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Perhaps contrary to common belief, there are very few rigid rules around resume writing. There is no one, universal accepted format, font, strategy, or style. However, there are many modern conventions that people should pay attention to. To this end, here are five common “mistakes” to avoid.
If the design elements are inconsistent in your resume, the reader might get distracted: Why are some dashes short while others are long? Why is one company name bolded but not others? What is the purpose of four different bullet styles? These details matter because they can support a claim (perhaps that you are detail oriented!), and consistency of design elements keeps the reader focused on what matters most: the content.
Key culprits of inconsistency in format include bullets (type, size, and alignment); font (color, style, and type); margins and spacing between job entries; dates (different format of how they are written—for instance, writing the first month of the year as January, Jan., and 01); and punctuation (such as using a period at the end of bulleted statements—or not).
When proofreading for consistency, read only for consistency. Don’t focus on content. By dedicating a separate proofreading pass to checking for inconsistencies, you’re likely to catch more errors than if you proofread everything at once.
Wrong Words and Ineffective Writing
I mentioned that there are few rules to resume writing, but using the correct word is one of them. Common errors I see include the following:
- Using lead instead of led. “Lead” is either the present tense of the verb “to lead,” as in leadership, or the metal. “Led” is the past tense of the verb “to lead.”
- Confusing ensure and insure. Example of correct usage: “You ensured you paid your insurance premium on time.” Insure is related to insurance policies (home, auto, etc.) and never means “to make sure something happens.”
Many people won’t notice these errors because of how common they are, but for those who do know the correct words, these misuses stick out like a sore thumb.
Similarly, have a strong grasp of effective writing: check for subject-verb agreement, vague pronoun references, and limit (or omit) needless qualifiers such as “really,” “very,” “extremely,” and “actually.” Adding too many qualifiers dilutes the quality of your writing.
If you are applying for a leadership role but only include information in your resume that shows you as an individual contributor, do not be surprised if people view you as an individual contributor rather than a leader. Always read a job description carefully to identify key skills, qualifications, and traits the hiring company values. Then, make it clear in your resume that you possess what they need. Consider adding these “core competencies” in a section and incorporate the terms throughout the job entries and other sections as well.
Neglecting Your Audience
Nowadays, people must write their resume for at least two key audiences: human readers and computer readers—applicant tracking systems (ATSs). Research shows that people take about 6-10 seconds to scan a resume before making a decision to continue reading. This means you need to have a key message prominently placed in a section at the beginning of your resume—often called the Summary or Profile—in a visually appealing “skimmable” format. In contrast to people’s reading habits, ATSs “value” key words pulled from a job posting, which must appear strategically throughout the resume. In other words, visual appeal matters for people but not as much for software. Your resume should strike a fine line by appealing to both types of readers.
Weak Bullet Points
A modern convention in resume writing is to emphasize results and accomplishments. It’s not enough to simply state job duties. Arguably, you could be like Peter Gibbons in the 1999 movie Office Space who only does enough to not get fired. You not only want to show you’re doing enough to not get fired; you want to show you are amazing at what you do! Everybody has responsibilities, but not everyone delivers the same results. Make sure your resume is brimming with metrics that show accomplishments, tangible results, and other information that demonstrates you are a high performer.
If you ensure (not insure!) your resume does not suffer from these mistakes, you’ll increase your odds of quickly securing interviews.