You’ve spent hours on your resume. You’ve written and rewritten. You’ve showed it to friends, family, and colleagues, and you’ve made change after change. But is your painstakingly created resume really serving you well? Here are 5 of the most common resume mistakes, and how you can fix them:
1. Not enough white space
Reading a resume isn’t much like reading a book, but there is one similarity: big blocks of text are a turn-off, and may actually turn readers away. It’s imperative to design your resume with plenty of white space to facilitate skimming and ensure that the main facts stand out. Use headings, line breaks, and bullets to break up the page and draw your readers’ eyes forward. And remember: a professional resume isn’t a comprehensive life history. If one position’s entry is going much longer than about 6-10 lines of text, it’s time to do some cutting.
2. Failing to separate tasks from achievements
One way to ensure that your resume is skimmable and that your main achievements stand out is to clearly separate your day-to-day job tasks from your key accomplishments. Putting your accomplishments into a bulleted list is the best way to do this. Bulleted lists make skimming a breeze for busy readers. A word of warning, though: don’t get carried away. Five bullets per position are almost always sufficient, and fewer than that is fine.
On a resume, you have limited “real estate” to work with. Every sentence—indeed, every word—must pull its weight. To this end, it’s best to use succinct language to ensure that you can fit in the maximum amount of information. A wordy, narrative style (“In 2005, I was promoted to the position of System Design Lead, where I managed a variety of projects…”) doesn’t make a dynamic impact—and it wastes space. To solve this problem, avoid using the first-person (I, my, me) and start each sentence with a strong action verb. (“Drove major system design initiatives as team leader.”)
4. Too much history
Most professional resumes will be 2 pages in length; if you’re an entry-level job seeker or a new graduate, your resume will likely be 1 page. Established professionals, however, sometimes find it a challenge to fit 20+ years of job history into 2 pages, and their resumes spill over into 3, 4, even 5 pages. This is rarely necessary or desirable. Just because you have 20+ years of experience doesn’t mean you need to detail all of it on your resume. In fact, most recruiters and employers prefer to see no more than 10-12 years of experience in detail. Brevity is the soul of a dynamic, memorable resume.
So what about all those other positions, all those other companies—do they simply disappear? Not necessarily. A good way to handle them is to add a “Note:” at the end of your resume where you list your other titles and companies. You can conclude the note by saying “Details available on request.” This way, your job history is still transparent, and interested parties can ask you questions about those previous roles if they’d like to. But remember that the point of a resume is to get your foot in the door—not to overwhelm.
5. Too much information
Your love of sky-diving, your skill at tennis, and your fondness for coaching your son’s Little League team make you well-rounded and attractive to potential employers—right? Actually, personal information is best left out of a professional resume. As stated above, you have limited “real estate” on a resume, and any extra space is best filled by achievements, professional training, and other relevant information. One exception to this guideline is if you’ve held leadership positions in community or volunteer organizations; such information may help highlight your leadership capabilities. It should go without saying that marital status, age, and other personal details are inappropriate for U.S. resumes.
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[photo credit: flickr]