Anyone’s who’s spent more than a few seconds Googling 'résumé mistakes’ knows that the Internet is awash with blog posts warning about the dangers of spelling mistakes and a failure to use action verbs on your résumé.
While there’s a sea of such tips available, most of the information out there is painfully obvious, and not particularly helpful to someone with even the tiniest modicum of common sense.
Further, most of it fails to address the less obvious, but equally crippling résumé mistakes below that I see qualified and capable candidates make on a daily basis.
1. You’re a ‘consultant’
Listing ‘Consultant’ to cover up a gap on your résumé is the oldest trick in the book. It’s a huge red flag, especially if you use vague descriptions, with nary a client name or project detail in sight.
If you’ve worked as a sole trader, freelancer, or independent consultant, providing specific details will go a long way in putting a recruiter’s mind at ease: the clients you worked with, duration and scope of engagements, impact, and responsibilities associated with building a business and finding clients.
2. You buried the lede
Just as hiding the most important, newsworthy part of a story is considered bad journalism, so is burying the most important aspects of your job deep within a résumé considered bad personal branding.
When my team writes a résumé, they take pains to present the most important information front and centre, making it easy to spot during a quick scan.
Use relevant descriptions, titles and keywords on the front page, and for every job you include, write a high-level bullet point to introduce the role, your mandate, and key targets.
3. You didn’t quantify
Recruiters know what a Head of Operations, General Manager, VP of Marketing, or Account Director does in their day-to-day work, so providing a laundry list of your duties isn’t particularly impactful.
What does make a difference is demonstrating scope, and for that you need to share hard numbers.
Recruiters want to know size of budget and P&L accountability, number of direct and indirect reports, reporting structures, and organisational size and hierarchy... all of which they use to piece together a picture of the candidate.
Whenever you can, quantify your duties and accomplishments, being as specific as possible.
4. You look old fashioned
If you’re looking for a role in a modern organisation, you need to look modern.
The number of résumé's I’ve seen delivered on heavier weight paper or listing hotmail addresses... well, they’re all signs you’ve got one foot stuck in decades past.
I suggest that you invest in a personal website and personal domain email, such as firstname.lastname@example.org, to signal that you take your brand seriously.
Stick to email when it comes to distributing your résumé. And whatever you do, don’t list a home phone number as your only contact information: true or not, nothing says “unemployed” like someone who sits at home all day.
5. You copied your job description
Job descriptions can be fairly task-driven, describing the duties involved across role types within an organisation. Moreover, these often aren’t written by staff who have a clear idea of how your role contributes to the strategic priorities of the organisation.
Rather than embracing this generic document as a source of content for your résumé, I suggest you spend time clearly defining your role and contribution, detailing out what you did and how it contributed to the commercial success of the business.
6. You seem like you’re hiding something
While you may not be trying to hide anything, neglecting to include details like dates and institution names on your résumé makes it seem like you are. When I see a résumé with missing dates of tenure, I’m inclined to assume that there are gaps in your career history. Similarly, missing dates of education or institution names strongly suggest that the candidate either hasn’t a recent qualification that they’re proud of, or has low-quality degrees.
7. You have an objective statement
Remember back when objective statements were all the rage? Well... that train has left the station.
Using an objective statement makes it look like your Aunt Linda (who retired from HR about 20 years ago) wrote your résumé. Not only does it look outdated, it limits the extent to which you can highlight your brand, key skills and accomplishments, and commercial value.
Kick the objective statement to the curb, and replace it with a Professional Summary which contains one to two succinct and snappy paragraphs in which you establish your unique value.
8. Your résumé is not tailored
You can’t be all things to all people, and nor can you have one résumé for all roles.
Candidates who think they can get away with a one-size-fits-all résumé give the impression of trying to slide by without putting in the requisite effort. Worse, they often fail to address the core competencies needed for each.
While you don’t need to rewrite your entire résumé for every role, you do need to consider what’s important for each. Create several versions of your résumé and fine-tune bullet points, key skills, assets, and keywords to make each one fit-for-purpose.
9. You listed every job you’ve ever had
When it comes to preparing your résumé, more is not better.
While I understand the impulse behind including your entire work history — after all, you want to look experienced — a ‘greatest hits’ strategy is a far better approach.
My team typically details between 3 and 6 of the most recent and relevant roles from the past 10 to 15 years, listing earlier career history in a summary section that includes titles, organisations, and tenure.
We also take a ‘Russian Doll’ approach, whereby your most recent roles are allocated more real estate on your résumé than those further back in time.
10. You didn’t tell the right story
You might be so focused on capturing every detail of every job that you lose sight of the forest for the trees. Ensure that you stop to consider how you come across from a high level and whether the message you’re sending is the story you actually want to tell.
Remember that, positioning yourself as a standout candidate requires selling your story, not just your skills.
Key points to remember
Keep in mind that while one or two of these mistakes probably isn’t a kiss of death, they’re certainly not helping your cause, either.
Winning at the employment market game means putting forth a cohesive, relevant brand, and showcasing your strengths and USP across both online and offline mediums.
While online mediums such as LinkedIn and personal websites are becoming more and more important, your résumé is still a critical element in your personal brand — and thus cannot be neglected.
Which of these résumé mistakes are you guilty of, and are there any I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments.
ABOUT IRENE MCCONNELL
A former HR Manager and Talent Acquisition Specialist, I once provided advice to top tier companies on their talent decisions. I now partner with C-level executives, non-executive directors and management professionals to position them as candidates of choice in today's ultra-competitive - and increasingly digital - job market.