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.
"Check your dates. You want to make sure that everything is exactly the same, everywhere — on LinkedIn, on your resume, on your employment records — because we can and will check. Another area is your job title. Don't try and fool us with an inflated or different job title than you actually had. Again, this is easily verified," says Frank Dadah, managing director, accounting, finance & administrative contract staffing at WinterWyman.
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 A seasoned IT pro might easily fill 3 pages, even after eliminating outdated skills and experience.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.
Fix this mistake: Learn how to keep your resume short, sweet and to the point and when that's not possible, how to effectively break the rules.
3. 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.
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 recent resume makeover, where 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.
4. 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 data from LinkedIn, the top 10 most used resume buzzwords include "specialized, leadership, experienced, passionate, strategic, excellent, focused, creative, enthusiastic and successful."
Fix this mistake: Darain Faraz, head of brand marketing and communications at LinkedIn, 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.
5. 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.
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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
"Most jobs put a premium on communication skills. Hiring managers and recruiters aren't going to be interested if you can't communicate well on your own behalf," says Rick Endres, president of the Washington Network and former CIO of the U.S. Congress.
Fix this mistake: "Make sure your verb tenses are all the same, and that you're either using periods at the end of each bullet point or that you're not." says Dadah. If you can, have someone else look over your resume — a fresh pair of eyes can help catch any mistakes you've missed.
8. 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.