14 Fatal Resume Mistakes

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: May 8, 2013

The adage "You never get a second chance to make a first impression" is never truer than when you submit your resume. Because this is likely the first glimpse of you that employers will get, make it an impressive one.

A great resume can open a door, but an inferior one can just as quickly close one. This article explores 14 resume mistakes to avoid at all costs.

Yes, you need a cover letter even when you are emailing your resume, posting it to a job board, or sending it electronically. A cover letter is the best place to introduce yourself, identify your goals, and briefly describe why you are a good fit for the position.

A well-written cover letter is a sales tool that will ensure your resume will be read.

Mistake #2: No imagination

Avoid using cookie-cutter resume templates, such as those from Microsoft or other resume-generating programs.

Hiring managers will spot them in an instant, and will assume you either lack creativity or don't care enough about the position you are applying for to go the extra mile.

Mistake #3: Too much imagination

Resumes that arrive unconventionally, are on colored or perfumed paper, or have many different fonts in an effort to make them stick out in the crowd will likely go unread.

Employers will assume that if you need to resort to these tactics, you probably don't have the qualifications for the job.

Mistake #4: Including an objective statement

This is the best way to paint yourself into a corner, and is not a good way to go if you want the employer to keep you in mind for other positions that you may also be qualified for.

Lose the objective statement.

Mistake #5: Typos and grammatical errors

Your resume must be grammatically perfect. Most positions today require good communication and writing skills, and if your resume is riddled with errors, you'll be immediately judged as someone who doesn't possess these basic skills.

It stands to reason that if you can't spell "financial analyst" correctly, you have no business being one. Invest in a dictionary and be sure to have your document carefully proofread.

Mistake #6: Your resume is unfocused

Your resume should clearly state what you do, what you are good at, and what you have accomplished.

If you are applying for a sales position focus on your numbers and statistics, and give your two years as a veterinary technician a backseat, if any ink at all. If you have a long work history with valuable experience in more than one area, for example, sales and marketing -- it may make sense to craft two resumes: one that focuses on sales, and another that focuses on marketing.

Mistake #7: You list dates first

Statistics show that hiring managers spend just a couple of seconds looking at a resume before deciding whether it warrants a full read, so be sure to show them what they want to see first.

When listing past employment, instead of listing dates first list them last. A good order is: title/position, name of employer, city/state of employer, and then dates.

Mistake #8: Your resume is too short or too long

Contrary to popular opinion you don't need to keep your resume down to one page, especially if you've accrued some work experience. The goal should be to document everything you've done, without being verbose.

One page should suffice for entry-level workers and those with a few years of work experience. If you have more than six or seven years of experience, two pages is appropriate.

Mistake #9: Your resume is in paragraph form

Hiring managers have piles of resumes to get through, and most of them are unwilling to struggle through a tough read no matter how qualified the candidate

Avoid turnoffs like dense type and paragraphs, and use bullets instead. Think easily digestible nuggets, rather than lengthy sentences.

Mistake #10: Too much focus on past, irrelevant job descriptions

Employers don't care what duties were assigned to you in your past jobs. All they are really concerned about is what you have done, and what you can do for them.

Focus on your accomplishments, rather than your duties. Use statistics and numbers. Show how you solved problems. Avoid phrases like "duties included" or "responsibilities included."

Mistake #11: Too much personal information

If you choose to put hobbies and interests on your resume, use them sparingly and choose them carefully to ensure they are not potentially controversial or offensive, or worthy of chuckles or eye rolling.

Including that you enjoy tennis, reading, and rock climbing is fine. Stating that you knit sweaters for your ferret in your spare time is TMI, unless you are applying for a job knitting pet apparel.

Mistake #12: You are obviously not qualified

Some people do this believing that it's a way to get their foot into the door of a company they would really like to work for. But employers find this a waste of their time, and are annoyed by this practice.

If the employer remembers you later when you apply for a job you are actually qualified for, it won't be fondly.

Mistake #13: No keywords

If you are submitting online, be aware that hiring managers will do a quick search of keywords and keyword phrases to find appropriate resumes.

If you apply for a job where the company uses technology to search for keywords, and you don't have those keywords in your resume, your resume will go unnoticed.

Mistake #14: "References available upon request"

This is often used as a way to end a resume, but it's completely unnecessary. Of course you have references! Otherwise, you have no business applying for this job!

Your Resume is Just the Beginning...

So now you know how to prepare your resume. But when that resume lands you a job interview, which then turns into an offer, you're going to have to negotiate. And Salary.com can help.

The first thing you should do is research, so you're able to come to the table armed with the knowledge of what your job is worth. Use our free Salary Wizard below to find out what's a fair salary for your position. You can enter your location, education level, years of experience and more to find out an appropriate salary range before you negotiate.

Good luck.