In today’s economy there are way more applicants than available jobs, so it’s really a shame when candidates knock themselves out of contention with dumb mistakes on their resumes.  The direct result of resumes I’ve reviewed and interviews I’ve conducted during the last several months, here are several goofs you need to be certain you aren’t making:

1.  Engage in hyperbole

Of course you want to sell yourself with your paper, but please avoid embellishing to the point of being unbelievable.  A recent candidate had worked at Company X for 18 months.  In addition to a number of other accomplishments, his resume stated that he’d “trained 400 employees on Six Sigma methodology”.   This one didn’t pass the smell test.  I wondered how he was defining “trained,” and asked.  “Oh, I made a presentation at a large company meeting,” he explained.  Perhaps this could be considered training, but to me it strayed uncomfortably close to outright exaggeration.  Sell yourself, but don’t go overboard.

2.  Try to impress with fancy words

A recent Sales and Marketing candidate tried to impress with some fancy words on his resume; the only problem was, he didn’t understand how to use those words.  One was, “…have received the maximum honoraria for performance over the last 5 years.”  He was trying to say, “Have received the maximum allowable merit increase over the last…”  First, what is this doing on his resume, anyway?  Second, “honoraria”  are payments for services that normally wouldn’t require a fee; he’s misused the word, badly.

The same individual also included a line about his performance having been “adjudicated” outstanding.  Again, not sure you need to put this on your resume, and “adjudicate” refers to the resolution of legal disputes.  Duh.  I “adjudicate” you to be a dolt.  Don’t use words you don’t understand on your resume!

If you don’t know how to use the language, have your resume thoroughly checked by someone who does.

3.  Repeating items verbatim, company to company

This is admittedly unusual, but another recent candidate copied and pasted certain accomplishments from one company listed on his resume into his list of accomplishments for another company.  If you’ve developed a certain process or served on a very similar committee at two different companies, at the very least change the wording a bit.  In this particular case, the candidate had 5 or 6 items which were identical, word for word, under a couple of different companies.  I don’t know what this means (laziness?  sloppiness?) but it’s weird, and one of the things you want to avoid on your resume is anything that looks weird.

4.  Make spelling errors

OK, a disclaimer.  I’m a former English teacher.  I’m a Marketing guy.  I become concerned when candidates misuse the language and/or can’t spell.  That said, if you’re applying for a technical position, I’m willing to overlook a few language sins here or there – no big whoop.  But if you’re looking to join our Marketing team, work in HR, or in any sort of customer contact function, you ought to be able to write clearly and spell words correctly.  Again, if you’re a poor speller, please have your resume reviewed by someone who can spell!

5.  List personal interests

Look, I’ll ask you about your hobbies during your interview; please don’t list them on your resume.  I’m much more interested in what you can do for the company than I am in your favorite pastimes.  Semi-related:  please don’t write something like “Professional references available upon request” at the bottom (or anywhere) on your resume.  No, really?!?  You have references???  Of course you do; everyone does.  Why then, would you put this on your resume?  Doing so makes you look like an idiot, plain and simple.  If we want to check references, we’ll ask.

Let’s face it:  it’s a tough market out there.  You need to do everything you can to increase your chances of landing a job, and as your resume is the first thing a recruiter or HR manager will see, it needs to be perfect.  If you haven’t done so, have a few people review your resume; perhaps a trusted manager, former colleague or professor, or a close friend – just make sure it’s someone who will bring a critical eye (and understanding of the language!!) to the process.  Good luck!

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6 Comments on Stupid resume tricks: don’t make these 5 critical mistakes!

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  2. K-eM says:

    Many ages ago when I was young, I did typesetting for a small print company. I typed up a lot of resumes. It was amazing what people put on there, but the one that really took the cake was a guy with a 3 page resume that include his height, weight, number and ages of children, how long he had been married, that he had sold his own house… It went on and on. If he had left that all off, he would have had a page and a half. I always wondered if he had managed to get a job with that resume.

    Another client who was job hunting for a marketing job would have us type up a new one for her for every different company she applied to. She would alter the wording to fit the company. I always thought that was interesting and probably a great idea. She obviously did her research and simply said the same thing in different ways to fit the context of the company she was applying to.

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  3. Adriano says:

    Interesting advice, Kevin, the last point being the least obvious, in my opinion.

    But let’s don’t forget mistake number zero: lying!

    According to a survey by an Italian online cv website, one cv out of four contains false information. The most common false claims are about foreign languages, studies, job experience and IT knowledge.
    Lying in a CV could put you in the wrong place, and, if discovered, it will cause deep trouble (in many countries there have been cases of people jailed for false declaration in a CV). And, most important of all, it is morally unfair (although morality and ethics have probably gone out of fashion these days…). Lying sometimes can put the candidate in an embarrassing situation, such as that 30 year old declaring a 20 year old management experience…

    My personal experience? I used to declare a “sufifcient” knowledge of English, as my reference were bi- and trilingual professional interpreters and translators. I thought they were the only ones who could say they really knew another language. Then I saw someone’s cv using the forbidden words (i.e. “excellent English”), when I knew I had to help him even with the most basic sentences…
    And I realized that I was probably entitled to use that taboo expression!

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  4. Berg says:

    “please don’t write something like “Professional references available upon request””

    Oops. I’ve done this a few times, but only because in my business, I usually get freelance jobs by word-of-mouth, not resumes, and some people just don’t feel like putting in the legwork involved in calling references. When I have given references, rarely are they ever called. Add to that the last-minute nature of some of my jobs, putting “references by request” gives me time to call my references and give them a heads-up that they might be contacted.

    Nevertheless, it was interesting to read this post. Rarely do I ever get feedback from people on references/cover letters. L.A. isn’t known for its sincerity or politeness when it comes to business. ;)

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  5. Kevin says:

    Got a good one yesterday: guy claimed he was well versed in Sarbaines Oxley (it’s “Sarbanes”), and that he’d initiated several price increases in response to “raising commodity costs” (should be “rising”). Sales/Marketing guy. Sigh.

    Berg, sounds like your situation is a bit different than that of the typical candidate. Do whatever makes sense!

    Adriano, great point – I think I’ve mentioned this in another post, but YES, don’t lie. The potential for mayhem is high.

    K-eM: absolutely… in the past I’ve had 3 versions of my resume, each a slight variation on the other, emphasizing different aspects of my background, given the nature of the particular position and the needs of the company. Makes sense.

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