Résumé Advice

It is deceptively easy to make mistakes on your résumé and exceptionally difficult to repair the damage once a prospective employer receives it.  So prevention is critical, especially if you’ve never written one before.  Here are the most common pitfalls and how you can avoid them.

1.         Typos and Grammatical Errors

Your résumé must be grammatically perfect.  If it is not, employers will read between the lines and draw not-so-flattering conclusions about you, like: “This person cannot write,” or “This person obviously doesn’t care.”

2.         Lack of Specifics

Employers must understand what you have accomplished.  For example:

  • Worked with employees in a restaurant setting.
  • Recruited, hired, trained and supervised over 20 employees in a restaurant with $2 million in annual sales.

Both could describe the same person, but the second one’s details and specifics will more likely grab an employer’s attention.

3.         Attempting One Size Fits All

Whenever you try to develop a one-size-fits-all résumé to send to all employers, you almost always end up with something employers will toss in the trash can.  Do not save customization for the cover letter.  Employers want you to write a résumé specifically for them.  They expect you to show how and why you fit the position in an organization. 

4.         Highlighting Duties Instead of Accomplishments

It is easy to slip into a mode where you list job duties on your résumé.  For example:

  • Attended group meetings and recorded minutes.
  • Worked with children in a day-care setting.
  • Updated departmental files.

Employers, however, do not care so much about what you accomplished as what you accomplished in your various activities.  Rather, they are looking for statements more like these:

  • Used laptop computer to record weekly meeting minutes and compiled them in a Microsoft Word-based file for future organizational reference.
  • Developed three daily activities for preschool-age children and prepared them for a 10-minute holiday program performance.
  • Reorganized 10 years’ worth of unwieldy files, making them easily accessible to department members.

5.         Going on Too Long or Cutting Things Too Short

Despite what you may read or hear, there are no real rules governing the length of your résumé.  Why?  Because your audience consists of human beings.  And human beings typically have different preferences and expectations for a résumé.
That does not mean you should send out five-page résumés.  You usually need to limit yourself to a maximum of two pages.  But do not feel like you must use two pages if one will do.  Conversely, do not cut the meat out of your résumé to make it conform to an arbitrary one-page standard.


A Bad Objective
Employers read your résumé’s objective statement, but too often they plow through vague pufferies like, “Seeking a challenging position that offers professional growth.”  Give employers something specific and something that focuses on their needs and your own.  Example: “A challenging entry-level marketing position that allows me to contribute my skills and experience in fund-raising for nonprofits.”

7.         No Action Verbs

Avoid using phrases like “responsible for.”  Instead, use action verbs: “Resolved user questions as part of an IT help desk serving 4,000 students and staff.”

8.         Leaving Off Important Information

You may be tempted to eliminate mention of the jobs taken solely to earn extra money for school.  Typically, however, the soft skills gained from these experiences (e.g., work ethic, time management) are more important to employers than you might think.  It also demonstrates a diversified work experience and a perspective (e.g. customer-service, attendant, etc.) in dealing with people that is surprisingly applicable to more lucrative careers.

9.         Visually Too Busy

If your résumé is wall-to-wall text featuring five fonts, it will most likely give the employer a headache.  So show your résumé to several other people before sending it out.  Do they find it visually attractive?  If what you have is hard on the eyes, revise.

10.       Incorrect Contact Information

I once worked with a student whose résumé seemed strong, but he was not getting any bites from employers.  So one day, I jokingly asked him if the telephone number on his résumé was correct.  It was not.  Once he changed it, he got the calls he had been expecting.  Moral of the story: Double-check even the most minute, taken-for-granted details – sooner rather than later.