Resume Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make!

Resume with a "Rejected" stamp on it.I recently had the opportunity to review a number of resumes submitted by job applicants in various fields. Although many had the right college degrees and years of solid work experience, these individuals stated they just couldn’t seem to get an interview. Unfortunately, after looking at their resumes, I wasn’t at all surprised. Let’s look at a few of the issues I spotted. These are resume mistakes you don’t want to make!

Way Too Long

One applicant’s resume was nine pages long. Nine pages! Not only that, it was all written in a small font! Many others were submitting resumes three or four pages in length. In general, a busy HR person would not read such a lengthy resume unless perhaps the applicant was already being seriously considered for the position or only a few people responded to the job posting. According to the job site Indeed, “On average, employers look at resumes for six to seven seconds.” Now, I read pretty fast, but I could probably do little more than superficially scan a detailed four-page resume in that amount of time.

Preferably, your resume should be one page, maybe two if you have considerable work experience. If you can’t find a way to present yourself in two pages, consider getting professional help to rewrite it.

Too Much Detail

Some applicants crammed every job task they ever performed into their resumes. They also listed every seminar, conference, training class, etc. they ever attended. That type of content is better suited to a multipage CV (curriculum vitae) rather than a resume. Many people make the mistake of using the words “resume” and “CV” interchangeably. Don’t confuse the two! If you don’t know the difference between these types of documents, check out my article Resume or CV?, found on Career Lantern.

Also, applicants not native to the United States may frequently confuse the two terms. Perhaps this mistake occurs because outside of the USA and Canada, it may be the norm to use the terms “CV” and “resume” interchangeably. Still, in other countries, submitting a full-blown CV may be the norm when applying for a job that would only call for a basic resume in the USA or Canada. Know the difference and prepare and use the documents accordingly. Likewise, learn the resume/CV norms for the country in which you are applying.

It’s a Resume, Not an Art Project

I thought the goal of these folks was to get a job interview, not win an art award, but I couldn’t tell based on how some of the resumes looked.

Yes, the trend lately is to use online graphic design platforms like Canva and others to create colorful and eye-catching resumes. Some applicants may even include beautiful headshot photos on their resumes. Although your friends may be showing off their impressive graphical (aka visual) resumes, don’t follow their lead. Why?

The main reason to avoid graphical resumes is that some of the older applicant tracking systems (ATS) still used by corporate HR departments cannot read them accurately. You should already be aware that when you submit a job application and resume online, it is usually not initially read by a human but by ATS computer software that scans your materials for keywords and phrases. If the computer cannot correctly read your resume, it is either scored low or rejected altogether; either way, your chances of getting called for an interview become slim to none.

According to an article on LinkedIn regarding visual resumes and ATS, “These systems are unable to scan graphics and may have a hard time picking up the necessary information from your visual resume.” The website Jobscan advises, “Many job seekers want their resumes to look visually appealing. This might seem like a good idea, but graphic design elements can confuse the ATS. Your best bet is to stick to a simple design that’s easy to read.”

Also, most ATS are designed to scan text-based documents that utilize standard, non-fancy fonts. These resumes may be somewhat plain and boring in appearance, but they get the job done. Give the computer exactly what it needs to rank your resume high!

What About Including Your Picture on a Resume?

Unless you are applying for a job in modeling, acting, TV/media, real estate, or another industry where headshots on a resume may be the norm, don’t include them. According to an article on LinkedIn, “Since photos can be distracting, take up room on a resume, and generally look out of place for most job submissions, skip adding a photo to your resume for most professions.” The article goes on to state, however, that in some countries outside the USA, a photo on a resume may be expected. Be sure to follow the norms for your country of interest.

Then, there is the issue of potential discrimination and bias. Some companies don’t want your picture on a resume and may even reject it immediately. According to the site Jobscan, “Photos on resumes can be risky because of unconscious bias and discrimination. Because of that risk, many employers in the United States prefer to avoid resumes with photos altogether. It keeps them from being liable for breaking strict anti-discrimination laws. Even if the company doesn’t have a policy of auto-rejecting resumes with photos, it’s not worth the risk.” The website ResumeGenius states, “Including a photo on your resume is considered unprofessional in the United States and can seriously impact your chances of landing a job.”

Still insist on having an artsy resume? Once you are dealing directly with an individual for an online or in-person interview, using your graphical resume at that point is probably fine. Why? First, you are now past the ATS screening process and no longer at the mercy of a computer. Second, since you are interviewing, the interviewer can see you and your appearance is no longer a secret.

Non-Standard Section Headings

Some applicants shot themselves in the foot by trying to get creative and using section headings such as “My Professional Journey” rather than simply “Work History” or “Employment.” Why is this a potential problem?

Again, blame the ATS. For example, if the software is programmed to look for a typical section heading such as “Education” and you used a non-standard term such as “Scholarly Preparation,” your educational information could be missed, and your resume scored low or rejected.

The Resume is Generic

Many of the job applicants were convinced they could use one resume for every job to which they intended to apply. I’m not sure why this flawed, one-size-fits-all mentality is still prevalent unless it’s because people just don’t want to take the time to create different resumes for different positions or fields.

Although this approach was a big mistake even back in the pre-ATS days, its consequences today are definitely more devastating. By design, an ATS scans your resume, looking for specific words and phrases, usually those found in the job description or posting. Since each job for which you apply will likely identify somewhat different required skills, duties, experience, etc., it is important the resume you submit clearly includes these. For example, if a job posting specifically states you must be experienced and proficient with “Microsoft Excel,” and your generic resume simply reads, “spreadsheet software,” that is a problem.

If you are applying for multiple positions, especially in different fields, revise your resume as needed to use the terms and wording found in each job posting.

Avoiding Resume Mistakes

If you plan to write your resume yourself, that’s fine, but do your homework first. Be sure to have someone with excellent writing skills review it for proper grammar and spelling. Keep your resume “ATS friendly,” which means using an appropriate format, simple fonts, and including applicable keywords and phrases that the software will detect. To do this, you will likely need to create multiple versions of your resume based on the specifics of each job posting. If you decide that you just don’t have the writing skills necessary to do this task well, consider hiring a professional.

Agree? Disagree? Share your experience? Feel free to leave a comment!

Featured image includes content courtesy of Lukas at

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