If you’ve worked long and hard on your resume only to find that it’s not getting the response you hoped for, it may be because you have made one or more common mistakes.
Over my career, I’ve seen tens of thousands of resumes and I’ve seen just about every mistake you can imagine. But some are more common than others. If your resume isn’t working for you, check whether you have made any of these frequently seen errors.
1. Focusing on Yourself Rather Than on the Employer
Think of a resume as an advertisement for a product, only the “product” is you. Just like any other advertisement, positioning is everything. The person who receives your resume will scan it quickly – perhaps for no more than 20 seconds – to determine whether you can help her company. Your job is to say quickly, clearly and loudly that you can!
Don’t just launch into a chronology of your career history. Instead, determine your own positioning by spelling out your message at the start of the resume and giving the reader your version of events upfront. For this reason, you should use the first 1/3 of your resume to create a compelling personal profile which highlights your key strengths in an attractive, easy-to-read format.
2. Starting with an Objective
Don’t start with an objective. Recruiters and hiring managers don’t like them because they focus on the needs of the job seeker rather than the needs of the potential employer. Consider this objective statement:
“Seeking a software engineer position with a progressive employer where I can contribute to the development of new technologies and work with bright, committed people.”
This may be very honest but it is irrelevant to the reader, who does not care what you want and only cares what you have to offer. Instead of an objective, try using a positioning statement that clearly and concisely explains what you have to offer.
“Senior Software Engineer with 10 years experience developing leading-edge technologies.”
Now the reader can immediately see your value to the company. (For even greater impact, tailor this statement for each position so that the reader immediately sees a match between his/her needs and your skills.)
3. Focusing on Responsibilities Instead of Results
Don’t provide a laundry list of responsibilities without showing what results you achieved. Most employers already know what the main responsibilities of your job were. They want to know what makes you different from all the other applicants.
An effective resume summarizes job responsibilities in a few sentences and then provides details of quantifiable achievements.
4. Not Being Specific
You must place your achievements in context by providing specifics. For example, don’t say something vague like “contributed to product design.” This tells the employer nothing about your actual contribution. Instead be specific about what you did:
“Conducted market analysis for (name of product) to determine design and mechanics. Led changes to original design spec. despite initial internal objections. Received critical acclaim and sold over 4 million units.”
See how being specific makes a difference? This level of detail shows the reader the contributions you have made in the past and therefore the contributions you can be expected to make in the future.
5. Poor Design and Layout
At least 50% of the impact of your resume derives from design. A strong resume design will pull the eye through the document, making it easy to keep reading and will highlight your key strengths clearly. But if your resume is badly laid out, disorganized or hard to read, it will be discarded before the reader knows how qualified you are.
To see examples of good designs, check out our sample resumes. Take time to understand how the page has been laid out and then apply what you’ve learned to your resume.
6. Writing about Everything (Including the Kitchen Sink)
Think of your resume as a brochure, not a product catalog. It doesn’t have to tell your entire story – just the parts that will help you find your next position. So be selective about what to include.
Don’t mention experiences and accomplishments that have nothing to do with your career goals. Don’t include outdated skills or computer knowledge.
Also avoid including personal information. Don’t detail your marital status, age or the number of children you have. Don’t mention non-professional affiliations such as political or religious volunteer work unless it directly relates to the position you are applying for.
Information like this runs the risk of turning the reader off. However proud you are of personal achievements, you should not run the risk of alienating someone before you even have your foot in the door.
7. Not Having a Clear Focus
This is absolutely essential. You cannot appeal to a target audience until you know who that audience is. You must determine the types of positions you’re seeking and identify what is important to hiring managers filling those roles.
If you have several different career goals, create several different resumes, each one carefully targeted to appeal to employers in that field.
If you try to appeal to very diverse audience with one resume, you will simply wind up appealing to none of them.
When you send your resume out, it must speak articulately for you. You can’t explain inconsistencies, clear up confusion or fill in things that are missing. Your resume has to make your sales pitch in a clear and compelling manner within 20 seconds. Invest the time to make it exceptional and you will see an immediate increase in the response rate.
Louise Fletcher co-founded Blue Sky in 2002 after a career as an HR executive. She admits to being a ‘wordnerd’ at heart and loves to write. She developed the Blue Sky resume approach, has written two books, and has been a featured expert for sites such as Monster, The Ladders and HR Guru.