Don't make these 5 resume writing mistakes
I’ve seen dozens of resumes in my career and while the rules in writing one aren’t cast in stone, any hiring manager like me will spot a couple or two that won’t advance for an interview opportunity.
I myself have been rejected many times because of one thing I didn’t include, or included excessively.
Resumes make or break your first chance to get your foot into a company’s door. As today’s job application process becomes online-driven, resumes have become the default personal branding tool (thanks to LinkedIn, which has made it more social and interactive). They serve as personal advertisements that shout out: “Here’s who I am, and this is why you should hire me.”
If you’re a job candidate who wants to stand out in your next application, here’s a helpful list of common mistakes that you may want to consider before you hit that “send” button.
1. Submitting a 3-, 4- or 5-page resume
Put yourself into the shoes of a busy HR recruiter who is drowning in a pool of resumes for various positions (multiply that figure 10 times for the most popular companies).
A resume must be short to capture attention, but informative enough for the recruiter to consider you for an interview, not immediately the job (bear in mind to take it one step at a time).
“The main body of your resume should be short and crisp: one page for every 7 to 10 years of work experience,” shares Yameen Mohamad, co-founder of The CViator, a social start-up based in Kuala Lumpur which specializes in resume checking and consultation for millennials.
Cap your resume to two pages no matter how top-level the position is. “Save all the details and stories for later because that’s what interviews are for,” Yameen adds. (READ: 5 important tips for a great job interview).
Be conscious of your resume’s layout as this also determines its length. I’m a fan of clean, black-and-white and minimalist styles as this portrays a professional image. I use half-inch margins, and I usually get torn among classic font types like Times New Roman, Arial, and Cambria—all in +/- 10 point size (Comic Sans or any script type is a suicidal mistake).
Finally, save your resumes in PDFs as you don’t want anyone to tamper with your personal information. It’s much easier to access whether on desktop or mobile, and opening it feels like a fresh t-shirt that’s been iron-pressed down to perfection.
2. Adding unnecessary details, or every aspect of your life
Speaking of long resumes, be mindful that not everything you think is important matters to the recruiter.
I personally replace the “Objective Statement” (e.g. To work as a bank manager in a multinational finance company) with a “Career Summary Statement” smack right after my name.
“Objective statements” are not only out of fashion these days, they are too generic, and reduce you to a specific role without leaving room for flexibility when the company can offer multiple career paths that you can choose from.
My own career summary goes like this: “Multi-awarded marketing director with 10 years of branding and digital experience in telecommunications, pharmaceutical, and aviation industries” which tells a solid and compelling story of what I can do regardless if the recruiter reads or skips the rest of my resume.
Recruiters spend 6-10 seconds on average scanning a resume, which is why you should spend it wisely on its primary space. It must answer this question right from the very start, “Why should I keep on reading?”
“Fresh university graduates should include details such as their GWA/GPA and co-curricular activities since they don’t have work experience. However, this starts to become irrelevant for junior managers with 3 years of experience and up”, says Glenn Ayton, a Filipino expat who manages an internship program for a bank in Malaysia.
Come to think of it, a 35-year old applicant who mentions that he placed second in an oratorical contest in high school isn’t only taking up a lot of resume space, he’s just simply being awkward.
Mentioning school grades is also a tricky art. It’s worth citing that you graduated with latin honors in your resume regardless of how old you are. But specifying that you were a Dean’s Lister for only 5 specific semesters is just information overload, and over brag for no reason.
You will notice that the more seasoned you become in the corporate world, the less important your educational experience becomes (but never irrelevant of course). This is no rocket science as soft skills and business acumen are more favoured at work vs. academic performance in school.
For applicants with years of work experience, show your career history immediately on the first page and keep the educational background last.
Finally, keep the TMI (too much information) elements at bay. It’s nice to know that you won a basketball league for your barangay or that you did a cameo for a skin whitening TV commercial—but they won’t necessarily help you get an office desk. If the information isn’t critical to your employability, let it go.
3. Displaying job descriptions, not accomplishments
My biggest pet peeve about resumes is seeing job descriptions as if I’m reading a job advertisement. “If you can cut and paste someone’s job description into another person’s resume, then it means everything he told about himself was generic. There was nothing special about himself,” shares Isabelle Lee, an HR specialist from a pharmaceutical company.
Recruiters will always want proof of your expertise the moment they start scanning your resume. I’m obsessed with numbers, statistics, percentages and growth rates which show how much a candidate has done for the company. For example, don’t just say you “successfully launched a major project.”
Be as granular as “launched a new flavor for a beverage product that led to 35% increase in company’s sales vs. last year.” Here’s another example: consider A and B below as statements that come from two applicants.
- A. Managed a team to launch a new restaurant concept
- B. Supervised a team of 5 food & beverage experts and launched a 50-seater French-themed restaurant in a span of 3 months with a budget of P5.8M
Between the two applicants, the one which used “B” concretely illustrated the scope and size of the project, and gives the recruiter a better idea of his experience and skills. He will likely have the upper hand to be called for an interview. Arguably, this is one of the most crucial elements in a resume that makes one stand out from another.
4. Leaving typographical errors unchecked
You must be rolling your eyes to read such a basic tip, but this mistake has always been painfully taken for granted. Research shows that typos are found in more than half the cases of resumes worldwide – misspelled word, lost punctuation marks, and simple subject-verb agreement errors that make recruiters cringe the moment they read them.
Committing typos is the easiest way to earn a bad reputation. It sends a message that you lack aptitude for details (which is needed in industries like banks, restaurants, or IT). It labels you as someone who’s not taking this job application seriously – so why should we even consider you for an interview?
Most of us become blind to errors when we see the same thing too many times. Rest your eyes and brain for a few hours after writing your resume, and then proofread it again. Get a third party’s perspective: ask a friend or a mentor to proofread it for you. There are also many helpful tools that you can use online. My personal favorite is Grammarly, an app that checks and corrects your use of English.
The warning on typos extend to the names of the specific people you're writing to, if you're addressing a cover letter to somebody. Mr or Ms? Did you get the surname right? If you get it right, no biggie. If you get it wrong, you look bad.
5. Lying about your career and achievements
It’s sad to know that many of our local politicians can get away with faking their degrees and diplomas for decades, but not everyone can be as lucky as they are. Being 3 credits away from earning an engineering degree is not the same as actually earning that degree, and taking a 2-week MBA course in Harvard doesn’t make you a “Harvard graduate.”
The same goes for job titles. Just because you’re expecting a promotion 6 months from now (e.g. from “associate” to “manager”) doesn’t mean you can claim it. The last thing you want is to be caught upgrading your position without the company’s blessing.
Misinterpreting, exaggerating, and “rounding up” your achievements are never ever worth the temporary benefit you’ll get from it. The world is now smaller thanks to technology. Sooner or later, someone will point out your lies which can cost you your job (besides, do you really think HR will just hire you without a background check?).
Remember that no superb career record can compensate for the lack or absence of integrity once proven. You get to sleep better at night, too.
At the end of the day
Resume writing may be intimidating and as overwhelming – there’s the classic “I don’t know where to start” feeling. But just like any art, or science, the best way to move forward is to look at previous works of people, learn from what worked and what failed, and interpret the best practices that you can integrate into your own style.
Do your homework too: study your friends’ resumes, check out samples online, and seek advice from your network of friends who are managers with hiring experience.
As a final note, your resume can merit extra points when you send it with the right etiquette and approach, especially over e-mail. HR recruiters receive dozens of e-mails every day and your goal is to stand out to be opened. State the position you’re applying for concisely in the subject line (e.g. Product Manager for Brand X - Application”), bearing in mind that most subject lines accommodate only 6-8 inches of space in your e-mail’s interface.
Sending blank e-mails is just rude to any reader. Ensure that you write at least your intent of applying (e.g. “I am writing to apply for the position X) coupled with a summary of your career in one sentence. The formality and completeness will always be appreciated.
May the Force be with you when writing, and happy job hunting! – Rappler.com
Jonathan Yabut is the proud Filipino winner of the hit Asian reality TV show, The Apprentice Asia and is currently based in Kuala Lumpur as a marketing director for the Tune Group of Companies. Jonathan is Asia’s leading motivational speaker on topics involving leadership, Gen Y, and career management for Fortune 500 companies. He is also the author of Southeast Asia’s 2015 best-selling motivational book, From Grit to Great In 2014, he founded his marketing consultancy firm, The JY Ventures Consultancy Group. Visit his official website at jonathanyabut.com