Advice on how to create the perfect resume is everywhere, making it hard to figure out which way is the right way. In general, it’s best to remember that a resume’s purpose is to present you at your best and most relevant for the opportunity you seek and to get you that coveted interview. That said, there is NO single formula for doing this.
Of course, correct grammar and spelling as well as easy-to-find and current contact information are absolutely critical to even getting your resume reviewed in many cases. But given that the grammar and contact information are taken care of, there are some proven techniques for helping you put together a resume that best represents what you have to offer in a way that attracts employers. Here are six of the most common mistakes I see when I review resumes as well as some quick tips for addressing them.
- No Clear Job Target. Job seekers often think that promoting everything they can do will expand their job options. Not so. It’s important to have a targeted resume so time-pressed employers immediately see that you have the skills and experience they need. So how do you determine your focus? For career happiness, a first step is choosing a target that allows you to continue or expand upon those job areas you love and have excelled in. Even if you can do something well, if it’s not something you really enjoy, you could be setting up yourself for burnout.
- Functional Format. Because of a desire to perhaps move into a different area, many clients use a functional resume format to spotlights specific skill areas. Unfortunately, this format often raises employer suspicions that you are trying to hide something or confuses them because they can’t tell where or when the experience took place. Most of the time, a hybrid or combination approach that presents your experience chronologically, while allowing you to highlight specific relevant skills and accomplishments within the experience and the career summary sections is the best choice.
- Job Descriptions versus Accomplishments. Listing what you do on a daily basis does not help you stand out and differentiate yourself from others in your profession who do the same things you do. To stand out, it’s important that you include those accomplishments or contributions you made on the job that were uniquely yours, such as the problems you solved, the things that improved or were developed as a result of your working in that position. And if you can include a number quantifying the outcome – i.e., reduced customer complaints by 20% – even better.
- Generic Summary Statements. First, congratulations for having a summary, which is much more preferred today over the “job objective,’’ which usually focuses on what the candidate wants as opposed to what the employer wants. However, a common mistake is spotlighting generic soft skills, such as “good communications skills” and “team player.” The summary is prime real estate on the resume and the place where you’ll want to state the title or type of job you seek in a “headline” form (i.e., Sales and Marketing Director) and highlight the skills, experience, and unique contributions that best qualify you for that target position.
- Lack of Appropriate Keywords. A common mistake is the omission of necessary keywords, which will help your resume get found during a computer search. Although you are likely to have these already on your resume if you are staying in the same field, it’s good to check the job description to make sure you include as many as you can or use the exact wording of the terms listed in the job description. A bulleted “Areas of Expertise” or “Core Competencies” section listing the key skills in the summary can be a simple way to do this. Both computer screening software and hiring managers like these lists because they are easy and quick to read.
- Non-Computer Friendly, Fancy Formatting. Although it’s important for resumes to be reader-friendly, certain design elements can make your text unreadable by computer screening technology, also known as applicant tracking systems (ATS). Some things to watch out for include lines touching text, important information in headers and footers, italics, tables, and non-standard headings. Overall, to pass through computer technology, it is best to keep things simple when it comes to graphics and to use standard resume headings, i.e., “Summary,” “Professional Experience” and “Education.” Finally, although some systems can read PDFs, it’s best to go with a simple Microsoft Word document, which can be read by all systems. Use a more designed or “prettier” version for direct emailing and for hand-delivering printed copies.
Make sure that you’re not guilty of any of the above faux pas and implement these suggestions to develop a resume that makes you shine and lands you that all-important interview.