5 mistakes candidates make on their resumes

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The 5 Mistakes Candidates Make on Their Resume

This post will take you through the 5 most common mistakes candidates make on their resumes, along with some pointers on how to create a resume that will increase your chances of being read. 

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5 Mistakes Candidates Make on their resume

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What Makes Me A Resume Expert?

I’ve looked at a lot of resumes.  Thousands in fact.  I can’t be sure of the exact number, but there was a time when I would close my eyes and all I saw were resumes.  When I was recruiting, my day would start by looking through the new applicants in our Applicant Tracking System (ATS).  Candidates were put into three different piles:  Yes, No, Maybe.  I would call the candidates in the “Yes” pile to set up a phone interview with yours truly.  The “Maybe” pile would be my just-in-case the candidates in the “Yes” pile didn’t make it through my initial phone screen.

Over the years I’d notice patterns.  Without looking at the candidate’s name or address, I could almost guess where the candidate was from just by looking at the information they provided in their resume.  It was mind-numbing at times, and at other times downright frustrating.  Most resumes looked the same, and after a phone interview, I could always tell when the candidate used a professional resume writing service.


The 5 Mistakes Candidates Make on Their Resume

What made the resume so mind-numbing and frustrating?  Below are 5 of the most common mistakes candidates make on their resume.

Mistake #1: Too Much Personal Information

Some candidates make the mistake of adding way too much personal information on their resumes.  I get that there are cultural differences, and every country has their own requirements about what should be included in a resume.  Click here for an article that discusses these differences.  However, resumes should always be tailored to the audience.  So whether you are applying to a position in a foreign country or not, candidates should always tweak each resume before hitting the “send” or “upload now” button.

In Canada, gender, marital status, sexual orientation, religious affiliation and age are all under protected grounds.  This means employers are not allowed to ask the candidate any questions related to these categories.  We’ve been trained in that manner, so to see a resume that includes all of that information is a bit off-putting.  If you are planning on applying to jobs in other countries, make sure you do your research on that country’s resume etiquette. 

Mistake #2: Descriptive Words Are Too General

The candidate is too general in their descriptive words. For example, a high percentage of resumes includes the words, “Detail-oriented” on it.  And that’s it.  Candidates should be specific about these action words by adding how these skills or accomplishments actually helped the company.  A better way to phrase this is, “Using my detail-oriented skills, I was able to notice an error in one of my department’s expense reports.  This resulted in the company adopting new guidelines on submitting reports which saved the company $1.2M per year.”

This is a pretty common mistake candidates make on their resume, but is one that can be easily corrected.


Mistake #3: Spelling and Grammar Mistakes

I think this is pretty self-explanatory and should be common sense.  As a candidate you want to make sure you make a great first impression, so if your resume even has one spelling mistake, the recruiter or hiring manager may put your resume straight to the “No” pile.  I once had a candidate who mentioned how detail-oriented they were at least three times in their cover letter and resume but had a few spelling mistakes.  If you’re going to list “detail-oriented” as a skill make sure your resume is perfect.

Mistake #4: Resume Is Too Long

The resume is too long and has too many clumps of words.  According to Glassdoor.com, the average recruiter or hiring manager spends 6 seconds looking at a resume.  So if your resume looks like four pages of blocks of words, there’s a good chance you won’t get a call back.  I found those types of resumes so frustrating to look at, I often had to stand up from my desk and take a quick walk.  I’m not kidding!  It would literally make my head spin.  Pair down your resume by using bullet points, and get straight to the point.  Minimize the fluff please.

Mistake #5: Resume Isn't Tailored to Job

The resume is too general.  Further to mistake #2, you want to make sure you tailor your resume to each position, company and industry you are applying for.  If you are a recent grad and looking for any position to get your foot in the door and are applying to multiple positions at different companies, you want to make sure your skills, knowledge and experience reflect those of the job posting.  Again, another common mistake candidates make on their resume, but with a little work this is one of the best ways to sell yourself to a recruiter.

For example, if I was a recent grad and wanted to work in administration, I would make sure to highlight any admin-type jobs or volunteer work first.  Then change the achievements and responsibilities to closely match the job description.  You could split your experience in two sections:  “Relevant Experience” and “Other Experience”.  Then still list each experience in descending chronological order.


How to Write a Resume That Stands Out From the Crowd

Check out my FREE Resume Checklist by entering in your information below.  This checklist goes through everything you’ll need to do and write to make a resume stand out.  It will also ensure you don’t make the same mistakes candidates make on their resumes.  I’ll expand on some of the points below.

5 Mistakes Candidates Make on their resume

Make Your Resume Look Good

The first advice I always give to someone when they ask me to look at their resume is to make the resume aesthetically pleasing to look at.  Gone are the days when resumes should be typed on a plain piece of white paper.  There are so many templates online that any candidate applying to any position in any industry should be able to spruce up their resume.  Again, you only have 6 seconds to grab a recruiter’s attention.  Why not stand out a bit by giving them that extra wow-factor? 

Resumes Are Your Chance to Make a Great First Impression

I had a friend who asked me to take a look at his resume.  He was applying for a marketing position and sent me a resume format that was most likely pulled from the Microsoft Word templates.  Since he was in a creative field, I told him that expectations for his resume would be a lot higher.  That his resume was the first chance he had to show potential employers just how creative he could get, which in turn shows them how well can he can market himself.  I sent him screenshots of examples of what his resume should actually look like.  After that, I gave him feedback one line at a time. 

The result?  He got call-backs from recruiters right away and was even offered a Marketing Manager position.  I won’t take all of the credit of him making it all the way through to the final phase of the process (he is pretty fantastic and has a great personality afterall), but his resume was the first piece in getting him down that path.

Optimize Your Resume for ATS

Applicant Tracking Systems all work in different ways depending on what system each company has a license for.  The ATS I’ve used didn’t screen resumes out based on keywords, but rather through a short questionnaire the candidate was required to answer as a part of submitting their application.  We had “knock-out” questions, so if the candidate’s answer didn’t match what we are looking for in a candidate their application would automatically not meet the requirements of the role. 


A lot of companies, however, use ATS that recognize keywords within the candidate’s resume.  Therefore, you want to make sure your resumes are easy to read, have clear headings, and include as many words that match the job description as possible.  The last point is why it’s so important to customize each resume to the positions and companies you are applying for.

Include a Brief Summary of the Nature of Each Company

I thought I’d expand on this one because it’s something I don’t see candidates do too often.  I’ve been fortunate enough to work for a Globally recognized brand, so when anyone asked me where I worked, everyone’s response was always, “Oh wow!”  On the other hand, I’ve also worked for brands that aren’t as well known.  And the response is usually, “What do they do?”

As a recruiter, I always found it helpful when a candidate would include a short blurb explaining the nature of the company underneath the company name.  For example, let’s say I worked for Best Buy Canada.  I would write:

“Headquartered in Burnaby, B.C., Best Buy Canada Ltd. Is a multinational electronics retailer selling a wide range of products such as computers, televisions, appliances and more.”

I’ve seen candidates add all of their current and past employer’s logos to their resumes, but I would caution against this due to potential trademark infringement.  It’s a stretch, I know, but one you don’t want to risk.

Go Through My FREE Checklist Thoroughly

When you’re ready to write your own resume, make sure you hit every single point on my checklist.  The only other point I’ll touch on is to proofread your resume.  And have someone else proofread your resume for you.

Let me know what you think of the 5 mistakes candidates make on their resumes.  Are you guilty of any of these?  Also let me know if you’ve used any of my suggestions and if any have worked for you! 

Want more?  Did you read my post on “How to Write a Cover Letter That Gets Noticed”?  What about “How to Customize Your LinkedIn URL?”  I’ll be posting a lot more in my Career Series so stay tuned and  be sure to subscribe to My Favourite Life so you don’t miss it!

Until next time, stay healthy and safe my friends.

My Favourite Life is a participant in the Commission Junction Affiliate Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to sites such as Well.ca.

Tiffany Benjamin is the Founder and Owner of My Favourite Life.  The Career Services Division of MFL aims to provide services, products and information to those who are just starting their careers or are thinking of transitioning to another role. 

Tiffany has almost 20 years of Human Resources experience, currently as a Regional HR Manager for a large automotive company.  Throughout her career, Tiffany has recruited, hired, counselled and coached thousands of candidates, employees and Managers and therefore understands what recruiters and hiring managers are looking for in their ideal candidates. 

Tiffany found her dream career and is passionate about helping you find yours.