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Top 10 résumé mistakes

By Hannah Nicholas
Thursday, April 30, 2009
Create a winning resume. Image: Getty Images

Résumé tips

  • Always tailor your résumé to the job your applying for.
  • Keep your résumé short and concise — two-to-three pages in length.
  • Provide your achievements along side your responsibilities.
  • Double check spelling, grammar and contact information before sending.

More information


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A résumé is one of the most important elements in any job seeker's armoury. It's a chance to sell yourself, and get a foot in the door.

In simple terms, a résumé is a document that summarises who you are, what you've done in your career and how well you've done it. Remember, it will be used by recruiters as a tool to screen and cull. So, to increase your chances of being called for an interview, here are the top 10 mistakes you should avoid.

1. Having a one-size fits all résumé
You can't just presume a one-size fits all résumé will work. Just as you would tailor your cover letter to the job you are applying for, you need to do the same with your résumé.

Don't give the hirer a reason to turf your application — make sure you address the key selection criteria and clearly show how, and why, your experience/skills fit those of the position on offer.

2. Too long or too short
A résumé should give the reader enough information to understand your background and how it relates to the position you're applying for.

According to Meredith Fuller, an Australian-based psychologist and career change specialist, résumés should be kept short and concise at two-to-three pages in length.

''Most employers or recruiters only spend two minutes casting their eye over your résumé, so make every point count.''

She said the exception would be résumés for university positions or government roles which usually require more comprehensive information.

3. Not selling yourself
In your résumé, you need to sell yourself wherever you can. Here are three key opening tactics to get off on the right foot.

*Capability statement
This acts as an introduction to your strengths, relevant expertise and key skills (in three-to-four lines).

*Career summary
This provides a quick snapshot of your job history.

*Key achievements
Choose your top three or four career achievements to highlight. It's great if they can relate to the position's key selection criteria.

In short, by highlighting the above on page one of your résumé, you're hitting the hirer immediately with ''what you can do'', ''how you would perform in the job'' and ''what effect your contribution would have on the bottom line''.

4. Failing to highlight achievements
In any résumé you send off, you must provide your achievements along side your responsibilities. Employers don't care so much about what you've done as what you've accomplished in your roles.

Fuller says whatever you do ''don't list boring job duties — outline your significant achievements and provide behavioural examples to help the employer get a picture of you doing the job''.

''Show them how you operate, how you add value, and how you measure and evaluate goals.''

5. Choosing wrong format
It's vital that you choose the format best suited to your circumstances.

*Chronological
The most common way of structuring a résumé. It lists your work experience and achievements in each job, beginning with the most recent.

*Competency or functional
This type of résumé groups your work experiences according to your skills and abilities rather than specific positions.

6. Poor presentation
Whether you're sending via e-mail or hard copy, look carefully at the presentation of your résumé.

Do

  • Use good quality white or off-white paper.
  • Keep fonts plain and simple (and around 12 point).
  • Use bold for headings (and usually 14 point).
  • Use bullet points where appropriate (ie to outline achievements).
  • Use page numbers.
  • Run your résumé past another pair of eyes — do they find it easy to read and visually attractive?

Don't:

  • Use a tiny font size or lines of italic.
  • Mix fonts.
  • Use illustrations or fancy borders.
  • Waste paper on a cover sheet.
  • Use coloured paper or text.

7. Including irrelevant data
Research shows it's unnecessary to provide the following when it comes to résumés:

  • gender,
  • age,
  • marital status,
  • nationality/religion,
  • health, weight, height etc,
  • photos.

By including this information, you run the risk of having your application thrown out based on personal attributes (ie age or physical appearance) which are not relevant to your ability to do the job.

8. Omitting action words
Be sure to include adjectives and verbs to create ''energy'' in your résumé.

Fuller says it's imperative that you use active words. ''Think descriptive words like streamlined, spearheaded, evaluated … and so on.''

9. Spelling mistakes
There's no excuse for spelling mistakes on a résumé. Always run your document through the spell checker and have it read over by someone else before sending.

10. Incorrect contact information
You'd be surprised by the number of candidates who get their contact information wrong. As it's one of the most important parts of the résumé (what's the point of having a winning résumé if the recruiter can't get through to you?) make sure you double-check your personal details.

User comments
With regard to work and family time most of us find that we have to do all at once. Resumes have to attract attention to get you in the door, granted, but interviewing well, work history, the various tests and being qualified for the job should count for a lot. Given I am not working after 40 years in one industry will base any job application on my relevant experience, attitude, initiative and common sense , attributes that I looked for when employing people
I work at a place where there are a lot of young people. Milford Sound is a tourist spot and hires people to work on the cruise boats, so the advances and careeer positions are almost obsolete. The young people here need good resume experience to obtain a job in other places. Your tips and information on resume preperation is excellent. I would recomend this information to anyone who needs to obtain a job. The only thing you need to add is a download of a good resume for a person to get started.
Hey miss underestimated but lethal, i really wish to follow your footsteps in the way you have presented yourself to the market and made a mark by getting great offers for anything you may have applied for. I was wondering if you could maybe guide me on building myself slightly the way you have progressed throughout your career. Thank you
I offer a service to help people to create winning resumes and upskill their interview techniques. To stand out in this competitive job market you must understand the value you can offer, and ensure your resume supports and communicates that. The standard of the average resume is very poor, so it is amazing how investing in a strong compelling resume can make all the difference to getting noticed and your foot in the door.
I'm at the opposite end. I find gaining employment easy as I've cultivated my skills to fit highend jobs - there is a definite lack in the skill pool when it comes to jobs that advertise a 6 figure income. People seem to be wary or apprehensive about applying for upper management even though they probably already have the talent and skill to boot. Upgrade your thinking and aim higher - I applied for 4 jobs 2 years ago - all well paid, I was offered fulltime positions at 6. Once word had spread that I was "on the market" - I was literally bombarded with offers - these not including head hunters. I am a corporate purchasing Officer by trade, now I am self employed. The money is alot less (for now), the hours are all over the place but I get to spend quality time with the kids and husband. My little business is picking up as well - I began a month ago - I'm making roughly $1200.00 take home which I know will grow slowly. When I was a teenager I was lucky to be scraping by on $80.
Greetings entrigued readers - I just couldnt help myself to reply to your coloumn, since my wife is trying very hard to get a new job recently. Shes been a thorough MUM for 15 years & has left the accountancy firm behind her in that period. Even though my wife has been actively involved in the community - Board Of Trustee Chairperson for two high schools , volunteered years worth of time at school functions for free ( like alot of people ) ,,, Please tell me how on earth she can compete with a person who drums up a CV full of lies , to get to get a foot in the door with a new job ? It is just as sad to get absolutely No Response back from any job application ! - Sadly the comms only goes one way , except for when they actually want to get hold of the successful applicant. Ive been employed for 22 years now - been made redundant 3 times ..twice in three months ...and I can tell you that getting a new job is by FAR easier if you already have a job ! You MUST SELL YOURSELF.
I culled my resume as described...and after not receiving invitations to interview I contacted a couple of the people I had applied to and asked them for feedback. Their most common response was lack of detailed information about past duties. They want to know that you have done the role in the past and that your skills match those that they are advertising for! I changed my resume back and viola! Two consecutive interviews from two applications....now I just need to nail my interview nerves - Good luck to all the job hunters out there - its a hard job getting a job!!!
If you feel your CV is lacking the X-factor then talk to friends or family, preferably someone from a professional or office based bakground. Odds are they'll have (or can locate) a good CV you can use as a guideline and probably a few tips themselves. Also Include a personal statement. You'll hear varying opinions on this, mostly DONT include a personal statement. I disagree. I used to manage a labour hire company and personally hired over 300 staff. When I looked at CV's I wanted to see some character and personality. It gave me a quick snapshot of the applicants mindest. DONT ramble, DONT repeat yourself, definitely DONT get on your soap box. This is a chance to briefly express your thoughts on the role offered and how you may suit that role in line with past work history. Keep it brief but dont be shy to sell your strong points inline with the job description. 4-5 lines tops.
In reply to sticky, you seem to have a very capable grasp of language, I wouldn't put myself down too much if I were you. Your comment was more entertaining and forthcoming to read than this whole article, so kudos for your more direct and somewhat realistic view on this. The whole thing seems all very lovely but like sticky has pointed out, what if it is near impossible to list such 'achievements' without feeling as if you have actually 'achieved' or accomplished anything significant that would directly relate to the position?
And if you don't actually feel you have anything to "sell" about yourself and don't feel you have made any "key achievements" in any past roles...? People who don't feel they are "capable" still have to apply for x amount of jobs in order to be paid welfare. I feel guilty applying for jobs and wasting the employers time because i will not be as good in the role as someone else. I have not enjoyed work and am not the best candidate. If i wrote what my duties were it is better than lying and saying they were achievements if that's how i feel about it. They are interesting tips nevertheless. When i hear people being a bit over active with their language it makes me cringe to see them getting favourable and affectionate treatment from others. I think i prefer a more rational approach with facts stated and no-one swaying things with their over zealaous, manipulative, dishonest personality.