You know who’s credited with inventing the modern resume? Leonardo da Vinci. When he applied for a job in the courts of Milan, his listed skill set included: “making cannon, mortar and light ordinance of very beautiful and functional design,” and “executing sculpture in marble, bronze, and clay.” But times have changed since 1483 — no longer do most prospective employers honor quality clay work, and the majority of resumes we ship out end up buried in a three-foot stack on an overworked HR rep’s desk.
To help us break on through to the other side of gainful employment, we’ve enlisted the help of two premier career experts: Alexandra Levit, best-selling author/owner of a Wikipedia page, and Dana Leavy-Detrick, head honcho at Brooklyn Resume Studio. They were nice enough to help us identify the most common mistakes made by job seekers, resume tweakers, and anyone looking for a leg-up on the competition.
You’re lying, when you should be “exaggerating”
Stretching the truth is pretty much standard on any resume. But there is a line you simply cannot cross. “Never, under any circumstances, spin your qualifications to the point where you can’t back it up in an interview,” Levit told us. “Eventually, in the screening, or the job itself, you’ll be exposed.” So don’t claim you can speak Spanish, si no hablas español, hombre.
You’re not including any numbers
Never underestimate the power of hard, quantifiable data. Experience matters, but prospective employers want to see results. “If you say ‘Managed a team of 20 sales people,’ what does that mean, really?” said Levit. “Say something like ‘Managed a team of 20 sales people that directly increased overall profits 40% over the previous quarter.’ It’s not just about listing your responsibility, it’s about proving why your responsibility matters.”
You’re not using the right keywords
Nowadays, ATS (application tracking systems) take the first crack at the lump of resumes that pour into major companies — and those robot eyes are peeled for industry-specific keywords. “Peppering your resume with keywords is always a good idea, for ATS systems, as well as HR managers and screeners trained to pick out certain phrases,” Levit said.
Both our experts suggest scanning job descriptions (the one you are applying for, duh, and related posts) as well as the LinkedIn profiles of industry professionals to find some commonly used terms.
You’re wasting space with your references
A common mistake is putting too much additional info on your resume, and that includes your references. “You have limited space on there to get your point across,” Leavy-Detrick said. “If you really want to, you can include a separate document with your reference info… but most companies will ask you for them when the time comes.”
Levit agrees: “Checking references normally comes at a later stage. And to be completely honest, many companies will request references, and not even reach out to them. It’s a lot more common than you would think.”
You’re leaving off your study abroad program
“Any international experience, whether it’s being multilingual, having business experience in other countries, familiarity with other cultures, and even studying abroad should definitely make it on any resume,” Levit said. “It’s a skill set that’s very in-demand right now.” Though in my opinion, maybe you should leave that two-week “stint” (read: bender) in Amsterdam out of it…
You’re not asking a human to spell-check for you
“Typos might not be that big of a deal to some people,” said Leavy-Detrick, “but it just shows that the candidate isn’t thorough or detail-orientated, which is a negative for almost any job — though obviously for some jobs more than others (like accountants, compared to copyeditors).” Both our experts emphasize that spell-check programs can miss major spelling, grammar, and syntax slips. The only real solution is having another pair (or multiple pairs) of real life, human eyes checking your work.
You’re making it too flashy
With resumes making the jump from paper to digital, a wealth of flashy, customizable options have risen to the surface of the web. But Levit warns to exercise caution and make sure you know your audience.
“Start-ups might eat this kind of stuff up because it shows creativity, but larger companies that run their resumes through a screening process might be turned off by anything too confusing.” She adds, “Most people design their applications as if the CEO was going to look at it. Well, he might — but not before it goes through HR, and they might not have the same appreciation for a flashy design the way a Creative Director would.”
… or it’s way too boring
On the flip side, landing the job is all about standing out from the pack, and it’s important to strike the right balance. Use bullet points, bolding, and light color variations to spruce up a mundane resume. “Content is always more important than presentation,” said Leavy-Detrick, “and you don’t want to detract any attention away from the core message of the resume: your accomplishments and experience.” Use a font sized somewhere between 11 and 13, and choose a font that’s easy on the eyes. Sorry to all you Comic Sans fans — whoever you are.
You think people still care about what you did in college
“The longer you’re out of school, the less your education matters,” Levit told me. “It’s important [for a first job] to list GPA, school clubs, etc. But as you get older, what employers really care about is professional experience, not what you did in college.” And don’t even think about putting your high school on there.
You’re not playing up your odd jobs
Any type of working experience can be valuable, according to Levit, especially if you don’t have much else to add. It’s all about how you frame it. “Okay, say you were working the register at a pizza shop. Try including a blurb with hard data, like ‘Overall in-store sales increased 20% over the previous year while I was working the register.’ If you helped with any type of marketing — a flyer, coupon, or campaign — that can go a long way. It not only shows you have initiative and can create results, it proves you have an understanding of the job market, and what employers want to see. It will always impress people, even if you think it inconsequential.”
You’re saying too much
“No one is going to be counting every line of your resume, but it’s always better to keep it concise. You want it to be an easy read, and being able to write with impact in a small space is a good sign of maturity in a candidate. It’s harder to write a short resume, than a long one,” Levit said.
“Unless you are a senior candidate, with a ton of viable, professional experience, you should really try to keep it to one page,” Leavy-Detrick added. Who knew being long was a badthing, in today’s world?
… and making it too hard to scan
“Big blocks of unreadable text are the last thing you want when someone is scanning your resume and evaluating you,” Leavy-Detrick said. “You need to break up the text, either with separate paragraphs or bullet points.” Levit suggests starting with one sentence outlining your experience in a certain job, followed by a few quick bullet points that outline some of your major accomplishments, loaded with industry keywords.
You’re not including volunteer work
While listing extracurricular activities may be a nice way to fluff up a resume that’s lacking substance, one thing in particular should be highly emphasized: volunteer work. “You should definitely be including volunteer work on your resume, especially if you haven’t had many professional jobs,” Levit said. “It shows concrete, positive experience, and is just a nice touch.A lot of the skills needed to help with fundraisers or running a campus group will translate nicely to the workforce.”
You’re not using the right template
A functional resume (as opposed to a standard resume, which profiles your jobs and accomplishments in a chronological order) is only a good idea if you don’t have much experience. According to Leavy-Detrick, many companies frown upon functional resumesnowadays, as they have a tendency to shield candidates with an inconsistent work history. But if you do have work inconsistencies or very little (like, almost zero) experience, Levit suggests using a functional resume to put skills and collected accomplishments from minor jobs, school, or volunteering front and center.
You’re emailing it in the wrong format
PDFs are the way to go, in the words of both our experts. “It’s easy to read on any device, and it will make sure any fonts and formats aren’t messed with. Simply put, it’s the professional way to send a resume, and should be the standard,” Levit said. I guess that’s why trying to stand out with my “carrier pigeon” method never paid off.