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12 common resume mistakes (and how to fix them)

Have you made any of these top resume mistakes? If so, take some time to revisit, review, and update your resume before you apply for your next job.

By Sarah K. White

Senior Writer, CIO | APR 16, 2021 2:00 AM PDT

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Writing a resume is not an easy task, no matter how long you’ve been in the game or how confident you are in your skills and experience. But there are steps you can take to make the process easier and turn your resume into a document that gets noticed for the right reasons.

If your resume isn’t getting the attention you want, there’s a good chance you’ve made at least one of these all-too-common mistakes.

1. Allowing inconsistencies

Even something as seemingly insignificant as your start dates not lining up correctly can raise a red flag for employers.

Review your resume to make sure that all the details match your other public profiles. For example, if you have certain dates for a job position on LinkedIn, make sure you have the same dates listed on your resume. The same goes with job titles, stick to your actual title and keep it consistent across all of your professional platforms. It’s a small oversight that might signal to employers you aren’t being entirely truthful on your resume or professional profiles.

Fix this mistake: Before you send out your resume, make sure all the information aligns with your LinkedIn profile and employment records.

2. Letting it run long

The standard advice on resume length is to keep it to one or two pages. Entry-level and junior employees will have a resume that’s closer to one page, but as you advance in your career, you’ll have more valuable information to start filling up the second page. A seasoned IT pro might easily fill 3 pages, even after eliminating outdated skills and experience.

The question of how long is too long comes down to this: If your resume includes anything but the most pertinent information, it’s too long. Outline your most impressive accomplishments, accolades, and achievements to draw a recruiter or hiring manager in.

3. Oversharing

On the heels of making your resume too long comes the mistake of including too much information on your resume. If you have a long career history, you might make the mistake of including outdated information that’s been hanging around on your resume for years.

Fix this mistake: Go through your career history and figure out what skills, knowledge, or expertise aren’t relevant anymore. Try to eliminate any outdated software tools, skills, or hardware that isn’t sought after in your industry anymore. Cut those from your resume and add them back only if it’s directly relevant to the job you’re applying for. This is another easy way to cut down the length of your resume while modernizing it at the same time.

4. Failing to focus

Establishing a focus for your resume can give you a reference point to tie everything back to as you write and edit and will help create a sense of flow between your work experience, skills, and accomplishments.

Finding a focus for your resume is easier than you think. Consider what makes you unique as an employee and how you’re different than others in your field. Or you can find a way to highlight past experience and accomplishments to demonstrate how they translate to new job requirements and skills.

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Fix this mistake: JM Auron, a resume writer and owner of Quantum Tech Resumes, uses a “challenge, action, and results” method to organize career history and to develop a theme for a resume. You can see this technique in action in a resume makeover in which Auron makes a disorganized resume more cohesive by focusing on challenges the candidate has faced and demonstrating how that candidate responded to the situation and produced valuable results.

5. Using buzzwords and technical jargon

The first person who reads your resume might not have experience in your specific industry. Even if you work with a tech recruiter, you can’t expect them to be familiar with technical jargon. Your goal is to make your resume easy to read and understand while also showcasing your relevant skills and experience.

In addition to technical jargon, you want to avoid overused buzzwords — these will make a recruiter’s eyes roll. A resume filled with buzzwords also risks being passed over by applicant tracking systems that are programmed to ignore overused phrases.

According to a 2017 study from LinkedIn, the top 10 most used resume buzzwords include: specialized, leadership, experienced, passionate, strategic, excellent, focused, creative, enthusiastic, and successful.

Fix this mistake: As part of that 2017 study, LinkedIn’s Darain Faraz says you should avoid any language that “generalizes” what you do, including industry jargon. Instead, highlight the skills and achievements that demonstrate how you embody those buzzwords. If, for example, you’re passionate about open-source software, demonstrate your passion by including any relevant volunteer or nonprofit work on your resume.

6. Sending the same resume every time

Do you send the same resume out for every job opening you apply to? If not, you might be missing out on a valuable opportunity to show how qualified you are for a particular role. Just like you would change up a cover letter for each job you apply to, you should also consider how you can change up your resume for that position.

Fix this mistake: When you apply to an open position, take time to read the job description and identify any specific skills, expertise, or knowledge that is required for the job. If you have experience or knowledge in any of the areas listed, make sure they’re included on your resume in your skills section or executive summary.

7. Failing to tell your career story

Your career story starts with your first job and never stops evolving. It is unique and personal to you, and it’s also what sets you apart from others in your field. This is how you tell employers what they’ll get if they hire you that they can’t get from someone else with similar experience. Without a good career story, you can’t demonstrate how you’ve gained new skills and experience, and how they’ve helped you grow in your career.

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Fix this mistake: Look at your accomplishments and achievements to see how they tie into your current career goals. Emphasize any experience that will show a recruiter you have the right skills and expertise for the job you aspire to. You might even decide to leave certain skills or accomplishments off your resume if they don’t align with your career path.  “Remember that older experience should set the foundation for understanding why the person is good at what they do now,” says Jennifer Hay, IT resume writer with ITResumeService.com.

8. Misrepresenting your career gaps

If you have gaps in your career history, you don’t have to explicitly include it on your resume. While it’s important to be open and honest about your career history, time spent away from your career can be translated into valuable skills, expertise, and knowledge for your resume.

Fix this mistakeIn this resume makeover, the candidate had gaps in her career history, but she also spent much of that time working on IT-related projects, keeping one foot in the industry while caring for a sick loved one. Instead of labeling that time off as a “sabbatical,” the resume expert instead translated her time off as being a “virtual CIO,” and highlighted the skills, expertise, and knowledge she gained during that gap in her full-time employment that were relevant to her career.

9. Not branding yourself

If you don’t establish your own professional brand, you risk letting other people do it for you.

Part of your brand includes where you see your career going — if you want to be a CIO, you need to start branding yourself as an executive early on. Keep this brand in mind while you write your resume — and remember to write your resume for the job you want, not the job you have.

Your brand is different from your career story; it’s more about who you are, what you value, and how you present yourself professionally. It’s how you establish yourself and build credibility in the industry. Don’t shy away from injecting some personality into your resume — even if you want to remain buttoned-up, you can still find ways to show employers who you are.

Fix this mistake: “Nowadays, branding plays a much bigger role in promoting a job seeker’s candidacy, and this is accomplished through a strategic combination of summary paragraphs, testimonials, achievement snapshots, pedigree proof and core competencies. All of these subsections add keywords to the resume, but more critically, they also add focus and insight into the job seeker’s unique experience, achievements, and capabilities,” says Cheryl Simpson, president of Executive Resume Rescue.

10. Ignoring formatting and typos

Details matter. Making sure your cover letter and resume are typo-free may sound like obvious advice, but after hours of staring at the same document small errors can be easy to miss. Communication and other soft skills are vital for most IT jobs, so make sure recruiters aren’t put off by simple errors that could be fixed before submitting your resume. Ask a friend, or someone in your professional network whom you trust, to look over your resume when you’re done, or even consider hiring a professional editor to review the document.  

Fix this mistake: Keep your writing style consistent and, if you can, have someone else look over your resume — a fresh pair of eyes can help catch any mistakes you’ve missed. 

11. Selling yourself short

Many people shy away from self-promotion, but you shouldn’t be afraid to brag a little on your resume. You want to sell your skills and accomplishments to impress employers and move ahead of any competition.

“When an IT professional goes beyond just the end result and thinks in terms of how they were able to achieve the results within a challenging business and technical context, then they become unique,” says Hay.

Fix this mistake: The executive summary at the top of your resume is the perfect place to showcase your skills, talents and biggest accomplishments. Instead of burying skills, accomplishments and accolades under different job titles, you can pick your greatest assets from each job and include them at the head of your resume. Consider your executive summary as your first impression; it introduces you as a potential candidate and sets the tone for the rest of your resume.

12. Blending in with the crowd

Recruiters and hiring managers look at hundreds of resumes when filing a position, so it’s worth taking the extra time to make sure your resume stands out from the crowd. If your resume is a simple document, with bulleted lists and basic formatting, you might be doing yourself a disservice.

Fix this mistake: You don’t have to get fancy, but adding in headers and some simple lines, and using colors to highlight different sections can give your resume a personal touch. You can search for resume templates online or hire a resume designer to work on the document for you. You can add headshots, page breaks, headers, and even a QR code to your resume that leads to your LinkedIn page. For example, in this resume makeover, the final resume uses simple visual enhancements to give it a uniquely professional look.

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