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Resume Mistakes

Learn how to avoid five resume mistakes that can impact your career.

5 Resume Mistakes That Can Kill Your Career

by Kevin Donlin

As a professional resume writer with 11 years of writing, hiring and managing experience, I've seen the same mistakes time and again in resumes.

Mistakes in your resume can damage or even kill your career. Because a sub-standard resume can prevent you from ever being called for a job interview.

But don't worry! If your resume isn't 100% perfect, you're not alone. And help is just below, in this article.

Here are the five mistakes that ruin most resumes (and what you can do to prevent them).

Mistake #1: No objective or summary.

By not describing what job or field you want to work in, you start your resume off on the wrong foot. Why? You force the employer to read it all the way through to figure out what kind of job you're suited for. You create more work for your busy reader. This is the last thing you want to do!

If you know the exact job title you're applying for, say so! Start the resume like this:

Marketing Manager, where 10 years of sales, marketing and management experience will add value to operations.

What if you don't know the job title? Start your resume like this:

Seeking a position where 10 years of sales, marketing and management experience will add value to operations.

By starting your resume with a clear objective or a focused summary, you tell the reader exactly what you want to do for him or her. This establishes a rapport and sets the stage for the resume. Which will greatly improve your results.

Mistake #2: Focusing on you and your needs.

This is the worst mistake you can make. Unfortunately, it's also the most common.

Look, no employer wants to hire you. Employers hate hiring! They only hire employees when they have problems to solve. And no employer wants to spend a lot of time hiring you, either, just as you wouldn't want to spend more time in a dentist's chair than you had to.

So, your resume must quickly answer the one question that's on every employer's mind: "What can you do for me?"

Unfortunately, most resumes don't.

Most resumes start out like this: "Seeking a position where I can utilize my skills in an atmosphere with potential for career advancement ..." And so on. This sounds fine and logical to the person writing the resume. But it completely alienates the person READING the resume. Because this person -- your potential employer -- has his own problems. He could care less about your career aspirations or desire to make more money.

Instead, tell the employer how you can add value to his/her operations, or contribute to efficiency. Notice this opening summary again:

Seeking a position where 10 years of sales, marketing and management experience will add value to operations.

Now, what employer wouldn't want to talk to someone like you, who's offered to add value to his operations? You could also say: "... will contribute to operations" or "... will add to profitability." The exact words don't matter. What does matter is your focus on helping the employer meet his goals. If you do that, your career will advance and you'll make more money.

Mistake #3: Focus on responsibilities instead of results.

While it's important to tell the reader what you've done at each job, it's far more important to spend most of your time talking about what you accomplished and how you made yourself valuable to past employers.

It's easy to do. Just think back on your daily duties. What good things happened when you did your job well? Write them down! Focus on results. The more specific, the better!

Instead of saying this:
"Responsibilities included (but where not limited to) implementation of policies and procedures, training of new employees, interfacing with subordinates and vendors, and light correspondence duties."

Say this:
"Worked with staff and vendors to increase product turnover by 15% and sales by 23% in five months. Also trained 14 new employees, five of whom were rapidly promoted."

Mistake #4: Too many big words.

It's a shame how often a good resume is ruined when the author utilizes a superabundance of polysyllabic terminology, or uses too many big words.

Don't hide behind your vocabulary. When your resume is not clear and to the point, the reader gets bored, time is wasted and your resume goes in the trash.

Simplify! Write as if you were talking to a class of sixth grade students. That's the reading level all journalists are trained to appeal to in their writing. If it works for America's newspapers, it ought to work for you.

Instead of saying "implemented," try "adopted" or "set up," for example.

Never "utilize" what you can simply "use."

Don't "interface" with people; "work" with them.

And never use "impact" as a verb. (Meteorites hitting the moon are about the only thing that should "impact.") Try "affect" instead.

Mistake #5: Spelling/punctuation errors.

Your spell-checker is not enough! You must read through the resume once for accuracy (numbers, dates, city names, etc.), once for missing/extra words, and once more for spelling.

Then, show your resume to several friends and ask them to read it out loud. Listen to where they pause; this could mean you've written something confusing or inaccurate. After you get their feedback, revise the resume so that it's 100% error-free.

Kevin Donlin owns and operates Guaranteed Resumes. Since 1995, he has provided resumes, cover letters and online job-search assistance to clients. This article and hundreds like it on topics ranging from networking to resume writing to finding internships also appear in The Last Job Search Guide You'll Ever Need, a self-help job guide.