Career Development Center

Seven Résumé Blunders to Avoid

By Hillary Chura


In the time it takes you to read this paragraph, the average recruiter can plow through six résumés. (We know — we timed one.) So, to increase the chances of your résumé making it to the next round, try to avoid these seven things, which recruiters say — more than anything — make them want to push the “shred” button.

1. Apply for a job for which you are not remotely qualified

Many candidates believe the job hunt is a numbers game — drop enough résumés, and you’re bound to land something. But shotguns are for hunting pheasant, not finding jobs.

The reality is that recruiters hate wasting time on résumés from unqualified candidates. Morgan Miller, an executive recruiter at StaffMark, recalls the security guard who applied to be a financial risk manager, while Scott Ragusa at Winter, Wyman talks of the aerial photographer who sought out a position as a tax specialist.

“Sorting through unqualified résumés is frustrating, unproductive and puts an extra burden on staff,” says Katherine Swift, Senior Account Director at KCSA Strategic Communications in Natick, Mass. “It also makes it much more challenging to find the right candidate.”

The next time you’re thinking of blasting out résumés to all 60 of the job listings on that have the word “finance” in them, save your time (and that of the recruiters) and only apply for ones for which you’re qualified.

2. Include a lofty mission statement

More than ever, today’s savage job market is about the company, not the candidate. As such, mission or objective statements — particularly ones with an applicant’s hopes, dreams, and health insurance aspirations — will dispatch otherwise fine résumés to the circular file.

Employers don’t care about how they can solve your problems — certainly not before they’ve met you and possibly not even after they’ve hired you. Instead, if you write an “objectives” statement, be sure to explain specifically how your skills and experience will help the company you’re applying to, not the other way around. And be very clear about what kind of job you’re seeking.

3. Use one generic résumé for every job listing

To stand out amongst the sea of résumés that recruiters receive, yours must speak to each and every specific position, even recycling some of the language from the job description itself. Make it obvious that you will start solving problems even before you’ve recorded your outgoing voicemail message.

Your résumé, or query letter, should include a touch of industry lingo — sufficient to prove you know your stuff, but not so much that you sound like a robot. It should speak to individual company issues and industry challenges, with specifics on how you have personally improved customer loyalty, efficiency, and profitability at past jobs, says workplace and performance consultant Jay Forte. Plus, each morsel should be on point.

 “Think hard about how to best leverage each piece of information to your job search advantage,” says Wendy Enelow, a career consultant and trainer in Virginia. “Nothing in your résumé should be arbitrary, from what you include in your job descriptions and achievement statements, to whether your education or experience comes first [recent grads may want to put education first] to how you format your contact information.”  

4. Make recruiters or hiring managers guess how exactly you can help their client

Sourcing experts want to know — immediately — what someone can offer, and they won’t spend time noodling someone’s credentials. “Animal, vegetable or mineral? Doctor, lawyer or chief executive?” That’s what I’m wondering every time I open a résumé. If it takes me more than a split second to figure this out, I feel frustrated,” says Mary O’Gorman, a veteran recruiter based in Brooklyn.

5. Neglect to explain how your past experience translates to the new position

Though candidates should avoid jobs where they have no experience, they absolutely should pursue new areas and positions if they can position their experience effectively.

A high school English teacher applying for new jobs, for example, can cite expertise in human resource management, people skills, record keeping, writing, and training, says Anthony Pensabene, a professional writer who works with executives.

“Titles are just semantics. Candidates need to relate their ‘actual’ skills and experiences to the job they’re applying for in their résumé,” Pensabene says. An applicant who cannot be bothered to identify the parallels between the two likely won’t be bothered with interviews, either.

6. Neglect to include a cover letter with your résumé

A cover letter should always accompany a résumé — even if it’s going to your best friend. And that doesn’t mean a lazy “I’m _____ and I’m looking for a job in New York; please see my attached résumé.”

Lindsay Olson, a partner at Manhattan’s Paradigm Staffing says: “I’d like to know why you are contacting me (a particular position, referral, etc.), a short background about yourself, and a career highlight or two. It’s important to attempt to set yourself apart from the competition.”

7. Be careless with details

Reckless job hunters rarely make for conscientious workers. As such, even promising résumés must abide by age-old dictums: typo-free, proper organization, and no embellishment.

Susan Whitcomb, author of Résumé Magic: Trade Secrets of a Professional Résumé Writer, says that almost 80 percent of HR managers she surveyed said they would dismiss otherwise qualified candidates who break these rules. She tells the story of one would-be employer who, when looking for an assistant, decided not to hire anyone because every résumé she received contained typos.

“With a 6-to-1 ratio of jobseekers-to-jobs in the current marketplace, you can’t afford to make mistakes with your résumé,” Whitcomb says.