10 Common Resume Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them)

By Amanda Crawford

Your resume is your most important tool in job-searching. But a bad resume can do more than create a bad first impression, a resume mistake can cost you the job. Approximately 70% of employers say that certain resume deal-breakers would cause them to reject a candidate before they’ve even finished reading the application. No one wants to be rejected before they can interview, so we’ve compiled a list of common resume mistakes, as well as how to avoid them.

1. Incorrect Contact Information

This mistake ranks first for an important reason. It doesn’t matter how good the rest of your resume is if a potential employer can’t get in contact with you! One number can be the difference between getting the chance to interview and having your resume tossed out.

Before you submit your resume, make sure your email address and phone number are correct. Did you change phone numbers? Switch from a school email to a professional email address? Always double-check that all information is up to date.

Additionally, make sure your voicemail box is set up and has room to receive messages. You can always follow up on a missed call; just try to do so promptly. Some companies move through the hiring process quickly, and waiting a few days can exclude you from interviewing.

2. Unprofessional Email Address

If you use your email to talk to friends or family members, there’s nothing wrong with including a silly nickname or an inside joke. But email addresses like alliecat@, bacardigirl@, or drunkensquirl@, should not be included on a resume. This advice was proven correct in an academic study by author Kevin Tamanini. Tamanini found that individuals with less professional email names, regardless of whether their resume was of high- or low-quality.

If you’ve used skakterboi777@ as your email address since you were twelve, do yourself a favor and make a new, professional one. A common format is firstname.last@gmail.com. You can add numbers if your name is common.

3. Spelling Mistakes

Proper spelling is important on a resume, even if the position does not require extensive written communication. While copywriters and editors should pay special attention to their syntax, every resume should be checked for spelling/ grammar errors. Those errors show a lack of attention and detail, which are big red flags for employers. An employee who doesn’t check their work could create large problems for the company.

Luckily, there are many ways to review your work. Grammarly, a free browser extension, will check for spelling, grammar, and even wording errors. If you prefer to keep it old school, read your resume out loud to yourself. Reading out loud makes your brain pay more attention, and allows you to catch more errors.

4. Cliches

When writing your resume, you want to include keywords that reflect what the employer is looking for. At the same time, you want to avoid using cliched keywords. An over-use of cliches like “team-player”, “go-getter”, or “results-orientated” make your resume blend in with other applicants and fail to showcase you as a candidate. Other cliches like “strong communication skills” or “professional attitude” don’t follow the guideline of “showing, not telling”.

Your resume should naturally display your communication skills and self-presentation. If you think your “team-player” attitude is relevant to the job, reference times when you worked in a team, and the positive outcomes you generated. This will add validity to your claim, and make your resume stand out!

5. Jargon

Avoiding jargon can seem counterintuitive; after all, you want to present your expertise in your field. However, your resume will likely be read by someone outside your field. While some companies use technical recruiters, who are expected to know the specifics of the position, many do not. As a result, an over-use of hyper-specific jargon can make it difficult to read your resume, much less understand it.

To avoid jargon, send your resume to a friend that does not work in your field. Ask them if they can understand your resume using only-context clues. If they can’t, think of how you would explain your field’s language or numbers to someone who had never heard of it before.

6.Passive voice/weak verbs

If you’ve been out of school for a while, you may not remember the difference between active and passive voice. There’s an easy way to recognize which is which- just add “by kittens” to the end of your sentence. If your sentence makes sense with “by kittens”, it is passive. If it doesn’t make any sense, it is active. Here is a resume-appropriate example “Consumer engagement was increased 25% in my division (by kittens).”

vs “My division increased consumer engagement by 25% (by kittens).”

The first sentence makes sense (what productive kittens), there it is in passive. The second sentence does not, so it is an active voice.

Passive voice is discouraged on resumes because it adds additional wording and prevents recruiters from quickly scanning your resume. Passive voice also undermines your actions/inputs because your accomplishments are not the subject of the sentence. You don’t want those kittens to take credit for your hard work, after all.

7.Using the Same Resume Every Time

Most people know to vary their cover letter for every job, but should you change your resume as well? Many people use the same resume for every opening, particularly if they work in a more niche field. But if you don’t customize your resume, you may be losing job opportunities unknowingly.

Many companies use electronic resume screening software to sort through the hundreds or even thousands of resumes they receive. The software programs look for specific keywords within the resumes. If those keywords are absent, the software will remove those resumes from consideration. To avoid being rejected by the software, make sure keywords from the job posting match what’s contained in the resume. The experience, skills, and industries of the position are common keywords.

8. Multi-page resumes*


A common piece of resume advice is to stick to a one-page layout. You should always strive to refine and clarify your resume to avoid fluff or unnecessary information. For many people, a one-page resume is best. Entry-level resumes containing contact information, work history, skills, and education can easily fit on one-page, with white space to spare. If you recently changed careers, limit your resume to what is relevant to the current job opening.

But for those with 10+ years of (relevant) experience, government positions, or a vast array of duties, one-page resumes may not be the best fit. In those cases, a resume that shows your experience, skills, and work history might need to be two pages or more. Especially now, as digital resumes are the standard, old advice about recruiters throwing out multi-page resumes isn’t relevant. It’s better to use two pages than fill one page with 8pt font and single-spaced text.

9. Outputs, not outcomes

Companies often cite “impact” as a key quality indicator of candidates. But what does impact mean, and how can you demonstrate it on a resume? The secret is to spotlight outcomes, not outputs.

If you aren’t familiar with these terms, outputs are measures of how much work you do, whereas outcomes are measures of results. As an example, an output of a sales job would be Made 50 calls to clients on a daily basis.
< Whereas an outcome would be
Increased revenue by 25% percent through my 50 daily client calls.

Many people fall into the trap of using outputs on resumes. Outputs are easy to quantify and quickly explain. But including outcomes can better showcase your impact and value as a candidate. Hiring managers value productivity, but they value it more when it leads to improvements for the company.

10. Lying

“Don’t lie” seems like an odd piece of professional advice. Surely people know better than to lie on their resume, right? You’ll lose your job if the lie is discovered. Let’s look at the case of Mina Chang, the former deputy assistant secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of Conflict and Stability Operations. Chang falsified claims about her education and nonprofit experience and went as far as to photoshop a Time Magazine cover with her face on it. When the truth was discovered, she resigned immediately. Chang isn’t alone when it comes to bending the truth for professional benefits. More than 30% of respondents admitted to lying on their resumes, in a survey by ResumeLab. The majority of respondents also admitted to getting caught or getting fired later on.

The consequences of fudging your resume can expand beyond just one job offer. You risk losing your credibility, which can bar you from your industry entirely. Companies talk- and so do recruiting agencies. Employers need to be able to trust you, and if the first thing you tell them is dishonest, there’s no room for trust. It’s better to be honest and be rejected for one job than lie and lose dozens of other job opportunities.

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