When I was studying for my M.A. degree, friends would constantly ask me to edit their papers, essays, business plans, etc. That trend has carried over into my professional life, except now I charge people for my help. And one of the most common items I help people with are resumes/cover letters. I've written/edited resumes for people new in their careers, seasoned executives, and everything in between, and these are some common mistakes to avoid.
1. Cutesy Fonts & Designs
There is no reason to color code your resume, use comic sans fonts, or (for the love of baby Jesus) add graphics or photos of any kind. Most resumes are filtered through an online screening tool like this one before human eyes ever touch them, so none of the cutesy designs matter. Further, curly fonts and bright colors can come across as childish and unprofessional, which is the last thing you want to convey.
2. Incorrect Grammar
I'm continually surprised by resumes littered with grammatical errors. I've seen it all-from the wrong use of "their/they're/there" to past/present tense disagreement and an inconsistent use of the oxford comma. I always tell people to pick either past or present tense and stick to it, however, it makes more sense to write in past tense, since everything on your resume occurred in the past.
For example: "Led team of 12 sales people and generated $6.8 million in annual revenue last fiscal year" NOT
"I lead a team of 12 sales people that consistently generates nearly $7 million in annual revenue."
3. It's Too Long
You may have heard that a resume should not span more than a page, but for those with many years of work experience (or a lot to say), the resume can span two pages. Anything longer than two pages is unnecessary and probably doesn't matter. My rule of thumb is that those with less than a decade of work experience should cut the resume to a page, but keep it readable and make every sentence relevant to the job you want.
4. It's Too General
You need to tailor your resume to each application. Mirror key language in the job posting and highlight only critical accomplishments. For example, if a job requires 7 years of management experience, highlight that and be specific (7 years of experience managing teams of 8-12 direct reports), etc. Highlighting key words/phrases will ensure your resume is "seen" by the screening applications, and keeping it short and sweet will allow you to expand upon your experience once you have an in-person interview. Your resume is simply your foot in the door.
5. Inconsistent Fonts & Sloppy Layouts
This should go without saying, but your entire resume should be written in one font (not comic sans!). Choose a basic, professional font such as Times New Roman, Arial, or Calibri. Make sure you use all the space on the page and follow a standard layout: name/contact info, objective statement, skills, experience, accomplishments, education. The format can be changed to suit your needs. For example, a recent college grad may have a bulkier "education" and "accomplishment" sections to make up for a lack of work experience.
6. It's Not Up-to-Date
You should update your resume before submitting an application, but even if you're comfy in your job, it doesn't hurt to update your resume every so often, especially in fields such as sales in which your success is measured by quantifiable outcomes. The "skills" section of your resume should be updated whenever you learn a new skill or obtain an industry-specific certification. Many professionals leave the "skills" section out, but don't.
7. An "Objective Statement" That Doesn't Match the Job
Many people have dropped objective statements altogether, but a good objective statement can never hurt. However, a bad objective statement will only make you look incompetent and immediately unsuited for any job. Objective statements need to be updated for each application you submit, and will change depending upon where you are in your career. If you're a recent graduate, highlight your skills and what you will accomplish for the organization. If you're a professional, add work experience, skills, and what you bring to the table. A few examples are below. Read more about objective statements here.
Professional Objective Statement
Diligent customer support representative with over 3 years experience in high-volume call centers. Seeking to leverage fast-paced work ethic with top-rated customer service to help XYZ organization grow and meet future demand as the new delivery driver.
Student Objective Statement
Senior year biology student at Iowa State University (current GPA: 3.7) looking to join XYZ organization as a research assistant. Seeking to leverage strong data entry and lab maintenance skills gained through volunteer lab experience to ensure all research databases and libraries are easily accessible and up-to-date.
8. Not Illustrating Outcomes
Each job you list should have 4-5 bullet points describing your role and successes. Avoid using vague language or simply listing your job duties, "Communicated effectively with colleagues and clients to achieve projects in a timely manner," is a very vague, slightly terrible bullet point. Instead write, "Led team of six colleagues to deliver annual audit two weeks ahead of deadline." Make sure your bullet points convey quantifiable information; these often include numbers and are outcome focused. The outcomes you've achieved in past roles will illustrate what you bring to the table in a new role, and are the primary items your potential employer will care about when scanning your resume.
9. Incorrect or Missing Contact Info
This happens more often than you think! Make it easy for an employer to contact you by adding your phone number and a personal email address at the top of you resume. It is prudent to utilize a personal email address that isn't risque or unprofessional. Keep it fairly standard and use a combinations of your first and last name. Avoid using underscores (hard to read), letters 'O', 'i', 'o', 'L' and numbers '1' and '0' (hard to distinguish). Check out this list of terrible email addresses to ensure you don't make a similar mistake.
10. Not Editing or Spell-Checking Your Resume
Editing your resume with a fine-tooth comb will ensure you look credible and professional to potential employers. Use spellcheck and the "Check Document" feature in Microsoft Word (under the Review tab). Better yet, have a friend, family member, or colleague review your document-a second set of eyes never hurt!