In my pre-writing life, I worked for a couple of years as a recruiter for an accounting and finance recruiting agency. I interviewed hundreds of candidates, scoured probably more than a thousand resumes, and learned quickly what kinds of resumes do and don’t work. As a writer today, I end up writing quite a few resumes for clients, too, simply because of that background. So am I qualified to tell you what works and what doesn’t on a resume? Sort of.

The ultimate test: Does it get you the job you want?

The truth is that resume reading is a very subjective thing. We’re all different, and what really bugs me on a resume might not faze a hiring manager. So before I offer up all this forthcoming wisdom, keep in mind that I am one person. The ultimate test of your resume is the end result: Does it get you the job you want?

In my experience, there are some common mistakes I used to see all the time in recruiting—and I continue to see today when I’m editing/rewriting resumes for people. Here are five no-nos when writing your resume:

1. You’re all over the place.

Maybe your career has taken some turns (on purpose or not). Maybe you like trying a lot of new things. That’s fine, but you need to make sure your resume has something of a theme to it. So you’ve been a teacher, a receptionist and a masseuse. If you’re applying for teaching jobs, highlight that experience and minimize the unrelated experience. It’s OK to list it, but your resume needs to make sense to the person reviewing it—and that means you need to make it easy for them to see you in the role they’re considering you for (and not be confused as to why you’re sending them your resume). And yes, this means your resume may be slightly different depending on the job you’re applying for. Take me for example. Yes, I was a CPA earlier in my career. But if I was applying for a copywriter position now, would I waste valuable space going into detail about my job as an auditor? Definitely not.

2. Your resume is too high level and not detailed enough.

You list the job title, the dates, but no job description—or not enough of one. Professional resumes need to go into more than that. What were your day-to-day duties? What successes did you have in the role? What major projects did you work on while you were at the company? Even if you weren’t promoted, how did your job evolve during the time you held it?

3. You don’t describe the companies you’ve worked for.

When I write resumes, I include a one- or two-line description about each company listed. OK, so you were a financial analyst for P.M. Johnson. Umm…what’s P.M. Johnson? Are they a restaurant company or an auto-parts manufacturer or an architectural firm? Are they big or small? Were they based in Denver? Now, if your resume says P.M. Johnson is a 5,000-person mutual fund products company based in London with operations in the United States, Canada and Latin America, that’s a bit more descriptive, isn’t it?

4. Your resume is sloppy.

This is so obvious, but it’s worth repeating. Don’t send out a resume that has typos or is just completely disorganized. Take the time to do it right. Get professional help if you need it—at your college career center or elsewhere. What kind of message does a bad resume send about you as a prospective job candidate?

5. You don’t highlight your strengths.

I’m a big fan of the accomplishment-based resume—even if you’re early in your career. Sure, I understand you might not be in a job where you were named Employee of the Year or increased sales by 20% in one year, but whether you’re a barista or a stock broker, you probably did some good things in your position. What improvements did you make at the company while you were there? How did you gain efficiencies in your job?

This could definitely be a much longer list, but I’ll turn it over to you now. If you’re a hiring manager, what blunders do you see on resumes? If you’re applying for jobs, have you gotten feedback on your own resume?


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