10 common resume writing mistakes to avoid

10 common resume writing mistakes to avoid

Matt Krumrie, Director of Content Management

The 10 most common resume mistakes made by college students and recent grads – and why you should avoid them.

A meticulously-crafted resume will open doors to job interviews, while a quickly thrown together document filled with blunders can sink those chances.

"Despite all the warnings from employers, recruiters, and countless career experts, some job seekers still don't think strategically, or type carefully, when writing their resume," says Michelle Reisdorf, Regional Vice President of Accountemps and OfficeTeam in Chicago

Here are the top 10 most common resume mistakes made by college students and recent grads – and some compelling reasons to avoid them:

1. Lying
New research reveals almost half of workers (46 percent) polled by staffing firm OfficeTeam said they know someone who included false information on a resume, a 25-point jump from a 2011 survey. Job experience (76 percent) and duties (55 percent) were cited as areas that are most frequently embellished.

"It may be tempting to stretch the truth on a resume to stand out, but even small misrepresentations can remove an applicant from consideration for a position," says Reisdorf. "Hiring managers are better than ever at finding out the truth – from background checks to online profiles, there’s little information about candidates they don’t have access to."

Job seekers want their resumes to be attention-catching, but the document means nothing if the content is false. The solution is: Don’t lie.

"Professionals should avoid lying on any application materials or online profiles because the truth will likely be uncovered during a background or reference check," says Reisdorf.

Related: The 5 biggest resume lies recruiters notice

2. Spelling and grammar errors
The absolute worst resume writing mistake to make is spelling and grammar errors, says Mike McGuiness, Executive Director of Jobipedia, a non-profit organization that provides career advice for entry-level workers from a network of US-based hiring professionals at America’s top employers.

“When it comes to hiring, there are so many uncontrollable variables,” says McGuiness. “But the one thing a job seeker can control is spelling and grammar errors on their resume. Spelling or grammar errors are the one thing that will almost always make a recruiter pass on your resume.”

Do not trust spellcheck, says Alyssa Hammond, Director of Career Innovation and Outcomes at Bentley University.

“This is crucial, make sure you have your resume proofread by at least two other people,” says Hammond. “And don’t trust spell check because it will miss errors. I will never forget the student who wrote in her cover letter, ‘I will follow-up with you shorty.’ Spell check did not catch the missing l in shortly.’”

Take the time to review your resume for typos. This is a direct example of your attention to details, if you have a sloppy or typo-ridden resume, that will not present you as a strong candidate," says Jennifer Lasater, Vice President of Employer and Career Services at Kaplan University.

"Don't forget to ask your ​Career Services office for a resume review after you've built a draft," said Lasater.

A spelling faux pas or grammatical error can call into question a candidate’s seriousness about their career, experts say.

“If a candidate can’t take the time to proofread their resume with care and precision, managers won’t expect them to be any more detail-oriented once hired for the job,” says Reisdorf.

One other note: Don’t rely on friends or classmates to “critique” your resume. Getting many opinions can lead to confusion – especially because your classmates are also not likely experts on resume writing either. Ask them to proof for grammar or spelling mistakes – but rely on professionals – such as your campus career center staff members, for resume writing tips and advice.

3. Taking a one-size-fits-all approach
While it can be frustrating because it takes added time, job seekers must tailor their resume for every job they apply to. Show how your skills and experience is directly relevant to each open position.

“A hiring manager and recruiter wants to find parallels in your experience, and with the responsibilities of the position they are hiring for," says McGuiness. "Mimic words found in the job description on your resume."

When writing a resume, think about what the employer is looking for with their new hire. It's not about sharing everything that is great about you, but instead what is relevant to the role Try to avoid blasting the same resume to every job with every employer. 

“Take the time to review job postings and break down the skills the employer is looking for," says Lasater. "Then take an internal check - do you have the skills they need? Are you a strong candidate for this role or just another candidate? Then make sure to highlight the skills (focusing on achievements) needed for the job on your resume. By taking the time to apply for jobs where you are a fit you will get faster responses and more activity than taking one resume and applying to every job.”

4. A demanding attitude
A “what’s-in-it-for-me?” attitude raises eyebrows anywhere, but it’s especially unprofessional on a resume or cover letter.

“Mentioning the money, benefits, or perks a candidate wants on their resume or cover letter can come across as obnoxious and presumptuous,” says Reisdorf.

Application materials that include demands about salary expectations, vacation requirements or specific perks will find themselves tossed in the bin. Job seekers who issue ultimatums before they even get an interview are not seen as team players. Before broaching the topic of compensation and benefits, candidates should wait until a job interview has been secured and the employer has expressed interest in hiring them.

5.Leaving off important skills and experiences gained outside the classroom

One of the biggest mistakes recent graduates make is downplaying their overall experiences and believing they don't have worthwhile content for their resume.

“Just because someone is new to the workforce doesn't mean they don't possess the skills needed to craft an impactful resume,” says Jon Shields, Content Producer for Jobscan.co, a tool that gives job seekers an instant analysis of how well their resume is tailored for a particular job.

Coursework, internships, and side-hustles can generate the resume keywords needed to get the attention of a hiring manager or recruiter searching within an applicant tracking system. So can your involvement with campus organizations (finance club, engineering club) sports/college athletics teams (especially if one has earned a leadership role, such as captain, or honors, such as being named to an All-Academic team), student senate, a fraternity or sorority (but focus on skills, projects or fundraisers, not just being a fraternity/sorority member), the student newspaper, or volunteering/charity events, especially if you held a leadership position, or position of responsibility or decision-making. In addition, don’t ever undersell the skills learned through any part-time jobs held in college, even if they weren’t a part of your major. Employers covet skills gained through part-time jobs, such as those gained working part-time in the retail and restaurant industry to get through college, for example. If you worked at a pizza joint, overnights at UPS, as a receptionist at a clinic, on campus – those are all important jobs, and great opportunities to highlight the important soft skills employer covet for career success.  

6. Overselling skills or experience
At the same time, don't oversell your skills and experience. It’s true that your resume is a marketing tool and you do want to land an interview - but the reality is that you can’t showcase skills that you don’t really have.

“You have to be honest,” says Hammond. “I see this happen a lot with language skills. Students take four years of Spanish and want to add it as a skill on their resume. If you can truly converse in Spanish and feel confident you know the language, then go ahead and add it to your resume. But if not, don’t go there. You really need to be able to put your money where your mouth is for everything you put on your resume.”

7. Trying to be flashy or use too many big words
Hiring managers are drawn to professionals who communicate clearly and concisely, says Reisdorf. Write short, crisp, and compelling sentences. Applicants hurt themselves when they weigh down their resumes with flashy five-dollar words, corporate-speak, and tech jargon. Aim to answer questions, not raise them. No matter how relevant or impressive a candidate’s skill set, employers want to see how their expertise and efforts will affect the company’s bottom line.

8. Creating a resume longer than one page
If you’re a student, or even a new grad, keep your resume to no more than one page, says Hammond. The rule of thumb is that you shouldn’t be using a second page unless you’ve been working professionally for at least five years. This means being selective about the content you put on your resume and making sure the content is relevant for the position you are applying for.

9.Focusing on high school accomplishments
“By the time you are a junior in college there should be no more mention of any experience from high school -- unless it’s something really spectacular,” says Hammond. “You should be including the relevant classes you are taking, how you are getting involved on campus and, of course, internship and service experiences.”

10. Using inappropriate or college-based email
Think about your email address, is it too personal?  Too cute?  Does it have the year of your birth in it?

“It might be worth setting up another dedicated email address just for job searching that you check on a regular basis to keep it professional,” says Lasater.

Make sure the email address you have listed on your resume is appropriate and it’s one you check often. If you’ve recently graduated, you may want to stop using your student email address and create an email that reinforces your name. Using your college email address isn’t a deal-breaker, but consider creating a Gmail account that simply includes a variation of your first and last name that easily identifies who you are when contacting employers.

And finally, remember, the resume won't get you hired - it gets you interviews - and on your way to landing your first job as a college graduate. Follow these tips to increase your chances of getting noticed, getting interviews, and getting hired.

About Matt Krumrie 
Matt Krumrie is the Director of Content Management for PowerNetwork, and has written over 2,000 articles on topics related to the job search, careers, and workplace issues. He was named a top 50 career professional to follow on Twitter, and is a resume writer who works with job seekers of all backgrounds, including college students, recent college graduates and entry-level job seekers. Follow Matt on Twitter. Connect with Matt on LinkedInHire Matt Krumrie to write your resume.

If you have a story idea, news release, or want to be a source for future articles, contact Matt.