By Clifford Mintz, Ph.D.
While a résumé is a mandatory requirement for all jobseekers, writing one that ultimately may lead to a job interview remains elusive to many job applicants. To that point, résumé writing is more of an art than a science and it can take many attempts to discover a format that works. Nevertheless, there are several common mistakes to avoid when writing a resume to improve the likelihood of success.
1. Don’t forget to include a “Summary of Qualifications”
Instead of an objective statement at the beginning of a resume, replace it with a “Summary of Qualifications” (SOQ); 3 to 5 sentences that highlight an applicant’s skill sets, experience and personal attributes that help to distinguish her/him from other job candidates. The SOQ ought to be constructed as a “30-second elevator pitch” that cogently describes who you are and the value that you will bring to prospective employers if they hire you. Don’t be afraid to pepper the SOQ with laudatory adjectives and action verbs. The purpose of the SOQ is to grab the attention of a recruiter or hiring manager to continue reading your résumé. To that point, it has been reported that hiring managers take from six to 30 seconds to review a résumé and determine whether or not to move forward with a job applicant.
2. Make sure to include keywords in your résumé
Increasingly, many companies are using software and keyword searches to screen the large number of résumés received for individual job openings. Because of this, it is vital that jobseekers sprinkle keywords throughout their résumés (including the SOQ). A good way to determine which keywords to use is by reading job descriptions for opportunities that interest you. After identifying the keywords, make sure to insert them into your résumé where appropriate.
3. One size DOES NOT fit all!
It is very tempting to craft a single résumé and then submit it for all jobs that interest you. Unfortunately, this approach is certain to increase the likelihood that your résumé will land in the recycle bin. Prospective employers want job applicants to take the time to write a résumé that clearly demonstrates how and why they are the right candidate to fill a position in a specific organization. Again, a good way to craft job-specific résumés is to read job descriptions for individual opportunities. Identify the technical skills, educational background and job responsibilities and then create a résumé that shows that you meet all of the job specifications and requirements. While this may seem like a lot of work, it is necessary to ensure the likelihood of a successful job search.
4. Typos and spelling errors are forbidden
Given the fierce competition for jobs in today’s global economy, a single typo can land your résumé in the “not interested” pile. Résumés should be spellchecked for typos and grammatical errors before they are submitted to prospective employers for consideration. It is vitally important to proofread a résumé and it is a good idea to allow friends and colleagues to review it as well. A résumé is the first exposure of a job applicant to prospective employers and it should be perfect. Résumés fraught with typos, spelling mistakes and grammatical errors signal to employers that a job applicant may be careless or not thoughtful, and does not take pride in his/her work product.
5. Keep it simple
There is no need to use special fonts or color in a résumé. It is best to stick to black and white and use basic fonts like Arial, Tahoma or Calibri with sizes of 11 or 12 point. Also, it is important not to incorporate long or dense blocks of text into a résumé. Dense blocks of text are difficult to read and increase the time hiring managers want to spend reviewing résumés. Instead, concisely describe achievements in two to five bulleted points per job. Also, be certain to highlight your accomplishments rather than simply listing duties for different jobs. Prospective employers are much more interested in what was accomplished rather than what your responsibilities were. Finally, white space is known to draw readers’ eyes to important points. Therefore, it is vital that your résumé is not cluttered, is formatted correctly and contains sufficient white space to invite the reader to read it.
6. Size does not matter
Urban legend tells us that a résumé should be two pages or less in length. In reality, there are absolutely no rules governing résumé length! The goal of a well-crafted résumé is to allow prospective employers to determine whether or not a job applicant is qualified for a specific position. While in some cases, a one- or two-page résumé may be sufficient; in others, a longer one may be required. That said, generally speaking, shorter is preferred by hiring managers/recruiters (because of the thousands of résumés that they review daily). However, do not be afraid to craft longer résumés if additional space is necessary to present yourself in the best light to potential employers.
Although, the items mentioned in this post are common résumé mistakes, it is by no means a complete list. However, these are easy to fix. A good way to test résumé effectiveness is to revise an old résumé (to fix the above mentioned mistakes) and then apply for different jobs using the old and revised résumés. If there is an uptick in employer response rates to the revised résumé compared to the old one, then you are likely on the right track. If not, you may want to seek additional help with your résumé writing.
Cliff Mintz is a freelance writer and frequent speaker at career-development symposia and job fairs.