Top 5 Most Common Resume Mistakes

November 6, 2012 at 12:59 pm 3 comments

By Clyde Atkins

Landing a job or internship requires four steps. So far, we’ve written about three, cover letters, networking, and interviewing. Now, I’d like to take a step back and look more closely at the first step: writing a resume.

To recruiters, your resume defines you. Before you have the opportunity to interview, your resume has to communicate why you are a valuable candidate. A swarm of students are all gunning for the same few positions at top firms, and as you write your resume, your mission is to stand out from the crowd and show recruiters your value.

As you write your resume, you should have in mind a single goal — getting an interview. After you’ve been selected to interview, you have a whole new set of goals, but I’ll save that topic for another day.

Like all written communication, a resume should be crafted with the reader in mind. Imagine yourself in the shoes of a recruiter, wading through a pile of resumes, looking for diamonds in the rough. What would you look for? What would stand out? With that in mind, consider the top five mistakes that will prevent your resume from landing you an interview:

1.     Poor formatting

Formatting: the first thing a recruiter notices about every resume. Yes, your resume has to look good, but I’d like to emphasize a more important nuance: you must direct the reader to the things you want him or her to read. As someone who has reviewed resumes, I can assure you that many of your bullet points will go completely unread. You must steer the reader from one highlight to the next, which requires an understanding of how a recruiter will skim your resume. GPA will almost always receive a glance, so start there, and try to imagine what would catch your eye if you were a recruiter quickly scanning the page from top to bottom. I’ll admit, getting the formatting just right requires some artistry, but don’t focus too much on making your resume pretty; focus on highlighting your biggest accomplishments and most valuable traits.

2.     Vague descriptions

If your first bullet point on your most recent internship reads, “Managed daily activities, and optimized workflow to ensure peak efficiency,” then you will not get an interview. Be specific, and include numbers where you can. For example, if you acted as a project manager, write, “Managed 3 projects simultaneously, and reduced completion time 25% from the expected timeframe.”

3.     Clichés & Jargon

Clichés go hand in hand with vague descriptions, because students (especially in business school) like to regurgitate the meaningless jargon they’ve heard in the business world.

Warren Buffett endorses plain language as a basic tenet of good business communication, so write your descriptions in a way that anyone could understand. Additionally, when you write descriptions of your professional experience, write in a way that emphasizes your achievements rather than your duties.

4.     Objectives includes the objective statement as one of ten tips for an interview winning resume, but I agree with Alison Green, who writes, “Objectives are generally unnecessary . . . [they] state the obvious, so [they] waste space.”

You applied for the job, so the recruiter knows your objective is getting the job. Use that space for other skills or experiences.

5.     Fluff

You should hate fluff. If a recruiter happens to read a bullet point on your resume that doesn’t communicate anything worthwhile, you will not get an interview.

Less is more.

As I mentioned in number 1, recruiters are skimming resumes as quickly as possible, so if you find yourself expanding upon one experience just to make sure it has enough bullet points, stop. Take a step back, and think about where you could more effectively use that line.

Open up your resume, and give it a quick edit with these tips in mind. If employers reject you from interviewing time after time, don’t give up; even the best candidates can be excluded from consideration if their resume doesn’t communicate their value effectively.


Entry filed under: Job-search Communication.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jackson Reeves  |  November 6, 2012 at 10:05 pm

    Thanks for the tips, Clyde. I found them all very helpful, and I especially liked the point about jargon. I find myself and my classmates throwing around meaningless jargon often. Unfortunately this jargon tends to be confusing, rather than useful in selling ourselves through resumes.

  • 2. Trisha Turlington  |  November 8, 2012 at 3:31 pm

    its very easy to get caught up in cliche’s to describe your experience. its also very easy to want to include absolutely every little thing on your resume, thinking it will make you look more well rounded and involved. However, this ends up backfiring and overwhelming the reader rather than helping you. these tips are good to make sure you include only what is necessary and sets you apart. Numbers stand out so much and are easy to skim through and catch which makes them so much more valuable

  • 3. Ryan Ramsey  |  November 12, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    I began reading this post assuming that I wouldn’t learn anything new, because we are told by so many different people how to write a good resume, but I have never considered eliminating the objective portion. You’re absolutely right: if I’m applying, I’m interested in getting the job. So I would say that if it is a position for which I cannot come up with a unique, valuable, and concrete objective other than some variation of ” I want to get the job”, then you’re right that it’s only a waste of already very limited space.


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