11 Common Resume Mistakes to Avoid

By Biron Clark



Biron Clark

Biron Clark

Writer & Career Coach

Having great experience and skills doesn’t get you a job interview; having a great resume does. So in this article, we’re going to look at 11 common resume mistakes that might be costing you interviews. 

If your resume already passes these tests, great!

If not, fix these common mistakes before applying for more jobs. You should see an immediate difference in the number of interviews you get after fixing these mistakes.

Common Resume Mistakes to Avoid:

1. Not having your current/most recent job on the top half of the first page of your resume

This is one of the most common resume mistakes, and one of the most damaging when it comes to your odds of getting the interview.

It’s crucial to have your current or most recent work or job-related experience on the top of your resume’s first page. This is usually the first thing hiring managers look for, and they’re not very patient when it comes to finding it.

Make it easy to find, or run the risk of using up the hiring manager’s patience before they even find this important info.

2. Having paragraphs and text that are too dense

Hiring managers don’t read resumes, they skim them. They look for keywords, section titles and headers, important facts and statistics, etc.

If you wrote your resume under the assumption that it will be read word-for-word, go back and redo it! It’s going to be skimmed at first, not read. So you might as well plan for it and take advantage.

Use clear headers (work history, education, etc.) and use bullet points and short statements instead of paragraphs wherever possible.

Whittle your sentences or bullets down to no longer than 3 lines (1 to 2 lines is ideal). Insert at least a .5 point of white space between each bullet and/or paragraph to make it less overwhelming to read.

3. Not including data, accomplishments, and metrics

Hiring managers like quantifiable results on your resume. Don’t just say you exceeded your goals. Say you exceeded your goals by an average of 29% through each quarter in 2013.

Here are 3 other examples of quantifiable facts and statistics that somebody could (and should) include on a resume:

  • Managed 7 customer accounts worth a total of $1,000,000 in annual revenue
  • Responsible for 60 outbound calls per day
  • Responsible for building a 7-person team from the ground up, with 8 employees and an annual budget of $800,000.

4. Not tailoring your resume to match the job description

Hiring managers aren’t scanning your resume to determine if you’re smart, hard-working, or any of that stuff. That will be determined in an actual interview.

So what are they looking for? Evidence that you can hit the ground running and contribute immediately in the position you applied for, based on your past experiences.

You should be looking for keywords and required skills on the job description and tailoring your resume to demonstrate your experience in these areas.

5. Distracting formatting

Overdoing the formatting of your resume is a common mistake.

Don’t get fancy. This isn’t the time or place to test a new cool font or mess around with 3 different layers of bullet points (although bullet points are great if you keep the setup simple).

Hiring managers look at a lot of resumes, and most look similar. This isn’t a bad thing- it allows the hiring manager to find the important info quickly. Whether you like it or not, that’s what they’re trying to do.

If your resume is the one in the pile that makes this task more difficult, it’s not a good thing for your job search.

6. Having a resume that’s too long

When your resume is too long, it buries the important facts, increases the odds it’ll get skimmed, and makes it harder for the hiring manager to figure out if you’re a good fit to interview.

For most people, three pages is way too long. Unless you’re an academic researcher or have 25 years of experience, you should make it shorter.

One page is great when you’re new to the workforce or have been in a similar role throughout most of your career.

For everyone else, a two-page resume is ideal.

So if your resume is longer, try to reduce the content on your resume until you have a two-page resume with the following formatting:

  • Margins:.5 inches all around
  • Font: Choose small sans serif font (Calibri or Ariel) with a 10- or 11-point size.

7. Having an outdated resume

Make sure your resume doesn’t set off any alarms that it is dated. With an outdated resume, you run the risk of being perceived as out of date yourself.

Ditch the objective statement with a short branding paragraph that tells the reader how you are a perfect fit for the role (HINT: Look at the qualifications in job postings to get a sense of what they want to see). Be sure to also remove the phrase “references available upon request.”

8. Burying the “lead”

The first thing journalists learn is to never bury the “lead”. When it comes to resumes, you should never bury your achievements below a job overview or list of responsibilities.

First-round readers are often too busy to get past the first couple of lines of each employment entry – which means if your biggest achievements aren’t the first thing they see they may never get to it!

Ask yourself what you are proudest of with each role, and lead off with this response. Weave in some data or figures to back it up and you are sure to impress – or at least compel the reader to take a deeper look during Round Two.

9. Selling yourself short

You may have decided that your previous job wasn’t glamorous, your responsibilities weren’t that great, or your background just isn’t impressive. In almost every case, that is not true.

The reality is that it’s all about how you describe your experience. Every job has impressive pieces.

The companies you’re sending your resume to didn’t see your past work, they’re relying on you to tell them about it. That’s what your resume is for. So it’s your job to show them what you learned in that role, and what the impressive aspects are.

Here’s a trick you can use: Think of yourself describing your job to someone else—someone that doesn’t know anything about your position. And you want to impress them. What would you say? Which responsibilities sound best? What accomplishments would you name first? Did you overcome any big challenges?

If you’re an entry level job seeker or recent graduate, the tips above still apply. Every class you took and project you worked on can be described in different ways, and you need to make sure you’re not selling yourself short on your resume when describing it.

10. Focusing on responsibilities instead of achievements

When you take your previous experience in the step above, write it on your resume in terms of achievements—not duties and responsibilities. Most people simply list their responsibilities, and it’s not going to make you stand out.

Here’s the difference:

“Responsible for supervising 5 employees”

“Trained and led a team of 5”

Which one sounds better? (Hint: It’s the second option).

This is definitely one of the top resume mistakes to avoid, and is a great tip for boosting your LinkedIn as well.

So read through your descriptions of previous jobs and then add an example of how you completed that work and what the results were.

Discuss how many employees you have trained, the dollar amount of the budget you oversee, or how many clients you have gained while employed there, etc. For more ideas of facts and numbers you can put on your resume, read this article.

Adding accomplishments and facts to your resume is going to make it stand out immediately. And the best part is going through this process reminds you of your successes and wins so you’ll know what to say in your interview if they ask about your past accomplishments or what you’re most proud of (both very common questions).

11. Dates making you appear old (or too young)

To avoid age discrimination in your job search, you don’t want to appear too old or too young. Here are a couple of tips that will help.

Don’t include dates with your education. If you are a recent college graduate, it shows that you have (most likely) zero professional experience. If you graduated from college in 1982, it shows you are of a seasoned age and may be out-of-date with technology (whether or not that is true – that’s the perception). And, if you have a college degree, don’t feel the need to include high school and the graduation year – it’s a given that you graduated high school simply because you attended college or further training opportunities.

Here’s another tip: If you have been in the workforce for more than 15 years, include the most recent 12-15 years as “Recent Professional History” and leave the rest off. Or include anything beyond those 12-15 years as “Earlier Career Experience” – with no dates listed.

This will showcase your skillset and your expertise without drawing attention to the dates and years.

If you checked all of the common resume mistakes above and fix any issues, you should start getting more interviews.

Other useful resources:

Two guest authors contributed to this article:

  1. Virginia Franco of Virginia Franco Resumes
  2. Dr. Heather Rothbauer-Wanish of Feather Communications


Biron Clark

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