As a manager who’s hired employees and as a former journalist who regularly covered career-related topics, I know a few things about what employers want to see on a candidate’s resume. From your layout and font choice to the phrases you use to describe your previous jobs, hiring managers will pick up on the smallest details of your application, so it’s in your best interest to present a polished, professional-looking document if you want that interview.
Most job seekers are aware of this fact and understand how important their resume is. While we generally know to check for spelling errors and inaccuracies, many of us continue to send out job applications that are too wordy, poorly designed, or contain outdated information.
Here are a few of the most common mistakes people make on their resumes and how to avoid them the next time you apply for a job.
1. Listing every single position you’ve ever held
Hiring managers don’t care how many employers you’ve worked for in the past. All they want to know is how your experience is relevant to the job, and what you learned and achieved while you were there.
Because LinkedIn and other digital portfolios allow for a lot more room to expand, you can use your profile as a more comprehensive work history, and save only the most important items for your actual resume. For example, I interned at a public relations agency during college, but I took it off my resume years ago when I realized I wanted to focus on editorial. However, it’s still listed on my LinkedIn profile so a potential employer can see that I have some experience working in PR.
The best thing you can do is tailor your resume to the job you’re applying to. If a previous work experience isn’t aligned with the position or you don’t have a lot to say about it, leave it off and just include it on LinkedIn. Then, insert a hyperlink to your profile on your resume (since nearly all resumes are sent digitally now) so the hiring manager can investigate further if they’re interested. Following this method also helps keep your resume down to a single page by cutting straight to the most important thing a hiring manager needs to know.
Editor's note: Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you with free information about web design.
2. Using cliché phrases and “buzzwords”
Does your resume summary say you’re “hardworking,” “detail-oriented,” and a “team player?” If so, you might be wasting valuable resume real estate.
Hiring managers and recruiters would rather see clear examples of your accomplishments, rather than read cliché descriptors. Those phrases have been used on so many resumes that they’ve lost much of their impact. Let your summary be fact-based (i.e. describing your concrete professional qualifications), and let your job descriptions speak to your soft skills. For instance, if you want to show you’re a team player, say that you collaborate with other colleagues or departments to achieve the company’s goals. To show that you’re a strong leader, write that you served as the point person on certain projects, or that you developed and launched an initiative at your company. As the old adage goes, actions always speak louder than words.
3. Omitting key information
Whether it’s up-to-date contact information or previous employment dates, make sure you’re not missing any important details that a hiring manager would need to know.
Sometimes job seekers with large employment gaps will try to cover up this fact by writing a functional resume (where experience is listed by skill set, rather than by employer) or leaving off the dates entirely. Many hiring managers are automatically suspicious of this, and may hold it against you if they think you’re trying to hide something. Instead, be honest about your employment history (even if you just include the year), and don’t forget to count any freelance or volunteer experience you may have done in between jobs.
As for contact information, you should, at the very least, include a current email address and phone number. Your home address is no longer necessary, and in fact may even hurt your chance if you’re trying to get an out-of-state job, but you can include it if you wish. You should also include links to your relevant social media profiles (LinkedIn for sure, but you may also want to put Twitter if you use it for work) and/or portfolio websites, so the hiring manager has access to a wide range of examples of your past work. They’re going to look it up anyway; you may as well make it easy for them!
4. Poor formatting
This one’s a bit subjective, especially since some industries value creativity and design more than others. But no matter how you choose to lay out your resume, make sure it looks clean and readable. Don’t use an illegible font (no matter how cool it might look), and make sure you keep your formatting (bold, italics, bullet points, sizes, etc.) consistent throughout your resume.
Play around with heading sizes and styles to make the most important information stand out. Even if you simply put your previous employers’ names in bold or caps, it breaks up the document and helps the hiring manager follow your resume better.
(P.S. – Here’s my current resume as an example of how a little color and creative formatting can get all your relevant information on one page without looking like a big wall of text.)