During the course of my career, I’ve looked at hundreds of resumes from communications and marketing professionals. You may be wondering why, since I’m not a recruiter or HR professional. Well, I’ve worked at places that lacked a formalized hiring process so resumes got passed around when we were bringing on someone new. On other occasions, I was asked to go through resumes after the HR professional did the first pass because I had a good understanding of the role we were hiring for.
And I’ve come to the realization that many resumes are bad. This baffles me because there are countless articles about how to write a great resume and tons of free resume templates available online. There’s really no excuse for making common resume mistakes, yet so many people do.
Below, I’ve compiled a list of the most common resume mistakes I’ve come across. I can honestly say that seeing these errors on a resume has made me pass on the candidate. Maybe it sounds harsh, but it’s simply a reflection of the competitive job market. If there are fifty resumes to go through and you can only have time to interview five people that week, you make a judgement call using their resume.
Do me a favour—never make me look at another bad resume again. Start by avoiding these common resume mistakes.
Including irrelevant experience
I had doubts that hiring managers only looked at a resume for ten seconds until I became the person who looked at them for five. When a job opening is flooded with resumes (as they usually are) it is just impossible to read every resume line-by-line. That means you end up skimming and, in doing so, you look for the most important information first.
Here’s how it goes when I look at a resume:
- Skip the person’s name
- Skip “Objective” section
- Skip the skills summary
- Look straight at the experience
If I don’t see any experience that matches the job, then I move on. If the job is “Event Coordinator” and all your experience is in digital marketing, then I have no further reason to consider you.
And don’t give submit a CV when the job ad has asked for a resume. Your full employment history, from all the way back to your first job when you were sixteen-years-old, is rarely relevant. Hone in on featuring the work experience for the job you’re applying for.
👍 Quick advice: Apply for jobs you are actually qualified for and highlight relevant work experience on your resume.
There’s nothing more egregious than a communications resume that has copy errors. If you’re being hired to help craft communications collateral, you have to be a strong and detail-oriented writer. Of course, we’re all human. I’ve definitely shot off resumes with mistakes in them that I only noticed later.
But if your resume isn’t particularly stacked with experience and you have several typos, it’s a quick “no” from me. It shows me that you’re either not a strong writer or you didn’t care enough about the job to triple-check the resume you sent.
If your resume is impressive and has one or two typos, I can let it slide. But do you really want to bet on those odds?
👍 Quick advice: Thoroughly check your resume for typos and ask other people to also look because a fresh pair of eyes always helps.
If I get lost while looking at your resume, something is very wrong. Resumes don’t have to be graphic design masterpieces but they do have to be neatly organized. Everything should be given its own space and formatted in such a way that if I’m looking for something specific, I can find it easily.
Here are some quick tips for how to have an organized resume:
- Bold the titles of your previous jobs
- Use bullet points when describing your work experience
- Hyperlink your LinkedIn profile or portfolio website instead of writing out the entire URL
- Stick to maximum 1–2 types of fonts
If you’re having difficulty figuring out how to organize your resume, there are many free templates you can find online. They will already be organized for you and you just need to drop in your information. If you want a pop of colour in your resume, look up templates on Canva.
👍 Quick advice: Your resume should be easy to read and well-organized. Use a resume template as a starting point.
Absence of keywords
Since I am not reading resumes line-by-line at first glance, what I do is search for specific keywords. Your resume should use exactly the keywords that are mentioned in the job description, and not some reinterpretation.
If the job is Account Coordinator at a PR firm, and your resume mentions nothing about “media relations” (i.e. pitching, building a media list, tracking coverage) then I’m going to move on because I assume you don’t have any media relations skills. Don’t assume that your job title tells the whole story because it doesn’t.
Also, consider that some companies use Applicant Tracking Software. That means your application is only passed onto a human hiring manager only if your resume has been scanned and certain keywords are detected. You thought I was tough? Just wait until you’re up against these machines!
👍 Quick advice: Use keywords from the job description in your resume.
Improper years of experience
Most job descriptions will say how many years of experience they want a candidate to have. Most of the time, this is non-negotiable. If a company wants you to have one to two years and you have five years of experience, that does not net you extra points—that works directly against you.
After work experience, the next thing I pay attention to is how many years of experience a candidate has. It needs to align with the company’s expectations—they put that number in the job description for a reason. Now, truth be told, I have landed interviews when my experience did not align with that number but I never landed the job.
👍 Quick Advice: Apply for jobs where the required years of work experience align with the experience you have.
Too much education information
I always mention both my bachelor’s degree and post-graduate certificate in my resume. This is because it paints a full picture of my educational background. I would never just put my post-grad certificate because it only hints that to me holding a bachelor’s degree. But this shouldn’t be a hint; it should be clear.
I’ve seen resumes where people have three to five different degrees, diplomas and certificates. It’s worrisome, rather than impressive, to see all of them on a resume. It looks like they’ve had a very confused professional career. Focus on only highlighting the education that is relevant for the position you’re applying for.
👍 Quick Advice: Don’t overload your resume with your full educational background if it’s extensive and partially irrelevant.
Not including the length of a work term
I don’t know if people are being sneaky or just made a mistake when they’re not specific about the length of their work terms. But I do know that I assume they’re being sneaky. You should always include the month and the year when outlining how long you’ve worked somewhere. If your prior job was a contract role, you need to make that clear in your resume.
There is an abundance of contract roles out there nowadays, so this is normal to see on a resume and it is not a slight against you. It is much better to note that you had a contract job, rather than have the employer assume you only worked somewhere for four months and then left.
👍 Quick Advice: Clearly state how long you’ve worked somewhere and if it was a contract or freelance role.
Missing client roster
Freelance writing is a common side-gig for communications professionals, so I’ll see it pop up on resumes a lot. But it means nothing to me if you don’t list who your clients are. And I might not have time to check out your website where your client roster may be listed.
Don’t assume someone will make the trip to your website, and instead, mention these clients directly in your resume. It boosts the value of your freelance work experience and it’s also eye-catching to see a brand name in a resume that you recognize.
You can also apply this same tactic if you’ve worked at an agency, or if you’re an influencer who has worked with certain brands. Don’t overload your resume with every client you’ve ever worked with but focus on the biggest brands. Or brands that are in the same industry as the company you’re applying to.
👍 Quick Advice: Add your client roster on your resume.
Frankly, I could go on and on, but these are the most common resume mistakes that I’ve seen. Understand this: when you’re applying for a job (without a personal reference or connection to the company), you’re always swimming upstream. The odds are stacked against you from the start, so you have to do everything possible to change those odds. Your first step to doing that is having a great resume.