Dear Sam: What are some of the common mistakes you see on résumés that can be easily avoided?
Dear Steve: There are several areas on a résumé to which candidates do not pay enough attention. I have found this is not necessarily from a lack of effort, but more due to a limited understanding of those things that can distract a hiring manager and disqualify a candidate. Some of these areas include:
Unprofessional or incomplete headings
As simple as it seems, review your résumé heading. Never include a work phone number or your company’s 800 number, as this could tell a potential employer that you do not value your company’s resources. The hiring manager does not know if your employer is aware of your search or not, so do not assume he or she will think this practice is acceptable.
Include your cell phone number only if you can answer it professionally every time. Review voice-mail messages for all of the numbers listed on your résumé, and ensure they are reinforcing your professional image.
Lastly, be sure you have a professional e-mail address. Do not use one containing your graduation year, birth year, etc. These are very easy to spot and can destroy strategic efforts to minimize a candidate’s lack or abundance of experience.
Spelling mistakes, typos and poor grammar
Proofread, proofread and then proofread again. Overlooked mistakes send a message to the reader about your lack of attention to detail. Have someone else proofread your résumé to be sure you are submitting an error-free document. Turn off the grammar check in Word once you are sure your résumé is written effectively. This will avoid your résumé appearing with green wavy lines under certain sentences. Fragmented sentences will likely appear throughout your document, and there is no need to try to avoid this as it is a very effective way to write a résumé. Turning off the grammar check will ensure that the reader is not distracted by the green lines.
Emphasizing job duties instead of achievements
Hiring managers are not as interested in what you were paid to do; they are more interested in where you went above and beyond and contributed to the success of your employer. While you need to include some information on what you were responsible for on a daily basis, emphasis should be placed on the value you contributed to your employer, being sure to distinguish achievements from responsibilities through a separate subheading or formatting choices.
Selecting the wrong format for your résumé
When considering a reverse chronological, combination or functional format, choose wisely based not only on your desire to present your experience a certain way, but also the knowledge that hiring authorities prefer reverse chronological or combination résumés, and traditionally dislike functional formats.
I see a lot of functional résumés that really do not need to have a purely functional format. Instead, the writer could have used a more savvy combination format that would have pleased the hiring manager while still achieving the focus the candidate was seeking.
While combination résumés can be more difficult to write, the fact that they are a hybrid of the two other formats makes them a wiser choice if you seek to focus the hiring manager’s attention on certain aspects of your career (possibly by pulling out related achievements and responsibilities in a Career Highlights section appearing before the Professional Experience section) while minimizing potentially disqualifying factors (such as limited related or recent experience, large employment gaps, frequent job hops, etc.).
Using a cookie-cutter design
Try to create a unique look for your résumé, avoiding templates that hundreds of other candidates have used. Think about a hiring manager reviewing his or her 50th résumé of the day. If your résumé looks like 20 others, it will not stand out from the crowd, regardless of the content.
Try to develop a unique and professional design. Doing so will go a long way in compelling the reader to spend more than seven to 10 seconds on your résumé during the screening process.
Samantha Nolan is a certified professional résumé writer and owner of Ladybug Design, a full-service résumé-writing firm. Do you have a résumé or job-search question for Dear Sam? Reach Samantha at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more about Sam’s résumé-writing services, visit www.ladybug-design.com or call (614) 570-3442 or 1-888-9-LADYBUG (1-888-952-3928).