What are the Top 10 most common resume mistakes in 2021?
Top 10 most common resume mistakes in 2021 are:
- Grammatical / Spelling Mistakes
- Too lengthy
- One size fits all
- Irrelevant content on the first page
- Usage of incorrect verbs
- No differentiation from others
- Poor design – Issues with data presentation
- Poor choice of fonts
- Including obvious skills/interests
- Choosing a bad file name/format
In this blog post, I will be talking in detail about the top 10 most common resume mistakes to avoid when you are sending your resume for a job opportunity.
Before we move to discuss the common mistakes I would like to talk a bit more about why presenting a good resume is very important. I would also like to talk about what a good resume we can do for you and what a bad resume or CV will not do.
Introduction to Top 10 most common resume mistakes
I’ve been recruiting people for my organizations for over 13 years now. In my overall career of more than 17 years I would have taken more than 500 interviews if not less. So I would like to share my observations which I have captured over years with applicants out there so that you don’t commit the mistakes that are considered bad.
What is a Resume?
The dictionary definition of a resume is:
A short written description of your education, qualifications, previous jobs, and sometimes also your personal interests, that you send to an employer when you are trying to get a job.Source: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/resume
As per the dictionary definition, a resume has to be a summary of who you are as a professional. So, the picture you paint in front of the potential employers will help them decide on your candidature.
In most of the interviews, the interviewers do not know the candidates. The only way to know about them is either through LinkedIn or the Resume shared by the candidate. Not everyone maintains their LinkedIn profiles (I will be covering the significance of having a good profile on LinkedIn in a separate post).
Thus your resume or CV paints your personality in front of the interviewer well before they speak to you. Moreover, because there are many applications for the same role, there is a screening done to filter out irrelevant or weak candidates. Moreover, this screening is done by the recruiter who does not have core competencies which are required for the job. The recruiter goes through the checklist provided by recruitment manager and screens the CV.
Let’s take an example here:
Disclaimer: This is a randomly selected job posting and I am in no way promoting any organization here.
There was a job posted by Atlassian for a Group Product Manager (which is a senior position) and in 2 days it got more than 200 resumes:
200 resumes in 3 days ~ 66 resumes in a day. Now when I look at the premium insights:
There are 400+ applications in 3 days which is nearly 140 in a day. So think it this way, a recruiter works for 8 hours in a day and let us expect he / she takes care of 4 such jobs at a time. This leaves 2 hours with her in a day to browse through the resumes. 140 resumes in 120 minutes. Does it sound overwhelming? It is.
How are resumes filtered?
So by now you would have got the clue on what I am trying to say. A person who does not know the depth of job description (recruitment consultant – internal or external) filtering out more than 1 CV in a minute.
Which resumes will be filtered first – the ones which are bad right on the face. I will try to cover the top 10 most common resume mistakes in the upcoming section. Please note that solving them will not ensure a seat for the interview. But I can assure you that your CV will not get rejected for bad reasons. Rather the probability of your CV getting in front of the actual recruiter will increase.
Link to Tools Mentioned in this Post
So here is my list of top 10 most common resume mistakes.
List of Top 10 Most Common Resume Mistakes (2021)
1. Grammatical / Spelling Mistakes
Grammatical and spelling mistakes are probably the biggest blunders you can do in your resume. Unlike issues with the data that you report or the information that you present in your CV, grammatical and spelling mistakes pop our right on the face.
Another issue that I have seen in many CVs is inconsistent usage of tense. Some tasks are in past tense, some in past continuous, some in present and everything did not work well together.
Also, in terms of sentence writing, some sentences are in active voice while others are in passive voice. This creates a clearly visible inconsistency and can be easily taken up as a lack of writing skills by the employer. Thus, if your job requires you to write documents (Product Managers do that every day), this can be a major setback for you.
How to Solve them?
Spelling mistakes are the simplest problems to solve – Any basic editor such as Microsoft Word or Google documents supports dictionary. Please ensure you revisit all such mistakes once your resume is complete.
However, solving grammatical mistakes is slightly difficult. I personally use an app called Grammarly. It comes both in Free and paid versions. However, the free version is sufficient to solve basic spelling, grammatical, and punctuation issues.
The paid version is also not that expensive. It comes at a monthly subscription of around $11 (around Rs. 800/-). This is not a big price against the features – it recommends you correct grammar and even recommends you to change your statements. It also comes with a tone predictor where it will tell you whether your content is sounding demanding, confident, humorous or confusing. A CV should always sound confident.
The subscription can be cancelled anytime it the user does not find the tool to be good.
2. Too lengthy
The second most common resume mistake that I have seen is the length of the resume. I have seen resumes that are as long as 7-8 pages long. This is an important mistake to avoid and can immediately take away all the interest of the interviewer. Definitely a huge mistake to make among top 10 most common resume mistakes.
What the hell are we talking about in 2021?
Unfortunately, this is true. A lot of people think that more is better and they try to crunch everything from their passport number to their 2nd-year college project into the resume. Moreover, they do this in a very verbose manner resulting in heavy chunks of information that are difficult to consume.
I found some excellent information on the internet which I converted to an infographic image. You are free to download and use it in your analysis and reports. Please do not forget to give relevant attribution.
So the data clearly says that having a 7 page CV will not help you.
So what’s the good length of a CV?
There are many school of thoughts – The strict ones think it should always be one page in length. The lenient ones are okay with 2-3 pages.
But that still does not answer the question? How many pages should there in my resume?
There is a simple way to calculate that:
Total number of pages = 1 + Quotient of (Years of Experience / 10)
So if we follow the formula:
|Years of Experience||Quotient of (Experience / 10)||Length of Resume|
|0 (Fresher)||0||1+0 = 1 Page|
|5||0||1+0 = 1 Page|
|12||1||1+1 = 2 Pages|
So in simple words, start with a one page resume and you can add one more page to it for every 10 years of experience.
If you are finding it difficult to crunch your resume into one page, register on my website and post a comment. I will be more than happy to help you with that.
3. One size fits all
Probably the biggest mistake which I have seen across resumes is related to “generic resume” problem.
Candidates make one CV and try to use it everywhere. In order to ensure that they don’t miss out any possible requirement for any possible job in the universe, they put all things under the world in the document.
Let us take examples for two same job titles on LinkedIn. I am looking for a Sr. Product Manager level job opening given my hiring expertise in this space. However this is applicable to most of the job openings.
Role 1: McAfee
Apart from the key soft skills (stakeholder management, quality etc.), here are the key skills which are asked in this opening:
- 12+ years in product management with high proficiency in agile development methods. Experience across more than one product preferred.
- 5+ years in SaaS-based / cloud-delivered products
- Experience in security management, threat intelligence, security operations is a plus.
- Strong financial and business analytical skills with proven experience delivering business cases, financial planning, price/discount analysis, and/or key performance indicator models.
Now let us take a look at second opening:
Role 2: MoEngage
Here are the key requirements for this job:
- Experience with Project Management tools like JIRA, able to create low-fi and high-fi mockups using Balsamiq, Sketch or any tool
- Data Driven with proficiency on data querying and analysis. Experience with tools like SQL,Excel, Tableau, Qlikview etc. is preferred
- Experience in one or more of the following is a plus: SaaS, Marketing Automation, Customer Communication etc.
So if I compare the keywords for both the job profiles:
|Agile Development, SAAS, Security Management, Financial Planning, Pricing and Discounting||JIRA, Mockups, WireFrames, Data analysis, hands on data querying, Marketing Automation, Customer Communication|
Do these two look same? Do they have anything in common?
The answer here is no. So what is essentially means is if you’re having a common CV, you have to either bombard it with keywords which are common across the 2 job profiles or you will miss out on certain key requirements which are specific to the jobs.
Also, if you notice there are other aspects of requirements like tools which are asked in the MoEngage job opportunity. You might not have access to all of them or you might not have knowledge of all of them but at least the keywords can be represented in the resume.
So what’s the solution?
The solution is to have a resume specific to the job profile with all the relevant keywords and skills which will make your resume pop up on the top in front of the interviewers and recruiters.
Tools like VisualCV support multiple version of resumes and you can create 5-6 master resume for different category of jobs. I will take an example of product management where resumes can highlight
- Supply Chain
- Stakeholders Management
- Technology-related skills and so on
I will create 5-6 of such master resume in my VisualCV account and then keep on tweaking them based on individual job opportunity.
In case you are interested in trying out VisualCV, you can register here or click on the banner below.
4. Irrelevant content on first page
The fourth biggest mistake that I have seen in a lot of CVs is presence of irrelevant content on first page of the resume. Gone are the days when people used to put half page “cover note” styled objective on the first page. I will explain why is it one of the biggest among top 10 most common resume mistakes in 2021.
Do you need to put Objective on the cover page?
Who reads objective anymore? Atleast I and the recruiters I know of don’t read.
Lot of candidates put a multi-line (some time multi-paragraph) objective on first page. An example of sample objective that I get can be:
“Secure a responsible career opportunity to fully utilize my training and skills, while making a significant contribution to the success of the company.”
Tell me honestly, had you not written this objective, you would not be utilizing your skills on the job? Or you did not want to make a significant contribution to the success of your potential employer?
All the things are implicit to applying for the job. No one will expect you to write that you will use your skills and trainings as a part of your routine job.
So what have we gained by writing this objective – Nothing.
What have we lost – nearly 4-5 lines worth of space on first page of resume which could have been easily used to showcase something better.
Where should education come?
I personally prefer putting the education on page 2 (given my experience of 17 years on the date of writing this resume). This gives me two advantages:
- In my experience, my work and achievements become more important irrespective of my colleges. So I want to put all the relevant content that would grab me an interview seat.
- It gets its own decluttered space – It does not get overlooked because of other important information such as work experience.
5. Usage of incorrect verbs
This is another one of the classic mistakes that I normally see in a resume. Most of the resumes that I receive for review (for entrance into MBA colleges – both international and premium Indian institutes) have this mistake all over them – usage of weak verbs.
What is the significance of a verb here and which actions am I talking about?
Here I am specifically talking about the verbs that are used to describe the candidates work. weak verbs can very easily take away all your achievements and compliments and make your hard earned rewards sound very insignificant.
The most common examples of such verbs which I have encountered in resumes are worked, helped, assisted, handled and participated.
As an example let’s take the work worked. What does worked mean here?
It does not show what was your ownership, contribution and overall stake in the deliverable that you are talking about.
If you have some substantial outcome of the work that you have done, highlight it in the resume using more powerful words like owned delivered pioneered etc. If you have nothing that is substantial remove the point instead of using just worked.
Another weak verb that makes its appearance a lot of times in CV is helped. So what does help mean in terms of a professional career. most of the time it means something out of your expected work that you’ve achieved.
“Helped” does not show the ownership level that you had in the task.
Help can be fundamental help, or it can be of extremely high magnitude. Try using powerful verbs like coached, mentored, represented, or facilitated instead of helped. I have collated a list of such verbs that can easily be replaced by powerful ones for showing more ownership and involvement, thus making you a candidate of choice:
6. No differentiation from others
This is definitely one of the most common top 10 most common resume mistakes that candidates do.
Another common mistake that candidates do is to not differentiate their CV from others. They normally take one sample CV and replace the content with their own stuff. This happens more with the standard CV formats which are provided in Tier 1 MBA and engineering colleges where the institutions provide a standard format to the students only to make sure that there is no added advantage of one over the other based on presentation and everything is told by the content only.
While the purpose of doing this at institution level is different and is based on concept of making every CV look same and let the content speak, it is to be understood that the recruiters in a placement drive are looking at everyone as students and they go through each CV in detail.
The case, unfortunately, is absolutely reverse in corporate world. While I agree that these special formats raise an eyebrow about the candidate being from a top institute, they are not optimized for making your abilities speak out.
Another big mistake which people do in not differentiating your resume from others is get inspired what the other person has written and write on same lines. Think it this way – if everyone sounds the same, will you be the best person to be picked? Based on what?
A good way to differentiate yourself from others is not to follow the same pattern and format which is widely used. I personally add a section about my entrepreneurial journey as first level information in my resume so that it differentiates me from others immediately.
You can also add a section of key achievements / media coverage on top if you have these list items in your CV. This will immediately increase the interest levels of the interviewers.
A good tool for getting your resume to the professional level is Visual CV. If you are looking for only one copy of your CV and resume ideas, the tool comes for free. The only disadvantage is that it will come with a “Designed on Visual CV” line in the footer.
The paid version is also pretty cheap and comes at 13$ per month. This is a small investment for the ideas and designs you are getting for it. You can stop the subscription anytime once your needs are covered.
7. Poor design – Issues with data presentation
A major issue which I have seen with most of the resumes is poor resume design. Wait, a resume is not a piece of art then why are you talking about design here.
Design not necessarily means the way your CV will look. It means how the data and information in your resume are presented to potential employers.
Would you not like to highlight certain achievements to your potential employers?
Or, would you not like to let them know how successful you have been in your career, professional relationships?
Do you like them to read your biggest achievements first (which a lot of them might themselves strive for) or you want them to read your daily tasks and take a call about you?
I recommend using a mix of icons, logos and text. For example putting a logo in front of your institute name is a good idea if it makes a difference. Remember, alums always have a soft corner for associates from their colleges.
Also, it is good to use a two-column structure as the second column can easily be used for showcasing your skills visually rather than making them take much expensive real estate in the main body.
8. Poor choice of fonts
If this is not a crime, this can still be called an offense. I have seen resume with weird fancy fonts. To add to that, some of these resumes were in word format so the fonts were not “fixed” to the document. When I opened the resumes many of them were broken in terms of layout because my laptop did not find the right fonts.
Please ensure you do not use fancy fonts and use the ones which are standard. Using Sans Serif or Serif is personal choice but I personally prefer using standard Sans Serif fonts such as Calibri, Arial. I feel that Serif fonts look cluttered in CV and make it look heavier. Rest it is up to you to decide whether you want to use Serif or non-Serif but use a font that is common across all devices and programs.
9. Including obvious skills / interests
This might not be called a mistake for sure but putting in obvious skills and interests does not add any value to the resume. Rather it takes away the costly real estate from CV which could, otherwise, have been used for something more important. That is the main reason it appears in the list of top 10 most common resume mistakes to avoid.
Examples of such skills or interests can be “Watching TV, watching cricket” etc. Candidates who do not have a hobby struggle to find these interests and put in anything whatever they think just to fill up the section.
I would advise removing this section completely if you do not have skills or interests which do not pop out. In 2021, it is rare that someone would shortlist you for your hobbies. Better to use this space to showcase something else which can attract eyeballs rather than something that makes you just like others.
10. Choosing a bad file name / format
This is the last in top 10 most common resume mistakes to avoid but it is still important. Please make sure you send your resume in proper file format. Any format that allows direct editing of the document should be avoided. For example, MS word format should be avoided because it can render resume differently on desktop and mobile as it tries to open it in editable mode.
Similarly if you are editing your resume in some open source tools such as Open Office etc. please ensure you transform your resume into pdf file before sending it out. This will ensure that your resume renders same across devices and applications.
Please avoid using names such as Joshi-Resume.pdf or CV.pdf which are either not formal or very generic. Make sure that the resume talks about you even without opening. So a good format / structure to name your CV which I can recommend is:
Your Name-Your Designation-Your Organization.pdf
For example Rajeev Saxena-Sr Engg Manager-xyz.pdf
Conclusion – Top 10 most common resume mistakes
As discussed earlier, resume is your representation in front of a recruiter so do not take it lightly. I have seen people laugh at them, throw them, shout at the candidates only because of the mistakes mentioned earlier. A good and crisp resume, more often than not, results in an interview call for the candidate.
Please subscribe to my blog and comment on this post if you are looking for advice on your resume and are open to video feedback (which can be posted to YouTube with your key details hidden). I promise to review your resume and help you make it look great.
Also, I am attaching few resume samples here for your reference. You can take direction from them and pick up selective components that suit you.
Thanks for reading my blog.