Small Business Help

Top five resume mistakes to avoid

Joseph Patterson | January 28, 2009

I spoke a while back about using a nifty iPhone application to search for jobs by geographic location, and how the economic downturn could be quite good for freelancers.  Having discussed these topics, it occurred to me that I might have missed the most important topic of all, your resume; your ‘presentation of self’ on paper.  While some people truly enjoy writing and working on resumes, I personally loathe it.  I’m never quite able to convey exactly who I am in 30 seconds or less in person, much less on paper.  In one of my previous lives, I managed a recruitment team and have seen a lot of great resumes.  Conversely, I’ve also seen a number of dreadful resumes over the years, and noted some common pitfalls for your benefit.  Here are five tips to making your resume rise to the top.


Remember what your mama told you, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”  Recruiters and HR agencies typically skim resumes, and rarely actually read them until you make the 2nd, or 3rd round.  Your best bet of here is to make your resume scanable.  I know we all have a love/hate relationship with Microsoft Word, but it’s a worldwide recognizable format, and recruiters are used to it, and know exactly what to look for and where.  Use one of the resume templates.  Don’t jeopardize your chances by presenting recruiters with what might be a graphic masterpiece, but in turn increases their already hectic workload as they then have to search for relevant information.

Relevant Information

Lots of potential applicants try to express the depth of their vast experience by listing non-position related info on their resumes.  While this was great in high school when you padded your college application with every bit of extra curricular activity you had time to participate in, the opposite is true on the job application.  Some will play up the number of committees they’ve served on, different job titles they’ve held, departments and industries they’ve worked in, etc..  This might be one of your cocktail party icebreakers, but to a recruiter, this doubles their work, as they now have the job of figuring you out and evaluating if you’re the right person for the job.  Remember, you are applying for one position with a firm, not to be the office ‘do-all’.  Recruiters are trained hunters, and often work in ‘seek and destroy’ mode – meaning they’re only there to find the most relevant job information on your resume.  Packing it full of every bit and bob only guarantees your resume being moved further and further down the chain.

What you accomplished, not what you did

Some of the best resumes that I saw pass my desk were those that listed accomplishments and not positions.  To be quite frank, recruiters could care less if you’ve managed a 20-person team of sales professionals.  What they are after is what did you achieve during this time?  From the time you joined the company to the time your left, what happened?  Doubled sales figures?  Maintained productivity and output while reducing operating costs by 20%?  Did customers stay on board longer thanks to your innovative approach to CRM?  Positions and titles are great, but if there are no tangible figures behind them, they’re meaningless.  Take a long hard look at that resume.  If it’s not achievement based, it’s time to start the edit.

Take aim….FIRE!

As mentioned above, scanability is one of the most important aspects for your resume to have.  Speaking from personal experience, a recruiters in-box is never empty, and on any given day, I’d receive anywhere from 50-100 resumes.  Yes, I had a staff to delegate these to, but I personally scanned each one before deciding whom to hand it off to.  My department worked on a rotating schedule where each of us had one week every two months where we were appointed the ‘Pointless’ resumes.  Meaning, when a resume came in, and the applicant simply sent us a ‘wall’ of text with no bullet points, someone in the department had the unique honor of reading every single word on that resume and deciding if we wanted to move this person forward.  Do NOT put you job future in jeopardy by submitting a pointless resume.

Typeos and speling erers

This is the most common error recruiter’s encounter when reading resumes.  To be fair, recruiters themselves rely heavily on ye old F7 key, and not only want, but require you to do the same.  It’s not that recruiters have advanced degrees in English composition, but rather, a trained eye to pay attention to the details and see a candidate for more than just what’s written on the page.  Spelling errors and typos indicate to the recruiter a lack of conscientiousness on the applicants’ part.  If an applicant did not grasp the gravity of the situation during the application phase, how will they perform, and thereby represent the company, in a high-pressure environment?  Obviously, each resume you send out should be tailored to the unique position, but the overall content will remain the same.  Be sure to run spell check more than once (and remember, the green line is your friend, correct your grammar as well).  Have a friend or partner read your resume a few times over and offer constructive feedback.  And last but not least, read your resume backwards starting at the bottom and working your way up.  This ‘out of order’ method of reading will help you catch any typos or incorrect spelling substitutions that spell check may have automatically replaced for you.  Dew yew sea what eye am getting at?

Let’s face it; no one likes applying for a new gig.  It’s a painful process often requiring a number of hoops to leap through.  By applying these seemingly simple, yet often overlooked tips you’ll find yourself a leg up on the competition in today’s über competitive job market.

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