Guest Blog by Greg Faherty, CPRW
Over the course of my 18-year career in the resume business, I’ve reviewed thousands of resumes for clients. It’s a big part of the job. And not a day goes by that I don’t see careless resume errors, one after another. The kind that are easy to avoid but so glaring that they will definitely contribute to the poor performance of a person’s resume.
You think grammar, spelling, and punctuation aren’t important to a recruiter or hiring manager? Think again! That resume is your first chance to make a good impression, and sending someone a sloppy document that hasn’t been proofread is the same as walking into an interview with stains on your shirt, uncombed hair, and food between your teeth. It shouts, “I don’t care about doing a good job!”
Not the kind of image you want to project as a prospective job seeker.
Top 10 Resume Errors
So, what kinds of goofs and gaffes do I see most often? Well, these areas land in my Top 10:
1. Contact Information.
You’d think this would be the no-brainer of the resume, but it’s not. All too often people forget to put down their phone number and/or email address under their name at the top of the resume. In today’s digital world it’s not so important to include your street address, but it is a good idea to at least include your city, state, and zip code so that readers know you live locally.
And while we’re at it, please be sure to use the correct phone number and spell your email address correctly. I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said that 1 out of 10 resumes I review have the email address spelled wrong. And the clients wonder why no one contacts them!
This is a big one.
Most people are aware that we (professional writers) use some incomplete sentences on resumes, especially in the accomplishment bullets and summary. This is to save space and make the flow of information quick for the reader. But that doesn’t mean you have to forget the rules of grammar completely.
Nouns, verbs, and adjectives need to be used the way they were intended. Look at this example, taken from a recent resume I evaluated for a customer:
Completed projects with tendency for doing full life cycles and Whenever possible used strategies to afect the change requiring to meet requirements of the customers management and holding fast to budgets.
Does this sound like something you would want to see from a job candidate? Of course not. There are several grammatical issues here (along with other problems), including a run-on sentence, mixed tenses, and improper use of verbs.
Much like spelling and punctuation errors, grammatical boo-boos will more often than not result in your resume taking a quick trip to the circular file.
If you aren’t confident in your ability to utilize proper grammar for your resume, have someone—a friend, a teacher, a librarian, or a professional resume writer—review the document before you send it to anyone. All the job skills in the world won’t matter if you come across poorly on the resume. After all, from a hiring manager’s point of view, if you’re too lazy to make sure your resume is error free, what kind of job are you going to do?
Here we go! The number 1 problem on resumes today. Misspelled words. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t know how to spell a word or your fingers just didn’t hit the right key. We all make mistakes, but you can’t rely on spell check to catch them all. And based on the resume errors I read, many people aren’t even bothering to use spell check. I’ve already mentioned how often I see misspelled email addresses. But how about these other common spelling goofs:
Names (including the customer’s own)
Sound crazy? I assure you, it’s not. A resume can probably get away with one or two tiny typos (an instead of a, form instead of from, etc.) but any more than that, or if the one mistake is a big one (your own name!), then you’ll likely be passed over for an interview request.
Anytime you are ready to send your resume to someone, stop and do a thorough spell check. Use the computer. Then print it and read it. Then have someone else read it. You can’t be too careful.
Almost as bad as grammar and spelling are punctuation mistakes. It’s essential that you use periods and commas correctly on your resume.
And here’s a tip: those are the only two punctuation marks your resume needs. You should never use exclamation points, and colons, semi-colons, parentheses, and quotation marks are hardly ever necessary.
Now, the basics: Every sentences, even an incomplete one, must end in a period. That means those bullets you use for your accomplishments should have them.
However, items in a list, or items that aren’t sentences, such as your education information or your list of computer skills, don’t need periods. Items in a list should always have commas after them. Beyond that, remember your rules of elementary and middle school sentence structure. If you don’t remember them, have someone else read the resume.
What? You might be asking how your choice of font could ever be a problem. Trust me, it can.
First of all, I see people who use italics and bold all over the resume, to the point where it hurts the eyes to read it. Then there are the people who use colored fonts – red, blue, even green. It’s like a nightmare for human resources personnel! And don’t even think about using script or comic book font, unless you want to be the source of a good laugh when the HR reps are having lunch.
Some fonts are just easier to read than others. You should always stick with one of those basics, such as Times Roman, Calibri, Arial, or Helvetica. And make sure you don’t make the font size so small people have to squint to read it, or so large it looks like you’re shouting at the reader. Between 10 and 11 is good for most content, and maybe 12 for section headings.
6. Accomplishments, or Lack of Them.
Here’s the part of the resume where nearly everyone has trouble. They forget to include accomplishments. Yet that’s the most important part of the resume. Everyone remembers to write down their job descriptions – often in too much detail. But it’s the accomplishments that show the reader what you can do for them. You should include at least 5 under each job; more if they are eye catching or important.
No one expects you to speak like a college professor on your resume (unless that’s the job you’re looking for!). But all too often I see people using words in the wrong manner—or worse, using words that don’t even exist in the English language! Here’s an example:
I’ve seen this one on dozens of resumes. It’s not a real word. It’s a bit of corporate slang, a buzzword, which means nothing outside of the meeting room. Using buzzwords or slang on a resume makes it look like you are trying too hard. And in many cases, that you don’t know the definitions of words that are important in your field.
Look familiar? We’ve all seen this one on text messages. But I’ve also seen it on many resumes.
Tip: Resumes are no place for text speak.
The resume is a business document. It should be treated like one. No abbreviations except for acronyms (DoD for Department of Defense, for example). No shortcuts, no silly expressions.
8. The Sin of Omission.
All too often people forget to include critical information on their resumes. Every week I see resume errors where job hunters have forgotten to include their dates of employment, or the name of the company they worked for, or, in some cases, their own job titles.
And they’ve been sending these resumes out to prospective employers!
Trust me when I say this: No one is going to consider you for a job if you don’t remember to put your previous job information on a resume.
And that brings us to our next big problem:
9. The Introvert.
This is the person who either has trouble talking about themselves on paper or who thinks that their career path is so obvious there’s no need to talk about it. So instead of a resume, they just write down a list of companies and job titles and think that’s enough to get them an interview.
Guess what? It’s not.
Every time you apply for a job, you’re competing with dozens, perhaps hundreds of people who all have similar career histories to your own. And they are putting down complete job descriptions. If you want to stand out as a viable candidate against that kind of competition, you need to show what you’ve done at each job.
A list of 10 basic job functions in the summary followed by a quick inventory of the jobs you’ve held isn’t going to cut it. You have to show people you are good at what you do.
10. The Extrovert.
The opposite of the Introvert, the Extrovert believes in putting down every single detail of every job they’ve held since delivering papers in the 4th grade. No detail is too small, and no date is too long ago. This person will fill four or five pages with minutia, and in the process create a resume that is either so boring to read that the average hiring manager will toss it aside or it’s so crammed with unnecessary details that the important facts are completely hidden.
Either way, you won’t get an interview.
Here’s a tip: If your resume is longer than 3 pages and you’re not a university professor with a long list of research projects and papers, it’s too long. The average resume is 2 pages; occasionally someone with a lot of consulting jobs will need a 3-page resume.
Remember, the concept of the resume is to provide a clear, concise overview of your career. You shouldn’t need to go back more than 20 years, and you don’t have to write down every detail of every job. Just stick to the key points—after all, HR reps know that your type of position requires writing memos, attending meetings, and talking on the phone!—and let your accomplishments do the talking.
In the end, what it comes down to is simply taking care to craft the kind of document hiring managers want to see. Your resume speaks to who you are, and a resume that is written properly, proofread carefully, and contains the correct information shows the reader that you have done your homework, you’re focused on accuracy, and you make an effort to deliver the goods.
In other words, you’re a good employee.
Greg Faherty is a Certified Professional Resume Writer with more than 19 years of experience. During the course of his career, Greg has produced more than 15,000 resumes and has served as a Senior Writer for some of the resume industry’s largest and oldest companies, including CareerResumes.com. In addition, he has also created resume writing standards and guidelines for several firms and developed several new employment-search documents. His work has been featured in:
- “Designing a Cover Letter to ‘WOW’ Hiring Personnel, 2nd Ed.,”
- “Cracking the Code to Pharmaceutical Sales,”
- “Professional Cover Letter Examples for Managers & Executives.”
Greg previously served as a resume subject matter expert for Forbes.com. A member in good standing with the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches since 1999, he is also the author of The New Guide to Writing a Perfect Resume.
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