You know that saying, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”?
When it comes to your job search, it’s especially true.
Most hiring managers spend a mere six seconds reviewing each resume they receive, according to a study by The Ladders — which means yours has to stand out for all the right reasons.
Because if there’s anything worse than having your resume passed over as mediocre, it’s having it passed around by fellow hiring managers for a good laugh.
To learn how to write a resume that leaves a lasting (positive) impression, check out these all-too-common resume mistakes, accompanied by real-life examples that missed the mark in a spectacular way.
1. Not Proofreading
“The importance of details on a resume cannot be overstated,“ said Dr. Heather Rothbauer-Wanish, owner of Feather Communications and a certified professional resume writer.
By far the biggest complaints we heard from hiring managers and resume pros were typos and other errors a simple once-over could easily have caught.
Basically, lesson one in How to Write a Resume 101 is to proofread!
“Perhaps the most unusual mistake that I ever saw was a cover letter and resume that we reviewed in which the applicant misspelled his own name!” said Timothy G. Wiedman, retired Associate Professor of Management and Human Resources at Doane University.
“The spelling of the applicant’s last name on the cover letter did not match the spelling of his last name on the resume — two letters were transposed. The members of the search committee were not really sure what his name was until we later received his transcripts.
“What made the episode especially memorable was the fact that the applicant stated that he was ‘detail-oriented’ in his cover letter! As you might guess, that candidate wasn’t hired.”
You’ll also want to make sure you send the right resume to the right company.
“One time I received a resume from a student that had the wrong company in the objective statement,” said Alina Tubman, campus programs specialist and career consultant, “in addition to clearly stating in the objective section that the role he was applying for was a stepping stone for him to get into a more prestigious role…
“And to top it all off, he indicated that he was the leader of a club on campus that no longer existed! #EpicFail.”
And of course, make sure your contact information is correct.
“One client specifically stated that he couldn’t believe he wasn’t getting any responses to his resume,” said Rothbauer-Wanish.
“I reviewed it and it looked fairly good. Then I started comparing his email address and phone number he had contacted me from versus the one on his document. He had the incorrect phone number listed on his resume — two of the numbers were transposed at the end.
“Now, who knows if he had been getting tons of calls… this shows that one little detail CAN cost you the job (or even interview) opportunity. The moral of the story: check, check and re-check everything.”
2. Trusting Spellcheck Too Much
Spellcheck is a great tool, but it doesn’t recognize context, so don’t think you can skip the proofreading step just because you’ve used it.
“Generally speaking, spellchecker and grammar checker technologies are our friends,” said Becca Le Blond, HR Supervisor for FM Outsource, “but occasionally things get missed. It’s difficult to believe a candidate has a ‘keen I for detail’ (genuine example) if their resume isn’t thoroughly checked.”
Cathie Ericson recalled from her days as a PR manager: “We would consistently get resumes from people who wanted to work in ‘pubic relations.’ I would tell them just to remove that word from their spell checker so it wouldn’t inadvertently happen!”
(We actually heard from several PR reps who confirmed seeing this same unfortunate error.)
“We had one applicant who sent a resume that had numerous typos on it,” says Bob Bentz, President of Purplegator.
“My favorite one described his job at a restaurant as follows: ‘After cleaning out the bank, I went home happy at night.’ I think what he meant was cleaning out the ‘back.’ Cleaning out the bank probably would be a problem.”
Another problem? This gaffe shared by JobMob: “Experience: ‘Child care provider: organized activities; prepared lunches and snakes.” Yikes!
3. Making It Obvious You’ve Used a Resume Template
“The resume template is a blessing for some job seekers,” said Clair Jones, Chief Strategy Officer of Witty Kitty Creative, “but make sure you remember to fill in all the fields and never leave copy original to the template.
“We had one applicant for a freelance position who applied as ‘John Smith,’ though that was definitely not his name and did not match the rest of his information. While it was hilarious and an honest mistake, it definitely showed that he lacks the attention to detail we look for in a new hire.
“Always proofread your resume, people! If you can’t handle something that simple, you probably have no place applying to a technical job.”
Glen Loveland, HR Manager for CCTV News, also warned against “submitting your resume with the ‘track changes’ feature still turned on. (Yes, this has happened more than once.)
“It shows me that you didn’t write your resume yourself, how you puffed up certain sections to look more experienced than you really are, and demonstrates your complete lack of attention to detail. These resumes — no matter how much potential a candidate may have — are immediately deleted.”
Case in point? This blooper reported in The Washington Post: “[One woman] sent her resume and cover letter without deleting someone else’s editing, including such comments as ‘I don’t think you want to say this about yourself here’ and notes that pointed out grammatical and spelling errors.”
“Apparently she had just taken what she got back and forwarded it along,” Matt Salo, director of the health and human services committee of the National Governors Association, told the Post. “Needless to say, that person wasn’t hired.”
If you’re up for using a resume template, this site has tons of free options you can use. Another option is to check Etsy for more creative versions. Just don’t forget to change all of the pre-filled information to your own.
4. Including Unnecessary Personal Details
We were amazed and horrified to find how many of our sources had stories of blatant oversharing by job applicants.
“People sharing their hobbies and personal tragedies in the resume is one of the fastest ways to being cut from consideration,” said Dirk Spencer, recruitment adviser and author.
“People want to focus on the skills which relate to the job at hand to maximize their chances to receive a job offer. Here some examples of TMI included on real-life resumes not to emulate:
- “Happily married with three beautiful kids.
- “Wife’s name is Mary.
- “Born crafter.
- “Harley lover.
- “Self-taught. (This comment resulted in the hiring manager deciding the candidate might not work well with others.)
- “Recent death in the family forced me to start my own company. (This comment was just creepy to the hiring manager. The candidate was aiming for open and honest.)
- “Black belt in (insert your favorite or least favorite martial art here). (With any ‘black belt’ mention, most HR departments are hearing this breaking news audio in their head: ‘Java programmer with a black belt assaults employees. News at 11…’)”
Other gems we found particularly amusing:
“I once saw a resume that included under the ‘Interests’ section, ‘Eating peanut butter.’ Immediately all I could picture was peanut butter smeared all over [the applicant’s] face and her smacking her lips.”
— Lori Bumgarner, M.Ed., passion and career specialist at paNASH.
“Years ago when we had fax machines and when I worked in another niche (construction), I received a resume with a handwritten cover letter that said only this: ‘I have never been convicted of any sex crimes.’”
— Scott Love, legal recruiter and owner of The Attorney Search Group.
5. Photos That are Less Than Professional
There’s some debate in career spheres over whether you should include a photo on your resume at all. We’d say it’s probably best to play it safe and leave one out — especially if you’re going to follow the examples below.
Phoebe Aitken, HR Specialist with Voices.com, has seen more than a few “applicants adding inappropriate photos of themselves to their resume,” she said.
“Some were suspiciously like a passport photo or may have come from a dating app.”
“In my experience as a recruiter, I’ve seen many aspects of epic fail, with… the most excruciating fails appear[ing] mostly in cover photos,” said Galin Kolev, marketing manager of Fantastic Services.
“I’ve had numerous cases where business partner applicants attached cover images of themselves at the beach or at a nightclub with a bottle of whiskey in their hands and cigars in their mouths, surrounded by beautifully dressed ladies who all glisten in makeup. This is not the right way to go; after all, I seek intelligent and ambitious-looking partners who inspire trust, and party animals hardly qualify as such.”
6. Trying to Be Funny/Creative
Your resume isn’t the place to attempt to show off your shining personality. Leave that for the interview — which you will only get if your resume is a polished presentation of your skills, experience and accomplishments.
You may think you’re injecting some humor and levity by stating your objective is “to become Overlord of the Galaxy” or augmenting “I have a lifetime’s worth of technical expertise” with “I wasn’t born — my mother simply chose ‘eject child’ from the special menu” (actual resume excerpts shared on JobMob).
But all you’re really doing is giving your resume a one-way pass to the trash bin, according to the experts we spoke with.
Adam Hatch of Resume Genius recalls seeing poor attempts at creativity in some “awesomely cringeworthy” cover letters. (Resumes aren’t the only place you can screw up.)
One of his favorites was an enigmatic bit of literature where the job seeker “wrote the whole thing in second person and managed to make it embarrassingly self-aggrandizing,” he says.
Addressed to a hiring manager with the opening line,”Your hands tremble as you hold this letter,” it was three full pages long and included such odd and awful (and grammatically incorrect) lines as:
- “You put your head up high like an ostrich, and you turn your head as you smell the air of excitement.”
- “It draws you in, and it hooks you on like taking drugs on a rollercoaster.”
- “Here is a man of such wit and poise in his writings, a magic he holds you captivated.”
As far as experimental writing goes, it’s amusing if nothing else. But as a cover letter? It’s a train wreck.
That said: Know your audience. If a company showcases this type of personality on its own website and social media channels, your creativity might be a hit.
7. Not Telling the Truth
Whether it’s embellishing the facts or “straight-up lying,” as Russab Ali, Founder of SMC Digital Marketing, put it, it’s not cool, and hiring managers will spot it.
“I can tell you don’t have a 2400 on your SAT by the grammar you have on your resume,” Ali said. (Note: From 2005 to 2016, the SAT was scored out of 2400. It’s now back to 1600.)
Fair enough, but no one would doubt you if you claimed you were once on an NHL team, right?
Pierre Tremblay, Director of Human Resources at steam cleaning supply company Dupray, offered this story of a job seeker so brazen it boggles the mind: “We had a candidate lie specifically about being part of a professional sports organization. This individual said that he was a former player of the New York Islanders.
“Unfortunately for him, I am a huge hockey fan and I Googled his name while we were on the phone interview. I asked him what position he played and if he still spoke to several of his teammates (who were playing 20-something years before he ‘did’). After about five minutes of this charade, I just called him a liar and hung up.”
Your Turn: Have you been guilty of any of these resume faux pas (even if on a less epic level)?
Kelly Gurnett is a freelance blogger, writer and editor who runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. Follow her on Twitter @CordeliaCallsIt.