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Avoid These Mistakes on Your Resume

By Daniel B. Kline, Tim Brugger, and Maurie Backman – Updated Jan 9, 2018 at 11:21AM

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One error could sink your chances of landing the job.

When you're applying for a job, consider your resume a frontline soldier. It's your first line of attack, and if it fails, well, the war is over. Even a small mistake or misunderstanding on your resume could lead a hiring supervisor to put your resume in the "no" pile.

Below, we'll share three ways to ensure your resume impresses employers. Keep in mind, though, that nothing is absolute. While you should use these best practices most of the time, if you're applying for a job that's a bit of a reach, then you may need to take a chance and do something different to get noticed.

A woman is being interview by a man and a woman.

Whether you land an interview or not depends upon your resume. Image source: Getty Images.

Visual inconsistencies

Maurie Backman: Your resume is your first chance to make a good impression on prospective employers, and one of the easiest ways to mess that up is to present a document that looks visually unappealing.

As you design your resume, don't just think about content and grammar (though those are top priorities), but also pay attention to the way it looks. Are you using the same font size and style for each section? Are you boldfacing key phrases or job titles intentionally? Is there an even amount of line spacing between sections?

Believe it or not, recruiters and hiring managers pay attention to these things, so before submitting a resume, take the time to ensure that it doesn't look sloppy. One of the most important things you can do on a resume is be consistent, so if you use italics when listing company names in one part of your resume, you need to continue that practice throughout.

Similarly, if you use round bullet points for line items under one job, use the same style of bullets for the next. Having a clean resume shows that you know how to pay attention to detail, and that's one skill you really need to get your foot in the door.

Less is more

Tim Brugger: I was a supervisor for many years, and one common and annoying mistake I saw job applicants make was submitting a resume that read like a professional version of Tolstoy's War and Peace. Keep in mind that the person reviewing your work history likely has a stack of resumes at least 30 or 40 deep. If something isn't necessary to demonstrate what you bring to the table, it doesn't belong on your resume.

A few dos and don'ts:

  • Avoid run-on sentences. Short, concise verbiage is preferred.
  • Use brief bullet points for key accomplishments relevant to the position you're applying for. Give an overview of your work history and positions. You'll fill in the gaps at the interview.
  • A resume should never (OK, "never" is a long time, but rarely at best) be more than two pages long.
  • Be consistent with your formatting.
  • Never use pink, yellow, or similarly colorful paper. I always felt it was a bit gaudy and distracted me from a candidate's strengths.
  • Please, whatever you do, don't add a scent to the aforementioned paper. (I've actually seen and smelled scented pastel paper. Needless to say, that resume ended up in the cylindrical file next to my desk.)
  • Have a friend or relative proofread your finished resume. A fresh set of eyes may catch a miscue you overlooked.

Remember: The objective of any resume is to pique a prospective employer's interest enough to warrant a face-to-face discussion. A clean-looking, easy-to-read work history relevant to the position applied for will rise to the top.

Avoid the big mistake

Daniel B. Kline: I once received a resume with a large quote from Oprah Winfrey at the top of it. It wasn't a particularly meaningful or inspiring quote, and its presence caused me to immediately discount the candidate.

The same is true when someone lists a lame objective at the top of their resume. Yes, I know you "want to secure a position working in your chosen field," but that doesn't tell me anything about you.

It's also a red flag if you went a university and can't spell its name right. Admittedly, I often type Hofstra as "Hofstar," but I would correct it before sending out a resume.

Your resume tells the person doing the hiring who you are. Are you really a trite quote or a spelling mistake? Is it actually important or novel that you know how to use basic social media and "all common word processors?"

Highlight extraordinary skills and unique things about you. If you have some coding experience or speak another language, list those things even if they're not directly relevant to the job. If, however, you collect My Little Pony memorabilia or locks of celebrities' hair, well, including those things on your resume could be a big mistake.

Think long and hard about each non-traditional item you put on your resume. Yes, you did win a regional hot dog eating contest, but will that impress or disgust the person doing the hiring?

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