Here Are The Most Common Resume Mistakes, After Reviewing 100+
And a free template to make your resume stand out
I’ve reviewed hundreds of resumes in my life. I have edited or rewritten more than I can count; have given pointers on many, and threatened to light some on fire.
Concise and clear is the name of the game here. Your resume needs to be easy to read and navigate, and contain only information that is highly relevant. Every piece of information you include should be a golden nugget — if it’s not, leave it out.
Find below the most common resume mistakes, and check to make sure yours is free from them all. At the bottom you’ll find a downloadable resume template that’s yours to use, for free — and no, I don’t want your email in exchange. I just want you, for the love of God, to have a good resume.
Mistake #1: Difficult-to-find contact info
Don’t put pieces of your contact info in various places, like a trail of annoying breadcrumbs for HR to follow. Don’t put your contact info in the footer of your resume in really tiny print, either.
Do include all your contact info — name, address, phone number, email that you actually use* — in slightly larger or bold text, centered at the top of your resume.
*And please don’t use the email for your current job.
Mistake #2: Listing irrelevant experience
Don’t list where you went to high school. No one cares. No one cares that you bartended for six months your junior year, when you’re applying for an engineering job.
Do list experience that is directly applicable to the job you’re applying for: that internship, the time you volunteered, previous employment, membership in a relevant organization. This might mean that you leave some experience out — and that’s perfectly ok.
Mistake #3: Including all your experience
Don’t list everywhere you’ve worked. I once received a resume that was five pages long. Dude had a long career, and lots of experience — impressive, but no one’s going to read all that.
Do include your top 2–5 most relevant positions; ideally, these are recent as well. It’s ok to include a note saying a comprehensive work history is available upon request. There are people who will disagree with me on this, but it’s my recommendation that your resume be no more than a single page.
Mistake #4: Really teeny text
Don’t try to cram everything into that single page using 8pt font, or by adjusting the line spacing or page margins. It makes your resume awkward to look at, and thus awkward to read.
Do think about what really highlights why you’re the best candidate for this job. Being meaningfully concise is key here. Use 12pt font (14pt for headings, if you prefer), 1" margins, and never less than single-spaced. If you want to insert some personality, save that for your cover letter.
Mistake #5: Formatting like a graphic designer… if you’re not one
Don’t try to do anything fancy or complicated with the layout of your resume, unless you’re specifically applying for a position where this will help you stand out (graphic designer, web designer, illustrator, etc.).
Note that if you do something like this in Word — and don’t save as a PDF — your resume will likely be all over the place with overlapping text and weird color boxes when it’s opened in an email preview. Not good.
Do keep it simple, silly. Catching a theme here? Simple, concise, to-the-point, impactful and convincing — these are all words that would describe the ideal resume. Black text on white paper.
Mistake #6: Linking to your hobby portfolio
Don’t link to anything not relevant to the job. I don’t care if it’s your personal website where you show off your art projects that you’re really proud of. This is not the kind of personality you want to show; in fact, in the worst case it can just provide ammunition for the hiring manager to have a chuckle with his team at your expense (yes, I’ve witnessed this happen once!).
Do link to an external website only if it is extremely relevant and impressive. For example, you’re applying for an app developer job and your github is full of code for apps you’ve developed— by all means, link to that. The vast majority of resumes nowadays are received electronically, so if there’s a clickable link it’ll be easy to follow right when your resume is being reviewed.
Mistake #7: Listing skills that aren’t actually skills
Don’t list things like “works well under pressure” or “excels in a team environment.” These are qualities, not skills, and are impossible to really measure during an interview or from looking at a resume.
Do list actual skills, especially if they’re backed by a certification. “5 years experience in SQL database management” is a skill that you can mention under the corresponding position.
Mistake #8: Any format other than PDF
Don’t send your initial .docx or .pages file. (Especially the latter, as PCs are still by and far the most popular in the workplace.) As mentioned in Mistake #5, weird formatting or compatibility issues can happen when you send a text file —the last thing you want is your resume to literally be unreadable.
Do export to PDF, always, and send that. Everyone can open a PDF.
As promised, you can download your free resume template right here, or by clicking the image below. This is a .docx file that you can download and edit. If you are a recent graduate and your work experience is limited to internships or research positions, list your education first.