(This article ran on our blog a few years ago. We believe it’s so important, we’re running it again this week)
Creating a succinct and attractive resume that contains well-prioritized data is one of the major challenges facing candidates today. Not only will an applicant’s resume be competing against hundreds of others, it must clearly portray the candidate in the most favorable light and as the most appropriate choice for the opening. In order to do this, several resume pitfalls must be avoided:
1. Poor or Inappropriate Formatting: The first impression a resume makes on an admissions director or hiring manager is generally the most lasting. Large blocks of uninterrupted text, small margins, text that is very small, or an abundance of bolding, italics, and “designer” fonts make documents difficult to read. Only one font (preferably Times New Roman or Arial) should be employed and never in a point size lower than 11. Bolding should be left to the header information (name, address, phone number, email) and subheadings within the document (Profile, Work History, Education). A candidate’s industry or field will determine whether the resume format will be conservative (i.e. Physicians, Teachers, CPAs, Individuals Seeking Admission to Graduate Schools, etc.) or more stylish (i.e. Marketing Professionals, Artists, Performers, etc.).
2. Lack of Focus: An effective resume should indicate to the reader within seven seconds, or less, the candidate’s targeted position and qualifications that match the opening. It’s not enough to list schooling, work history, and activities. Admissions directors and hiring managers will not thoroughly read a resume to cull needed information – candidates must provide this data quickly and effectively. Qualifications Summaries should include information as to what is sought (a position or entrance into a university program) and the candidate’s qualifications that are related to this. Employment History, Accomplishments, and Education should build upon what is provided in the Qualifications Summary.
3. Use of Self-serving Objective Statements: In today’s economy hiring managers are not interested in what a candidate wants (i.e. Seeking a position that will fully utilize my college education and provide for sufficient advancement within the industry). Rather, they seek candidates that clearly state what they can do for the targeted company in terms of cutting costs, increasing profits, and enhancing productivity. Hiring manager’s take note of applicants who place the company’s needs above their own.
4. Poor Data Prioritization: A resume should reveal the candidate’s professional & academic background as it applies to the targeted position or program being sought, and in reverse-chronological order (the last job worked or school attended is listed first within that section). If Education is an important qualification it should be presented before Work History, not dead last on the document. If real-world experience is valued, then it should come before Education. If special skills, such as IT, are at a premium, they should be showcased immediately after the opening summary, not left to the end of a two-page resume.
5. Failure to Showcase and Quantify Accomplishments: Hiring managers and admissions directors will not read every line of a resume to determine what a candidate has to offer, especially if it’s buried within dense blocks of text. Applicants must provide special sections indicating professional or academic achievements and these must be quantified. It’s not enough to write: Increased productivity within the division. Hiring managers and admissions directors will find this self-serving. A better way to present the data is to write: Increased productivity 58% within three-months of hire by retraining staff on latest accounting software. Providing percentages/dollar figures and time frames strengthen achievements.
6. Including Non-relevant Data: Hobbies and interests unless directly related to the current job search should never be included – such activities do not enhance candidacy. Additionally, birth dates, religious affiliations, race, social security numbers, and marital data should never be included.
7. Inappropriate Length: There is no one correct page length for a resume. The document is as long as it has to be in order to provide a clear and effective picture of the candidate. Professionals with many years of experience will most likely have two pages. To cram this data into one page or exclude important information in order to reach an arbitrary length will only dilute candidacy. The key is to provide only that data which is relevant to the current career goal. When this rule if followed, appropriate page length is always reached.
8. Personalizing the Document and using Casual Language: Modern resumes are business documents and should never be personalized with use of “I’ “my” “we” or other personal pronouns. Additionally, the tone of the resume should always remain professional and businesslike – slang is always excluded.
9. Redundancy of Data: Once information has been provided in a resume, whether it’s in the Qualifications Summary, Career Accomplishments section, or Professional Experience section, it is not repeated elsewhere. Hiring managers and admissions directors soon tire of redundancy and feel the candidate is padding the resume to reach a certain page length.
10. Spelling or Grammatical Errors and Incorrect Verb Tense: Once a spelling or grammatical error is detected by an admissions director or hiring manager, they will stop reading the resume. Their trust in that person’s abilities is forever lost. This is also true when dates of employment or education are obviously incorrect (i.e. a recent college graduate listing the date of graduation as 1979 instead of 1999), or when verb tense does not match dates of employment (i.e. current jobs have duties listed in present tense; previous jobs have duties listed in past tense).