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Is your resume generating disappointing results?
Have you been sending it for positions that you know you are qualified for, but the phone remains silent?
If so, you might want to check it and revise it against these ten common resume writing mistakes.
Mistake #1. Including an objective statement that tells the reader what you want.
If there is one major rule to keep in mind as you write your resume, it is that all of the content should be written to be employer-centered.
Objective statements that tell the reader what you want are inherently self-centered. The modern way of providing focus is to include a summary or profile section.
A profile is fundamentally different from an objective in that it is employer-centered, conveying to the reader what you offer them, rather than what you want from them.
Mistake #2. Writing your resume to be intentionally broad in scope.
Many people will write a broad resume out of fear that focusing too precisely will exclude them from certain opportunities. Unfortunately, this strategy turns out to be a resume writing mistake that almost always backfires.
Resume readers are notoriously lazy and give your resume only a few seconds at most before making the decision to screen it out or screen it in. If you are lucky, you have 15 seconds to clearly convey your focus (level and type of position you are seeking) and how you would add value within their organization.
If your focus is ambiguous and you haven’t made it crystal clear how you will “fit” in the company, you certainly can’t expect the reader to make the effort to figure it out.
Mistake #3. Including a generic profile/summary statement.
While it has become common and even expected that your resume will include a profile/summary statement, far too often they are just generic statements that do nothing to differentiate the individual from their competition in the job market.
What is it that differentiates you and make your contributions to the companies you have worked for better and unique than your peers?
What is the value proposition that you are making to the reader of your resume?
What sets you apart from the competition and what uniquely qualifies you to meet the needs and solve the problems of the employer?
Additionally, it isn’t enough to tell a reader that you have certain abilities or traits; you must show them through examples of past achievements. Prove impact! Forget about cliches and jargon. Soft skills are often important, but even those should be backed up by specific accomplishments that illustrate them.
Mistake #4. Describing your job scope and responsibilities in detail.
Think about it: Being “responsible for” doing something certainly doesn’t mean a person does it. What a person is supposed to do and what they actually do are two different things.
Many people make the resume writing mistake of selling features (responsibilities) rather than benefits (achievements/results). It is very important to place the emphasis on achievements, quantifying results whenever possible.
Document the ways in which your work has benefited your employers and quantify whenever possible. By including past achievements and results, you demonstrate your future potential.
Always remember, you won’t get hired for what you know how to do, you will get hired for what you do with what you know how to do.
Just telling the reader that you have achievements isn’t very effective unless you present them in terms of the results and benefits they have produced for past employers. You should always try to think in terms of the “so what” of your achievement.
What did you improve, save, increase, enhance, etc? What impact did the work you do have on the companies?
At the root, every single job is designed to solve a problem, save money, make money, or improve efficiency. It is crucial that you understand and be able to communicate the impact of your performance. Whenever you can do so, you should use numbers to illustrate your results, but even if you are unable to quantify achievements, the emphasis should still be on the results/benefits of your work.
The example resumes in our portfolio are filled with quantified accomplishments and will give you ideas on how to apply this principle in your own resume.
Mistake #6. Writing an autobiographical style resume.
Your resume is a marketing document. It is not an autobiography.
While the decision about how far back to date your resume really depends on the individual circumstances, generally it is standard to go back 10-20 years. If experience earlier than that is still relevant, you can always summarize it in a couple of sentences without the use of dates.
Always think in terms of relevance and impact. Does a particular piece of data or achievement support your personal brand and value proposition? Does it help promote your qualifications in relation to your current career goals? If not, you probably should not include it. In fact, by including irrelevant data, you dilute your focus and make the recipient wonder if you truly understand the position you are targeting.
If you feel really strongly that particular data may be relevant to at least SOME recipients, you can always create an addendum that you choose to use selectively.
Mistake #7. Including personal information.
If your resume is meant for the U.S. market, it should not include a photo, your birth date, mention of unrelated hobbies or interests, info about your family, info that reveals your religion, or any other similar personal data. Including such data in a resume meant for the U.S. market may actually eliminate you from consideration, as hiring decision-makers may be concerned about discrimination suits.
Mistake #8. Using a template design for your resume.
You should never use a template to create a resume. Your resume should be individually designed to highlight your unique qualifications and selling points and to set you apart from other candidates. If you use a template (or a format that looks like a template), you ensure that your resume will simply blend in with all the rest. Sadly, this is a very common resume writing mistake.
To really compel action, your resume MUST attract immediate attention and present an unquestionably professional appearance. Create an eye-catching resume design, but forego the templates!
Mistake #9. Using the same structure and resume writing techniques that you were taught in college ten years ago.
A common resume writing mistake made by experienced professionals is the overemphasis of education. As an experienced professional your history of accomplishments and proven ability to produce and deliver results is far more important than your degrees. Only new graduates with very little or no experience should list education at the beginning of the resume.
It is important that you prioritize and organize your selling points, listing categories of primary importance first in your resume.
The best structure in almost all circumstances is a combination reverse chronological order. This includes a profile/summary section, a reverse chronology of your work history and achievements, education, and other qualifications such as professional affiliations.
Mistake #10. Listing all your achievements in a section separate from your career history.
It is critical to show progression and a consistent, repeated ability to produce results. By listing ALL your achievements separately from your career history, you lose this.
Go ahead and use specific achievements to illustrate the value proposition and personal branding that you convey in your profile. In fact, it is crucial that you do so. But, for the most part, the majority of your achievements are best presented within the chronological and situational context in which they happened.
In other words, go ahead and include a SUMMARY of achievements that are selected to illustrate your value proposition and brand, but the body of your resume should also include achievements and results that illustrate your impact in each company or each position.
Do you still feel at a loss about how to improve your resume, even after reading these tips? If so, we urge you to consider hiring a professional resume writing services firm like Distinctive Career Services. Hiring a resume writer is an investment, but it is an investment that will often pay you back many times over by dramatically shortening your job search, positioning you to win coveted positions, and preparing you with the pitch you need to negotiate top compensation.
As a first step, book a free consultation with us today. We’ll be happy to spend time with you on the phone, discussing your goals and needs, answering your questions, and determining if our services might be a good fit for you.
NOTE: This article was originally published September 27, 2010. It has been updated to reflect current resume best practices in 2020.