Does it seem as if every article and each recruiter takes a different slant on what goes where on a resume? Some of that is the impact of company culture on internal recruiters and speed demands on external recruiters.  And yes, writers need something new for their careers blogs and publications.  After a long career leading hiring at large and small companies, I try to provide the best advice I can when reviewing resumes without chasing every fad. Here are some of the most common mistakes I see when I do resume reviews.

What Can You Do to Improve Your Resume?

A Resume is an Advertisement

A resume is not your biography. Rarely does including everything you ever did or adding much personal information help you attract the people who have the job you want. Instead:

  • Grab positive attention early with a great summary that shows off your expertise and some soft skills.
  • Keep the rest of your resume full of specific achievements from the past 10-12 years which directly relate to the work you want to do. So often people insist on going back to long ago jobs because of some specific work they still think is valuable. Rarely do hiring managers agree.
  • Keep lists of technical training, military schools, or unfinished education to those most relevant and recent.

Don’t overstuff your resume! Make sure every item that appears after your contact info demonstrates your value to your target employer.

Write to Specific Work and Career Goals

You cannot write an effective resume until you know exactly the role you are seeking next and what you want in that work. Whether you are staying on a linear career path or making a change, you have to learn enough to explain how your past supports your future. It takes research and networking to flesh this out, as well as a lot of thought on your part about your goals. Military in transition and those changing careers also must learn and understand the right language for their new work roles.

After all that work, you can create a resume that shows you are just what the target employer wants. It will focus on your achievements that are most relevant to what the employer needs, using the right keywords to be found, and including all the right information, so the targeted employer contacts you because they see you as a potentially valuable employee.

Don’t Disqualify Yourself Upfront

Far too many resumes I see start out with total years of experience in the summary. Many hiring managers see that and think one or more of these things:

  • too expensive for my opening
  • too set in their ways for us
  • too old (yes, illegal but folks do think that still.)

Add in the word ‘retired’ and you raise many of the same issues. Plus some hiring managers will think how much they want to retire and then assume you do not want to work hard. Others may use this to try to buy you on the cheap since you have a pension.

Skip the long list of skills as most of these have become trite. Often they are lists that duplicate job titles and obvious work. If you feel you must list, put in 3-4 and move on. Your skills should mainly be included in your achievements. You might even label them there if you feel a need to be sure people understand. An example: Leadership at the beginning of the bullet point followed by the achievement. (But then be sure you are describing leadership and not management.) You would be surprised at the number of folks using this technique whose stated skill is not whatever the achievement shows. If you are in a technical field, a short list of the MOST critical technologies for the job is fine, along with the number of years experience in each when you know that is important too.

Omit most personal information. Consistently people tell me that they have included volunteer work, hobbies, athletic endeavors to show a more rounded view. But there are still people who will see this information and use it to exclude you. Some worry that you are not really committed to your work if they see such a list. Others may discriminate or make assumptions based on the causes you support. Don’t give them an excuse. Use this type of information during an interview to build rapport with an interviewer you have noticed has similar interests but keep it off your resume.

Don’t Throw Away Your Power

When you use a lot of extra words, which I do too often myself, you minimize your achievements. Worse yet, the wrong words hurt. Omit ‘responsible for’ and say what you actually did. Change or omit bullet points that start with words like these, unless you are seeking an administrative support role: Supported, Assisted, Helped, Provided, Handled, Obtained, Processed.

These words imply low-value activities more than professional or technical competence information which shows a hiring manager how you can contribute immediately. Replace them with verbs which clearly show your role in the action and achievement described.

Don’t list achievements that have no relevance to the job you seek. If you are changing careers or industry – including those  in transition from the military, you must translate your achievements into ones that are useful to the new career.

Poor spelling and grammar have the same effect. These lower your value in the eyes of the reader. Many hiring managers, even those who are bad spellers themselves, expect near perfection in resumes.  Both recruiters and hiring managers see your resume as the ‘best foot forward’ concept – that your resume is you at your best; thus, they assume your best is error-ridden work.

Understand the basics

Keep your resume in a simple format. A Word document is always good, although skip their resume templates. Use a standard font – such as Georgia, Times New Roman, Arial in size 10, 11, or 12. Use one-inch margins and plenty of white space to help make it easy to read. Every recruiter can tell you stories of people using tiny typefaces and 1/4 inch margins. Such resumes don’t get read.

Show your social media. Put your LinkedIn URL up top with your name and contact info. If your career field involves graphics, design, writing or other creative fields – add a link to your portfolio.

Don’t waste space on your resume. Skip columns with titles and/or dates on one side and details on the other. Use the full page width between those one-inch margins. For each organization where you worked, you need basics not filler. If you have multiple jobs with one employer, show the employer with total years at the top but then separate the jobs by title within that section. Otherwise, job titles should look like this:

Intelligence Analyst, Company X,                                                                                        2015 – Present

Location is generally irrelevant outside of jobs which require specific geographic or international experience.

Once you finish a bachelor’s degree, remove your associate degree(s) and high school degree. The standard format for degrees is:

MS, Cybersecurity, University of Maryland, 2009    (dates can be omitted)
BS, Electronic Engineering, Purdue University

If you are a recent graduate, add any major projects or internships or competitions which are relevant to your desired work. Magna Cum Laude or other honors are also good to show at this stage of your career.

If you are within 18 months of completing a degree, show it and put “Estimated (Date)” after the information as shown above.

I bet as you have read this, you’ve been thinking “no-one does that” more than once. But I see these problems in resumes all the time. You can create a resume which shows you at your best, which demonstrates your value for the job and the employer. Make your resume a stand-out for all the right reasons and watch employers respond!