While the concept of a resume is simple, it’s anything but in practice. After all, it’s one tiny document that has to sell you to a potential employer or staffing agency. No pressure. There are countless tips on what to include, but what about the things to avoid on your resume?
Your resume is your elevator pitch. You’re trying to convince a company that you’re the next summer blockbuster. You have to be efficient and confident, well-written and impressive (unlike my analogy). Don’t worry, though. With enough practice, you’ll be cranking out job-winning resumes like it is, in fact, your job.
Here’s an ultimate guide of things to avoid your resume in 2023.
- Don’t Skip the Title
- Avoid Incorrect Contact Information on Your Resume
- Don’t Be Bland
- Skip Your Age
- Skip Your Salary
- Absolutely No Pictures
- Don’t Be Witty
- Avoid All Negativity
- Multiple Tenses
- Avoid Too Many Short-term Jobs on Your Resume
- Vague Employment Dates
- The Strange Case of the Skills Section
- Skip the Objective
- Don’t Forget the Target
- Don’t Use Too Many Keywords
- Avoid Being Too Humble on Your Resume
- Downplaying Unpaid Experiences
- Typos, Typos, Typos
- File Name
- Avoid Your Resume Being Too Long
Don’t Skip the Title
Firstly, let’s start at the top.
The first thing on your resume should be your name (duh), but right under that should be your title. What are you? What do you do? If you’re applying for a systems engineering job, put that you are a systems engineer. Let the company know what you do right off the bat.
Don’t be humble here. For example, even if this is an entry-level engineering position, if the job you’re applying to and your skills and education fit the bill, say you are an engineer. It’s not lying; it’s just being confident in your ability.
If you create art, you’re an artist. Right? If you’ve studied to be an engineer, then you’re an engineer. Those are your applicable abilities. Regardless, let the company know what your title is immediately. It shows confidence in your skills.
Avoid Incorrect Contact Information on Your Resume
This one speaks for itself.
Your contact information should be at the top of your page. Your contact information should be correct. It sounds silly, but make sure to check. Everyone makes mistakes. Don’t let an incorrect digit stop you from receiving a call about a job.
Make sure everything is up-to-date. Include your full name, email address, phone number, and location. While you do not have to include your actual address, make sure to state what city you reside in. Knowing your distance to a job could make or break your chances.
Give the email address and phone number that are most effective for you. Do not miss out on a job because of a junk email address.
Bonus: Avoid the Screen Names
Speaking of emails, make sure yours is professional. Your email should include a part of your name, if not the whole thing. Leave email@example.com in the dust, please.
Don’t Be Bland
Let’s circle back to my movie analogy (I like it and it’s useful, sue me). You’re pitching your next blockbuster in an elevator. You need to get to the point quickly, but you also need to wow your audience. This fine balance is an art. You can’t spend the whole time talking about explosions. You’ve got to get to the plot.
Therefore, your resume shouldn’t be bland. This goes for both the overall view and content included. Start with a template that is both efficient and eye-popping. Your resume shouldn’t look like a letter. That’s the quickest way to get looked over.
On the contrary, your resume shouldn’t look like a birthday invitation, either. Include some color if possible, but not more than one. Maybe have a colored border or title section, but don’t splatter the page with neon.
Content is the same concept. Try to use interesting diction and syntax. This doesn’t mean you have to craft a Pulitzer-winning novel; we’re not all writers, but at least include colorful synonyms. Great? No. Spectacular. You want to pop and have personality.
Think about it this way; would you want to read your resume?
Skip Your Age
It used to be standard practice to include your birthdate or age at the top of your resume. Why? I’m not entirely sure. It’s weird in concept and practice.
While hiring managers should not form preconceived notions about potential employers, there’s no reason you should give them anything to go off of. Skip including anything about your age or birthdate. If, for some reason, age is a requirement at the job, either state that you meet the requirement or leave it for the interview process.
Skip Your Salary
In what world would you believe putting your current salary on your resume is a good idea? What benefits does it bring? Does it give you an upper hand in the negotiation process?
No. Absolutely not.
Placing your salary does two things (both negative). It shows the future employer what they can pay you and shows them that you are only concerned with future salaries. Don’t get gutted for future employment raises by saying where you were in the past.
It’s weird and does nothing to benefit you.
Absolutely No Pictures
This is a job application, not an audition for a blockbuster movie. Do not include a photograph of yourself. Like your age, it serves no purpose.
Ultimately, it takes up space and is, well, cheesy. Just don’t do it.
Don’t Be Witty
At this point, the voice of your content is getting contradicting. Don’t be too bland. Don’t be too expressive. Don’t be too colorful. Don’t be too black-and-white. As stated, this fine balance is an art.
A good rule of thumb is to avoid humor, though. Do not be witty in your resume. Your resume should be serious and introduce yourself as a professional.
Save the wit for your cover letter. That’s a whole different discussion, though.
Avoid All Negativity
This shouldn’t have to be said, but we are going to.
Do not include any negativity in your resume. This includes negativity about past jobs, experiences, or yourself. This is your brochure. This is your time to brag about yourself. You do not need to include why you left your last job or how awful it was. Focus on your achievements and positive experiences.
Okay, here’s a little writer pet peeve.
Pick one tense when writing your resume. Our preferred choice is past tense.
Having multiple tenses throughout your resume just looks weird. While we could break down the psychology behind it and how it may be subconsciously off-putting, we won’t. But it certainly is for us. Multiple tenses are just a bit jarring, especially if the job you are applying for has anything to do with writing.
Ultimately, you are talking about your history. So, past tense makes the most sense.
Avoid Too Many Short-term Jobs on Your Resume
Working at places for short stints doesn’t mean that you’re a bad employee, but it does raise questions. Things happen, and sometimes it takes a while before you’re satisfied with a job. It’s also possible you work gigs in your field. If the job section of your resume is a plethora of short-term jobs, be prepared to have to explain yourself in an interview.
Be mindful of what jobs you list. If the short jobs don’t coincide with the position you are applying for, leave them off. If they do, put a sentence in the description as to why you left. As stated, be prepared to answer questions about why you left your jobs early.
Do not avoid listing short-term jobs if they apply to the new job. You want to show you have the experience, regardless of how long it lasted. Just be mindful that you may be asked to explain.
Vague Employment Dates
Going along with too many short-term jobs, try to keep your employment dates clear and concise.
Look, it may be impossible to recollect exactly what month you started at a job three years ago, but you should try. Check bank statements or emails to try and calculate when exactly you joined and left a former job. Having correct makes you look professional and shows your exact work history, eliminating any questions about employment gaps.
This isn’t crucial. It may be impossible to find the exact month you started a job. At least include the year (and maybe an estimated month). You should never have employment experience without some type of date.
The Strange Case of the Skills Section
Do you need a skills section on your resume? This is a highly debated topic amongst resume enthusiasts. Sure, you want to let employers know that you’re good at an array of things, but at what point are you just stating the obvious?
Theoretically, you want to show your ability on a resume instead of simply stating it. A skills section isn’t necessary if you explain your skills in the job descriptions. For example, instead of saying that you’re fluent in Microsoft 365 in a skills section, mention how you worked with it proficiently in a corresponding job experience description. All in all, this shows that you’ve used these skills in job situations. It also saves you space on your resume.
Once again, it’s a fine line. But having a skills section claiming you’re a hard worker and trustworthy is a thing to avoid on your resume.
Skip the Objective
One of the biggest things to avoid on your resume is an objective section. While it’s impossible to pinpoint who came up with this idea, they were entirely wrong.
It’s harsh but true.
You do not need to have an objective section. A resume is not a college application essay. Your objective is clear; you want the job you’re applying for. This is another thing that should be saved for a cover letter. You want your resume to be the meat and potatoes of your work and skill experience. Don’t take up crucial space with unnecessary writing.
Don’t Forget the Target
Looking for work is work. If you are searching and applying for your dream job, you have to put in the necessary effort. I’m prefacing this because sometimes it’s hard to hear. You may not be doing enough with your resume.
Yes, you’ve applied to a hundred job listings and staffing agencies. An increase in numbers is an increase in chances. But, if you really want to stand out to an employer, you should be tailoring your resume to that specific job.
Make sure your resume includes specifics that the job is looking for. Don’t forget keywords, as well. Job descriptions are usually detailed. Try to include what they’re looking for and use the keywords the job description says. Tailoring will help you stand out and show that you are serious about the opportunity.
This goes for your cover letter, as well. Make sure to tailor every piece of the whole application process to the specific job. Ultimately, it’s more work, but if a little extra effort gets you the job, it was worth it.
Don’t Use Too Many Keywords
Welcome back for another round of fine-line toeing!
At the end of the day, targeting your resumes with keywords and corresponding descriptions is important, but doing too much can be detrimental. Using too many keywords looks desperate for attention.
Overall, you’re not trying to cheat the system. Keep the keywords, but don’t litter your page with them. You want to make the keywords seem organic within your writing. You are not just saying these things because it’s what they want to hear; you’re saying these things because they actually apply to you as a candidate.
Avoid Being Too Humble on Your Resume
Bragging can be difficult for some. If you are applying for an entry-level position, it may seem excessive to call yourself proficient. But why not? Confidence sells, and you’re trying to sell yourself to the company. Brag a little.
You are confident. You are dedicated and hardworking. Your accomplishments are accomplishments. Be proud of yourself. Being sure of yourself translates. People can feel it. Employers want to hire someone self-assured and positive. Treat your job history and accomplishments as selling points.
Employers would rather see someone that is braggadocios in their work than meek. Sure, you don’t want to say you’re the best ever, Kanye, but you’d rather be too confident than not.
Downplaying Unpaid Experiences
We have often heard of people skipping unpaid experiences on their resume because they don’t believe it is important as real jobs.
First of all, this is wrong. Second of all, this is wrong.
The hiring manager does not need to know if you were paid for a gig or not. Financial compensation is not what is important. The achievements and skills you picked up from the experience are what truly matters. Do not skip unpaid experiences if they have led to a positive addition to your work skills, especially if it deals with the job you’re applying for.
Typos, Typos, Typos
This tip falls in line with tailoring your resume. Make sure you’re grammatically correct. Typos are a turnoff and a quick way to get looked over. Make sure everything is correct.
If you’re not a writing expert, use a program like Grammarly to fix everything up for you. The extra effort goes a long way.
Make sure to title your resume file as your name and the position you are applying for.
For example: if you are applying for a software engineering job, title the resume file Thomas Smith_Software Engineering.
Simply put, naming the file Resume not only looks lazy but makes it easily lost in a pile of others. Give the hiring manager a quick way to find your resume by actually naming it after yourself.
Avoid Your Resume Being Too Long
Much like this article, your resume may be way too long. Keep things short. Furthermore, you may have too many accomplishments and feel like you need to include them all. It is great to be proud of your work, but keep things simple.
No one wants to read a book-length resume. Tailor your resume to fit what’s necessary for the job at hand. Sure, bragging is great, but include what helps you look good for the job, not just as a worker in general.
A hard-and-fast rule is to keep your resume one page. If, for some reason, you need to go beyond that, fine. Going over two pages is a no-go, though. Try to aim for one page. If you spill over, try and wrap it up as efficiently as possible.
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