19 Warning Signs Your Resume Stinks

19 Warning Signs Your Resume Stinks

Now most of you aren’t in professions where you view resumes on a daily basis, so just take our word for it – the majority of resumes out there, are terrible. We hear the same sentiments from recruiters and hiring managers; most people just don’t know how to write a good resume.

We spend a lot of time on this blog telling you what you should do to improve your resume and your job search strategy, but now we’re going to take some time to tell you what you shouldn’t do – because you’re probably already doing it.

We’ve outlined 19 of our biggest pet peeves on resumes. This list outlines red flags and common mistakes that have stopped your resume from being short-listed. Even if you think your resume is pretty alright, keep reading, we know you’ve made at least one of these errors.

Now let’s get started, we’ve got a long list to get through.

1.       No Formatting

Before the hiring manager reads a single word on your resume, they see your format. The problem is, with many resumes, there’s no format to look at. If you don’t have so much as a bold line under your contact information and separated sections of experience and education, you basically haven’t tried. You opened a new document and just started typing without paying any attention to the visual presentation of your resume!

2.       Contact Information

First of all, have you even included your contact information at the top of your resume? Seems like a silly question, but we’ve seen resumes that lack even these basic details. If you did include your contact information, did you include the right information? Your contact information says more about you than you think. Ensure you have a local address, a professional email address and one personal phone number listed.

3.       No Title

Your resume needs a title! A title will eliminate the ambiguity of what role you are applying for. In one line you can sum up your qualifications and your intentions. We always recommend including the title of the position you are applying for, as well as the title of your current position.

4.       Objective Statement

An objective statement is passé and does not conform to current resume standards. An objective statement is telling the Hiring Manager what you want out of the role. To be frank, the Hiring Manager does not care about what you want; they care about whether or not you’ll be a good fit for the role. Therefore, you should eliminate your objective and instead discuss the value you will bring to the role.

5.       Lack of Customization

If you are using the same resume for multiple positions, the Hiring Manager can tell. In order to increase your chances of being noticed, you must customize the keywords and introduction of your resume to suit each individual role. If you’re not taking the time to customize your resume, you can bet that someone else is, and they are getting the call-backs.

6.       No Keywords

If your resume doesn’t have a keyword section, you are basically doomed. If a Hiring Manager is personally reading (skimming) your resume, they will be looking for keywords. Many times, you have to pass a keyword scanning system in order to get to the Hiring Manager. If keywords are not present on your resume, you can count yourself out for that job opportunity. You should be including the keywords present in the job posting, as you know that is what employers will be looking for.

7.       Ignoring Requests

Follow instructions! If the employer asks for a two-page resume, don’t send them five pages. If they ask for a PDF file, don’t send them a Word document. Nothing will make you look worse than your inability to follow simple instructions. This is a dead giveaway of your work ethic, and Hiring Managers will not be impressed.

8.       First Person

Resumes are never written in the first person. Didn’t we all learn this in high school? A big reason for this is the constant repetition of “I-phrases” throughout the resume. Imagine reading multiple resumes a day, each with the same “I did this” and “I did that” phrases. The boredom would be overwhelming.

9.       Job Descriptions

We get it, nobody likes writing a resume so they try to find an easy way to get it done quick. Many people resort to copying and pasting their job description into the resume. This is the worst idea. The job description is a generic list of tasks that the person is required to do. That means, that anyone who fulfills this role, will be required to complete these tasks. There is no originality, no achievements and no contributions.

10.   Length

Resumes that go over two pages in length, are never as strong as resumes that maintain two pages or less. Your resume is guaranteed to be viewed by more Hiring Managers and Recruiters if you stay within the two-page mark. Exceeding this limit means that you are unable to be concise and pinpoint your strongest achievements.

11.   Lack of Examples

You can tell the Hiring Manager that you did all kinds of amazing things, but without the description of examples, it all just sounds like fluff. Examples are a great way to show the Hiring Manager what you’re capable of, instead of telling them. This will resonate much stronger with the reader.

12.   No Numbers

Along with examples comes proof. If you tell a Hiring Manager that you increased sales year-over-year, but don’t bother saying how much you increased sales by – there’s no proof. Your numbers quantify your achievements and catch the Hiring Manager’s attention.

13.   Gaps in Employment

If you’ve left off certain positions in the experience section of your resume, this is a red flag to Hiring Managers and Recruiters. What are you trying to hide? A gap in employment is never a good thing, you must tell the reader what you were doing in that time. If it was Maternity Leave or if it was a Personal Sabbatical, the Hiring Manager needs a brief explanation. If you leave it unknown, you will not be shortlisted.

14.   Company Synopsis

A popular trend is to include a short company synopsis for each company you’ve worked for. This is not a bad idea, however you must integrate yourself into that synopsis. Don’t tell the Hiring Manager how great your former employer was, tell them how great they were due to your contributions and involvement.

15.   Repetition

When restricted to a two-page limit, why would you waste space repeating yourself? If you completed similar tasks in multiple roles, mention them once under the most recent role, and leave it be. Do not copy the exact same line under each role because the Hiring Manager already understands that you have that capability. Use that space to tell them something new.

16.   Dates

Be specific with your dates! We’ve already mentioned several times that ambiguity will never help you on a resume. If you were in a contract role for only three months, make that clear on the resume. If you simply list the year with no timeframe, you look like you have something to hide. Include the month and year that you entered each role, along with the month and year that you left each role.

17.   Functional Resume

If you’ve chosen to use a functional resume and listed all of your different skill-sets at the top of your resume, you will not be shortlisted. There is nothing more frustrating than a functional resume. It’s great that you’ve told the Hiring Manager how diverse and adaptable your skills are, however they want to know when you obtained these skills and under what context.

18.   Academic Details

Education sections generally lack one of two pieces of information. Either the candidate includes the name of the school they attended, but neglected to include the course or program name. Or they included the course or program name, but did not include the school’s name. Your academic details are not complete without both pieces of information.

19.   References

You can easily date yourself by including your references at the bottom of your resume. This is an incredibly outdated practice in the world of resume writing. Another common mistake is including “References Available Upon Request” at the bottom of your resume. Requesting references is no longer an option for employers, it is a requirement. Therefore, letting them know that your references are available upon request is simply redundant.

If you got through this entire list of 19 warning signs and you are not guilty of committing a single one of these mistakes… well then you’re probably already gainfully employed and not looking for work. For the rest of you, examine your resumes and get rid of these mistakes.

Not sure how? Talk to one of our career strategists and they will be happy to help!

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Comments (8)

  • mxnguygld Reply

    I’ve heard from many recruiters that if you’ve used the same skill with multiple employers, you should list the skill for each role because the more you have used the skill, the more proficient you are assumed to be at it.

    May 24, 2013 at 4:20 am
    • Nikki Reply

      That’s definitely a good point! But keep in mind that you should differentiate the point each time you include it, so that you’re not repeating the exact same wording. If you want to show the employer that you have used the skill throughout your career, then you should show your increase in proficiency. Explain that your current use is at the advanced level, and in your previous role you can explain that you obtained training to become proficient in the skill.

      May 24, 2013 at 2:36 pm
  • ellawoot Reply

    How is it I find functional resumes are suggested….if you are pursuing a different field or if you are a seasoned professional…..but you basically discount a functional resume all together? Then please tell me what you would recommend to someone in this situation?

    February 27, 2014 at 2:23 pm
    • ResumeTarget.com Reply

      Hi there,

      We develop a combined resume format that is a happy balance between the chronological and functional styles. We make sure that the most relevant information and achievements are still towards the top of the resume, and also ensure that the professional experience is outlined in a chronological format. Often times we use a selected achievements section below the value statement to highlight your related skills if you are pursuing a different field or if you have a gap in work experience, or we recommend including your most significant achievements in that selected achievements section if you are a seasoned professional.

      There are many ways to format a combined resume and they all come down to one main point of focus – you want to get the most relevant information at the top of the resume while also answering the main question that the hiring manager is asking “what are you doing now?”.

      Hope that helps!

      March 4, 2014 at 9:57 pm
  • Michael Ivers Reply

    Nikki —
    Thank you for the information. Unfortunately your industry (recruiting) is populated by many experts with many different opinions and approaches. What truly does work is arduous to the job seeker. One expert will tell you not to include your address another one will. One will tell you to include key words (expertise and skills) near the top, some near the bottom. Some say don’t use months in the dates, others say do.
    I will admit I tried many different resume approaches and I am not at all certain which one will get me the attention I deserve.
    And, how does ATS affect the resume review and shortlist selection process?
    Thank you.

    March 1, 2014 at 1:51 am
    • Magnus Reply

      Michael – I complete agree. it is funny bordering sad to read and compare recruiters’ take on one’s resume and clearly see the differences. I guess it differs from company to company which makes sense, however it should not be presented as “industry” or “expert” opinion, IMHO.
      I am obviously not referring to obvious issues with skipping contact info on the resume :), but for example I saw several different opinions about providing exact month/year as opposite to only year in one’s employment history. Frankly, if I have 20y old employment history, I seriously doubt any recruiter will be checking why I skipped August 2001 in my resume, then again go figure….

      March 7, 2014 at 6:05 pm
  • Alix Reply

    I agree with Michael Ivers, writing a CV a very subjective thematic! It depends of the industry, the country and obviously the recruiter. But still it stays very helpful to have different advice and your article is very well-written. Thanks for sharing

    April 10, 2014 at 9:14 am

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