Common Resume Blunders

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It seems pretty straightforward: list your job history, education, and maybe some awards. Voila—you have a resume. Unfortunately, writing a great resume is an art form rather than a cut-and-paste job, which is why so many resumes are, well, pretty awful. The bad news is that people often make the very same mistakes; the good news is that you can avoid these common resume blunders if you know what they are.

•Substituting duties for accomplishments. It’s easy to simply list the tasks that you performed within a particular position, but it’s not as effective as demonstrating the results you achieved. Instead of, “Trained volunteers,” make it mean something by adding, “Trained volunteers to perform critical duties, saving the organization 10% in payroll costs.”

•Leaving doubt about the position you’re applying for. Whether an objective is outdated or not is a hotly debated topic, but everyone agrees that a resume doesn’t do any good if the hiring team can’t decipher the position you’re after. An objective or summary at the top helps the company successfully route your resume to a decision-maker. Most companies have enough resumes coming in that there’s no reason for them to spend 10 minutes trying to figure out if you’re applying for a sales job or an accounting position. They’ll just toss it.

•Using “I” language rather than “you” language. Look at resumes you’ve used in the past. Chances are you’ll find statements that are far more about you than they are about what you’ll do for the lucky company that hires you. Most start out with something like, “I want to use my experience to secure a challenging job with a thriving company.” Yeah, so does everybody. Problem-solve for potential employers: tell them what you can provide that others can’t: 10 years of design experience that will elevate the graphic department and attract new clients, for example, or a desire to increase their same- tore sales by 15% the first year by providing advanced training to regional managers.

•Dazzling with your vocabulary rather than your skills. It’s tempting to pepper your resume with three-dollar words to demonstrate how smart you are, but here’s the kicker: employers expect you to be smart. Most aren’t in the habit of hiring dumb-as-rocks employees. So rather than trying to weave in every word you learned in your high school English class, focus on concise, error-free language that demonstrates what you’ll bring to the organization, rather than your amazing resemblance to a dictionary.

•Don’t throw the kitchen sink at them. If you’ve been in the workforce for 40 years, you undoubtedly have skills and experience that any employer would be lucky to have. But what you did in 1965—with a few rare exceptions—doesn’t hold a lot of sway with employers and may, in fact, open you up to age discrimination. Most resume experts hold to a “Rule of 15” even for the most senior executives. Don’t go farther back than 15 years in your job history, though you can list essential accomplishments outside that timeframe in another section.

•Choose the right words. Everyone knows that proofreading a resume is a must, but too many people count spellcheck as a thorough editing. The problem is that spellcheck doesn’t flag words that are spelled correctly but used improperly. “There” and “their,” “affect” and “effect,” “its” and “it’s—those are just the tip of the iceberg. Did you start your “won” (own) company last year? Or perhaps your former boss counted on you to be “discrete” (meaning separate), rather than discreet,” which is the marvelous character trait you’re hoping to convey. If you have any doubt about your own ability to detect these subtleties, get help from a knowledgeable friend or professional editor.

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Jason Kay recommends reading resume service reviews at

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