Eight Common Résumé-Writing Mistakes That Keep You From Getting Your Dream Job

Much has been written about writing a good résumé.  Unfortunately, anyone who has a résumé seems to fashion themselves an expert at résumé writing. In this article on our recruiter series, Steve Choquette will share common résumé mistakes he’s seen, along with tips to avoid them and get the job you want.

Steve is one of IBM’s recruiters based in the US with 20+ years of college recruiting, Steve has seen well over 21,000 résumés,  most were poorly written and did not showcase the applicant’s proficiency.  Steve has helped many students and IBM peers rewrite their résumé to get their dream job.

By Steve Choquette

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Steve Choquette

If the goal of your résumé is to get you the perfect job, and if your résumé is the first step into the company you’re really interested in, then why settle for a mediocre résumé?
Here are some common mistakes and how to avoid them:

1. Your skills and qualifications are not aligned with the job you want.

If you want to get a job in Software Security, then your résumé should show college classes, projects, and work experience demonstrating proficiency in security: threat detection, encryption, secure sign-on, etc. Why would an employer hire someone with no visible experience in the field?  Your résumé should convince a potential employer to close the job posting today and immediately hire you because they won’t find a better qualified candidate.

Tip: Showcase your skills and qualifications related to the capabilities of the job you’re applying for.

2. The work experience listed is not relevant to the job you are applying for. 

Using the same example as above, why would you waste 3-4 lines of valuable résumé space describing your experience as a waitress or lifeguard if your goal is to join Security?  Your résumé is not your life history.  Just include what’s pertinent for the job you want.

Tip: Don’t highlight experiences that are irrelevant for your dream job.

3. Writing random skills with no supporting evidence.

Many résumés include a skills section.  That’s fine, as long as the “Relevant Experience” section shows that you used those skills.  If not, the reviewer cannot tell the difference between five years’ experience of programming with Java and 4 hours with a “Java for Dummies” book.

Tip: As you describe your projects and work experience, call out the technologies you used by name (e.g. Used Java and HTML to …).

4. Not highlighting your soft skills.:

Leadership, creativity, innovation, ambition, public speaking, and such are valuable skills for any company.  These will get you promoted. Often they show up in résumés as a list with no supporting evidence.

Tip:  Share how you came up with innovative ideas.  Describe projects you led.  Identify where you went above and beyond your assignment. Demonstrate the soft skills; don’t just list them.

5. Not having enough white space.

When I see a busy résumé (i.e. too much text, and words out to the slimmest of margins), I put the résumé to the side because I know it will be work to review.  Don’t make the reviewer have to work to pick out what’s important in your résumé.  Using 2-4 bullets and not complete sentences helps here.

Tip: Be concise and clear.  Recent grads should have a one page résumé.  Experienced professionals can go up to two pages.  Your résumé reviewer doesn’t want your life history.

6. Focusing on the job role instead of accomplishments.

You’ve worked with people who were bad team leaders, managers, facilitators, and such. Their résumés likely say they were a team leader, manager, etc. Describe what you have accomplished, and not the responsibilities of the role. Instead of writing “Analyzed quarterly reports and gave insights to the team”, you can write” based on my analysis and recommendations, the company was able to increase lead generation by 20%”.   Employers want to hire someone that will make a difference in their bottom line. Show how this could be you.

Tip: Write your measurable results and accomplishments, not just your responsibilities.  

7. Missing to write other relevant skills and experiences.:

College grads often don’t have lots of professional experience.  Don’t make that obvious on your résumé.  Instead, create a section labelled “Relevant Experience”.  Put all applicable class projects and relevant skills and experiences related to the job you’re after. This could be a summer job, a project you worked on the side, a competition you won, etc. This is where you show you’re qualified in spite of not having had previous work experience.

Tip: Look at your objective and the job requirements. Then call out the projects and other relevant experiences that show you’re the best qualified person for the role.

8. Not proofreading and getting feedback.

And the most important tip of all: I may review 500 résumés in 1-2 hours, and that could be after a grueling six-hour job fair. I’m tired, grumpy, hungry, and know I have to spend many evening hours back on my “day job”. Your résumé may get at most a 30-second glance from me. That means your résumé should be your BEST piece of work, and not something you toss together quickly. You want me to put your résumé on the “interview this one” pile. Anguish over every word to get it right. Have friends and parents read your résumé. If you’re in college, go to your school’s Career Services.

With the advice above, your résumé will stand out and you’ll get your dream job.  Good luck!

Comment below if you have any questions for our recruiters.


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