In the past few weeks I’ve written about interview mistakes, interview questions and how to get your dream job… but what about your resume?
Your resume is important. It’s the interview that gets you the job, but it’s your resume that gets you the interview.
Unfortunately due to the high volume of applicants, recruiters and hiring managers aren’t looking for what’s right about your resume, they’re looking for what’s wrong with it, so they can eliminate it. It’s sounds harsh but it’s true. One mistake and you’re out. They have to create a shortlist somehow so they start off by eliminating anything that doesn’t look right in order to make their lives easier.
So what do you put in your resume? What do you avoid? What do you leave out?
In this article I’m going to show you…
1. Not tailoring your resume
The single most common mistake job applicants make is not tailoring their resume for the role they’re applying for.
When an employer/recruiter advertises a role, they’re not seeking generic resume’s from unemployed applicants desperate for work, they’re seeking applications from candidates with subject matter expertise in the skill set they’re hiring for, and whose resume looks like an exact match to the job advertisement/description.
I understand you might have been doing many different things in your last role especially if you were working in a small company or a start-up. But as a rule of thumb you should always tailor your resume for the role you’re applying for and include any key words used in the job description. So if you’re applying for a role as a Solution Architect, you want your resume to look like a Solution Architect, not like a Solution Architect/Business Analyst/Project Manager.
Seriously if you send in a generic resume for a job you don’t have a chance. Your resume needs to stand out from the pack. A generic resume just isn’t going to do it.
Compare your resume to the job advertisement/job description – does it look like the perfect fit?
If you were the hiring manager would you call you based on your resume?
Don’t ever send in a generic covering letter “to the recruiter” or “to the hiring manager” either. It’s better to send in NO covering letter than to send in a generic one. A generic covering letter won’t even be read. It just says to the recruiter/hiring manager that you’re applying for all kinds of roles and there is nothing in particular that is special about this one.
Your covering letter (if you choose to send one) should be a personalized response to the key selection criteria mentioned in the job ad. If the role advertised specifically mentions 5 points in the key selection criteria, then your covering letter had better address all five points.
Look at your resume side by side with the job advertisement/job description and ask yourself:
- Does your resume look like the ‘perfect fit’ for the job?
- What is most important to the employer?
- Is it reflected clearly in your resume?
- Does your resume meet all of the criteria listed in the job description?
- What is lacking/missing on your resume?
- What would improve your resume?
- Would you call you based on your resume?
2. Sending your resume in PDF format
If you’re sending your resume into a recruitment agency don’t send it in PDF format.
Recruiters hate getting resume’s in PDF format.
Because they always want to edit your resume in some way before sending it to a hiring manager. However most recruiters don’t have PDF editing software which means they need to wait several hours for you to resend them your resume in word format before they can edit it and make the changes they need to and that slows down the recruitment process.
Why recruiters edit your resume:
- Deleting irrelevant/personal information
- Editing spelling mistakes
- Changing borders/fonts/tables
- Highlighting experience
A few hours might not sound like much, but it can be the difference between getting your resume in front of the hiring manager and not.
Some hiring managers are always in back-to-back meetings and only set aside one hour per week to review resumes, so if a recruiter misses that window it might be a week or more before your resume will be seen by the hiring manager. By that time the hiring manager will have likely set up interviews with other candidates.
3. Ignoring keywords
If there are certain words used in the job advertisement like ‘Agile’, and you have experience working in a formal Agile environment, working with SCRUM Masters, Product Owners, doing daily stand-ups, 2-week sprints, poker planning, retros etc. make sure to specifically include that information in your resume.
4. Not highlighting relevant experience
If you know that the job is seeking a certain type of experience, for example: experience with automation testing using Selenium or UFT, always make sure that experience is listed towards the top of your bullet point list of responsibilities and the first thing the hiring manager/recruiter sees when they look at your resume.
5. Not highlighting achievements
Don’t just talk about your responsibilities and what you did, talk about the results you achieved and be specific about it.
Examples of achievements:
- Achieving 127% of your budget
- Doubling or tripling sales
- Saving the company $2 million dollars
- Getting promoted to management within 6 months
- Getting your company positive market recognition or press coverage
- Winning a company award
6. Downplaying unpaid experience
Volunteer work is no less valuable than paid work so don’t downplay it by using words on your resume like “Unpaid” or “Volunteer”.
Your future employer doesn’t need to know if you got paid or what you got paid.
The only things that matter are:
- Where you worked
- What you did
- What you achieved
7. Irrelevant jobs
In saying that, you don’t want to have any jobs that are irrelevant to your current career on your resume.
So remove references to previous jobs at McDonalds, Starbucks, Subway etc. from years ago if you’re trying to get a job in IT.
If the only work experience you have however, is at McDonalds, Starbucks, Subway etc. leave it on your resume because something is better than nothing.
8. Making yourself seem too senior for a hands-on role
One of the biggest mistakes I see senior candidates make is emphasizing their managerial experience and seniority when applying for a “hands-on” role.
This is a mistake. Instead of impressing the recruiter or hiring manager with your experience and seniority, 99% of the time you will just get rejected for being “overqualified” and “too senior”.
I understand you might have been a program manager in your previous job responsible for a $50 million dollar budget and a team of 50 people, but if you’re applying for a hands-on role you need to look hands-on.
So what do you do if you were hands-off in your last role but don’t mind doing a hands-on role?
There is no easy answer to this question but I suggest emphasizing your most recent hands-on experience at the top of your list of bullet points in your resume, and de-emphasizing your hands-off managerial experience by pushing it towards the bottom of your bullet points.
You might also want to think about your job title. I’ve advised many Test Managers to change their job titles to “Senior Test Analyst/Test Lead” when applying for a Test Analyst role, because I know that having a title like “Test Manager” is likely to get the candidate rejected by most hiring managers even if they were previously hands-on and are more than capable of doing the job.
If you are seeking a hands-on role I also advise writing a note in your covering letter explaining why and then following up your application with a call to the recruiter responsible for shortlisting the role to let them know why you have applied and asking for their advice as to how to proceed.
This is an important step because most recruiters will immediately eliminate any “overqualified” resume’s so you might need to talk the recruiter around and convince them to proceed your application despite your seniority.
Reasons employers/recruiters reject overqualified candidates:
- Candidate will get bored/won’t be challenged in the role
- Candidate won’t stay in the role
- Candidate will want too much money
9. Unrelated objective
Too many candidates make the mistake of having an objective on their resume unrelated to the job they’re applying for.
If you have an objective on your resume that doesn’t relate to the job you’re applying for the only thing you’re going to do is talk yourself out of a job.
I would advise having no objective on your resume at all. Let the recruiter or hiring manager see what they want to see.
10. Years without months
Be specific about what months you worked in each role as well as the years. Otherwise it makes it sound like you’re trying to hide something.
For example: Don’t say –
- Project Manager
- 2011 – 2015
- Project Manager
- May 2011 – September 2015
11. Brief engagements
If you only worked somewhere for a couple of weeks because:
- You didn’t like it
- The project was cancelled
- You were fired
I suggest removing it from your resume completely.
I’m not saying to lie, I’m saying not to draw attention to it.
12. Blocks of text
Make sure your resume is formatted and readable. Don’t just have blocks of text without bullet points, spacing, formatting and paragraphs. Think about your reader.
13. Excessive formatting
In saying that, recruiters aren’t interested in your fancy design skills or how much you can make your resume look like a colorful infographic. All they want to see is where you worked, what you did and what you achieved.
So don’t use a lot of different colors, fonts and tables on your resume. Black and white is fine. Keep it simple.
14. Highlighting English Language skills
If you’ve moved to an English speaking country and your English is fluent but not your first language, don’t make the mistake of highlighting your IELTS exam marks.
When I read a resume from a candidate and it lists an IELTS score, even a really high score, instead of thinking: “this person probably speaks great English”, I think the exact opposite: “I didn’t know you had difficulty speaking English – NEXT.”
English might not be your first language but no one assumes you can’t speak fluent English just because you’re from another country. So don’t make a point of drawing attention to it in your resume.
15. Spelling mistakes
This should be obvious but as a recruiter I see a surprising amount of spelling mistakes on resume’s and LinkedIn profiles. (Your LinkedIn profile is your resume for the world to see).
Make sure your resume has NO spelling mistakes. Spell check it, proof read it 3X, and if you have any doubt at all, ask a friend to double check it before you send it.
Spelling mistakes make you look like an idiot. They make you look amateurish. When I read a resume with spelling mistakes like ‘mamager’ or ‘tehcnologies’ it shows me you pay no attention to detail.
Avoid all cliché’s:
- Detail orientated
- Excellent communication skills
- Fast learner
- People person
- References available upon request
17. Abbreviations and acronyms
Avoid using any acronyms and abbreviations.
Unless the abbreviations are well-known in your industry, don’t use them.
18. Having a book for a resume
Make sure your resume isn’t too long. As a rule of thumb resumes should be between 2-4 pages (and in America no longer than one page).
You might have had 30 years work experience but you don’t need to display all of it on your resume. All that any employer or recruiter wants to see is the last 10 years of your work experience clearly summarized within 2-4 pages on your resume.
If you want to include what you did before that you can summarize it briefly:
“1995 – 2007 Various Project Management positions in Banking and Finance.”
19. Adding a photo
You don’t need to add a photo to your resume and it looks weird if you do.
Photos are great for LinkedIn profiles, but not for resumes.
20. Generic Titles
Get rid of titles like “Consultant” and “Technical lead” from your resume.
I understand that if you were working for a large consulting house like Accenture or Infosys that might have been your internal title, but these titles don’t mean much to recruiters and hiring managers and they don’t exactly say what you did.
Instead, I recommend changing your job title on your resume to what you actually did. So if your role was C# ASP.Net Software Developer – make that your title on your resume.
21. Personal details
Age/date of birth, single/married/unmarried etc. might be relevant on Indian resume’s (I don’t know I’m ignorant on this topic), but it’s completely irrelevant information in western countries and shouldn’t be mentioned on your resume.
22. Social media accounts
Don’t mention your social media accounts: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc. on your resume unless you want your future employer to spy on you.
23. Unprofessional email address
If you want to be taken seriously avoid having an unprofessional email addresses such as beerlover1990 or playboy2002.
There shouldn’t be any gaps in your resume. If you had some time off, if you went back to school, if you went overseas say that on your resume. Don’t just leave a gap leaving the interviewer to wonder what you did from 2013-2015.
Don’t lie about anything on your resume. Not your education, skills, experience or anything else. You will get found out.
Your resume is important. It’s the bait that makes recruiters and hiring managers want to call you for the initial phone screen and meet you for the face to face interview.
However recruiters and hiring managers aren’t looking for what’s right about your resume, they’re looking for what’s wrong with it so they can eliminate it to make their lives easier.
Here are 25 Resume Mistakes to avoid:
- Not tailoring your resume
- Sending your resume in PDF format
- Ignoring keywords
- Not highlighting relevant experience
- Not highlighting achievements
- Downplaying unpaid experience
- Irrelevant jobs
- Making yourself seem too senior for a “hands-on” role
- Having an unrelated objective
- Writing the years without months
- Including brief engagements
- Blocks of text
- Excessive formatting
- Highlighting IELTS exam marks/English language skills
- Spelling mistakes
- Abbreviations and acronyms
- Having a book for a resume
- Adding a photo
- Generic titles
- Personal details
- Social media accounts
- Unprofessional email address
If you’re in the job hunt, I also recommend you check out my other career articles:
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