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20 Resume Mistakes Keeping You From Getting a Job (and How to Fix Them)

image for fizkes/Shutterstock
fizkes/Shutterstock
  • Resume mistakes, at best, give a bad first impression; at worst, they'll cost you the job.
  • Approximately 70% of employers say that certain resume deal-breakers would cause them to reject a candidate before they've even finished reading the application.
  • When it comes to lying, not all fabrications are treated equally – employers are more likely to react to lies about your education than your skills.

For ultra-keen job seekers, there's nothing more patronizing than being advised to double-check your resume. Yet anyone in the recruiting industry will tell you it's shocking the number of résumé they receive that are either rife with errors or openly flout the job posting's instructions.

Part of that may be a mismatch in resume advice and recruiter expectations. We can assume you already know to use proper spelling and correct grammar, but who knew that using a Microsoft Word 2003 program could be the mistake that's landing your resume in the (digital) trash?

For those who need further convincing to read on, in a 2018 survey conducted by hiring site TopResume, 70% of employers said that personal deal-breakers of theirs – like missing contact information or an unprofessional email address – were enough to reject a candidate before they even finished reading the resume.

"It's all subject to the type and level of position you're pursuing and the individual recruiter's personal preferences," said Amanda Augustine, career expert at Talent Inc., parent company of TopResume. "If you're new to the workforce, it's more acceptable to include a list of hobbies on your resume because, frankly, you have less material to work with and may need the information to fill an entire page for your resume."

Another exception to hobbies is if they're relevant to the work you're pursuing, Augustine said.

On the other hand, there are some résumé mistakes to be avoided no matter the industry. Such mistakes alone may not be deal-breakers, but they still leave a bad taste in the employer's mouth. Augustine broke it down:

  • Lack of interest in the position. If you can't be bothered to properly proofread your resume for typos and tweak the content to demonstrate how you're qualified for the job, how interested can you really be in the position? All things being equal, the candidate who best represents their experience, talents and interest in the position will end up with the job offer. An employer will begin assessing all those things in the first glance at a resume. 
  • Lack of judgment and/or attention to detail. Aside from making sure a candidate has all the technical skills and experience to execute a job, employers also look at soft skills that may not be explicit in a resume.

"While it can be challenging to demonstrate that you possess certain soft skills on a resume, it's fairly easy to send employers the signal that you lack other soft skills, such as sound judgment and attention to detail," Augustine said. "When you include details and images that recruiters find to be inappropriate, opt for an over-the-top resume design, or don't proofread your application, you're allowing employers to question your judgment and decision-making skills."

We asked recruiters and hiring professionals for the most common resume mistakes they're confronted with.

"When headhunters or gatekeepers see dates on your resume that don't include months, they automatically assume something's wrong. If they suspect you're hiding a gap in employment, they'll assume the worst, and they'll view you as dishonest for attempting to deceive them. If they're busy, they'll trash the resume instead of wondering what the gaps are about." – Giacomo Giammatteo, owner and author at Inferno Publishing Company 

"Use a chronological format with an emphasis on results over the past three to seven years. Many candidates, especially those with lots of experience, are being encouraged to keep their resume at a page or less. The fact is, we need context, so if a resume [is two pages], that is OK. Having said that, most of the details need to be in the recent timeframe so that your audience gets clarity on your context, responsibilities and accomplishments." – John Light, partner at Evolving Talent Group 

"Every once in a while, someone will forget to recheck their dates, job titles or job duties. For me, this is worse than typos. These days, most HR professionals search on LinkedIn and across social media accounts to vet potential employees. If your start dates, titles or duties do not line up, it can raise red flags to employers. It leaves us thinking, 'Are they lying on their resume or on LinkedIn? Or both?' It immediately disqualifies a candidate. I always encourage people to double-check their resume. An inconsistency could be an honest mistake that costs you the job." – Adele Alligood, HR consultant and engagement manager for EndThrive 

"One resume mistake many people make is that they feel obligated to include every job, including part-time work, that they've had since college. For example, including that you were a Subway sandwich artist for three months is superfluous if you're applying for a technology job – unless, of course, the company's technology improves the sandwich-making process. Including information like this shows laziness and a general lack of understanding." – Joshua Goldstein, co-founder of Underdog.io 

"Do not bold the company you worked for; bold your position with the company. This is what the recruiter or hiring manager is looking for. One exception [is] if the company is highly recognizable (Facebook, Google, etc.)." – Bill Benoist, leadership and career coach 

"If you're going to boast about increasing sales or improving process efficiency, support these claims with real statistics and an explanation of how you accomplished these feats. When I read 'improved department sales revenue' on a resume, I'm not convinced." – Tyson Spring, co-founder and head of business development at Élever Professional 

"One of the biggest mistakes I have seen in resumes floating around today is people amplifying their qualifications with fancy words. They are not lying on their resume; they are just turning a task they once completed into years of experience. Once you sit down with them and utilize them in something practical, you quickly realize their resume was a lot of hot air and little practicality." – Victoria Ley, founder of Life Levels INC 

"Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint are no longer skills to call out on your resume. These days, employers assume that all good applicants have a working knowledge of the Office suite. Instead, use that space to highlight experience with more advanced technical tools in your sector – e.g., SQL, Google Analytics, Salesforce, Mixpanel and Adobe Creative Suite. These skills are very compelling to employers and will help you stand out from other contenders." – Maisie Devine, co-founder and CEO of recruiting app Savvy 

"This is a byproduct of the generally bad job search approach founded in keeping your options open and, therefore, applying for practically anything and everything under the sun. For example, your professional background and experience is in marketing, but after months of searching for a marketing job, you decide to expand by considering other objectives … All the employer does is look at the resume for a few seconds and ask herself, 'Why is this person applying for this job?'" – Jewel Bracy DeMaio, resume coach at Perfect10Resumes.com 

"Write a resume that has a clean, neat and simple-to-read layout. Many times, people try to invent and do something new but forget that employers read hundreds and thousands of resumes and want to quickly find what they are looking for." – Hugo Pereira, former head of product and growth at Talentsquare 

"When moving beyond the entry- and intern-level position, schooling, education, and GPA no longer need to be listed at the top – your experience should speak for itself." – Hannah Landau, PR consultant 

"All too often, applicants bury the lead when it comes to describing their past experiences and accomplishments. A great resume paints a picture of an active, inspired and engaged professional. A verb like 'helped' or 'assisted' does neither. Skip the setup and get right into the actual work you carried out for your past employers." – Andrew Jones, senior consultant at Source One 

"The notion of white space is often overlooked as we try to cram all of our accomplishments onto two pages. You may even be guilty of playing with the margins and the fonts to fit everything in. But this only makes it overwhelming for the reader. Bear in mind that your resume will be skimmed over in just a few seconds before the hiring manager decides if they want to give it closer attention. Make it inviting and readable. Less is more." – Maryna Shkvorets, communication consultant and coach 

"Do not copy and paste the job description that you were hired under (in the past) into your resume. Recruiters do not want to read what they already wrote. They want to read how you accomplished those tasks and responsibilities in your current and past jobs. Recruiters are looking for skill sets, experience related to those skills in achieving a goal for current/past employers, what you personally did to help those goals get reached, if you managed or supervised others who performed your career-related tasks (oversight), if you trained anyone in your job (cross-training), if you brought in revenue or reduced overhead costs, and if you handled or managed a budget (of how much money?)." – Dawn D. Boyer, CEO of D. Boyer Consulting 

"Unless your personal interests relate to the job, then it's best to leave them out. We don't necessarily need to know that you like watching The Office (even though I do too). Those details can wait. We'll get to know you better if we hire you." – Adele Alligood, HR consultant and engagement manager for EndThrive 

"Your objective should never be, 'I want to work at X company in Y role.' That's a no-brainer; the act of submitting an application indicates interest in the role. What do you want to do with your career? What do you want to bring to a company? If you can't come up with something unique and engaging, leave the objective off your resume altogether." – Bethany Perkins, people growth manager at O3 World 

"For most fonts, size 10 is the absolute smallest, and even then, it might be too small, depending on the font you are using. If your reader needs to take out his/her reading glasses to read your resume, you have already aggravated them, and your resume is heading for the trash can." – Michelle Riklan, founder and managing director at Riklan Resources 

"Avoid using dated Microsoft packages for your Word doc resume, as new systems don't always read the document accurately. Many resumes come through unreadable at the worst or unaligned at the best." – Chris Delaney, founder of Employment King 

"I just hired an assistant and had to review over 250 resumes and cover letters for this position. My ad asked to not send a generic cover letter and to visit our website and explain why their skills are a good fit for us. About 70% of the time they'd shoot off a non-customized resume, and 90% of the time they wouldn't include a cover letter. Because of this lack of following directions, [I] weeded out a huge portion of applicants." – Julie Weinhouse, principal at HERO Entertainment Marketing

"People should name their resume by their first and last name. A lot of times, candidates will send in resumes named 'espence_resume91.pdf,' 'Resume2013' or even 'revision5resume.' I'm glad you have revised your resume five times, but it would be great if version six had just your first and last name." – Pete Juratovic, president of Old City Press & Co. 

"With the widespread use of social media sites like LinkedIn, there is no need to add pictures to resumes. Use the space for more detail." – Mark Frietch, senior recruiter at Redfin 

While careless mistakes may cause a candidate to appear inept, resume lies paint a far shadier picture. Neither create a very compelling case for employment. However, according to a study from Hloom, a provider of resume templates and samples, such lies can have varying degrees of harm. 

"People find lies about education fairly serious, while fabrications about specific skills are deemed more harmless," the study's authors wrote.

Here are the complete rankings, based on a scale of 1 to 5 (with 1 being not serious and 5 being extremely serious), of the significance of each resume lie:

  1. University alma mater: 4.50
  2. Employment or work history: 4.17
  3. Academic degree: 4.16
  4. Foreign language fluency: 4.05
  5. College major: 3.73
  6. GPA: 3.45
  7. Projects or portfolio: 3.31
  8. Awards or accomplishments: 3.28
  9. Promotions: 3.19
  10. College minor: 3.16
  11. Computer or software skills: 3.09
  12. Job title: 3.09
  13. Dates of employment: 3.02
  14. Duties of former position: 2.99
  15. Research skills: 2.94
  16. Salary: 2.89
  17. Presentation skills: 2.83
  18. Membership in a club or organization: 2.81
  19. References: 2.79
  20. Communication skills: 2.67
  21. Year of graduation: 2.63

It's easy enough for a candidate to lie when pinging off their resume via email. The interview process, however, can bring such lies to light, especially when the candidate finds themselves unable to speak in detail about the things they've lied about. 

"In addition, background checks and reference checks often expose a resume's lies," said Augustine. "Lying about your education is pointless, because it's simple for an employer to call the institution directly for verification or to use a service, such as the National Student Clearinghouse, to confirm details of your educational background."

Getting caught in a lie won't only cost you the job, but it may lead to further repercussions. Worst-case scenario, you'll get blackballed from your desired industry.

"Some job markets are small. If the lie you told was egregious, you may find it has spread beyond the office walls of this prospective employer," said Augustine. "Also, if you are working with a third-party recruiting agency, there's a good chance they may cut ties with you. Lying about something that's easy to catch also speaks to your judgment – or lack thereof – which can be a deal-breaker for most employers."

Additional reporting by Marisa Sanfilippo, Dave Mielach, Jennifer Post and Chad Brooks.

Siri Hedreen

Siri Hedreen is a graduate of King’s College London, where she wrote for Roar News, London Student and Edinburgh Festivals Magazine. Find her on Twitter @sirihedreen.