Top Resume Mistakes to Avoid (Part 2)

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Oops!In Part 1, I covered the top two mistakes that I see clients make on their resumes.  In this post you’ll learn how to avoid six more resume pitfalls.  Topping off this list:

Your resume places too much focus on responsibilities, not enough on accomplishments

Which phrase do you think is more powerful?

  1. Responsible for running monthly financial reports.
  2. Redesigned monthly financial reporting process, cutting production time from one month to five days.

We both know that #2 has a greater impact. Phrase one was taken from a client’s “before” resume, while phrase two was taken from her “after” resume, re-written to be more accomplishment-oriented (and then used to successfully accomplish a career change).

Always strive to go beyond responsibilities and include accomplishments (i.e. the “so what’s”).  Showing the impact of what you’ve done separates you from your competition.  If you can’t use numbers to quantify impact, try “substantially improved”, “well-received” or something similar.

You can also use well known names of things, organizations or places to create memorable images. For example, one client wanted to demonstrate his entrepreneurial ability as it was part of a sales position’s requirements.  He could have written “Bring an entrepreneurial approach to sales” (which was what he had originally).  Instead, we changed this bullet point to the more effective “Featured in Entrepreneur Magazine as a dynamic sales entrepreneur.”


Your resume is too hard to read

I often get resumes that are intimidating “walls of text.”  They are written in tiny fonts, or with non-existent margins, in service of a notion that their resume just has to be on one page (or is it two pages?).

In terms of importance, the number of pages is way down on the list. Far more important— your “how I can help you” message needs to jump off the page in 10-30 seconds.  And readability (not length) is key to getting your message across quickly.  Make your resume easily scan-able, so an employer can quickly pick out the information you want them to see. This means:

  • No big paragraphs—people don’t want to read them!   In fact, paragraphs of more than three lines should be banned from your resume.
  • Use bullets, and bolding and/or underlining of key phrases to make your accomplishments stand out.
  • Use plenty of white space to make the resume easier to read.  Let the resume be as long as it needs to be to tell the “here’s how I can help you” story.  I and other Club coach-colleagues have had countless successes with more senior clients using 3-4 page resumes to land interviews!  On the other hand, sometimes one-page is just the right length (especially if you have less experience).
  • Use readable fonts: Times New Roman 12-point or Arial 11-point are roughly comparable in size, and both work well.  Some people have trouble reading smaller fonts on printed resumes.

Don’t forget the “Golden Rule” of resume writing: Your “how I can help you” message needs to jump off the page in the 10-30 seconds a potential employer is looking at your resume.  Everything you do on your resume should serve this #1 rule.


Your resume uses a non-chronological format

Some jobseekers try different formats to hide a lack of conventional experience or gaps in work history.  This doesn’t work because the reader is expecting a chronological format with the most recent dates first; they either don’t take the time to figure out your format, or think you’re hiding something.  Either way, you lose. At the end of the day, an employer wants your resume to quickly tell them both what you did and when.

If you feel you have problems with your experience, e.g. gaps in time, different industries, over/under-qualified, etc. the summary section discussed in Part 1 will solve most of these problems.  And  as we discussed in Part 1 as well, pick and choose what you want to include in the chronological portion that follows the summary section.


Your resume contains too many meaningless phrases

I get many resumes filled with phrases like “results-oriented problem solver” or “references available upon request.”  It wastes valuable resume real estate, and the reader’s time, to have these obvious, meaningless phrases on the resume.  So leave them out!


Your resume starts off with an “Objective”

Every potential employer wants to know “how can you help me.” The objective statement by definition focuses instead on how they can help you!  Keep your focus on them—don’t use an objective statement.  Instead, have a summary section which shows the title on top representing your job target.


You pay too much attention to resume “rules” that violate the #1 Rule

So-called rules like “leave out anything older than 10 years,” your resume has to be on one page (or two pages, depending on the telling), the company needs to come first, and then the job title, etc. etc.  all have one thing in common; implementing them should depend on the situation– that is, whether or not each of these items serves the aforementioned “Golden Rule.”  For example, in some cases your job title may resonate more with a potential employer than the company name, while in other cases the reverse may be true. Change the relative emphasis accordingly.  Check out this post for an additional case study.

To summarize the common mistakes from both parts 1 and 2 of this blog post, here’s a list of Resume do’s and don’ts:

Do…

  • Have a summary section
  • Make sure your summary matches your pitch
  • Make sure your resume positions you for the particular job
  • Be selective about what you include and choose to emphasize
  • Make your resume accomplishment-oriented
  • Use the jargon of the job you’re going for, not your last job
  • Use boldface and/or underlines for emphasis
  • Use bullets, single sentences, or very short paragraphs
  • Use action verbs- “Created”, “Led”
  • Use white space for easier reading
  • Make sure everything you do on your resume supports the “Golden Rule”

Don’t…

  • Be too literal with your work history– instead emphasize the relevant experience
  • Use dense paragraphs
  • Have an “objective”
  • Write superfluous things like “References Available…”
  • Use a non-chronological format
  • Throw in ‘no kidding’ phrases, e.g. “results oriented problem solver”
  • Be overly concerned about resume length
  • Follow “rules” that violate the Golden Rule
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