Throughout my experience in career services, I have seen 200 to 300 resumes written by college students. Based on that experience and my interactions with recruiters and other career advisers, one thing is clear: just about everyone makes the same mistakes.
This is not a scientific survey by any means. However, ranked by frequency I submit to you the top 10 resume mistakes made by young careerists:
Lack of Accomplishment Statements (95%)
With only a small handful of exceptions, students and recent graduates need to more strongly articulate their accomplishments. I ask students to think about results, achievements, outcomes… what was significant about what they did? A resume is not a job description; it’s a marketing document. Rather than “wrote marketing brochures,” take it a step further and tell the outcome, such as “wrote marketing brochures that resulted in new product launch revenues 15% over goal.”
Lack and/or Poor Placement of Action Verbs (90%)
Far too many resumes fail to include action verbs. Instead, they include passive phrases like “responsible for” and “assisted with.” Sometimes, the true action is embedded in the middle of the bullet point, obscured by details such as who else was involved and the nature of their role. For example:
“Working with the chief operating officer, coordinated a training session for…”
Instead, start with the action:
“Coordinated a training session with the Chief Operating Officer…”
Lack of Differentiation (80%)
Most resumes I’ve seen lack the punch needed for an effective marketing document. They might be error free, but not at all effective at helping the author stand out or be persuasive. In a competitive job market, your resume must demonstrate your unique value proposition!
Why are you different? What makes you stand above all the “clutter?” Thousands of college students graduate each year, and to recruiters and hiring managers, most of you look the same on paper. (The Onion did a really funny spoof on this topic: “Company Immediately Calls Job Applicant Upon Seeing ‘B.A. In Communications’ On Résumé”)
Irrelevant Detail (70%)
A large majority of students need to cut out irrelevant or obvious information. Above all else, be concise. To stay focused on the position you seek and to avoid the use of too many words, don’t have bullet points any longer than two lines and don’t have more than three to five bullets for each job.
To stay away from stating the obvious, focus on common sense. For instance, if you aren’t applying for retail work, it’s not necessary to say you “handled cash transactions” when describing your last retail job. And if you’ve worked at a Subway sandwich shop, you don’t need to tell us you “made sandwiches.”
And, speaking of irrelevant: unless you are a college freshman, delete all information about your high school.
Poor Formatting (60%)
Some of the same students who list “Expert at Microsoft Word” on their resumes don’t know how to use bullets or set tabs to right justify information such as dates. Typical issues I see are inconsistent fonts (styles and sizes), bullets not lining up, inconsistent line spacing and resumes that display a blank second page.
Meaningless Phrases (50%)
If you are going to claim attributes such as “strong leadership skills”, “good team player”, and “strong communication skills” you need supporting evidence in your resume. A big pet peeve of recruiters and staffing professionals: reading hollow, unsubstantiated phrases on resumes. To the previous point about differentiation, what applicant wouldn’t claim to be a “good team player?”
Grammar or Word Usage Issues (40%)
Several resumes have either use the wrong word (“they’re” versus “their” and “you’re” versus your”) or poor grammar. There are dozens of words that sound similar but mean different things, like “prospective” and “perspective.” The two most common grammar errors I see in resumes are capitalizing words in the middle of a sentence and misuse of apostrophes (See Two-fer Tuesday: Common Grammar Errors)
Even the smallest typos can kill your chances of getting an interview. Two solutions to the problem: (a) read your resume out loud and (b) have someone else read it. Don’t be like the college senior who had in her summary section, “five years interacting with the pubic.”
Use of an Over-used Resume Template (20%)
Not only are Microsoft Word templates the lazy way to put together a resume, they look cheesy and will make you appear like all the other lazy job seekers. Most recruiters and HR professionals can spot a template a mile away… and they hate them! Use Word and learn how to use all the formatting tools correctly.
Old School Elements (10%)
Some students didn’t get the memo that resumes no longer should have objective statements or the meaningless phrase “references available on request.” I also don’t like to see an old-fashioned header with name and contact information stacked like pancakes. You can set yourself apart, and save room, by displaying your information more creatively.
Start Over Please! (5%)
A few resumes I’ve seen are just so bad I tell the students they need to start over. I’m sometimes astounded… do you not know what a resume should LOOK like? Do some online research about how to create an effective resume, and look at samples. Take a look at Jessica Hernandez’s website with several awesome resume samples. Besides Jessica’s website, read about job search best practices on some of the best career blogs, such as this one on YouTern and Careerealism.
After you create your resume, get editing and proofreading help from someone who has experience with reviewing resumes (a hiring manager, HR professional or career services adviser at your college).
So go take a look at your resume… and then determine: how many of these mistakes are you making? More important: how soon can you fix them?
For this post, YouTern thanks our friends at Rich Career!
About the Author: Rich Grant has a background in writing and editing, business planning, and higher education. Rich is the current president of the Maine College Career Consortium and the former director of career services at a small four-year college in Maine. He is wrapping up a 10-month interim position as a career adviser and internship coordinator at a private college and is seeking his next role in business or higher education. Find Rich on LinkedIn and Twitter, and become a regular visitor to his blog where he imparts his words of wisdom once or twice a week.