Skip to Content

9 Resume Mistakes to Avoid

In a previous post, I reviewed the two most important overall approaches to include in your resume to increase your odds of getting an interview.

I’d now like to review what I consider to be the nine worst resume mistakes. These are things that if they exist in your resume, will pretty much kill your chances of an interview.

Mistake #1: Spelling and grammatical errors

People are always surprised when I say these are the number one most common, and most disliked by Hiring Managers, mistakes I see in resumes. With the wide availability of free online spelling and grammar checkers, you wouldn’t think this would still be an issue. A recent poll in Quora showed this to still be the most common complaint among Hiring Managers (myself included).

The reason this is considered the worst error is that it’s a sign of carelessness and lack of attention to detail. It’s also completely preventable. All you need to do is run your resume through one of the online free tools, such as Grammarly, and after that have a friend read it over just to be sure.

Presto! You won’t have to worry about missing the obvious errors. I’m always surprised and frustrated by these types of simple errors, so be sure to take the extra effort I’ve suggested.

Mistake #2: No directly relevant experience for the position

This rivals spelling and grammar errors as my number one frustration when reading resumes. I’m talking about resumes that have little or no experience that is relevant to my job opening. 

I recently had an opening for a network engineer with experience in a very specific type of hardware. We screened over 50 resumes and 17 of them had no experience with the hardware and another 6 had no experience as a network engineer!

These 23 applicants did have IT experience but in different areas than what the job posting listed. I saw resumes from application developers, cloud architecture engineers, and desktop support specialists. These are all good areas in which to have experience but they don’t qualify anyone for a network engineer position.

I’m guessing these applicants were using the shotgun approach, which means applying for any IT job opening they found. This wastes both my time and their time. They should do the research to find 3 job openings for which they are highly qualified, instead of applying to 30 for which they have few qualifications.

Trying to get an interview is not a numbers game that you solve by using a shotgun approach.

Mistake #3: Not highlighting your most relevant skills first

One of the hard truths about resumes is you only have 20 to 30 seconds to get the Hiring Manager’s attention. If I don’t see some relevant skills right upfront, there’s a good chance I won’t read the rest of your resume. Remember: I’ll probably have many more resumes to read and not enough time to do so.

When I say relevant skills, I mean the specific ones listed in the job posting. Of course, this does not mean you should ever list any required skill that you don’t have, just to catch my eye. What you can do is present the skills you do have framed in a way that at least generally matches the requirements.

Even if you’re highly qualified for the position, your goal is to convince me to read the rest of your resume.

Mistake #4: Your resume is too long

At the risk of repeating myself, I’ll once again point out that your resume has to grab the Hiring Manager’s attention quickly. If it’s too long or too complex visually, you run the risk of it being tossed in the “no interview” pile.

So, what’s too long? If you have less than five years of job experience, your resume should be no more than one page long. If you have more than five years, it can be okay to use two pages, but only if you’ve had more than one employer. If your entire working history is in the same position, you should not need more than one page to describe it.

Some Hiring Managers will disagree, but in my opinion, no resume should be longer than two pages. If you can’t convince me you’re right for the job by the end of page two, a longer resume isn’t going to help.

To be this brief, you need to be concise. Avoid long descriptive paragraphs and use short and easy-to-read bullets instead. Your resume will look cleaner and have a much better chance of being completely read.

Mistake #5: Using fancy fonts and multiple colors

I’ll make this quick and easy. Use white paper, black text, and either 12 point Times New Roman or Calibri font. I want to read your resume, not be visually entertained by it, and sticking to these rules makes your resume easier to read.

No colored paper, no colored text, no multiple fonts, no anything other than what I listed in the first paragraph. Bolding some text is okay if you don’t overdo it. You want the reader to focus on the content of your resume, not the colors or fonts.

I once received a resume from an applicant for an administrative assistant job. The paper was as thick as a manilla folder, the paragraphs had headlines in some bizarre font and multiple colors, and red text was used throughout to highlight what I guess were important points.

It was like looking at a circus poster. As you may guess, this one didn’t get placed in the “schedule an interview” stack.

If you have to use wild colors and fonts to get my attention, you’ll surely get it – but for the wrong reasons! Using gimmicks such as these shows a lack of professionalism and is a classic rookie mistake. Don’t let it be yours.

Mistake #6:  Showing too much work history

For those of you with many years of experience, or those who have had many different employers, it can be tempting to show everything on your resume. After all, don’t you want the reader to know how much experience you have?

This frequently is the case for people in mid-career who may have 20 years of experience or more. A good rule of thumb is to go back no further than 15 years of your work history. Besides the obvious reason of keeping your resume concise, there are two main reasons for limiting your job history to 15 years.

First, you don’t want your resume to be a yellow flag for your age. Showing jobs from 20 or more years ago sends a signal that you probably want to avoid. Even though age discrimination is prohibited by law, that doesn’t mean it won’t come into mind if your work history goes back more than 15 years.

Second, there are many industries where knowledge changes rapidly. Information technology is a good example of this, but there are many more. Experience older than 10 years, or even five in some high technology or medical fields, is no longer relevant.

Mistake #7: Including too much personal information about yourself

By personal information, I mean things such as how many children you have, your hobbies, your likes/dislikes about anything, how you spend your free time, etc.

You may feel this adds a personal touch to your resume. However, what the Hiring Manager wants to know is how well your qualifications fit the position, not your golf handicap. The more non-business information about yourself that you include in your resume, the more risk you add without increasing your chances of being considered.

Your hobbies and how you spend your free time are irrelevant to qualifications. Plus, there’s the risk that one of your hobbies may be considered offensive to the reader. For example, if hunting is one of the hobbies you list on your resume and the Hiring Manager is an animal rights activist, you will likely be dead in the water at that point. An extreme example, admittedly, but hopefully you get the point.

Hiring decisions should be based on education, experience, skills, and accomplishments. By introducing non-relevant things into the equation, you simply add more reasons to turn you down.

Mistake #8: Using too many general terms

By this, I mean using terms such as “self-starter”, “problem solver”, “goal-oriented”, etc. These sort of general and vague terms tell me nothing about your effectiveness or your accomplishments and they weaken your resume.

Instead of reading “self-starter”, I want to see an example of how you identified a need and took the initiative to meet that need. Instead of reading “problem solver”, I want to read about a difficult problem you faced and what you did to solve it. Instead of “goal-oriented”, I want to read about a goal you exceeded and by how much you exceeded it.

You should get rid of these general statements and substitute specific examples with statistics to back them up. That’s how you get the Hiring Manager’s attention.

Mistake #9: Using a functional instead of a chronological resume format

A functional format is one that first outlines all of your skills, and then shows your past jobs as sort of a laundry list.

A chronological format lists your experience one job at a time, starting with the most recent job and then proceeding backward. Your skills are listed as they apply to each job. This is the most common and most generally accepted format. It’s also the format that almost everyone should use.

The problem with the functional format is that it doesn’t match your skills to the specific jobs you’ve held. Consequently, I have to guess which skills are your most recent. This can be an important factor for jobs that require very current skills.

There are a few jobs where the functional format can work, but the chronological format works for any job. It’s the one most Hiring Managers are familiar with and want to see. It’s the one you should use.

Visit my extensive Q&A Section