“Perhaps the most important part of writing your resume isn’t the writing at all — it’s the editing,” says Trista Winnie in an article for Jobscan, a popular resume assessing tool. She accurately describes the significance of resume editing to increase your job seeking success. Not that writing a resume is easy — but omitting the things that shouldn’t be there, the mistakes, is equally important to the content.
With so much riding on this document to set you apart from thousands of other applicants, here are 15 resume mistakes you should avoid:
— Don’t include a picture.
— Don’t use uncommon or overly creative fonts.
— Don’t use overly complicated resume formats.
— Don’t use too much color or polarizing colors.
— Don’t use first person pronouns (I, me, mine).
— Don’t misrepresent employment dates.
— Don’t include graduation dates.
— Omit irrelevant volunteer work.
— Omit outdated credentials.
— Don’t list every online class you’ve taken.
— Omit irrelevant jobs.
— Be mindful of errors.
— Don’t send the wrong document format.
— Don’t use subjective language.
— Don’t embellish or lie.
Don’t Include a Picture
Although there are a few industries, like real estate and acting, where your picture is a key part of your brand, a headshot on a resume is a mistake. In most cases, it leads to immediate elimination because it is clear you haven’t been in the market recently. Have a headshot you love? Add it to your LinkedIn profile — but leave it off your resume.
Don’t Use Uncommon or Overly Creative Fonts
Hiring managers appreciate a candidate who wants to stand out, but the use of odd or uncommon fonts may result in your resume not being seen at all. Most companies use some form of an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) that sorts and prioritizes resume submissions. These systems are developed to read or upload popular fonts but may not be able to process fonts that are not common.
Additionally, common fonts are common for a reason — they are usually easy to read and liked by most readers. When you choose an overly creative font, you run the risk that it will be hard to read and/or that the reader’s dislike of your choice will impact their interest in contacting you. In short, stick with the expected fonts — Calibri, Calibri Light, Arial, Perpetua, Garamond — because the risk of being overlooked is greater than the benefit of being creative.
[Read: Tips for a Career Change Resume]
Don’t Use Overly Complicated Resume Formats
Similar to your font choice, using overly creative or complicated resume formats runs the same risks. The goal of a resume is to be easily read. If your format is unexpected, complicated or difficult to read, both the ATS and the human reader will struggle to process your information. You may have one or two readers who like the surprise, but the risk of the ATS rejecting your document or the reader being annoyed and moving on are too great to take that chance.
Don’t Use Too Much Color or Polarizing Colors
A little color in a resume can add clarity and emphasis and be a welcome respite from all the black and white. Too much color or the use of a color that many people don’t like, however, can make the resume difficult to read or make the reader question your judgment. The safest colors to use on a resume are blue and gray (as long as the shades are dark enough to show up on a computer screen), green and red. Yellow and orange colors can be trickier because they can be difficult to see depending on the user’s computer. Other less expected colors are best reserved for your portfolio (if you are a creative professional).
Don’t Use First Person Pronouns
A resume is written without a subject. There is never a time to use “I,” “me,” “mine” or “ours” in a resume. Instead, you typically start with the verb or action such as, “Writes resumes for professionals seeking career changes.”
Don’t Misrepresent Employment Dates
The dates of employment you put on your resume must match the employment dates that show up in employment or payroll records. They must also match your LinkedIn profile and your interview answers. Any variation usually leads to a potential employer thinking you are either misrepresenting your tenure or that you are not detailed; neither option is positive for you.
Don’t Include Graduation Dates
New to your career? It is generally acceptable to include your graduation date for about five years after graduation. After that time, your work experience should be of more relevance than your education, and the graduation date can be removed.
Omit Irrelevant Volunteer Work
For unpaid but professionally relevant involvement — such as membership in an association or the years you were active with a volunteer program — only include things that are recent or exceptional. If you have not volunteered since college and you have been working for 15 years since college, for example, that volunteer experience should not be on your resume.
Omit Outdated Credentials
It is usually best to only include current credentials and certifications or those that have very recently expired.
Don’t List Every Online Class You’ve Taken
It can be helpful to show your love of learning and how you keep current with online education. However, limit the classes listed on your resume to the ones that show skills you can use on the job or education that makes you a more qualified and productive employee.
Omit Irrelevant Jobs
A popular resume editing question is, “How many jobs should you list on a resume?” There is not a one-size-fits-all answer. Instead, the key is to think about what’s relevant to the reader. Hiring managers want to understand your past to see if you have ideal experience, are a consistent employee who can be promoted in the future or if you frequently change jobs.
Too much information can open up potential red flags or make for a resume that’s difficult to read. If you have 10 or more years of experience or if you have changed roles frequently, there is a good chance that you may have a role or two that can be eliminated because it is not relevant or can be summarized in an “Early Career” section.
Be Mindful of Errors
Every employer prefers a detailed and accurate employee over a careless one. Your resume is evidence of how detailed you can be. Don’t miss out on the chance to have an easy win by reviewing your formatting multiple times. Make sure you’re not including any misspellings, typos or grammatical errors. Print your resume and ask someone else to review it as well.
Don’t Send the Wrong Document Format
Most online job portals prefer PDF submissions because it holds the formatting regardless of the word processing environment on which it’s read. For example, a Google Doc opened through the Word app may lose its layout; the font may be different, and characters like bullet points may be completely different or missing altogether. When in doubt, a PDF is the safest option — but be sure to check if the job listing specifies what kind of submission format is required.
Don’t Use Subjective Language
It is reasonable to assume that given the recent surge in unemployment and downsizing, there is more competition than ever before for open positions. This means that your resume will likely need to stand out among hundreds and likely thousands of other submissions.
A key resume mistake is filling your resume with flowery or subjective statements when the reader is looking for evidence that you are qualified. Many will write “detail oriented” on their resumes as a top skill. Give your resume a better chance by being specific and showing transferable value.
For example, “Innovative thought leader who drives successful transformations … ” tells the reader very little except what you think of yourself.
But, “Led a nine-month transition from Salesforce to Oracle with a team of 20 and under a budget of X … ” paints a much stronger picture of what you’ve accomplished.
Don’t Embellish or Lie
In an uncertain market with limited hiring and training dollars, hiring stakes are high. Teams are stretched thin and are often tasked with more work than ever before. Additionally, the recruiters and managers that are screening and interviewing are usually the most productive in their peer groups, which is why they are able to take on more and survive layoffs.
When facing knowledgeable, experienced professionals, embellishing or lying on your resume will likely get you rejected quickly. Highly productive professionals usually have a strong grasp of the technical capabilities required for the role and are typically adept at detecting misrepresentations or things that don’t seem to add up. Additionally, they are more invested in selecting teammates that can add immediate value or be worth the training distraction, so they are likely to interview in more depth than in previous market conditions.
If you happen to get hired into a role where you aren’t qualified, it is likely that your bluff will be called out quickly in a demanding environment. Usually there is no coming back from lying about your expertise. It frequently leads to termination for cause, which makes attaining future employment harder, since that should be disclosed when you apply for new roles.
Resume writing is already a tricky balance of reflecting the relevant parts of your past, showing your impact and customizing the content to the role for which you are applying. Don’t make it tougher with common mistakes that skilled recruiters and hiring managers will use to rule you out quickly. By steering clear of these top resume writing mistakes, you will increase your chances of getting that interview.
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Update 06/25/21: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.