3 Resume Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making

A great resume makes all the difference in a competitive job market, so don't make these all-too-common mistakes.

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Miriam Salpeter
Miriam Salpeter
A great resume makes all the difference in a competitive job market. But job seekers tend to make the same mistakes again and again, without realizing it.

To strengthen your resume and improve your chances of landing an interview, avoid these mistakes:

1. Ignoring your targeted employer. If you’re using a general resume to apply for multiple jobs, you’re probably ignoring employers’ nuanced needs. Study job descriptions and evaluate the organizations’ websites to identify their values. When your skills, accomplishments, and interests overlap with theirs, highlight them on your resume.

For example, the job description may focus on “brand defining” and leveraging “brand-specific” expertise. If you allude to these skills using related terms, such as “marketing and advertising,” but never address how your accomplishments relate to branding, the employer may not view you as a good fit. Don’t assume the reader will interpret your resume to your advantage. If the description emphasizes a skill or expertise, it’s your job to address those specific needs.

[See How to Tailor Your Resume for an Employer.]

2. Focusing on your current employer. Your resume should be about your future, not your past. Avoid company-specific jargon if it won’t mean anything to your targeted organizations.

For example, if you managed the “Focus” program, no one outside of your current company will understand what that means; it’s a waste of space to name anything in your materials that won’t mean something to your reader. In addition, including a lot of company-oriented jargon may make you appear too ingrained in your current job or organization, which could be unappealing to a new company.

Instead, explain what you did at your last job so your reader understands your skills and accomplishments. Instead of “Ran Focus program, which increased sales and led to 35 percent increase in company wins,” say, “Formalized SAP training program, resulting in improved project management; led to 35 percent increase in company wins during economic downturn.”

Ask someone who doesn’t work for your current company to read your resume. If that person can’t explain each bullet point to you, edit it so your accomplishments stand out.

[See 5 Job-Hunting Ideas You Haven't Tried.]

3. Using the passive voice. Many people believe passive voice is appropriate for business communication. While not technically incorrect, the style makes it sound like your skills and accomplishments simply happened, without you having much to do with them. Look at these examples:

Passive: He was hit in the face by the ball.

Active: The ball hit him in the face. Passive: Why was the road crossed by the chicken?

Active: Why did the chicken cross the road? Active tense makes sentences more interesting and easier to understand. It’s not difficult to identify passive voice. To start, conduct a search for the words “by,” “was,” and “were” in your resume and look for more active ways to describe each of those accomplishments.

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For example:

Passive: Top-performing employees were retained via promotion efforts.

Active: Retained top-performing employees via promotion efforts. Passive: Web-based learning system was launched to over 500 employees.

Active: Launched Web-based learning management system to over 500 employees. Passive: Sales were improved by new tracking system.

Active: New tracking system improved sales. Making these key changes may help the reader envision you doing the job. When you take the time to be sure your resume is about your future, not your past, identify links between what your next employer wants and what you offer, and illustrate your expertise with an active, forward-facing resume, you’re giving yourself a better chance of winning an interview.

Miriam Salpeter is a job search and social media consultant, career coach, author, speaker, resume writer and owner of Keppie Careers. She teaches job seekers and entrepreneurs how to incorporate social media tools along with traditional strategies to empower their success. Connect with her via Twitter @Keppie_Careers.