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Six resume mistakes to avoid

You have about 15 seconds to make an impression with your resume. Any big mistakes can land it in the trash, experts say.Paul Sancya / AP

You have about 15 seconds to make an impression with your resume. That’s about the amount of time recruiters and hiring managers say they spend with each job seeker’s resume, given the tidal wave of applicants for open positions these days.

As a result, any glaring mistakes can land your resume in the trash bin.

“The wow factor isn’t as important as being precise,” said Ryan Carfley, President and CEO of recruiting firm MRINetwork Personify. But, he added, “even though hiring managers are inundated, you have to stand out, and the only way to do that is with precise examples of achievements, and do it quickly.”

Here’s a rundown of six resume mistakes you’ll want to avoid:

1. Being too vague
One big resume no-no is not getting to the meat of the matter, notes Pennell Locey, a senior consultant at career management and consulting firm Keystone Associates.

This includes focusing only on job responsibilities in your resume and not including specific accomplishments. You’ll get extra minus points for actually using the phrase “responsibilities included,” said Locey.

“A recruiter once told me that [the] phrase immediately raises suspicion, since it can be used as a dodge when you were supposed to deliver something [and] actually didn’t.”

Locey suggests asking yourself what your major accomplishments were, and what you did that made a difference for your employer.

She offers some alternative phrases, such as “streamlined/ initiated a process,” or “maintained compliance at 100%,” or “participated in a fund-raising campaign that delivered X% over plan,” or perhaps “increased website traffic by X%.”

MRINetwork’s Carfley likes to see dollar signs.

The best way to catch a hiring manager’s attention, he said, is to provide something measurable. Don’t say “led the organization in sales.” Instead, say, “Grew revenues from $500,000 to $1 million,” or “reduced project cycle time by two months, saving the company roughly $200,000.”

2. Ignoring the Cyber Age
Many people still look at resumes the same way they did 20 years ago, but with so much communication taking place online these days you have to make your resume tech savvy, experts say.

“Nowadays, since everything is electronic, and electronic ‘contact’ is the first contact you have with HR, headhunters or a corporation, one of the biggest mistakes a person can make is not to include the right keywords for the position you’re applying for, or want,” said Kiki Weingarten, cofounder of career consulting company Atypical Coaching.

She suggests scanning the ads for industries and positions you’re looking into and find the words that are repeated. Those words are a good bet because you can be sure a hiring manager is looking out for them, Weingarten said.

You don’t want to go cyber crazy, though, and go for cyber gimmicks, added Holly Paul, national recruiting leader for Pricewaterhousecoopers. She advises job applicants not to use “emoticons [smiley faces], text message abbreviations or excessive exclamation points.”

Another faux pas is not thinking of what you name your resume document file. If it’s just called “resume,” rename the file to include your name if possible so that a hiring manager can find it easily.

3. Every job but the kitchen sink
In this economy, there’s a good chance a long-term job seeker has a part-time job (or jobs) under his or her belt just to make ends meet. But that doesn’t mean you should include every burger flipping, or retail-selling job you’ve had. Putting too many of those jobs on your resume, especially if they have nothing to do with the job you want, can hurt your chances of landing a new position.

“Resumes are a summary of the most important data,” said Debra Feldman, a job search expert known as the JobWhiz. “In my opinion, a part-time job just to pay the bills would not fall into that category.

“I think if the skills or accomplishments are relevant, then by all means if there is space and it enhances the content, include these achievements,” she added.

However, if you can connect your experience on the sales floor of a home-improvement store to the job you want, then great. I’ve known many high level executives who felt their time on the retail floor, or working behind a counter, helped them better understand how a company worked.

4. Not being your own cheerleader
One of the biggest resume mistakes is “underselling your role or accomplishments,” said Keystone’s Locey.

Job applicants, she continued, “are often worried about appearing to inflate their experiences, or taking credit for something that others also participated in; they often actually under-represent their accomplishments.”

While you don’t want to lay claim to more than you did, “you do want to claim your accomplishments, and make it clear what you actually did,” Locey explained.

So, she advises taking out terms such as “co-led”, “co-created” or similar phrases used multiple times just to show others worked on the same projects as you. And don’t use “assisted”, “supported” or “participated in,” she added. Say what your role on the team actually involved.

Locey said you should ask yourself the following questions:

  • Did I design and deliver a new project in partnership with line managers? What did I do, what was my role?
  • Was my role on the team to track team milestones and ensure the project was on budget/schedule? “Reflect that in what you write in the resume,” she stressed. “It’s more memorable and brings you to life for the reviewer.”

5. Being “cookie-cutter”
I know it’s a pain to tailor every resume to every new job, but if you really want a gig it may be worth the extra work.

Nick Vaidya, managing partner of The 8020Strategy Group, a consulting firm, is sick of seeing the same old, same old.

“I get exasperated looking at resume after resume that talks about what [an applicant] does, or has done,” Vaidya said. “After a while all of the candidates start looking like white penguins on snow. I want the [person] who understands what I need and tailors his or her resume accordingly. I want the yellow penguin.”

And Vaidya downright hates career objectives on resumes, especially if they are “banal and devoid of all ingenuity, integrity and meaning.”

(The best way to provide these three objectives is to simply read the job description and write a resume directed to that, he said.)

6. Forgetting the basics
“Resume mistakes have become smaller and more important with the level of competition out there,” said Steve Langerud, director of professional opportunities at DePauw University and workplace consultant. That’s why you can’t forget the basics when it comes to resume writing.

As a refresher, Langerud offered a list of the basic resume blunders he hears about most often from hiring managers at companies:

  • Poor spelling.
  • Incorrect address or phone number.
  • Font too small to read.
  • Crazy formatting.

“While simplistic, the most effective resumes lead a reader through the material like a good book or magazine article,” Langerud explained. “Every time you change the format with spaces, new fonts, etc., you focus the reader on the format change and away from the content. Keep it simple.”

And Lynne Sarikas, Director of the MBA Career Center at Northeastern University, has her own list of basic things not to include on your resume:

  • Marital status
  • Number of kids
  • Year of graduation (unless it’s recent)
  • Your GPA (unless it’s over 3.7)
  • Your age, a photo and, above all else, lies.

“So much can be verified easily these days,” she said. “If you stretch the truth or embellish it you can quickly be eliminated from consideration.”