upside-down question marks, changed spacing, etc. And if you're mailing your résumé the old-fashioned way (even if you're like my friend's dad and really like heliotrope) don't pick paper of this color for your résumé. Gimmicky items rarely impress.

  • Lacking Readability. Don't overload your résumé with jargon (e.g. "think outside the box"), acronyms, superlatives, big words, and long-winded sentences – or worse, long-winded paragraphs! Use proper capitalization: A document all in capitals is painful to read, and one all in lower case makes you look unprofessional. The reader will quickly stop reading.

  • Not standing out. In your laudable effort to be readable, don't pare your career down to a cipher! Include work-related achievements and accomplishments, e.g. "improved departmental productivity by …" or "best employee award for year 2004" or "instituted new plan to streamline testing …."

  • Including information about why you left. This takes up space that could be better used to describe the great work you've done or the upgrading courses you've completed. Information about why you left can be discussed in the interview, if necessary.

  • Hiding or omitting relevant information. Prioritize key items, and minimize other details. Focus on your most recent job(s), not old jobs. And don't omit dates – if you haven't irritated the recruiter so much by neglecting this important information that s/he tosses your résumé in the recycle bin, s/he will have to ask, and if you hesitate, red flags will go up.

  • Including irrelevant personal information. Don't include things such as marital status, gender, etc. on your résumé. However, do mention personal interests that pertain to your career (e.g. participating in relief missions to disaster areas).

  • Not including relevant personal information. Yes, I have received a couple of résumés in which the applicant's name was prominently placed, but which didn't include a telephone number, street address, or email address. (Once I got one with an address and phone number but no name.) The more likely problem, however, is a typo that makes your email address or phone number incorrect.

Of course, avoid lying and misrepresentation. These aren't really errors, and are unlikely to prevent you from getting an interview – unless you claim to be the manager of a certain unit, but the recruiter's mother happens to be the manager of that unit, and even then, she may interview you just out of perverse curiosity. However, lying and misrepresentation usually do blow up in your face at the interview.

For more information about résumé writing, see our Résumé Tips department and our Dear Cindy section on Résumé and Cover Letter Questions.

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