When you're job hunting you must think of your resume as the first opportunity to make a great impression. While general DIY resume writing tips are useful, if you really want to stand out and land that job, there are some common resume pitfalls you'll want to avoid.
1. Objective Statements: The objective statement is dead. In the past it was tradition to create an "objective" at the top of your resume, but doing so can actually hurt your chances at landing an interview. The objective statement can end up being a negative positioning statement - either it ends up lacking in substance, often generalized and vague. Or, it's too specific and can get your resume tossed out if it doesn't exactly match what the hiring manager or recruiter is looking for in a candidate. In addition, the objective statement communicates what you want, not what the employer wants. And at this point in the recruiting process, the employer is only concerned about their needs and identifying candidates that match them.
Plus, an objective statement takes up valuable real estate on your resume. Your resume only has a matter of seconds to grab the attention of the reader, so do just that - use attention grabbing headlines. Chrissy Scivicque, career coach and founder of EatYourCareer.com, strongly encourages to stop using objective statements, saying “Instead of simply saying what you want, write a powerful statement about who you are and what you offer.” Instead of an objective statement, use a strong headline and a 3-4 sentence / bulleted summary that captures interest and highlights the value you bring.
2. Lack of keywords: Keywords are crucial. Not only do keywords optimize your resume for applicant tracking systems (ATS), recruiters will often visually scan resumes for specific skills and experience instead of actually reading them. So, even if you think your title makes this obvious, include this information so when the recruiter does a brief visual scan or broad keyword search, your resume is on the top of the pile. Also, keep in mind that titles vary by company so you can't assume it's obvious what you've done. Look at the company's job description and decide what keywords they're using, then use them in your resume (e.g. shrink reduction, loss prevention awareness, safety training, physical security).
3. Employment gaps: Recruiters zero in on gaps, especially when they've occurred recently. They're looking for progression here as well. But in the real world, life happens. So if you have gaps in your employment history, don't leave it to the reader's imagination to fill them. A better approach is to acknowledge them in your resume, but use the situation to your benefit. For example, if you volunteered, took time off to start a family, traveled abroad, completed industry-related coursework, cared for an ill family member, or started your own business - not only make space to mention it on your resume, but also present what the experience provided you in terms of skills, achievements, or lessons you learned. This shows that you're being open and honest which speaks to your character, and allows you to organize your thoughts and create some talking points around the employment gaps so you're prepared for the interview. Keep in mind that the main function of a resume is to land an interview, so putting some thought into the design and layout of your resume may also prove useful here. Instead of highlighting employment gaps by using a chronological resume, consider using a functional or hybrid / combination style resume that is more focused on your skills and accomplishments.
4. Point of view: Resume writing is different than any other type of writing and follows it's own rules. Resist the urge to use personal pronouns ("I" or "me"). And even though you aren't using them, you're still writing in the first person point of view because it's your own perspective. Writing your resume in the third person is never recommended, and alternating between the two in the same document can make your resume difficult to read. Check for consistency.
5. Readability: Long sentences and walls of text on a page are an instant turn-off to a reader. Aesthetics are important. Good use of "white space" on the page, proper margins, use of bullet points, bold text for emphasis, correct line spacing, and proper font (type and size), can make your resume easy to read and stand out from the crowd.
Taking Your Resume to the Next Level
Simple changes can make a huge difference. Some things to keep in mind when you're writing or editing your resume are:
- Use numbers to quantify things so you stand out to your readers (e.g. instead of "managed a budget" write "managed a $90,000 budget).
- Ditch the passive voice & use action words to describe your professional history. Instead of using "was responsible for," use words like "discovered," "achieved," and "amplified" that really capture the recruiter's attention. When it comes to writing about your work history, think accomplishments and results, not just duties and responsibilities.
- Convey how truly awesome something you've done is by telling your reader how many people were trying to get this same spot. So, make sure you don't only state they've accepted you, but also state how many people they selected out of how many applied (e.g. 9% admit rate, 50 students chosen per year). This shows you understand how coveted your accomplishments are and you're also telling the recruiter about something they may not already know.