Avoiding critical resume mistakes

Alan Ludmer is the president of ARL, LLC; specializing in individual career transitions, outplacement, and career and executive coaching, search/recruitment, corporate marketing and branding. He is the lead consultant for the JF&CS LifeLine Program which has helped numerous members of the St. Louis Community successfully navigate difficult career transitions.  He is a frequent speaker and author on career transitions,  employment issues, and entrepreneurship. For more information contact [email protected] or visit his blog at stljewishlight.com/ludmer.

Alan R. Ludmer

I’ve sent out hundreds of resumes over my career, applying for just about every kind of job.  As a business owner, and as a search and outplacement consultant, I’ve personally reviewed hundreds of resumes.

Some resumes are great, most are just ok, many are disasters. The toughest part is that I’ve continued to see the same mistakes made again and again by candidates, any one of which can eliminate them from consideration for a job. What’s most depressing is that I can tell from the resumes that many of these are good, even great, people. But in a fiercely competitive labor market, hiring managers don’t need to compromise on quality. All it takes is one small mistake and a manager will reject an otherwise interesting candidate.

Here are the five biggest mistakes I see on resumes.

Mistake 1: Typos. This one seems obvious, but it happens again and again. A recent survey found that 58% of resumes have typos.  In fact, people who tweak their resumes the most carefully can be especially vulnerable to this kind of error, because they often result from going back again and again to fine tune your resume just one last time. And in doing so, a subject and verb suddenly don’t match up, or a period is left in the wrong place, or a set of dates gets knocked out of alignment.. Typos are deadly because employers interpret them as a lack of detail-orientation, as a failure to care about quality.

The fix?

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Read your resume from bottom to top: reversing the normal order helps you focus on each line in isolation. Or have someone else proofread closely for you.

Mistake 2: Length. A good rule of thumb is one to two pages. A crisp, focused resume demonstrates an ability to synthesize, prioritize, and convey the most important information about you. Think about it this way: the  purpose of a resume is to get you an interview. That’s it. It’s not to convince a hiring manager to say “yes” to you  or to tell your life’s story. Your resume is a tool that gets you to that first interview. Once you’re in the room, the resume doesn’t matter much.

Mistake 3: Formatting. Unless you’re applying for a job such as a designer or artist, your focus should be on making your resume clean and legible. At least ten point font. At least half-inch margins. White paper, black ink. Consistent spacing between lines, columns aligned, your name and contact information on every page. If you can, look at it in both Google Docs and Word, and then attach it to an email and open it as a preview. Formatting can get garbled when moving across platforms. Saving it as a PDF is a good way to go.

Mistake 4: Confidential information. I once received a resume from an applicant at a major consulting firm. This firm had a strict confidentiality policy: client names were never to be shared. On the resume, the candidate wrote: “Consulted to a major software company in Redmond, Washington.” Rejected! There’s an inherent conflict between your employer’s needs (keep business secrets confidential) and your needs (show how awesome I am so I can get a better job). So candidates often find ways to honor the letter of their confidentiality agreements but not the spirit. It’s a mistake. Which tells me, as an employer, that I should never hire those candidates … unless I want my own trade secrets emailed to my competitors. 

Mistake 5: Lies.  Putting a lie on your resume is never, ever, ever, worth it. Everyone, up to and including CEOs, gets fired for this. There are three big problems with lying: (1) You can easily get busted. The Internet, reference checks, and people who worked at your company in the past can all reveal your fraud. (2) Lies follow you forever. Fib on your resume and 15 years later get a big promotion and are discovered? Fired. And try explaining that in your next interview. (3) Our folks taught us better. Seriously.

So this is how to mess up your resume. Don’t do it! Hiring managers are looking for the best people they can find, but the majority of us all but guarantee that we’ll get rejected. The good news is that — precisely because most resumes have these kinds of mistakes — avoiding them makes you stand out. 

 

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