17 Resume Killers That’ll Keep You from Your Dream Job
In the following article, we’ll examine the mistakes that keep us from getting the jobs we need to elevate our careers beyond the glass ceiling.
The earlier you learn about what not to do, the more of an advantage you’ll have against the competition. But before delving into the killers themselves, let’s pay heed to the inevitable response.
A Word About Relationships in Relation to Resume Killers
Inevitably there will be some among you who get the job anyway in spite of committing one or more of these critical errors. The copout thing to say for us would be, “Well, you just got lucky.” But that’s an oversimplification.
If you do happen to get hired in spite of yourself, it’s likely due to your having forged strong relationships ahead of time. That doesn’t mean your future employer hired you just because you were the “friend of a friend.” No, it’s possible for bad resume writers to get ahead provided they’re good at relationship building. In fact, that remains your best option for getting the career that you want.
Clearly, building relationships are worth your time. But it takes time to do it right, and that may not always be on your side. That’s where resume best practices come in handy. With that said, let’s get to the resume killers.
1. Failure to Target
It should go without saying that resumes need to be specific and targeted to the position and the company to which you are applying. Unfortunately, generic resumes still happen in relatively large quantities.
What does this say to a company? It says that you didn’t care enough about the position to study its unique qualifications or the company’s even more unique culture.
Companies appreciate candidates who take the extra time to learn something about job specifics and the environment into which they will be entering should an offer be proffered. Inevitably, at least one candidate of the many applicants for a position will get it right. If you’re like the rest, you’ll quickly be forgotten. If you make the effort, your competitors will be much smaller in number.
2. Bad Formatting
It may seem shallow for a company to dismiss you on the grounds of your formatting. It may lead you to think, “Well, if they’re going to pay more to the superficialities than what I actually know, then forget them.”
But companies are not unwise to do so. They realize the job will require a great deal of attention to detail and presentation, and if you can’t show them that in the one document that’s supposed to be a celebration of your accomplishments, then they can reasonably assume the position will be too much for you.
And even if they’re wrong about you personally, they’ll never know it because they’ll end up going with someone equally capable who does pay attention to detail and presentation. That said, what types of formatting should you use? Here are some quick tips:
- Stick with PDF: it translates across operating systems without altering the formatting. Since there’s no need for an employer to actually change the document, a PDF is your safest bet. Most word processing programs feature an “Export to PDF” function. Use it.
- Make use of white space: large blocks of text are unpleasing to the eye and fail to respect the resume reviewer’s busy schedule. Use short sentences, bullet points, and headings/subheadings.
- Keep it short: shooting for one single page, front-side-only, is a good rule of thumb, even if you have to play with the font sizes. If there’s just too much there, a second page will suffice. But no more. Your ability to succinctly tout relevant education and accomplishments is important.
3. Forgetting to List Achievements
Too often, applicants lay out their case for why they are the best people for the position by showing everything they had to do in their past or current jobs. The thinking: they’ll see how much responsibility I had and instantly fall in love with me.
It doesn’t quite work that way, though. Here’s what a hiring manager really thinks: we all have a lot of responsibility, cry me a friggin’ river. When they read through a few of your BS-worded accomplishments — “As a customer service agent, I was responsible for the guest experience of all our customers, from janitorial technician duties to product research, location, and inventory control” — their eyes will roll back in their heads as they drag your resume file to the recycle bin.
Your future employer is much more concerned with what you’ve actually accomplished. That’s because they want to know what you will accomplish for them should you be offered a position.
Getting heavy-handed with your list of responsibilities will only make it seem like you’re the type of worker who can’t see the big picture. And every company wants a big picture-looker.
If you haven’t yet installed Grammarly on your computer, then you’ve made writing a lot harder than it should be. At least when it comes to resume writing and other formal documents.
Grammarly is capable of rooting out misspellings and — see next section — word choice, word misuse, and syntax errors. It runs in the background and highlights potential problem areas in red. Once you’re done with your drafting, find the red, click on it, and choose the right option or choose to Ignore if the program assumes an error where there isn’t one.
5. Poor Word Choice or Misuse
See No. 4. It gets its own section, however, because people often think their word processing program’s Spell-Check feature will catch everything. Not the case. It will only tag obviously misspelled words. It usually misses things like homonyms.
6. Ignoring the Gaps
This may not be such an issue when you’re a young graduate — then again, more college students are working their way through college than ever before — but if you have any work gaps on your resume, you will want to explain those because employers will have questions.
Just include the gap time as you would a job under the Work History part of your resume. Don’t be overly elaborate with your explanation. If it was for six months, say something like “Idle, January 1-July 1, 2018 / Reason: [insert skills training here or other reason that doesn’t make you sound like a lazy clod].”
Having the brass not to run away from your work gaps will show your employer that you’re honest, bold, and confident in yourself and your abilities.
Lying is never a good idea on a resume, particularly when that lie can easily be found out with a simple phone call, email, or text message. For example, you wouldn’t tell a future employer that you use to work on F-15 airplanes unless you actually did. The military would have a record of that, and anything that cannot be verified by your employer can be safely assumed as false.
While you do want to make your accomplishments sound as wonderful as you possibly can, you don’t want to outright lie or embellish in ways that are going to set off anyone’s BS meter.
8. Overly Long
We’ve already touched on this in the formatting section, but it’s worth repeating. Don’t get carried away with yourself on the resume length. Stick to the facts. Deliver them in a digestible and easy-to-follow manner. Don’t give your possible future employer too much of you to keep up with.
9. Unprofessional Nuance
If you haven’t divested yourself from an unprofessional email address, you should do so at once. No one ever got hired for a serious job by plastering firstname.lastname@example.org at the top of his resume.
We use email as the primary example, but there may be other areas where you should assess your professional presentation. Social media is another biggie. Even though your networks are not technically a part of your resume, your resume will often lead an employer to your Facebook/Twitter front door. It’s best to make sure those are professionally inviting places when they get there.
10. Showing Only One Aspect of Your Talents
Let’s say you’re applying to a communications position. That’s a job that has a number of “expertise” areas you need to be efficient at — written and spoken communications, presentation ability, knowledge of laws with regards to public/private enterprises (i.e., what are you obligated to share versus what you are not obligated to share as the two can create significantly different communications environments), media relationships, etc.
If your resume only touts your written communication ability, it could disqualify you from consideration even if the written part of what you’ve shared is quite impressive. How can a company be sure that you’re the person to help their viral video channels if all you’ve ever done is write feature stories?
This is just one example from a sector we actually know something about. But the same rule applies to every sector. You can’t get very far as a one-trick pony. Show that you’re skilled and competent in multiple facets of the position. It’s okay if those qualities are not on the same footing, but there does need to be some depth to your knowledge and experience over time.
11. A Verbose Objective Statement
Almost every resume you see includes an “objective” statement of some kind, and they really shouldn’t. These statements usually just take up space and mean nothing to the person reviewing your resume. You would be better served to focus on relevant work experience, education, skill sets, and accomplishments.
But if you absolutely feel compelled to include the objective, make sure that it’s focused on what you hope to accomplish for them, not what you plan to do to build your resume. Your goal shouldn’t be “To gain knowledge…,” it should be “To grow XYZ Company….”
By keeping the focus on your (potentially) future employer, you will leave a significant impression.
12. Forgoing the Cover Letter
Some people will tell you a cover letter is unnecessary. They don’t know what they’re talking about. That’s because hiring managers are looking for reasons to throw your resume in the proverbial dustbin. It’s nothing against you either. It’s simply that they get so many applicants that they know the vast majority will be unqualified. This reality trains them to look for any reason they can to weed out the bad apples in favor of the few who truly get it.
A short, concise cover letter can be impactful in ways that your resume can’t. Here are a couple of ways:
- It establishes a personal connection. Cover letters should always be written to an actual person, preferably the gatekeeper for that particular position. This shows you have a command for the company’s structure and hierarchy.
- It serves as a showcase for your personality. Cover letters give you a chance to break free from the just-the-facts approach a resume should use. It allows you the opportunity to be conversational and to demonstrate a bit more about your qualifications to the employer. Furthermore, it gives you a chance to show them you’ve done your research about what the position entails and why you’re qualified in a way that a list of bullet points may not fully encapsulate.
13. Overdosing on Details
A strong resume is as much about what not to include as it is about what should be there. We’re big proponents of leaving any personal touches to the cover letter and the in-person interview. A resume is simply a place to list your accomplishments and capabilities. Overdosing it on details such as your love of fishing, life history, or other hobbies is an instant resume killer.
Recommendation for how to weed out unnecessary details: give your resume to a trusted friend or industry professional to read — someone who won’t feel bad about giving their honest opinion. Ask them to highlight the details they feel are irrelevant. Then, thank them for their time and don’t get touchy. Constructive criticism will take you further than a thousand points of praise.
14. Being Too Humble
No one likes a braggart, but that mindset can keep you from taking credit for relevant accomplishments or simply forgetting to include them when putting together a resume. There’s nothing wrong with showing your accomplishments. It’s not overtly bragging. It’s simply shining a light on something that got done under your watch.
15. Getting Political or Religious
It’s great that our country allows us to have political and religious viewpoints, strongly even. But the last thing companies want to be embroiled in is politics, and it’s often difficult to separate religion from that umbrella term.
Playing with politics or religion has a tendency to backfire spectacularly, costing companies money and reputation. Starbucks is a fine example of a company that has struggled after running afoul of its own target customer earlier this year. You probably know the story. If not, search “Starbucks” and “sensitivity training.” That should get you up to speed.
Bottom line: Starbucks embraced politics, and it burned them. Other companies see this, and it teaches them about how one incident can impact their day-to-day operations when dealing with the public. Better to provide a great product or service in a non-discriminatory manner without taking any controversial stands whenever possible.
You bragging on your resume about membership in or support of the Alt-Right/Antifa will instantly turn off business decision-makers unless their business or organization actually deal with what you’re about directly. Still, going down that road sort of limits your future employment possibilities.
16. A Predictable Pattern of Departures
It’s possible to avoid all the other resume killers and still torpedo your chances by having a reliably unreliable work history. What do we mean by that? We mean that every job you have shows a set pattern of departures. Two-three years, and you’re out-of-there, in other words. Employers want to know that you’re going to be around for a while.
If not, they at least want to know that the positions you’ve left were because of advancements in your career. That’s much easier to explain than being a customer service associate with two years of experience at Target, two years at Walmart, two years at Kohl’s, etc. In the latter example, it shows that you get bored easily and leave quickly.
17. Overemphasizing Self-Employment
Self-employment in itself can be a positive, but when it is used as a crutch to explain gaps of employment, or you have too much self-employment on your work history for a W2 job, it can become a problem. Some people tend not to put self-employment on the actual resume, opting to include that info in the cover letter as a way of showing how it would connect to the job at hand in addition to the work experience and educational credentials listed on the resume.
Hopefully, this list of resume killers has been an informative one. By avoiding the above and creating relationships in the sector you wish to work, you can break in and start working towards your dream job.
[Featured Image by Flickr Creative Commons]