Why am I qualified to tell you about the most common resume mistakes? Because 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
- Poor resume organization
- Absence of keywords
- Too much education information
- Not including the length of a work term
- Missing client roster
Common resume mistake #1: Including irrelevant experience
I had doubts 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 introductory statement and the skills summary – look straight at the experience.
One of the most common resume mistakes is not tailoring the resume to fit the job you’re applying for. A lot of marketing and communications jobs are an amalgamation of many different responsibilities. So usually more than you can fit into three lines. That’s why reviewing the job post and understanding the key points, to then add to your resume, is so important.
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.
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.
You really don’t need to add more than the last three workplaces you have been at – unless the fourth and fifth are especially relevant.
If your resume has somehow come out to be three pages or more, it’s especially crucial that you cut down irrelevant experiences, or whatever wordy sections you’ve included, because nobody wants to be scrolling through three pages to get a sense of who you are.
Recruiters simply do not have the time and anything you’d love to have on your resume but can’t fit, you can always bring up at your interview.
👍 Quick advice: Apply for jobs you are actually qualified for and highlight relevant work experience on your resume.
Common resume mistake #2: Typos
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: Check your resume for typos and ask other people to look too because a fresh pair of eyes always helps.
Common resume mistake #3: Poor resume organization
Resumes don’t have to be graphic design masterpieces but they do have to be neatly organized. If I get lost while looking at your resume, something is very wrong.
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 online communications portfolio instead of writing out the URL
- Stick to a maximum of 1–2 font types
And please – please – sort your work experience chronologically. I know some have given the advice your most relevant work experience should come first. I disagree, because if I get confused looking at the dates and why your resume is out of order, then that’s less time I’m spending on actually admiring your experience.
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 or if you want your resume to be neat but stylish, check out free templates on Novoresume.
👍 Quick advice: Your resume should be easy to read and well-organized. Use a resume template as a starting point.
Common resume mistake #4: Absence of keywords
I’m not reading resumes line-by-line. Instead, I am glancing at a resume and my eyes are scanning for keywords. If the job is “Social Media Coordinator”, I am looking for similar job titles on your resume or looking for “social media” in your outlined responsibilities.
If I can’t find that keyword or related keywords – even if social media management is exactly what you did at your last job – you have just lost out on the job.
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.
Common resume mistake #5: Too much education information
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 to the position you’re applying for.
I always mention both my bachelor’s degree and a post-graduate certificate in my resume because it paints a full picture of my educational background. I would never just put my post-grad certificate because it’s only a hint that I also hold a bachelor’s degree. But this shouldn’t be a hint; it should be clear.
And if you have certifications from courses you’ve taken you can include that as long as it’s super relevant to the job. If the job posting says they want someone to manage their Google ads, then mention you have a certification from Google Analytics Academy.
👍 Quick Advice: Don’t overload your resume with your full educational background if it’s extensive and partially irrelevant.
Common resume mistake #6: Not including the length of a work term
One of the most common resume mistakes I see is people being vague or unclear about the length of their work terms. The reason I look at this specific part of a resume is because 1) I’m calculating how much experience you have and 2) I want to know how long you commit to a job before moving on.
I don’t know if people are being sneaky or just make mistakes when they’re not specific about the length of their work terms. But I do know that I assume they’re being sneaky. I have seen some people simply state the year they worked somewhere. That’s not good enough.
You should always include the month and the year when outlining how long you’ve worked somewhere. And 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.
Common resume mistake #7: 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, 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 to your resume.
Bonus round: more common resume mistakes
Here are some more common resume mistakes I have seen that I am warning you against:
- Including a picture of yourself. This is just not common practice in Canada and for good reason. Don’t give employers any reason to prejudge you based on a picture.
- Work objective section. This is a place where people state what kind of job they’re looking for. Great. But you already applied for this one so I don’t need to read that.
- List of skills comes before experience. Including skills on resumes is totally fine, but many people overload this list and then make me scroll until I can get to what I’m really looking for – which is your work experience. Either leave this list at the bottom or create a sidebar on the left side of the resume and put it there.
- Including generic statements. Don’t tell me you’re a “good problem-solver” or have a “high degree of professionalism”. These phrases are meaningless. Just tell me what you achieved with those skills. Let your work speak for itself.
- Adding the date instead of using “present”. Despite still working somewhere, some people will add the most recent month of the year instead of saying “present” to denote they are still employed by that company. That’s confusing.
- Including hobbies and interests. I want to get to know you. I do. But not when I’m looking at your resume. At this point, I just want to be sure you can do the job and you’ll be an incredible teammate. Everything else about you, I’ll learn later.
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 making the odds in your favour is to have a great resume.