1) Lack Target
Whether content is subjected to an ATS or human reader, it should have a clear takeaway. Your target should be immediately and consistently evident. Soft skills, hard skills, and keywords should remain on theme like a red thread throughout your content.
The language should echo the job description to demonstrate your familiarity with the industry and showcase how well you would fit with the organization. Your content should speak to the hiring company's needs and pain points as uncovered in the job description and through networking conversations.
Each resume should be customized to reflect the target opening—the exact title listed at the top of the resume and the document named with the title for easy filing and reference.
2) Unclear Success Stories
Vague and unsubstantiated accomplishments fall flat. Provide context for each success story—use the SAR method (or PAR, CAR, SOAR, etc.) to relay stories with clarity and concision.
Keep it positive and, if possible, select stories that speak to the scope of the target role.
Include concrete numbers, dollars, and percents to add weight.
You might not think you have quantifiable accomplishments, but you do! Dig into each task or project and ask yourself about the before and after. Use % increase or % decrease calculations to uncover those numbers or estimate and appropriately couch your accomplishments as "approximately" or "estimated." If you are very early in your career and have only company-wide accomplishments, you can say you contributed to those accomplishments.
3) Out of Date
If hiring executives see a one-page resume in Times New Roman font with a street address, objective, and references available upon request, their first impression is “behind the times.” What makes it even worse? Tight, blocky formatting…
Modern resumes focus on outlining value to the hiring organization with a summary. Modern resumes have an airy aesthetic—larger fonts for eyes tired from heavy screen use and white space between sections and concepts for easier skimming and greater reader retention.
4) Wrong Career Stage
Sometimes job seekers see a template they like or have personal preferences with regard to style and content. What they don’t always see is the strategy at work behind the content. If using a fill-in-the-blank approach, it is all too easy to adopt a format that does not serve you well.
A few examples of using the content strategy:
Executives highlighting certifications or trying to list their entire work history? No doctor tells you he’s CPR certified. It would be weird. Same with executives—you reached this level for a reason, so it looks insecure to tout certifications or go too far back.
Non-tech recent grads placing tech skills at the top of the resume? Place tech skills early only if you’re in technology or possibly engineering fields. Microsoft Office and Google Suite are assumed skills.
A highly qualified manager with her degree listed first? Only recent grads with little to no experience should use this style.
A leader with task-focused content? Time to switch from individual contributor discussions to a higher-level approach.
Nothing kills your message faster than a busy resume—this could be in the form of design elements or wordiness.
In terms of layout and design, opt for visuals that highlight your skills, rather than distract from them. Most often, color should be a subtle tint rather than bright graphs or call-out boxes. The takeaway from these elements is most often “nice graph,” when we actually want the takeaway to be “excellent candidate.”
In terms of language, be wary of repeating content word for word (boring). Watch for egregious use of adjectives. To improve language strength and concision, consider the following:
Eliminate articles (a, an, the)
Delete unnecessary words/phrases like “in order to,” “that/which,” or “resulting in.”
Rephrase to eliminate forms of “to be” and other weak verbs like “assist,” “support,” or “help.”
Be wary of creeping into Jargonese. While you want to echo the language in the job description, you also want the content to sound like you, so you can speak to various phrases and topics the hiring committee may pull from your resume in an interview setting.
The last thing we want is for job seekers to respond “huh?” when a phrase is lifted from their own resume.
7) Crowd-Sourcing Tips
Many resume writers have different styles and perspectives, which is great! Problems can arise when job seekers crowd-source advice and combine a mishmash of styles to create—a mess. Even outside of curriculum vitae or Federal resumes, there are many different types of resumes:
Storytelling resumes with context and nuance (great for specialized or mission-focused execs).
ATS-focused resumes with keyword clusters and multiple titles (better for those who avoid networking).
Master resume listing all of your experience and accomplishments in great detail (helpful for those pursuing more than one career path and intending to customize resumes extensively for each role--not intended for submission as a whole)
Recruiter resumes with industry, company info and size, # of direct and indirect reports, to whom you reported, and budget amounts (fine for those pursuing lateral moves within the same industry).
Networking resumes with a photo and a few quotes from internal referrals/advocates (these work well for in-person events).
Many job seekers muddy the waters with a combination of the above styles, compromising the effectiveness of the content strategy.
8) Not Considering Your Job Search Style
Passive Search: If you’re working 60+ hours a week, networking will be tough to squeeze into your schedule! Opt for an ATS-friendly resume and/or a resume that caters to recruiter interests.
Active Search: For those networking and reaching out to hiring managers, plan to customize your resume for each conversation and role. Speaking to a recruiter? The recruiter may ask you to include those metrics they like to lean on for making quick decisions. Setting up an informational interview with an industry leader? Keep it broad and transferrable to remain open to any number of possibilities.
Ambitious Search: Branding, gaining visibility, and playing the long-game become important. With this approach, a job seeker may leverage multiple resume styles; for example, a longform storytelling resume with shading for one-on-one career conversations, a succinct black and white resume for online submission, and an overview resume with photo for easy recall at networking events.
9) Don’t Address Underlying Concerns
Many DIY resumes fail to offset concerns about candidacy, often related to tenure length or career progression.
Lack of Focus: Low retention
Age Discrimination, Young: Unpolished with peers/customers, afraid to dive in
Age Discrimination, Old: Out of date on tech/industry, talk down to younger colleagues
Long Tenures: Resist change, stagnancy
Short Tenures: Opportunist, lack basic requirements
Job Hoppers: Ill-suited for corporate roles
Overqualified: Conflict with leaders, poor retention
Overly Academic: Thinker, not a doer; difficulty with ambiguity
Former Entrepreneur/Consultant: Won’t take direction well, not a team player
Peaked: Poor ROI, disengaged
Careful use of adjectives and finessing the work history can help alleviate concerns, but most job seekers simply list all of their tasks chronologically and hope the hiring team will overlook any issues.
10) Leave $ on the Table
The worst mistake job seekers make with a DIY resume is that they leave money on the table.
If your internal voice says, “Agh… that’s good enough,” then you’re probably not going to land exciting offers.
You should be delighted with your resume! It highlights your proudest professional moments and speaks for you when you can’t be in the room.
Moreover, there is no excuse for a lackluster resume. Career centers, nonprofits, LinkedIn, Clubhouse, and paid professionals are readily available.
No one can make you care about your resume, but it sure is obvious if you don’t…