You might be making one of these most common resume mistakes, getting your resume thrown in the “no pile” immediately.
Pop quiz: what is the purpose of your resume? If the answer that popped into your head was, “to get me a job, duh,” then you’d be wrong.
The purpose of your resume is to get you an interview. That’s it. You’re almost definitely not going to be hired solely due to your resume, which means you’re going to have to interview.
The average HR professional or hiring manager spends 6 seconds reviewing your resume to decide whether or not to invite you for an interview. That’s not a lot of time.
I’ve reviewed thousands of resumes and made hiring decisions for hundreds of positions (both paid and volunteer), so I get it.
When I have a stack of 100 resumes to review and I only want to interview 10 candidates, I don’t want to spend three hours getting from 100 to 10. If I spent just two minutes on each resume, that’s how long I’d spend!
I’ll likely make my decision within about 20 minutes. How do I narrow it down so quickly? A yes, no, and maybe pile. In my first round, very few people get a “yes” and most people end up in “no” or “maybe.”
Here is my list of 11 most common resume mistakes to fix to help you avoid that “no” pile. In a future post, I will cover how to increase your odds of ending up in the “yes” pile.
Please note: I’m not going to develop tons of resources about resume writing. That has already been done. I am only sharing a few strategies from my perspective – which means you need to learn more to make sure your resume is on the right track.
A simple Google search for “resume tips” will get you started (remember, these tips will be pretty basic – you want to go above and beyond). If you’re a beginner or really committed to having a master-level resume, I highly recommend my friend Brian Robben’s book The Golden Resume.
Enough wind up: here’s the pitch! Fire up your resume and fix any of these you can find.
Most Common Resume Mistakes
1. Resume relics – references, home address, etc.
This is not a huge deal and almost definitely wouldn’t cost you an interview. However, it is entirely unnecessary to list your home address or the line “references available upon request” on your resume.
Employers, like you, communicate by email now – they don’t need your address unless they hire you, at which point you’ll fill out forms. And you don’t need to tell employers references are available upon request, because they know that. If they want references, they’ll ask.
Don’t list your references either. You can produce a separate reference sheet upon request.
2. Soft words like “oversaw”
Every bullet point on your resume should start with an action verb. Pick a good action verb, not something fluffy like “oversaw” or “helped.” These verbs leave questions about what you actually contributed.
Use words like coordinated, managed, developed, implemented, supervised, improved, recruited, etc. depending on the particular accomplishment. These will sharpen your resume and really “sell” yourself.
Let’s say you were an office assistant intern at an accounting firm last summer.
Instead of: “Oversaw project to reorganize file system for all client records.”
Use this: “Reorganized file system for 5,000 client records, decreasing time to find files by 50% and saving associates one hour per week on average.”
Not only did I remove the fluffy “oversaw,” I was more specific and showed I understand the business value of my work. Showing this will shoot your resume to the top.
Check out this list of powerful resume verbs for further inspiration.
3. “Responsible for”
In addition to being one of the most common resume mistakes, these words just make me sad. If you’re writing about what you were responsible for, it makes me think you didn’t actually do anything. Your resume should detail your accomplishments – what you did – not what you were supposed to do.
Just because you were responsible for something doesn’t mean you were good at it. Employers know that and can spot this on your resume from miles away.
For everything on your resume, think about what you accomplished. What did your work contribute and why does it matter? Describe your accomplishments rather than your responsibilities and your resume will immediately be 5x better.
Let’s go back to our accounting firm internship.
Instead of: “Responsible for filing records, ordering supplies, and planning intern networking events.”
Use this: “Filed 5,000 client records, decreasing time to find files by 50%. Ordered 100 different types of office supplies constituting $20,000 in purchases. Planned 3 intern networking events to connect the firm’s 25 summer interns to senior associates and executives.”
See how that’s better? Not only did I say what I did rather than what I was responsible for doing, I quantified my accomplishments.
Which line do you think is more likely to impress a resume reviewer?
Also, I deliberately picked a pretty mundane position. It’s even easier as your work gets more complex.
Your bullet points should start with action verbs, so you probably shouldn’t have first-person (“I” or “we”) in your resume at all. But “we” is especially bad.
It’s bad because you aren’t job hunting as a group; it’s an individual activity. So in addition to avoiding the word “we,” talk on your resume about what YOU did… not your teammates. This applies to interviews as well.
5. Your picture, colors, cute fonts
Hopefully the “resume tips” Google Search Results will tell you this, but it’s really important so I’m mentioning it. Feel free to get creative with your resume, but avoid anything too cute.
Make sure your font is readable and not too fancy. Keep your picture 10 miles away from your resume – I see one of these occasionally and it immediately sends your resume to the “no” pile.
Color is a bit more specific. If you’re interviewing for a traditional position in business, finance, IT, engineering…then I recommend a black/white resume. Making your headings blue probably won’t land you in the “no” pile, but why take the risk?
I usually only recommend color in your layout or text if you are applying for a marketing, design, or other creative position – then you SHOULD spruce up your resume to show off the quality of your work.
6. Word vomit
You do not need to tell your life story on your resume. Just say enough to intrigue them and to realize what you could contribute to the company. Then save the rest for the interview.
I recommend 0.5″ margins and 10pt font or larger, but not smaller. Don’t make them squint to review your resume!
7. Excessive space / huge fonts
On the other extreme from “word vomit,” you should have enough content to fill an entire page. If you don’t think you do, think harder.
Add more detailed descriptions about your accomplishments. I promise, you can do it. You shouldn’t have a 20pt font for your name, 12pt spacing between every line, and 10-word bullet points just to get to the bottom of the page.
Make sure your resume is substantive and complete, otherwise you’ll seem like you didn’t put in the effort and end up in the “no” pile in 6 seconds or faster.
8. Experiences you can’t back up… or didn’t contribute much to / positions without description
This is important: be prepared to talk about every single line on your resume in the interview.
Now, it’s possible you won’t get a single question based on your resume. It’s also possible your entire interview will stem from your resume.
If you don’t think you can give a substantive interview answer about an accomplishment, remove the line. You don’t want your interviewer to think you’re lying or exaggerating.
Listing positions without a description is similar – why take up the space? If you don’t have anything important to say about the position or award or skill, should it really be on your resume?
9. Achievements/positions from another era of your life
This site is for anyone at any stage of your career, so I’ll break this down.
If you’re in high school, get rid of your middle school accomplishments. If you’re in college, get rid of your high school accomplishments. And if you’re in your first full-time job looking for your second, start dropping the student organizations, scholarships, etc.
Your resume should be a reflection of what you’ve been doing recently, not twenty years ago. And your accomplishments should be improving, so every time you do something new, it should knock something old off your resume.
This Dice article suggests starting to remove your college experiences from your resume within 2-5 years after graduation.
Of course there are exceptions. If you did something truly remarkable – you were in the Olympics, you earned a top national scholarship, etc. – use discretion and keep it in there.
10. Irrelevant information
Tailor your resume for the position for which you’re applying. Make the content as relevant as possible. One of the most common resume mistakes is including accomplishments that are irrelevant to the position you’re applying for.
I suggest having a long “master resume” that you can chop down and remove irrelevant content for each position.
If you’re aiming for an accounting position, your marketing experience is not as relevant – unless you read the job description and you’ll be doing marketing for whatever reason.
Read the job description, reflect on what the employer is really looking for, and stack your resume with examples of when you’ve done those things.
11. A second page (for entry-level positions)
If you’re in high school applying for college, or college applying for an internship or your first full-time job, or within the first 5 or so years of your career… you should REALLY have a 1-page resume. (The rest of this one doesn’t apply to you if you’re further in your career.)
I get a lot of push-back on this one, but I’m standing my ground. I don’t want to read multiple pages. Use concise language, get rid of positions that are insignificant or redundant with others, and get it down to one page.
Some employers don’t mind, but others will throw you in the “no” pile just for a second page. Why take the chance?
Of course, once you’re 3-5+ years into your career applying for management or other complex roles… use discretion. You may have enough to talk about to justify a second page or beyond.
Bonus! Sometimes: Summary, Objective
This isn’t on the main list because your mileage may vary. In a lot of cases, I recommend removing the summary section and especially the objective section.
Just ask the question: does this add value or does it just look like I’m filling out a resume position? If your objective is “to obtain a marketing position for a Fortune 500 company,” remove it because it’s obvious. Of course that’s your objective, otherwise you wouldn’t have applied for the job.
Likewise, if your summary section reads like a list of Match.com buzzwords, nix it. They aren’t going to offer you an interview because you told them you’re hard-working, driven, ambitious, creative, etc… they’ll be the judge of that. So show them with your accomplishments whatever you’d write in your summary.
Only have a summary or objective if you have something important to say that makes it more likely you’ll get an interview.
If you remove these most common resume mistakes and turn your resume into an “interview ticket” with suggestions from this post, you’ll be well on your way to ending up in the “yes” pile more often than not.
Is there anything on your resume you’re not sure about? Anything in this post you disagree with? (Feel free!) Let me know in the comments, send me an email, or reach out on social media. I’d love to chat about it!
I want all posts on Uneven Odds to be actionable, so here’s your “to do list” after finishing this post:
Your to do list:
- Open up your resume and go through every single word. Does it add value? Is it likely to help you get an interview if the reviewer randomly jumps to that point? If not, remove it and replace with something better.
- Skim this post again and look for any of these “red flags” on your resume.
- If you’re a beginner, apprehensive about your resume, or really want to knock it out of the park – I highly suggest Brian Robben’s The Golden Resume. There’s a Kindle version and softcopy available. It’s a worthwhile investment of a few bucks and few hours, and probably the best single resource I’ve seen to help you improve your resume.