So You Think You Know How To Write A Resume

Posted May 14, 2012, by Josie Chun

Here at Career FAQs, we’ve seen a lot of resumes. From resumes that run to seven or more pages, those that provide almost no information, and everything in-between – the typos, wonky formatting, and just plain bland.

Writing an effective resume is no easy feat. It’s not enough to just list your previous jobs and responsibilities. You have to know how to sell yourself, make the most of your experiences, and be able to identify what key skills and abilities you can bring to a potential job. Easy, right?

Well, no. But to help you out, here are some of the more common resume no-nos we’ve observed.

Too long

This is one of the most common resume mistakes we see, but there’s something you need to understand – no matter how impressive your credentials and achievements, no one is going to read through 10 pages of them. No one. The recruiter will stop reading and lose interest, and get the impression that you are a windbag with no ability to self-edit or discern what is most relevant.

There’s no hard-and-fast rule about resume length, but two to three pages is generally considered ideal. Of course that will depend on the nature of your experiences and the job you’re going for, but you have to have an awfully good reason to exceed that length.

Not enough relevant detail

At the other extreme are those resumes that provide very little substantial information, with few relevant details. A list of your previous positions with little information about what you actually did and achieved just doesn’t cut it in today’s competitive job market. You need to give recruiters a good sense of who you are and what you’re capable of.

Irrelevant information

Unless you’re a model or actor, there’s no reason to include a photo on your resume, no matter how good-looking you are. Odds are that it will seem unprofessional and work against you. (The opposite is true for LinkedIn, where a professional-looking photo has been shown to make you seem more competent, likeable and capable.)

The same goes for your birth date and marital status, or the part-time job you had while at school 15 years ago. These details are superfluous and should have no bearing on the job you’re applying for right now.

No skills or achievements

The most important thing a potential employer needs to know is what relevant skills you would bring to a future role – so it’s up to you to make it easy for them by identifying what those skills are. Just listing your previous duties isn’t enough to demonstrate how your skills and strengths are perfectly aligned with the requirements of the job you’re applying for.

You also need to demonstrate a strong track record of achievement in your past roles. This is where you can really impress, with facts and data to back you up. If you can quantify your achievements – for example, stating the amount of revenue you generated, or how much money you saved your company – that will be even more impressive.

Poor formatting

The look of your resume will give an immediate impression of what you’re like as a person. Many resumes are hard to read, using inconsistent structure and fonts, and this will automatically make the recruiter think that you, too, are inconsistent, unprofessional and lacking attention to detail.

Poor grammar and spelling

It should be obvious that your resume should be letter-perfect, but it’s surprising how many are riddled with typos and spelling/grammar mistakes. That alone can be grounds to instantly dismiss you as a potential candidate, so take the time and care to ensure that your resume is flawless.

Too passive

When describing what you did in a previous position, there’s a big difference between merely saying ‘IT troubleshooting’ and ‘Resolved daily technical issues for clients and staff, including server and database issues’. One is passive and general, while the other is active and specific.

If you want to convey a sense that you’re a dynamic, proactive worker who approaches tasks with gusto, be sure to use strong action verbs to describe your previous tasks. No employer wants a wishy-washy, passive worker.

Here's how to write a killer cover letter, tailored to each job, even if you HATE writing. 

Josie Chun

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