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10 Common résumé errors and how to fix them

Heather Barnett is a freelance writer and foodie whose work has been featured in blogs, websites, magazines, and TV and radio ads. She spends her free time relaxing with her soulmate, Keith; her dog, Mosby "The Fly Slayer;" and Felix th...

Put your best font forward

If you're having trouble landing a job interview, your résumé may be to blame. These tips will help your résumé get noticed (in a good way) and keep your résumé from being filed in the trash bin.
Woman holding resume at job interview
Photo credit: Yuri_Arcurs/iStock/360/Getty Images

If your résumé isn’t getting the results you want, maybe it’s time to find out if you’re making one of these top 10 résumé errors. We’ll even tell you what to do if you think you can’t fix them yourself!

1

Fun with fonts

Literally the fastest way get your résumé wadded up without a word read is getting a little too crazy with the font. Fonts that are too big or too small are hard to read. You may think Comic Sans is fun, but unless the job you’re applying for is court jester, skip it. We agree that Curlz is really cute and girly, but even someone hiring a kitten sitter is looking for reliability.

Use a standard font like Calibri, Arial, Helvetica or Times New Roman. Although they’re not exactly “cutesy,” you should avoid fonts like Century Gothic, which is a bit bubbly and some people find difficult to read, or Perpetua, which is a bit tight for some people’s tastes. Font sizes should be around 11- or 12-point, depending on the one you choose.

Quick tip: Steer clear of caps lock in a résumé. Studies show people have trouble accurately reading text that’s in all caps.

2

Limp language

If ever there were a time to #humblebrag, this is it. The key to the art of humble bragging is in the words themselves. You want to show yourself in the best light possible without sounding like you’re gunning for the CEO’s job (even if you are). The goal here isn’t to puff yourself up or exaggerate, just tell the truth in the best way possible.

Use very specific words that evoke a clear image of how you were instrumental in the success of your previous company or in your previous role, but don’t go crazy with the thesaurus (don’t use words you wouldn’t use in conversation). Avoid passive (indirect) verb construction (was called, were created, got elevated) — in all cases, it should be clear that you took a specific, decisive action to get the job done.

Bad: Productivity was increased by 38 percent, shipping errors were reduced by 12 percent and as a result, department expenditure was decreased by an average of $12,000 per month without the need to let go of employees.

Good: Implemented several tracking procedures to reduce shipping errors by 12 percent and implemented a new standard workflow that increased productivity by 38 percent. This resulted in a per-month average expenditure decrease of $12,000 without a reduction in staff.

Quick tip: Be careful with your objective statement. This is a place to be clear, concise and direct. Flowery language or “purple prose” will hurt you here.

3

Using "familiar" language

This is business communication. While phrases using personal pronouns and contractions are acceptable in many other forms of communication, the goal is to make yourself sound like a business asset, not a person. Don’t say “I developed a product… ” say “Developed a product… ” While industry terms are acceptable if they're used correctly and they don’t sound forced, avoid slang, even if you’re applying for a job in a more casual industry.

4

Spelling and grammar "miskates"

Grammar and spelling errors are simply unacceptable in a résumé… period. But don’t just "luck" for those telltale squiggly red underlines in your document. Spellcheck will miss a lot of things a human eye won’t. You "no" what I mean if you’ve been paying attention to this paragraph. Would you hire me now? Certainly not as a writer.

But you have to write as part of almost every job you do, even if it’s just the odd email here or there. Employers need to know that you’re going to represent their company well.

After writing your résumé, set it aside for a few days. That will better enable you to catch little errors you might skim past when you’re still too “close” to the material. Read it aloud to slow yourself down so you’ll catch weird errors like “miskates” instead of “mistakes,” “luck” instead of “look” or “no” instead of “know.”

Additionally, you need to brush up on grammar. If you have any questions, we recommend that you check out Grammar Girl. But here are the most common errors:

  • Commas (they don’t necessarily go where you pause when speaking)
  • Commonly misused words (there vs. their, fewer vs. less, etc.)
  • Clichés
  • Sentences that are difficult to read or understand
  • Repetition (it’s OK to use a word more than once, but using the same word repeatedly is a crutch and often makes it seem as though you only have one type of experience)
5

Leaving out dates

A lot of people have date gaps in their résumés. Some people take time out to have kids, some people get exciting opportunities to participate in non-work-related endeavors and still others just decide not to work, only to have to return to the workforce. Employers aren’t as turned off by gaps in your working history as they are when you leave the dates out altogether (if you have the right qualifications, they aren’t turned off at all). Having no dates on the résumé is just suspect — what exactly are you trying to hide? They give you a fake history in the witness protection program, so that’s certainly not it.

Keep the dates intact. If you have a gap in your employment history, you’re better off trying to turn it into a positive. If you took a year off so you could travel the country, leave the gap in your work history and mention your travel (and what you learned there as it relates to what you want to do) somewhere else.

If you took some time out to have kids, there’s no reason to hide that. Every employer knows that’s a fact of life. Many wish they or their wives had the same luxury. Don’t “mom” up your resume by any means, but accept the fact that you’ll be asked if you’re called in to an interview and have a killer response prepared. If they don’t like that your gap was to raise your brood, you probably don’t want to work for them, anyway.

6

Inconsistency

A consistent format is important to keep your résumé looking neat and to ensure that someone can quickly locate any information they need. All of your headers should be in the same font and size, as should your body text. If you use complete sentences to describe your work at one company, use the same throughout. This is the kind of attention to detail employers look for. In fact, to ensure consistent style throughout our site, SheKnows has a style guide posted so everyone knows how to properly format their articles. If worst comes to worst, steal as much as you can from us!

7

Unattractive layout

Your resume should look appealing from the first glance. We’ve already discussed font and consistency, but you should also make your résumé appear attractive on the page. This isn’t the time to get too creative unless you’re a Microsoft Word ninja or have some design experience.

You should be careful of résumé templates (like the ones that come with word processing software), too. They can be a bit quirky with certain formats. If you’re not happy with your Plain Jane layout, hire a professional and get him to do several versions for you (preferably in a format you can control, i.e., Microsoft Word or Apple iWork’s Pages, in case you need to make last-minute adjustments).

8

The wrong way to get personal

Unless you’re in a creative profession that requires you to submit certain information like gender, age and head shots, that information is inappropriate (in fact, hiring or not hiring you based on it is a violation of several federal laws and may cause some employers to question your professionalism). This is particularly true if you are attractive. Many employers will assume you’re trying to get hired on your looks and may question your qualifications.

Make sure the personal information you do include is correct. No one can hire you if your phone number or email address is incorrect. Speaking of email addresses, have a professional one. No one wants to hire someone they have to email at hotredheadedmama@aol.com. Your future employer doesn’t need to know whose mother you are or what your hobbies are when they email you. You can’t always get your first and last name, nor can we all have a personalized domain, but something like janedoewriter@gmail.com is just fine.

9

The one-size-fits-all approach

If you aren’t tweaking your résumé slightly for each job you’re applying for, you likely aren’t researching the company properly, either. After you’ve developed your core résumé, it should take one or two hours to customize your résumé for each job you apply for.

Tailor your objective statement to mirror keywords they use in the job listing. Revise your cover letter to ensure that you seem like just the right candidate for the job they have to offer.

10

Failure to leverage you

Every résumé is different because every person is different. If you’re a college student, lead with your educational accolades and skills — Chili’s is a great restaurant, but a stock brokerage company doesn’t need a waiter. What they do need is someone who can manage multiple clients simultaneously while ensuring all monetary transactions are completed properly. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t list an employment history, just don’t lead with it.

By contrast, if you’ve got years of experience, most employers care more about that than the college you went to. List your employment history (with the specific accomplishments you had at each company) in reverse order. If you write this well enough, by the time they get to your education section, they won’t care if you went to Princeton University or the School of Hard Knocks.

Don’t forget to include a summary section at the top of your résumé either way. This is the short one or two paragraphs you use to make your hard sell. Think (good) infomercials here. They take the best features of their products and let you know up front what you’ll be missing if you don’t watch the full half hour!

No matter who you are, employers want to know why you’re the person they should hire. This means telling them what you’ve accomplished, not what your responsibilities were.

Bad: Answered phones, kept a detailed calendar and managed travel plans.

Good: Coordinated the executive director’s complex travel itinerary, arranging travel accommodations, communicating daily schedules to relevant personnel, and troubleshooting last-minute issues as needed.

Just figured out my résumé sucks… now what?

If you’re breaking half of these rules and you have no idea how to fix them yourself, seek professional help. There are companies and people who specialize in résumé writing. Just go with a company that can show you real-life examples, especially if they have testimonials of happy clients.

More résumé tips

5 Ways to improve your résumé
How to create an award-winning résumé
Résumé tips for the stay-at-home mom

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