The Five Deadliest Resume Mistakes (and How to Fix Them)

by Liz Ryan, CEO and Founder, Human Workplace

ONE: We Can't Tell What You Do Professionally

A resume always starts with a summary at the top, just under your contact section. We need to know what you do professionally (tinker, tailor, soldier, spy, etc.) more than anything else! Don't show hiring managers a list of past jobs and expect them to determine what you intend to do next—make it plain with a declaration in your resume summary, like "I'm a Product Marketer who loves to make small tech brands bigger."

TWO: All Things to All People

Tempting as it is to throw every scrap of experience you've ever had in your resume to show hiring managers how versatile you are, don't do it. The worst brand in the world is the brand "I can do anything!" No one will believe you. Even if you CAN do everything, you've got to choose something that you especially love to do—otherwise you come across as someone who doesn't know him- or herself well enough or have the confidence to plot your own course.

You can maintain three or four different resume versions to use as you pursue two or three different 'prongs' in your job search—marketing, PR and fundraising, for instance. Just don't use one resume to cover every base. It doesn't work.

THREE: We Can't Understand You

Typos, misspellings and English language errors are the quickest ways to get your resume thrown into the shredder. Double-check your resume, then read it backwards to catch any errors, then show it to two or three of your friends who love to edit written material. You can't afford to have errors in your resume, no matter how good you are at your work.

FOUR: Way Too Much Detail

A resume is one or two pages long, even for people with forty years of work experience. The more senior you are, the less detail you need to include. Keep it very simple—just tell us what you came to get done at each job (your mission) and how well you did it.

Two bullets per job in your career history is plenty, especially if they're pithy dragon-slaying stories like this one:
When our two biggest rivals merged, I launched a grassroots email marketing campaign that grew sales 25% to $2M the next quarter.

No one cares about your tasks and duties. That's just telling us what anybody in the job would have done. We want to know what YOU got done—what you left in your wake!

FIVE: Just Another Zombie Job-Seeker

The last deadly resume mistake is to write your resume in boilerplate zombie language, using phrases like "Results-oriented professional with a bottom-line orientation." That was a wonderful way to write a resume in 1982 or even 1997, but not today.

Employers can't tell one zombified results-oriented professional from the next, and the biggest challenge a job-seeker has is to stand out in a crowded field. Put a human voice in your resume, tell human stories and don't be afraid to use the word "I." For Pete's sake, your resume is a branding document! If you're not going to use the word "I" in a resume, when would you ever use it?

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