The Résumé Mistakes Industry Professionals Always See (And How to Avoid Them)

The Résumé Mistakes Industry Professionals Always See (And How to Avoid Them)

When Elle Woods famously handed her professor a pink, scented, résumé, because “it gives it a little something extra, don’t you think? she nailed her first internship. Unfortunately, today’s employers have slightly different standards than those in Legally Blonde. They’re looking for professionalism, hard skills, and achievements that shine brighter than the colors they’re highlighted in.

A résumé, in the words of Gail Pilosi, Sr. Vice President of Merchandising at Specialty Commerce Corporation and former senior marketing director at Victoria’s Secret, is “a preliminary introduction. It’s to introduce yourself to someone who’s never met you before and isn’t going to meet you until they read through it and say ‘wow this type of person is who I am looking for and I really want to talk to them.’” I talked to Pilosi and three other professionals—including the operations director for Bustle and a College Fashionista alum—to find out the résumé mistakes your prospective employers definitely don’t want to see. Here’s the low-down on what they are and how to avoid them.

Résumé Mistake #1: Making It Longer Than One Page

One of the biggest résumé mistakes is making it too long. While you’re probably proud of your many achievements, your prospective employer simply doesn’t have time to read about them. Alexandra Finkel, the Editorial Operations Director for Bustle who reviews approximately 300 resumes a week (and spends approximately 30 seconds reviewing each one), says, “a lot of people, especially those with more experience, want to put it all down there. More than one page is a mistake. Even the most experienced person can fit it all in one page to really highlight the most important aspects of their previous roles.” 

How to Avoid It: “Normally,” Finkel says, “what I look at is your name, your first two experiences, first two internships or jobs or whatever it is, [and] your education—which can either be at the top if you’re still in school or at the bottom if you’ve been out for a couple of years. And then I move on.” To stand out in such a short timeframe, make sure your most relevant and impressive experiences are listed first. For instance, if applying for a job in the fashion industry, put that internship you had with Anthropologie first before your summer lifeguarding gig.

Résumé Mistake #2: Going Overboard With Design

When it comes to design, experts say simple is best. Theresa Regan, a freelance photographer in Philadelphia and graphic design teacher at Temple University, says one of the biggest mistakes she shes is when applicants “do too much to set their résumé apart. While color is something that, when used correctly, enhances a résumé, using colors that are more overwhelming (bright yellows, reds, pinks, etc.) can end up distracting the viewer from the important material. Using colors that are more muted, such as grays, light blue and green, or a pretty rose or pastel purple color can make a résumé look more polished and inviting.”

Pilosi says, “I get résumés that have all different types of font types and ink colors, glitter, emojis—you don’t want any of that. It sounds crazy, but people will do anything to make their résumé stand out. I’ve had people send me résumés that were so thick they couldn’t even fold into the envelope and needed extra postage. You don’t have to do that!”

How to Avoid It:  Regan says, “when you see a well-designed résumé, the designer has used things like color blocks, lines, and shapes to fill the space they have to work, with and has sectioned off areas of importance, such as contact information and work experience. Playing with things such as dotted lines, enhancing certain titles with a splash of color, or mixing in a sophisticated font can add a level of elegance and professionalism that a standard, boring résumé lacks.”

Elizabeth Shaffer, a marketing and business development associate at Formcraft and former College Fashionista Style Guru, adds, “font choice is a really powerful tool that you might not often think about. If the whole entire résumé is in Times New Roman, it’s just really boring and hard to read. [A] general rule of thumb: For the bulkier part of the résumé, where you’re describing your job experience, always use a sans-serif. It’s very simple and just directs the eye better.” Shaffer suggests using serif fonts for your title at the top of your résumé to add variation.

Résumé Mistake #3: Turning Your Résumé Into Your Personal Portfolio

Your résumé isn’t the only place to communicate your skills to prospective employers. Your cover letter, LinkedIn profile, and personal portfolio—if applicable to your career field—are other forums that can be utilized to get your point across. Pilosi says not all applicants take advantage of more than one platform and, as a result, their resumes are cluttered with unnecessary pictures and information. “Sometimes people who are really creative want to get really creative on their résumé. That’s great once you get your foot in the door and you start talking to somebody. [Then] you can show them how creative you are. Bring a portfolio. But don’t think your résumé is one,” says Pilosi.

How to Avoid It: Be ruthless when picking and choosing what to include on your résumé! Pilosi says, “an achievement would not be being the head of a fraternity or the head of a sorority, that would be a soft skill. Also, do not put achievements that aren’t relevant.” For extra info that doesn’t fit, Pilosi recommends writing “portfolio upon request” rather than trying to incorporate the two in one.

Résumé Mistake #4: Misspelling Words

This one may seem obvious, but typos are silly mistakes that can cause your potential employer to seriously doubt your abilities. For example: “Pays attention to detials” is not a convincing statement.

Regan says, “you always want to make sure you spell check everything and are using proper punctuation, capitalization, and grammar. You never want to let your work suffer because you used the incorrect form of there/they’re/their, etc. It’s never a good look, and will, unfortunately, discount your professionalism.”

How to Avoid It: Finkel says to “make sure to read your résumé a thousand time to make sure it’s clear.” She recommends passing it along to at least three other people, such as a friend, parent, or current employer, so that they catch any mistakes you miss.

Résumé Mistake #5: Describing Yourself with Outrageous Objectives

Throwing in crazy adjectives —also known as outrageous objectives—to flatter yourself on your résumé is a huge turn off to prospective employers. Convince them how great you are by listing relevant experiences—not by looking up descriptors on Thesaurus.com. If you’re qualified for the position, your experiences will say that for you.

Pilosi says,“sometimes [applicants] use objective statements that are overconfident and just outlandish. Those are things that you might think seem creative, but they’re not necessarily creative. You want to stand out, but you don’t want to come off as crazy to your next employer.”

How to Avoid It: Instead, use strong verbs to describe your achievements and work experience. These will show off your strengths in a professional way. And make sure to quantify your experiences as well. For instance: always write the number of articles you wrote for a publication, the number of people you mentored for a leadership role, the number of awards you won in a competition, etc.  

Résumé Mistake #6: Lying

Pretending that you have skills that you lack will most likely result in one of three negative outcomes. The first is that you’re offered a position you can’t adequately perform at. The second is that you are called out for your bluff, not offered the position, and viewed as unprofessional and untrustworthy. And the third is that you’re asked about your lie during the interview process and have nothing to back it up with.  

Shaffer explains, “don’t put something on your résumé that’s even a white lie. If you can’t speak to it in detail, don’t put it on there. If you took one Photoshop class and can play around with editing your Facebook profile but can’t do marketing material, don’t put that you can use Photoshop on your résumé.” 

How to Avoid It: Everyone is capable of sculpting a totally honest résumé, even if you don’t have a lot of previous working experience. Listing volunteer activities and involvement in student organizations is widely accepted in beginners’ résumés. Just make sure to talk about what skills you learned through these positions and how they relate to the job you apply for.  

Résumé Mistake #7: Sending Out Generic Résumés

Kind of like that boy who snapped both you and your BFF the same picture of himself last Saturday night, generic résumés are boring, impersonal, and just generally not cool. Finkel says, “applicants who are catering [their résumés] to me are probably going to move on to the next stage just because if they’re that doing that well; they’re probably excellent on all other ends as well. However, if you’re applying to similar type roles, it’s fine to have a résumé that reflects all of those roles. I generally say to have different résumés that showcase different skills based on the type of job you are applying for. It’s great if you have the time to customize each one to each place, but I would say it’s more important to customize it to each role.”

How to Avoid It: If you choose to customize your résumé, make sure you hand the right copy to the right person. Pilosi says, “It’s ok to have more than one—just keep track of them. I’ve had someone send me a résumé and, [when] I brought them in for an interview, they brought me a totally different résumé that was tailored for another position. So, if you are going to tailor your résumé to the position make sure you have some sort of system in staying organized.”

If you’re tech-savvy, stay organized by clearly labeling each résumé and grouping them into folders on your laptop for each job type. If you’re taking physical copies to a lot of interviews, you can do the same with folders in your bedroom or office space.  

Résumé Mistake #8: Forgetting the Skills Section

The skills section is where you can list the programs and abilities that you are good at that relate to the job you are applying to. This helps the prospective employer know how you can contribute to the company already and where you have room to grow. Regan says, “The skills section of a résumé is one of the more important sections these days, in my opinion. This is where you can brag about all of the programs you feel comfortable with, and can even include some kind of an indicator, such as a star rating, colored bar, or some other fun element to show your comfort level in said program.”

How to Avoid It: In terms of what skills to brag about, Regan says, “it’s probably safe to say we all know how to use Microsoft Word or Powerpoint, so more outdated programs like this may not get you any bonus points in an employer’s eye. Showing that you are skilled in programs that would be necessary and tailored for your line of work, say InDesign or Illustrator for a designer, or Quickbooks for an accountant, is going to be what sets you apart from other applicants. Throwing programs that don’t make sense to the job will just look like you are trying to fill space and won’t make much sense to your overall résumé.”

Résumé Mistake #9: Including a Low GPA

At Bustle, Finkel focuses more on experience than GPA, and sometimes doesn’t even look at the number. She says, “if your GPA is below a 3.5, definitely do not put it on. At all. Absolutely not. I can’t emphasize that enough. I was looking at a résumé the other day it was a 2.8. Why would you put it on?” She adds, “of course, if you have a 3.9 and you’re really proud of it, sure you can put it on. But it’s really not going to sway me either way.”

How to Avoid It:  Thankfully, there are many ways to communicate academic success without including a GPA. Listing that you made Dean’s List, honor roll, or graduated cum laude, are just three ways to let a prospective employer know you are a dedicated student without mentioning the GPA.

Résumé Mistake #10: Compromising Professionalism

Separating personal and professional life is a rule of thumb in many office spaces and it applies to résumés as well. Politics, religion, personal details, or humorous remarks are not things that your prospective employer wants to learn from your résumé. “You would be surprised by some of the résumés I get that have way too much personal information. Dog owner? No thanks.” says Pilosi.

How to Avoid It:  Pilosi says not to use any unprofessional language, colors, or contact information for references on your résumé. As with your portfolio, eliminate this info altogether or write “References Upon Request.”

Résumé Mistake #11: Saving Your Résumé as a Word Document

When everything is finished, don’t make the mistake of saving your résumé as a file that won’t retain your hard work. A résumé saved in Word shows up differently on a PC computer versus a Mac, meaning what you once perceived as a beautiful document looks like a scrambled mess to the person reviewing it. Additionally, Shaffer says that many corporations screen résumés through computer systems in their initial review. Often these systems will be looking for keywords and phrases, which, if altered in transmission, won’t be picked up by the system.

How to Avoid It:  Shaffer says, “the biggest résumé no-no of all time is saving your résumé as a Word document. Always, always, always, save it as a PDF!” Enough said.

Have you made any of these mistakes? Make a note of it and share this article with your friends so they don’t do the same!

Featured image by Emma Hayden.