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10 Résumé Missteps that Hurt Your Job Search

Anthony Balderrama, CareerBuilder.com writer

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Job hunting is a process that has always evolved with the times. Over the last decade we've seen it change radically as job seekers took their hunts online. As a result, many of the rules have been tweaked for this digital age.

Still, one component of the process that hasn't gone anywhere is the résumé. That one document can still be the make-or-break for your new job. Some of the same pitfalls that existed 50 years ago exist today; others are a little different. To help you land that coveted position, here are 10 missteps to avoid when you're writing your résumé.

1. Your contact information is MIA
Teachers, even at the graduate level, tell their students, "Don't forget to write your name at the top of the page." It's an embarrassingly remedial instruction that you'd hope no one needs to hear past the first grade. Yet, time after time, teachers are forced to play detective as they come across a completed exam with no name on it. Students are so panicky about getting out all the knowledge they crammed into their heads that they forget to do the basic part first.

More résumés than you think follow this trend. An eager candidate with impressive skills will send in a résumé that has a name, but no e-mail address or phone number, making it impossible for the hiring manager to contact you. A big difference between the teacher and the hiring manager is that the latter won't spend the time trying to track you down.

2. Typos
Imagine you're on a first date with someone and he or she is sitting across the table from you, talking about his or her job, education, family and anything else. Now, what if you spot a dribble of salad dressing on the chin? Chances are you won't hear what's being said because you're wondering whether or not to say, "Excuse me, but you've got a blob of ranch on your face."

Typos in a résumé are like that dressing: distracting. Misspellings in a résumé can be a lot of things -- a sign that you can't consult a dictionary, that you don't know proper business etiquette or that you don't care enough about your presentation to take a few minutes for a proofread. Ultimately, all that matters is that typos distract a hiring manager from the content of the résumé because they're too busy making their own assumptions about you, thereby harming your chances of getting a job.

3. Too much information
Because your résumé is one of dozens (or even hundreds) that a hiring manager will review, don't bury the pertinent information. Don't list jobs that you held 10 years ago if they have nothing to do with your current career goals, especially if you're short on space. 

4. Not enough information
Of course, the opposite approach is just as problematic. If you veer too far into minimalist territory, your résumé won't be overstuffed, but it will leave too many questions unanswered. Don't expect an interview if you list job titles with no mention of your responsibilities or if you don't have a section highlighting your skills. Hiring managers will assume you just don't have much experience to talk about and won't take you that seriously.

5. Extreme formatting
When most job hunting was done in person or via snail mail, applicants were told not to use bright-colored paper and cutesy borders like balloons or ivy. That's still true, even in the digital era, but you also have to watch out for electronic pitfalls like elaborate fonts and indentions. Hiring managers don't necessarily have the same computer programs you do, so when they open your résumé all the pretty formatting will look like a series of jumbled characters. Stick to plain text to ensure they can read your résumé.

6. Lies
When you're writing your résumé, suddenly you become aware that a job hunt is a competition and you want to do anything possible to set yourself apart from the pack. Suddenly, your one year as an assistant manager becomes two years as the vice president of human affairs.

The problem with lying is that hiring managers have seen it all, so they can recognize dishonesty in a second. Plus, you unwittingly involve a host of other people when you lie about experience. Think about it: The interviewer might want to talk to your previous boss, colleagues or clients, which means you better have corroborating evidence to support your lie. Is it really worth the hassle?

7. Lack of focus
Because a résumé is not a conversational document, you can forget that it needs to have a focus from start to finish. Every piece of information should support the idea that you're the best candidate for this position. Whether you choose to use an objective or a career summary and follow it with your education background or your work experience, you want to show that you tailored this résumé for this particular job posting. Make sure whichever format you use, the hiring manager knows you're not sending out a hundred identical résumés for any job posting you come across.

8. You, you, you
A résumé is about you, but it's not for you. Ask yourself what the employer is looking for to fill this position, and then provide the answers. If you have an objective at the top of the page, don't say that you want a job that pays you a certain amount of money and gives you unbelievable benefits. Explain how your talents will bring something to the table no one else's can.

9. Being funny
Humor is all about context, which means being funny is relative to the time and the place. If you want to show that you have a good sense of humor, wait until you've landed the interview and can exchange some lighthearted banter with the hiring manger. On paper, your jokes might fall flat or even be inappropriate -- after all, you don't know who is reading your résumé.

10.  Not enough white space
Forget the dangers of ClipArt and colored text; worry about the damage you can do with regular text. Too many words can make a résumé look intimidating and uninviting. Leave space between sections and use bulleted lists so that the readers' eyes can flow freely without getting bogged down in long passages of text.

Anthony Balderrama is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com. He researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.



Last Updated: 09/01/2009 - 5:28 PM


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