Avoid the Top 10 Résumé Mistakes

Most employers are deluged with résumés from eager job seekers. Some human resource managers have hundreds of them sitting on their desks on any given day. With competition this fierce, the key to effective résumé writing means being certain that yours is free of the common errors that many employers complain that they see made over and over again.

A strongly written résumé can be the difference between landing an interview and landing in the “no” pile. Here are 10 common pitfalls to avoid when preparing your résumé:

  1. No clear focus. Your résumé should show a clear match between your skills and experience and the job's requirements. A general résumé with no sharp focus is not seen as competitive. Why are you the best person for this particular position?
  2. Dutifully dull. A solid résumé is much more than a summary of your professional experience; it’s a tool to market yourself. Avoid phrases like “responsibilities included” or “duties included.” Your résumé should not be a laundry list of your duties but rather an announcement of your major accomplishments.
  3. Poorly organized. Information on a résumé should be listed in order of importance to the reader. Don't ask employers to wade through your hobbies first. Dates of employment are not as important as job titles. Education should be emphasized if you are freshly out of school and have little work experience; otherwise, put it at the end. If your résumé is difficult to read or key information is buried, it's more likely to be cast aside.
  4. Too much emphasis on old jobs. Résumés that go too far back into the job seeker's work history can put that person at risk for possible age discrimination. Does anyone really need to read about your high school job bagging groceries, especially if that was 20 years ago? The rule of thumb for someone at a senior level is to list about the last 15 years worth of professional experience.
  5. Important skills buried. Don't forget to bullet the important skills that make you a standout in your field. Your objective is to play up the value that you will bring to a prospective employer. Emphasize how and what you will add worth to the company, not the reason you want the job. Employers are looking for someone to enhance the organization, not their own résumé.
  6. Drab looking. Try to stay away from the cookie-cutter résumé templates that employers see constantly. Show a little imagination when writing and designing your résumé. But don't overdo it. Overly artistic or tiny fonts are a no-no, since they're hard to read and don't scan or photocopy well.
  7. Too personal. If your Web site includes photos of your cat or your personal blog about what you did over the weekend, don't steer prospective employers there by including it on your résumé. Keep your personal and your professional life separate in order to be taken seriously.
  8. One typo too many. Your résumé is your one chance to make a first impression. A typo or misspelled word can lead an employer to believe that you would not be a careful, detail-oriented employee. Spell-check software is not enough, since sentences like “Thank you for your patients” would get the thumbs up. Ask several people to proofread your résumé to be sure that it is free of typos and grammatical errors.
  9. Stretches the truth. Everyone wants to present his or her work experience in the most attractive light, but information contained on your résumé must be true and accurate. Whether you're simply inflating past accomplishments or coming up with complete fabrications, lying is simply a bad idea. Aside from any moral or ethical implications, chances are that you'll eventually get caught and lose all credibility.
  10. Skips the extras. A common mistake is neglecting to mention any extra education, training, volunteer work, awards, or recognitions that might pertain to your particular job area or industry. Many employers view such "extracurricular activities" as testament to a well-rounded employee, so leverage such things as assets to distinguish your résumé from the hordes of others out there.

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