Of all the writing tasks that you will have in your life, putting together a great resume is one of the most critical. Writing a strong resume can mean the difference between landing your dream job and spending countless days sitting in your boxer shorts and eating Ramen Noodles.
The difference between a great resume and a mediocre one has everything to do with word choice, grammar, and writing style. This post will give you important resume tips while teaching you how to avoid six common resume-writing mistakes.
Don’t send out another resume until you have read this post.
Resume Tips, Mistake 1—Using Pronouns “I” and “Me”
Daniel Scocco, in his helpful list of 44 resume tips, explains this one well: “Your resume should not contain the pronouns ‘I’ or ‘me.’ That is how we normally structure sentences, but since your resume is a document about your person, using these pronouns is actually redundant.”
So what does this mean? Let’s say you are listing your accomplishments at your last position. You might be inclined to write something like:
The problem is that you’ve inserted the pronoun “I” into your resume, which goes against convention and creates that redundancy problem that Scocco mentions.
Yes, you were the one who filed these tax returns—it’s your resume after all. Who else would have done it? Your clone? Your evil twin?
Instead, your bullet point should read:
This format adheres to the accepted writing convention and avoids redundancy.
Resume Tips, Mistake 2—Not Using Action Verbs
Of all the resume tips I’m going to give you in this post, pay close attention to this one.
Action verbs are words that show the subject (in this case, the job seeker) actively doing something. There are innumerable action verbs at your disposal. Examples of action verbs include words such as:
The opposite of action verbs are linking verbs. A linking verb links the subject (in this case, the job seeker) to additional information, but does not show the subject actually doing anything.
There are three linking verbs: to be, to become, and to seem.
I’ve edited countless resumes where the job seeker overly relies on the verb “to be.” The result is a resume with weak and boring sentences—with no action.
This idea will be easier to follow if I give you an example. Consider the following sentence:
Here, the bullet point says, “was responsible.” “Was” is not an action verb—rather, it’s a linking verb that separates the job seeker from the action.
Here’s a rewrite of this accomplishment using an action verb:
This sentence incorporates the action verb “sold.” The resulting statement is impactful because now the job seeker is an active agent—she is selling something.
Let me give you another example.
Again, this bullet point is missing an action verb. Here’s how to rewrite it:
Instead of using the linking verb “was,” the revision uses the action verb “led.”
Helpful hint: When writing out your accomplishments, whenever possible, replace the verb “to be” (was, were, am, are, is…etc.) with a vivid action verb. Check out this great resource if you need help finding the perfect action verb to describe what you do.
Resume Tips, Mistake 3 —Using Jargon
Your current employer may understand that when you say, “Gave a volunteer HPV,” you actually gave a “hypoxic pulmonary vasoconstriction” and did not give someone a terrible disease, but your prospective employer may not.
And while you’re at it, you might want to define “hypoxic pulmonary vasoconstriction.” Thank you very much.
Chances are that the hiring manager in the HR department won’t be familiar with all the technical vocabulary that you take for granted. At best, when confronted with technical jargon, your potential employer will think you are smarter than he is. At worst, he’ll find it impossible to wrap his mind around your accomplishments, and your resume will end up in the shredder.
Helpful hint: If you work in a highly technical field, ask a layman to review your resume and point out any jargon that he doesn’t understand. Replace the terminology with easier to understand wording or provide definitions.
Resume Tips, Mistake 4 —Not Focusing on the Right Keywords
This mistake is especially important to avoid if you are posting your digital resume on an online job board such as Indeed or Monster. (And really, who isn’t these days?)
Employers and headhunters on these sites search for resumes using keywords. If you haven’t included accurate keywords in your resume, you can bet you will never be discovered.
If you want to be found, you need to make sure that you include the right keywords in your resume. Before you even start writing, come up with a list of important keywords that are relevant to the type of position you are seeking. Then, make sure to incorporate them into your resume.
One way to do this is to go to a job board and search for jobs that interest you. Pay attention to what keywords you use. Let’s say that you currently work as an assistant to a CEO, and you are looking for a similar position.
On Indeed, you might search for “assistant.”
As you can see, the keyword “assistant” is too broad. This will get your resume lumped into searches for travel assistants, media assistants, office assistants… etc.
What happens if we search for something closer to your skillset? Here are the results for “assistant to the CEO:”
The resulting list is much more on target. It also shows you that you should use the keyword “executive assistant” in your resume. Reviewing these results, you can also find other words that matter to employers, like “enthusiastic,” “self-motivated,” and “years of experience supporting executives.” Stuff like that.
Helpful hint: Before you craft your resume with words that you think sound right, do a little research and find out what words are actually going to be searched and discovered by employers. Use these words wherever they make sense in your resume.
Resume Tips Mistake 5 —Telling, not Showing
If you’ve taken ninth grade English class, you’ve probably heard the refrain, “show, don’t tell.”
While this may be cliché, the advice is critical to making a good impression with your resume.
While you can talk about your current and past job responsibilities until you are blue in the face, listing duties only tells potential employers what you were supposed to be doing—not what you actually accomplished.
So, don’t just make a boring list of your assigned duties, like this one:
Yawn! I got bored just writing that. Rather than tell your potential employer about your duties, make a strong, action-packed list that shows your accomplishments, like this one:
- Delivered outstanding customer service and received 100% customer satisfaction ratings.
- Created and sent over 300 customer invoices each week.
- Called customers to collect on past due invoices and successfully brought 95% of customers to current status on their billing.
Helpful hint: Whenever possible, try to quantify your accomplishments. Potential employers love concrete numbers and figures. Offer dollars, percentages, and other numbers that show just how amazing you are.
Resume Tips Mistake 6 —Not Proofreading
As an editor, I would be remiss if I didn’t include this as one of the resume tips.
A great way to pipe your resume directly into a potential employer’s recycle bin is to fail to proofread. Typos or grammatical mistakes show hiring managers that you are careless and not detail oriented.
Proofreading mistakes can range from the benign, like forgetting a period, to the absolutely disastrous, like using the wrong word or making embarrassing spelling errors.
At Kibin, we proofread resumes all the time. I had one person submit a resume that said, “Provided excellent service to new and curried clients.”
I don’t know if the job seeker was hungry when he wrote his resume, but he was lucky to have it proofread by a person with the presence of mind to change “curried” to “current.” That would have been an embarrassing mistake! (Here are more funny resume typos.)
Resume Tips in Summary
Your resume is often the one thing standing between you and your next great career move. As such, you need to choose your words wisely, show not tell, and revise, revise, revise. This may be your only chance to make a good impression.
For more great resume tips, read 7 Things Hollywood Can Teach about How to Write a Resume.
Also, don’t forget to spend time and effort crafting your cover letter.