As a professional that's been in the career services industry for over 14 years, I have probably looked over tens of thousands of resumes and have personally written thousands more.
I'd like to share the most common mistakes I see job seekers make, which are potentially causing them to lose out on valuable opportunities - correcting these mistakes should improve the overall performance of the job search.
#1 Using the wrong layout
There's already another stickied post on this subject, but I still see people committing this mistake all the time. In short, don't use a two-column resume if you're submitting through company websites or job boards (i.e., Indeed, LinkedIn etc.).
Short answer: Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)
Longer Answer: ATS reads your resume from top to bottom and left to right. When you add another column (or other incompatible elements for that matter, such as graphics or logos), you introduce another layer of complexity and make it harder for the system to properly read your resume. As a result, sections may get misread or not read all.
Use a traditional, single-column format. I recommend using Microsoft Word or Google Docs. I do not recommend using other programs such as Canva, Adobe InDesign, or Overleaf (LaTeX).
#2 Writing generic content
To begin, let me first define the term 'context' which is going to be key here. Context is specific information that makes your resume and the descriptions within it unique to you. It allows the reader to understand and appreciate your story. A resume with zero context will sound generic - a lot like a job advertisement. Here's an extreme example:
Generic Statement: "Achieved excellent sales results".
Specific/Contextualized Statement: "Earned top spot in the company's 2019 national sales rankings for achieving 220% against annual sales target".
The second statement is much more informative and tells the audience not only what the achievement was, but also why it was earned. This is a good example of how you can use context to ensure your descriptions are quantified, specific, and informative.
In general, a good description will address three informational goals:
A challenge or problem to be solved. This doesn't always need to be explicitly stated. For example, in the second statement in quotes above, the problem is implied - to meet and exceed sales goals and rank high as possible on the sales charts.
The action(s) you took to address that challenge. What did YOU do specifically. I don't care what your team or your boss did.
An outcome that resulted as a direct result of your actions. What did your actions produce? It doesn't always need to be a monumental, earth-shattering impact, but it does need to be there.
#3 Failing to curate your resume to your targeted role
If you were to walk into your local car dealership looking for an off-road vehicle for travelling through muddy terrain and the salesperson tries to sell you on a two-door Volkswagen beetle, you'd think they weren't very good at their job.
So why would you do that to a prospective employer? By submitting a resume for a role it wasn't written for, you're demonstrating one of two things:
You don't understand the requirements of role you're applying for, OR
You're too lazy to tailor your resume to the role.
Both of these are equally bad and often result in being ignored by the company.
How do you tailor your resume to the job?
Step 1: Read the job posting carefully. Identify what they're looking for in terms of experience/responsibilities, skills, licenses/certifications, and education.
Step 2: Put yourself in the recruiter's shoes. How quickly can you identify any given prerequisite from the job advertisement on your resume? Is it easily identifiable or do you need to dig in for several moments to find it?
Step 3: Does the language used in your resume match that in the job description? Are you using the same terms?
Example 1: Company A is requesting at least 5 years of experience doing X. Your summary (if you include one) would begin by saying 'X Professional with 5+ years of experience in X'.
Example 2: Company B is requesting CPR, AED, ACLS, and PALS certifications. You would include a section labelled as 'Certifications' and list these (exactly as they're presented in the ad).
DON'T DO THIS
Copy and paste the job description into your resume - it's very easy to spot and is disingenuous.
Lie and/or embellish your accomplishments. You may get away with it, but if a clever hiring manager puts you on the spot, it'll be obvious (In my experience as a recruiter, I was privy to many of these situations during interviews and it doesn't look good - trust me).
About the Author
James Cooper is a Certified Professional Resume Writer and has been in the recruiting, career coaching, and writing business for almost 14 years. He began his career recruiting for AECOM, a Canadian engineering firm, and he's gone on to work with and help professionals land roles at top Fortune 500 companies.
Have questions about resume writing? Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.