When writing a resume, it’s important to pay attention to every detail. Your resume is the first part of your application that employers see, so it needs to make a great impression and catch their interest.
Experienced hiring managers can look at a resume and spot a mistake immediately, and a mistake could send the message that you haven’t put much time or effort into your application.
Knowing what mistakes to avoid on your resume is your best shot of landing an interview and getting the job you want.
14 biggest resume mistakes
Looking for a quick video guide? Below, our in-house career advisor Eva discusses the top five resume mistakes you should stay away from:
To expand on Eva’s advice, here’s a list of the 14 biggest mistakes applicants make when writing their resumes, and how you can avoid them:
1. Not tailoring your resume to each position
Under normal circumstances, general resumes should be avoided. Not only can hiring managers tell if you’re sending out the same generic resume with every application, it’s also a missed opportunity to demonstrate that you have the specific skills and experience they’re looking for.
Any time you include phrases like “your team”, “your company”, or “your restaurant”, hiring managers immediately know that you’re using a generic resume, and your chance of hearing back from them decreases.
Different companies have different needs, and a well-written resume should show recruiters how you’re uniquely positioned to help meet those needs.
Instead of sending out a generic resume to each job, check the job description for specific keywords to include in your resume.
Take the career objective above as an example. By changing the last sentence to something more specific and targeted, the tone completely shifts:
Energetic server with 4+ years of experience delivering high quality service and product to customers. Excellent memory and efficiency on the floor, with particular skill in building strong rapport with clientele, resulting in repeat patronage. Looking to join the up-and-coming, fast-paced environment of Zippo’s Pizza, where I can leverage my customer service skills to help build a strong customer base.
In addition to using targeted language in your career objective, you should also include keywords (like skills and job duties) in the work experience section of your resume.
2. Including a photo on your resume
Including a photo on your resume is usually not recommended for American job seekers because it’s seen as unprofessional.
Adding a photo to your resume (like in this template from Canva) could cause your application to be automatically rejected. Some companies have policies in place that prohibit them from accepting resumes with photos, as employers don’t want to risk being accused of discrimination.
To be safe, it’s best to avoid putting photos in your resume.
3. Using clichés
You want your resume to convince recruiters that you possess unique skills and traits that would make you an asset to the company. Including too many overused phrases and buzzwords makes your resume appear unoriginal and won’t help you stand out.
Here are a few examples of resume buzzwords words to avoid:
- Team player
A more effective way to demonstrate these traits is to include action verbs in the work experience section of your resume. Using strong action verbs to describe your experience shows employers how you work without the need for tired adjectives.
For example, instead of calling yourself a “team player”, use a bullet point in your work experience section to describe your experience collaborating with a team, supporting your coworkers, or contributing to a group project.
4. Grammar and spelling errors
A simple typo can make the difference between you getting the job or someone else. If your resume contains grammar and spelling errors, it might lead employers to think that you’re careless or not serious about the job.
Simple grammar and spelling errors are some of the most common resume mistakes, so set aside some time to carefully proofread your resume before you send it out.
5. Using unprofessional fonts
It can be tempting to use unique-looking fonts on your resume to add visual interest and set yourself apart from other applicants. However, many non-traditional fonts can be difficult to read or make your resume look unprofessional, like in the example below.
You should avoid any intricate or decorative fonts like Courier, Impact, Papyrus, and (especially) Comic Sans. Additionally, using any handwritten-style fonts on your resume is a mistake because they’re difficult to read.
6. Using an over-the-top design
If you find traditional resume styles boring, you might be drawn to creative resume designs with more visual appeal, like infographic resumes. However, before you invest the time and effort it takes to make an elaborate resume, it’s important to carefully consider whether it’s appropriate for your circumstances.
Unless you’re applying for work in a very progressive or creative industry, using a resume with a bold design might come across as unprofessional and hurt your chances of getting an interview.
This resume template for designers from Entheos might be an effective way to demonstrate your design skills, but it won’t impress employers looking to hire someone in most other fields.
In most cases, it’s best to use a traditional resume that’s easy to read and keeps the focus on your experience and qualifications.
7. Making your resume too long
Hiring managers have a limited amount of time to spend on each application, so they won’t be thrilled if they come across a resume that details all of your university coursework and every job you’ve ever had.
While there are some situations in which it’s okay to use a two-page resume, you should try to keep your resume length shorter.
The best way to do this is to include only information that’s directly relevant to the position you’re applying for. When applying to an office job, for instance, you should leave that dishwashing job from college off your resume since the skills you gained are unlikely to be transferable. Focus on including the right skills for your resume.
Ultimately, unless you have more than 10 years of professional experience (or you’re writing an academic CV or artist CV), you should write a one-page resume.
If you’re not a recent graduate entering the workforce,omit any of the following information from your resume (unless it’s relevant to the job you’re applying for):
- Summer jobs
- Volunteer experience
- Hobbies and interests
- Skills and certifications unrelated to the position
- High school experience (unless you’re a high school student or don’t have a higher education degree)
8. Exaggerating your abilities
Exaggerating or lying on your resume is one of the most serious resume mistakes you can make.
If employers catch on during the hiring process, you’ll come across as untrustworthy and it could cost you the job. Lies can be easily revealed through conversations with your references, so it’s not worth the risk.
Here’s an example of a resume skills section that exaggerates the candidate’s skill levels:
If you’re going to list yourself as an expert on something, you need to be really confident in your abilities.
Even if you get a job after lying about your qualifications, you might end up being unable to meet your employer’s expectations because you lack the knowledge and skills required for the role.
It’s much better to be honest about your skills and experience rather than going into a job unprepared and performing poorly. After all, employers may be willing to give you the training you need to succeed in a role.
9. Not using proper resume formatting
Not only is it important that the content of your resume impress employers, your resume’s formatting also needs to look good. From the colors you use to the page margins, it’s essential that your resume layout is easy to read and professional-looking.
A disorganized or improperly formatted resume is an immediate turnoff for many employers, and sends the message that you don’t have strong attention to detail. This can quickly ruin your chances of getting a job.
For example, look at this resume that’s poorly formatted:
The wide margins, inconsistent and distracting headings, lack of bullet points, and abundance of white space all tell the hiring manager that the candidate didn’t put too much effort into their resume.
To make sure your resume is organized and easy to follow, use an established format like the chronological resume. This format presents your experience in a logical manner and is the most popular choice among job seekers.
Additionally, make sure all the spacing and design elements of your resume (such as horizontal lines and headings) are consistent and look professional. Broken or otherwise sloppy formatting gives the impression that you don’t care about the job.
10. Focusing on your job responsibilities, not your accomplishments
“Responsible for” and “tasked with” are passive phrases that hiring managers see on resumes all the time. The problem is that these phrases are generic and don’t frame your experience in terms of what you actually achieved.
Instead of presenting prospective employers with a comprehensive list of the responsibilities you had at your last job, pick out a few particularly impressive accomplishments for your resume.
Employers don’t just want to know what you can do, they want to know if you’re good at what you do. Convince them by giving specific examples of times when you excelled in the workplace, and remember to back up some of your achievements with hard numbers.
For example, instead of writing “worked on email marketing campaign strategies”, use the following accomplishment-focused resume bullet point:
- Spearheaded a new email marketing campaign strategy, resulting in a 12% increase in open rates
Using hard numbers and focusing your experience on your achievements will show employers what you have to offer and increase your chances of getting an interview.
11. Not using strong action verbs
Another mistake job seekers commonly make is not choosing strong action verbs to describe their experience. Adding action verbs is a simple and effective way to strengthen the impact of your resume and ensure it makes an impression.
As an easy-to-remember rule of thumb, use action verbs to begin each bullet point in your work experience section. Here’s an example:
- Increased annual profits by 5% by implementing strategies to streamline operations and improve inventory management
By using action verbs, you highlight what you’re capable of and show hiring managers why they should hire you.
Here are 20 strong action verbs to get you started:
12. Disclosing personal information
Although it’s illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of religion, ethnicity, age, marital status, sexual orientation or disability, it’s still commonplace in the United States.
Adding personal information that isn’t relevant to your qualifications puts you at risk of being discriminated against due to recruiters’ potential conscious or unconscious biases, so you’re better off not disclosing this information at all.
13. Disclosing your salary requirements
While it’s good to understand your own value as an employee, you should avoid putting your salary requirements on your resume unless specifically asked to do so.
At the initial hiring stage, you want to focus on what you can do for the company, rather than what the company can do for you. You’ll get the chance to discuss salaries later (typically after or during the interview process).
If the first thing hiring managers find out about you is how much money you expect to make, you’ll likely look more focused on the salary than the actual work you’ll need to do, which leaves a negative impression on most employers.
14. Not making your resume ATS-friendly
Have you been applying to dozens of jobs but haven’t heard back from any of them? It’s possible that your application is getting rejected by ATS software.
Many large companies like Walmart or Amazon rely on applicant tracking system (ATS) software to automatically weed out applications that don’t match the criteria.
If your resume doesn’t contain the keywords and experience the ATS software is looking for, your application could be rejected before it’s even seen by a hiring manager.
To ensure that your resume gets past the ATS and into the hands of a hiring manager, make your resume ATS-friendly by:
- Using a Word document
- Choosing a simple resume template
- Using an easy-to-read font
- Including job-specific keywords in your resume
- Leaving out tables, graphics, or images
Good resume example
Now that you know what to avoid, it’s helpful to remind yourself what a good resume looks like. Here’s one from our Modern template collection that we love: