8 Resume Missteps You Didn't Even Know You Were Making

We've all heard the warnings: You may have mistakes in your resume that rule you out even if you're otherwise a strong candidate! Unfortunately, the advice accompanying the warnings does not stray far from what many might call "common sense" and will include advice such as "check for misspellings" or "make sure your contact information is correct."

While these are indeed important areas that can have a major impact on your job search, you probably do not need an expert to tell you to be sure that your phone number is correct.

What follows are 8 of the more common "missteps" that could be limiting your job search:

Too Much "Me"

When thinking about what you will need from your next job, it can be difficult to keep the following in mind: Your resume and cover letter are not about you! Rather, they present an opportunity to demonstrate you are a good investment who will meet a clear business need. They are marketing documents that must compel the employer to learn more about you.

This is why for most job seekers an objective statement is the wrong way to go as by its very nature, an objective will be focused on what you want. While an objective is centered around the job seeker's needs, a power statement focuses on the employer's needs. It will demonstrate your value as it relates to the specific need you can fill.

The objective isn't the only place where job seekers tend to use too much "me." Be careful that your cover letter isn't more focused upon what you want and what you can get from the company. Again, the goal is to market how your skills are of value to the employer.

The Parade of Bullets

It is not uncommon to see a resume that only uses bullets. But consider this: why do we use bullets in a resume? To make things stand out, of course. The human eye tends to be drawn to bullets because bullets stand out in relation to the rest of the content. A resume that varies (in a consistent way) between paragraphs and bullets effectively pulls the hiring managers eye to your key selling points.

But if you restrict the use of bullets to only your key selling points, why even have a paragraph at all? There are actually several reasons, but the top reason is technology. If your resume only presents accomplishments, you run the risk of your profile not being picked up by Applicant Tracking Systems (ATSs). This is because a large percentage of your relevant keywords will be drawn from your daily tasks.

Ultimately, a balance between your accomplishments and day-to-day responsibilities maximizes your marketability.

Too Much Personality

Everyone wants their resume to stand out and we've all heard a story or read a Facebook forward about the guy whose cousin knew someone who sent a resume that simply said "I work hard and need a job" in giant blue letters and (purportedly) got the job. The reality? You will certainly be noticed but for all the wrong reasons.

Your resume needs to make an immediate and lasting impression that clearly conveys (and effectively supports) you are a savvy professional with the skills the employer needs. This means that colored text, graphics, photos, personal interests, and non-standard fonts (script, comic, or artistic) will introduce far more risk than benefit in most cases. Your resume is a personal marketing document that presents a value proposition to hiring managers. True, personality can be a factor, but most hiring managers know the interview is a far better opportunity for assessing personality.

A note to creative professionals: If you're in a field like graphic design, web development, writing, or interior design, your portfolio will be the best place to demonstrate your creative skills and qualities whereas your resume will demonstrate you are well balanced by focusing on your business savvy.

Keeping My Doors Open

There was a time when a job seeker could find that one career job and stick with it for 25+ years. Those days are long gone and most job seekers have held (or will hold) a variety of roles. Sometimes these roles have a lot in common; other times, not so much.

As such, many feel that focusing the resume on a clear direction is limiting and it is better to "keep options open." In fact, one of best ways to close doors and limit options is to not focus the resume on a clear career path. A broad resume lacking clear focus does not convey versatility; rather, it burdens the hiring manager with sifting through and identifying the most relevant skills. Also, having not taken the time to focus the resume on their needs, you are conveying that you lack interest in the position…perhaps you didn't want to invest the time in focusing the resume on their needs (or lacked the ability), or perhaps you are simply looking for any job that will "pay the bills" until you find your career job and, thus, are a possible flight risk. Even if true, this not something to convey in a personal marketing document that needs to compete against a several, if not hundreds, of applicants who are submitting focused resumes.

If you have more than one career direction, you will want your resume to be as focused as possible, or potentially have another job target. Otherwise, you risk not getting selected during the initial screening or, at the very least, landing in the "B" pile and extending the length of your job search.

Skipping the Cover Letter

There is a common misperception that we live in the digital age and cover letters are no longer needed. However, the fact is many hiring managers have an expectation that each applicant will provide them with enough information to make an informed hiring decision: They want to know if you have the skill, savvy, and drive to be a viable candidate. Think of the letter as your handshake and introduction when you're not there to personally hand your resume to the hiring manager (which, these days, is most of the time) even if some hiring managers defer reading the cover letter until they have performed the initial 10-15 second review of the resume.

By introducing yourself and your background, you show the employer that you know how to communicate effectively, that you understand their expectations, that you value their time, and that you have enough interest in the opportunity to take the time to provide a letter. In fact, a professional cover letter provides you one more opportunity to stand out against other candidates.

That noted, there are times when an employer does not want to see a cover letter. When this is the case, the job posting will indicate as much. Otherwise, it is best to submit a cover letter.

The Cover Letter As Shoehorn

It is true a hiring manager wants to see that you are interested in—and have the skills related to—the job for which they are hiring. Thus, it might seem like one can simply use the cover letter as a "shoehorn" to make a broad, all-encompassing resume match the needs of the position. The hope is that the employer will read the letter first, get a sense of your skills and expertise that relate to the position, and then see only those relevant skills in the resume and ignore the rest.

Unfortunately, the cover letter cannot shoehorn a resume to make it fit the opportunity. This is because the cover letter is a complementary introduction to your primary personal marketing document, the resume.

Often, hiring managers read the letter in detail after reviewing the resume. This means a letter cannot be the only tool for demonstrating focus. If the resume has done its job, though, the hiring professional will then be compelled to learn more about you and invest further time.

Also, this "shoehorn" approach presents another potential pitfall: resume parsing and Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) don't generally screen letters. Many ATSs build a searchable profile from the resume. A generic resume will result in a generic profile that allows the job seekers with a focused resume to be seen in the results first.

If you're relying on the cover letter to provide focus for your resume, the employer may never see either document.


There are aspects of the job search that simply don't belong in the resume (or cover letter). These marketing documents are meant to highlight how your skills fit a company/business need. It is not a background check form. If any of the following are in your resume or cover letter, they could be impacting your candidacy by taking the employer's attention away from your skills or introducing red flags that could make you seem a "risk candidate."

  • Reason for leaving your past jobs. In almost all cases, this has nothing to do with your skills and leads the employer to think about endings rather than new beginnings.
  • Salary history or current salary expectations. There are times when employers specifically ask for these details. When that is the case, provide a salary range that is as broad as appropriate to ensure you're not screened out. Otherwise, do not volunteer the information.
  • Need for Visa sponsorship. This adds complexity and expense that could screen you out before you get a chance to showcase your value.
  • Protected information. In the United States, employers are not allowed to ask about illness, injuries, or health conditions (beyond those that would affect your ability to do the job) or any details related to protected status such as race, religion, ethnicity, etc., so there is no reason to share this information. (Note: For many countries outside the United States, a resume is commonly called a Curriculum Vitae, or CV, and expectations will vary by region and these standards may not apply.)
Advice from Non-Professionals

It is important to remember that family, friends, and mentors (or anyone who knows you personally) will provide a perspective that—while relevant—is very different from the mindset of a hiring manager who has never met you. While it's certain they will have your best interest in mind, they may lack the industry expertise that would ensure you are using the best strategy.

Should you elect to take advantage of a Professional Resume Writing Service, be sure they have a track record of proven expertise along with a keen understanding of current hiring trends to craft a resume that is strategically written and uses the most effective personal marketing techniques for your unique circumstances.

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