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.
Next to the qualifications summary, a strong professional experience section, with achievements highlighted, is critical in driving a successful job search. A lot of readers struggle in determining how many years of experience to disclose on their résumé, and unfortunately while there are guidelines, there are no steadfast rules on this topic. As a general rule, you should plan on including about 10-15 years of experience depending on how much of that experience enhances and supports your candidacy. Senior executives can plan to include more experience as it is assumed that when you reach a certain level, you have the experience to complement your high-level objective. Also, include only years, not months and years, of employment in order to minimize the appearance of gaps, overlaps, frequent job hops, etc. Quantify experiences to add personality to your résumé (numbers attract attention), being sure to focus more on accomplishments versus daily responsibilities. And when presenting accomplishments, highlight them as such, do not intermingle them with daily responsibilities or the hiring manager will not be able to ascertain your “value.” Lastly, present the big and save the small, meaning do not tell your life story, but present a succinct image of what you have done that positions you for your current career interests. Leave the smaller points for an interview as additional value-added information to support your candidacy.
A lot of the résumés I review also include unnecessary information within the education section. Don’t be afraid to omit the education section if it detracts from your candidacy. If you completed one or two years of college quite some time ago, and a degree is not required for the positions you are pursuing, then focus instead on any training you have completed rather than highlighting a potentially disqualifying factor. Also, don’t include the year of graduation if it unnecessarily ages your candidacy, and never include high school data.
I hope these tips will help you identify where you may be able to make changes with your résumé to improve its effectiveness.