The resume is your first impression with a company. And we all know how powerful first impressions are. It’s also typically the only shot you have at being considered further, so you have to stand out.
When crafting your resume, it’s important to stay focused on this simple goal: capture their attention so they want to talk further.
The following mistakes make a resume difficult to read, giving the hiring team more reason to push it aside. If they do continue reading, these mistakes also make the resume ineffective, distracting the reader from seeing the simple, clear story of how you’d be a perfect fit.
These mistakes can be avoided with the tips that follow. Ultimately, understand that no one writes a clear, concise, and effective resume in one pass. It takes time, educated effort, and assistance if you want a resume that’s going to open the door to those first conversations.
Too long – The average resume is read in less than 1 minute. Keep it to one page. In business especially, you have to be concise. It’s not easy, but it’s more effective if you can communicate in less words. Only include up to 10 years of professional job history, if you happen to have more than 10. The exception would be if you have relevant experience from earlier than 10 years ago, and you feel it would be impactful to include.
Too dense with irrelevant content – To get the hiring team’s attention, the resume must first be an easy read. If it’s too dense, it’s overwhelming and maybe not worth the time or effort to read. Secondly, it has to make sense – connect the dots for them. They need someone who can best do this job. If that’s not obvious by reading your resume, you’ve lost them. You have to show how your background matches with the qualifications for the job. In other words, stay relevant; don’t list every single accomplishment you can possibly think of. Less really is more in this case. Tailor your resume to the job: prioritize the most relevant content from top to bottom, and cut out anything that doesn’t speak to the role.
Fluff – In addition to cutting the fat on content, avoid using filler words, typically “fluffy” adjectives like “superbly led a team of 20”. Frankly, it’s distracting and annoying. Additionally, these embellishments could appear as stretching the truth, which could lead to concerns of dishonesty, which no company would tolerate. The hiring team simply wants to know, objectively, what you did, how well you did it, and overall, whether your background aligns with the qualifications of the job. Don’t make them wade through opinions of yourself. Unless you quote or summarize feedback from a credible source (e.g., performance review feedback), avoid verbiage that appears as pumping yourself up. Get to the point. Use facts.
Speaking more about job responsibilities than accomplishments – Simply providing a job description stops short. “Managed a team of 20” doesn’t tell me much – how well did you manage them? That’s what a hiring team wants to know. You could have been a mediocre manager for all they know. Instead, speak to the role: what about your performance in that position demonstrates you are qualified to do this next job? First, focus on results when describing your experience. Did your team receive special recognition, were your people promoted? Second, be as tangible and concrete as possible in describing accomplishments, quantifying where able. The idea is to paint a clear picture in the reader’s mind, leaving no room for second-guessing. They should walk away from the resume wanting to learn more.
Not speaking to the audience – Pay attention to what the company values, the language they use on their website, how they write the job description. Aim to speak their language. You need to connect. If writing about military experience, translate it so civilians can understand. There are multiple websites out there that can assist, but at it’s simplest, get a civilian friend to read it and provide feedback. Use Veterati.com, a veteran mentoring network, to find an HR professional to consult and maybe even review your resume.
Not speaking to the role – if you’re applying to different jobs, why would you use the same resume for every one? Unless they’re similar enough, a failure to speak to the specifics of the job is like saying you’re not interested, that you didn’t care enough to take the time to do it right. Pay attention to the job qualifications and tweak the resume so that it speaks specifically to that job.
Errors – The resume is THE one thing you have no excuse to make a mistake on in the hiring process. You have the time and lack of pressure to get it right. A lack of attention to detail signals a lack of interest, work ethic and overall professionalism. Spelling, grammar, formatting, tense are all important. Use tools like Grammarly and have multiple people review. As a veteran, use mentorship networks like Veterati to find an HR mentor or professional in the desired career field to review and discuss the best layout.
Personal information such as age, marital status, number of children, pictures (these may be required in some countries) are a no-no. First of all, they’re irrelevant to the qualifications of the job, so they are unnecessary. Secondly, it’s against the law for hiring teams to consider this information in most cases. You should include your basic contact information: street address, appropriate email address (e.g., email@example.com vs. firstname.lastname@example.org), and phone number. You can also include any relevant URLs (e.g., LinkedIn profile).
For more details on building your resume, visit these resources:
- Resume Writing Basics from Columbia University Center for Career Education
- Sample Resumes from Columbia University Center for Career Education
- How to Write a Resume that Stands Out from Harvard Business Review
- www.resumeengine.org – create a base resume with military experience translated into civilian terms plus other helpful tips
- Translating Military Experience to Civilian Terms from The Military Wallet
- 10 Ways to Civilianize Your Resume from GI Jobs
Katie Goossen specializes in advising active duty military members on how to successfully navigate their transition into the high-tech industry.