5 Résumé Mistakes You're Probably Making

Careers expert says most people have no idea how to sell themselves.


The résumé has always been an important aspect of the job hunt, but it seems to keep growing in importance. As the recession continues to cause a deterioration of available jobs, openings are being greeted by floods of applicants. That means recruiters have less time than ever to size up candidates when scanning résumés. Brad Karsh, now president of JobBound.com, used to read through piles of job applications as a recruiting director for ad agency Leo Burnett and is co-author of the recent book How to Say It on Your Résumé, where he explains how to avoid many of the mistakes that get résumés scuttled.

Here are five very common résumé mistakes:

Your colleague could write the same thing: The biggest blunder among résumé writers—CEOs and college students alike—is their similarity to human resources executives: They both seem to like writing clear, concise job descriptions. While this is a good idea for HR departments trying to post openings that draw the most relevant candidates, this isn't what job seekers should be doing with their résumés. This is no time for broad strokes. "Most people just write in very general terms that speak not only to what they did, but what anyone has ever done in the history of that position," Karsh says. If a colleague, or the employees who had your job before or after you, could write the same thing about the position on their résumé—you've got a problem. You should be homing in on your very individual accomplishments in the position.

There are no numbers on your résumé: Accomplishments are measurable. Karsh focuses on two forms of accomplishments: scope and results. When thinking about scope, consider questions like how much, how many, how often, how frequently. When it comes to results, think about accomplishments that were singular and superlative—were you the top seller, the only person chosen, the grand prize winner? Numbers are key to elucidating and proving what you've done in an especially concise fashion. "I tell people that within each section of your résumé, in each job you write about, you want to have at least four or five numbers that quantify what you've done," Karsh says. The phrase "prepared reports" means nothing to a recruiter, while "prepared 500 reports" means quite a bit. "If I hear 'prepared reports'—and most recruiting directors, like I was, are very skeptical—I assume that it was two [reports]," Karsh says.

You're using full sentences: Résumés often get little more than a 10-second scan by a recruiter, and that dictates a lot about how they should be crafted. It does not mean that you should use fuchsia pink paper and glitter ink, or stuff your résumé into a shoe with the note that you're just trying to get your foot in the door. It means you have to make your résumé as easy as possible for your target audience to read. Karsh compares the process to flipping through a jumbo-size magazine. Readers don't spend a lot of time on each page. Flashy ads don't sell products. Rather, effective ads give people the information they need quickly and clearly. Full sentences are, quite simply, too time consuming in today's hiring world.

You always use an objective statement: Simple objective statements are typically only necessary when an applicant is interested in a specific job and is sending a résumé to a human resources department cold, rather than responding to an opening or job posting, Karsh says. Otherwise, objectives are best left off, as they can ring artificial thanks to their often unprovable, self-ascribed attributes. (You write: "Excellent communicator seeking to contribute dynamic style to growing company." How exactly do you prove your communication skills are "excellent" or your style is "dynamic"?) Employees with longer work histories can write a brief summary section at the top with bullet points of relevant measurable successes that speak directly to the company's job requirements. The goal here is to draw up high some of the highlights that would be closer to the bottom of a long résumé.