Recently, and not shockingly given the state of the job market, I have been receiving so many ‘Dear Sam’ emails from first-time résumé writers that I felt it was important to cover the basics of the key mistakes candidates make on their résumés…
Aesthetics & Formatting
One of the major downfalls I notice in reviewing résumés is that the majority lacks any visual appeal, are typically created using very common Word templates, and are inconsistent in their use of fonts, formatting, and spacing. While content is very important in creating a résumé that grabs the attention of hiring managers, the aesthetics of that document can compel or repel interest. For that reason, it is imperative to be consistent in your formatting choices, create a theme to how your information is going to be presented, and engage the reader through the use of a professional and visually appealing layout.
While most may feel that this section is self-explanatory, I consistently see some major mistakes in this section. Remember, this section will be ready first and, if it contains information which causes confusion or unnecessary interest, could eat far too much time in your 4-to-7-second screening process. The heading on your résumé should include your name, address, home and possibly cell phone numbers, and email address. Think about who may answer the phone numbers listed on your résumé. Perhaps it is best to only list your cell in order to ensure you make the right first impression. Lastly, be sure to take a moment to look at your email address and verify that it reinforces the professional tone of your résumé. I often see email addresses that contained birth years, ages, and other personal information (think pet names!) that should not be presented on a résumé.
I am troubled to see that the majority of résumés still do not contain qualifications summaries, and instead waste space disclosing a vague objective that serves no purpose for the candidate. Defining your purpose or objective is critically important to the development of this section, but instead of simply stating your objective, this section, along with everything on your résumé, should be developed to sell yourself for the type(s) of roles you are seeking. Develop this section based on a primary career target, presenting a brief summary of your key qualifiers related to that target. Engage the reader by performing due diligence to understand the keywords for the position(s) of interest, and infuse those keywords throughout this summary and the remainder of your résumé. Many of you who noted that you struggled with this section, and it is typically the most difficult part of a résumé to write, so try to write your résumé from the bottom up, beginning with the easier sections and leading to the summary. Write the summary last so that you have a clear picture of what you have to offer your target audience. After I write a résumé, I typically have several key points from a client’s background that I remember as being most important or impressive, and this guides the development of the summary. Writing this section immediately after creating your résumé also helps as your background, qualifications, education, etc. is very fresh in your mind. If you are still struggling with this section, check out books from the library, samples on my site, or ask a friend / spouse to help you identify your key offerings and value.