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The Biggest Mistakes I See on Resumes, and How To Correct Them

I’ve sent out hundreds of resumes over my career, applying for just about every kind of job. I’ve personally reviewed more than 20,000 resumes. And at Google we sometimes get more than 50,000 resumes in a single week.

I have seen A LOT of resumes.

Some are brilliant, most are just ok, many are disasters. The toughest part is that for 15 years, I’ve continued to see the same mistakes made again and again by candidates, any one of which can eliminate them from consideration for a job. What’s most depressing is that I can tell from the resumes that many of these are good, even great, people. But in a fiercely competitive labor market, hiring managers don’t need to compromise on quality. All it takes is one small mistake and a manager will reject an otherwise interesting candidate.

I know this is well-worn ground on LinkedIn, but I’m starting here because — I promise you — more than half of you have at least one of these mistakes on your resume. And I’d much rather see folks win jobs than get passed over.

In the interest of helping more candidates make it past that first resume screen, here are the five biggest mistakes I see on resumes.

Mistake 1: Typos. This one seems obvious, but it happens again and again. A 2013 CareerBuilder survey found that 58% of resumes have typos.

In fact, people who tweak their resumes the most carefully can be especially vulnerable to this kind of error, because they often result from going back again and again to fine tune their resumes just one last time. And in doing so, a subject and verb suddenly don’t match up, or a period is left in the wrong place, or a set of dates gets knocked out of alignment. I see this in MBA resumes all the time. Typos are deadly because employers interpret them as a lack of detail-orientation, as a failure to care about quality. The fix?

Read your resume from bottom to top: reversing the normal order helps you focus on each line in isolation. Or have someone else proofread closely for you.

Mistake 2: Length. A good rule of thumb is one page of resume for every ten years of work experience. Hard to fit it all in, right? But a three or four or ten page resume simply won’t get read closely. As Blaise Pascal wrote, “I would have written you a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” A crisp, focused resume demonstrates an ability to synthesize, prioritize, and convey the most important information about you. Think about it this way: the *sole* purpose of a resume is to get you an interview. That’s it. It’s not to convince a hiring manager to say “yes” to you (that’s what the interview is for) or to tell your life’s story (that’s what a patient spouse is for). Your resume is a tool that gets you to that first interview. Once you’re in the room, the resume doesn’t matter much. So cut back your resume. It’s too long.

Mistake 3: Formatting. Unless you’re applying for a job such as a designer or artist, your focus should be on making your resume clean and legible. At least ten point font. At least half-inch margins. White paper, black ink. Consistent spacing between lines, columns aligned, your name and contact information on every page. If you can, look at it in both Google Docs and Word, and then attach it to an email and open it as a preview. Formatting can get garbled when moving across platforms. Saving it as a PDF is a good way to go.

Mistake 4: Confidential information. I once received a resume from an applicant working at a top-three consulting firm. This firm had a strict confidentiality policy: client names were never to be shared. On the resume, the candidate wrote: “Consulted to a major software company in Redmond, Washington.” Rejected! There’s an inherent conflict between your employer’s needs (keep business secrets confidential) and your needs (show how awesome I am so I can get a better job). So candidates often find ways to honor the letter of their confidentiality agreements but not the spirit. It’s a mistake. While this candidate didn’t mention Microsoft specifically, any reviewer knew that’s what he meant. In a very rough audit, we found that at least 5-10% of resumes reveal confidential information. Which tells me, as an employer, that I should never hire those candidates … unless I want my own trade secrets emailed to my competitors.

The New York Times test is helpful here: if you wouldn’t want to see it on the home page of the NYT with your name attached (or if your boss wouldn’t!), don’t put it on your resume.

Mistake 5: Lies. This breaks my heart. Putting a lie on your resume is never, ever, ever, worth it. Everyone, up to and including CEOs, gets fired for this. (Google “CEO fired for lying on resume” and see.) People lie about their degrees (three credits shy of a college degree is not a degree), GPAs (I’ve seen hundreds of people “accidentally” round their GPAs up, but never have I seen one accidentally rounded down — never), and where they went to school (sorry, but employers don’t view a degree granted online for “life experience” as the same as UCLA or Seton Hall). People lie about how long they were at companies, how big their teams were, and their sales results, always goofing in their favor.

There are three big problems with lying: (1) You can easily get busted. The Internet, reference checks, and people who worked at your company in the past can all reveal your fraud. (2) Lies follow you forever. Fib on your resume and 15 years later get a big promotion and are discovered? Fired. And try explaining that in your next interview. (3) Our Moms taught us better. Seriously.

So this is how to mess up your resume. Don’t do it! Hiring managers are looking for the best people they can find, but the majority of us all but guarantee that we’ll get rejected.

The good news is that — precisely because most resumes have these kinds of mistakes — avoiding them makes you stand out.

In a future post, I’ll expand beyond what not to do, and cover the things you *should* be doing to make your resume stand out from the stack.
Laszlo Bock

Five Job Search Tips

We all hear about what you must do in a job search but how often do you hear what NOT to do? Here are five job search tips that should push your quest in a new direction.

Do NOT…Show negativity and disengagement.
We can quickly sense people who are down, either by tone of voice or body language. After many interviews and numerous rejections, it can be difficult to hold your head high, rise to the occasion and make a memorable first impression when people are judging you as a potential employee. Yes a job search can be lonely and not something you wish to repeat in your life. The top two reasons which often spiral people into discouragement and negativity are: a) frustration in not all telephone calls being returned and b) believing you’re not going to win each interview.
There are several factors which can help you sustain a level of optimism and engagement. Maintain a good work and life balance (remember, a job search IS work!). Focus on healthy eating, planned relaxation and stay connected with friends letting them be cheerleaders during your time of career transition. Uncover and schedule active participation at networking events within your community and industry. Join organizations such as Toastmasters to advance your communication skills and confidence presenting to a diverse audience of strangers. These activities will help you think more objectively, keep you motivated and engaged in your job search.

Do NOT…Ignore the power of networking
Don’t believe anyone who tells you networking doesn’t work and pay dividends! Network, network and network some more; the return on your investment is massive. The hidden job market across Canada and the US is considerable touching 80% of all available jobs. Fearlessly embrace online and in-person networking and make it the major component of your job search. Be active in professional groups specific to your industry and network with key decision makers at companies on your target employer list. Never miss out on an opportunity to expand your network of influence.

Do NOT…Mismanage your social profile
You’re committing career suicide if you’re not on LinkedIn OR if you’re posting inappropriate information on any of the social media platforms. Social recruiting is not going away. Every year the number of recruiters and companies embracing digital recruitment expands. Results from Jobvite’s 2014 Social Recruiting Survey show 93% of recruiters uncover or vet potential hires by perusing their LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook profiles.
The caliber of content posted on your social profiles, and the social profiles of your references, play a significant role in determining your cultural fit with an organization. Postings containing profanity, spelling and grammar mistakes, references to illegal drugs and alcohol leave a negative impression with hiring leaders and ultimately may cause them to reconsider your candidacy at any point during the hiring process.

Do NOT…Use an outdated resume or send the same resume for each job
Resume trends continually evolve, with the most recent changes spanning personal branding, keywords and Applicant Tracking Systems. Gone are the days of an Objective statement replaced instead with a personal brand statement identifying your unique promise of value – what’s so special about you that would cause a potential employer to pick up the phone?
Applicant tracking systems are the robots reading your resume, making the initial Yes/No decision by scanning the resume you electronically submitted. The design and format of your resume is critical to pass the scanning technology; features to avoid include graphics, text boxes, underlines, columns, headers and footers.
Keywords are the words and phrases programmed into the ATS software which the robot uses as criteria in assessing all applicant resumes. You can find those keywords by reading the job posting and employer website. Keywords can also be those buzz words pertinent to your degree and industry. Your resume is toast if it hasn’t been updated to include the required keywords for each job you apply to.

Do NOT…Use one job search strategy
The idea of a job search is to make an impact at different levels and across multiple platforms so your name and personal brand constantly resonate with people. Search for opportunities prudently and vigorously through online and in-person networking, which should be the emphasis of your search. Build and maintain relationships with Executive Recruiters but understand they can only work with you if they have a project from a client that meets your skills and career level. Create your own digital search strategy spanning job boards, aggregators and corporate web sites. Remember there are jobs to be found on LinkedIn, Facebook, and yes – even Twitter.
In essence, don’t restrict your search to one sector or one method; use them all – Networking, Recruiters and the Web.

Resumes

Yes I know everyone has an opinion and opinions, though offered, are rarely solicited. I prefer a two page resume, maximum two and a half, with name, address, phone numbers, email, objective and education, all at the beginning of the resume. Use bold judicially, perhaps just on your job titles. Include all dates and dates of education graduation. Don’t submit references, these should only be offered if you are in the final process of getting a job offer. When emailing your resume, send it to yourself and see what it looks like, then make the appropriate changes. Develop a couple of versions of your resume, (for example one that emphasizes product design and another that emphasizes your project engineering skills). Most importantly, you aren’t writing War and Peace. Your resume should use words sparingly, efficiently and effectively.