How to Avoid Major Résumé Faux Pas

4 min read · 6 years ago


The sensation of sending in your carefully crafted résumé, only to hear a “no thanks,” or worse, nothing at all, is a special kind of torture. It can be easy to blame yourself or the company and to sink into discouragement. Remember though, that some companies can receive upwards of 50,000 résumés each week.

Since many companies have far more applicants than positions to fill, they have to make cuts as quickly and succinctly as possible. There is simply not enough time nor person power to process all the résumés they receive. As an owner of a leading staffing firm in the North Bay, I see and review résumés often. Working with a broad range of companies to fill positions, as well as people from all walks of life and job experience, I see many of the same issues crop up that take eligible candidates out of the job prospect pool. In many cases, I know that candidates are a potential great fit for the job they’re applying for, and I see firsthand the disappointment that comes from résumé mistakes.

There are a number of easily avoidable issues with résumés that make that first cuts easier for potential employers. Some companies even automate the first cut, by running each résumé through software that can be customized to search for certain keywords, spelling errors, or other common issues.

It’s important to remember that résumés can be cut for a number of reasons, regardless of your qualifications or your capabilities. To help you make it past the first cut and make it more likely that your résumé will be reviewed, make sure to evaluate the following five common mistakes.

  1. Make sure there are no typos. Yes, I’m serious. No matter how many times you look at it, errors can slip past you. There’s a common rule in publishing that can come to your aid here: every piece of writing should be seen by at least two different sets of eyes after the author’s. Take the time to show your résumé to a couple of people to make sure errors don’t slip past you.
  2. Make your résumé readable. Font size is actually important; anything under 10-point font requires a reader to work to read it, which can be frustrating. Eleven point font has been typical in the last few years: it’s a good balance between readability and having enough space to list the most important information. As much as you might be inclined to use different colors, alternate backgrounds or special fonts, readability trumps all of these. Make sure your contact information is easy to find and that all of your alignments match. The best way to ensure formatting doesn’t get lost in translation (you never know what software a potential employer may use to view your résumé!) is to save it as a PDF. If you need to convert it, open the file to make sure it looks exactly the way you want it to.
  3. Make sure your résumé is the right length. This particular issue is subjective. Many educational institutions tout the single-page résumé format, but this can vary drastically based on where you’re submitting. An alternative rule of thumb is to keep it to one page for every ten years of experience. Another thing to consider is how relevant each item on your résumé is for the position you’re applying to fill–earlier experience that showcases more relevant skills than a concurrent job that’s more recent may more clearly represent your capabilities. The better you can synthesize the “high points” of your experience in context of the job you’re applying to, the more you’ll be able to prove that you can convey the most relevant information about you, and why you’re a great fit for the position. Remember, your résumé is the reason you’ll get a call for an interview (or not). Keep it concise. If you can get it down to one page, you’re doing great!
  4. Make sure you tell the truth. Got most of the way through a Bachelor of Arts degree? Please don’t say you received the diploma. Instead, highlight the things you learned while you were taking classes. Just because you didn’t finish doesn’t discount the experience. It’s far worse to say you received the degree and be fired (and maybe blacklisted) than to own that you didn’t finish. Not everyone learns the same way. Increasingly, tenacity is a higher benchmark for employers. Don’t fudge numbers either; represent yourself honestly.
  5. Be careful with confidential information. Increasingly in the information age, it’s essential that you protect confidential information. Be very mindful of any existing non-disclosure agreements you may be subject to, and leave identifiable details out. You can still reference your experience (and your capabilities) without accidentally revealing more than you intended. This is an exercise in mindfulness more than anything. Remember the “spirit” of the agreement more than the legalese. If you’ve been working with sensitive information (hint: it’s more sensitive than you think!) consider consulting with a legal professional to ensure you haven’t inadvertently included “leaky” information. Potential employers will catch it, and it may damage trust. If you wouldn’t want to see the item in the news and associated with your name, you probably shouldn’t include it.

Keeping these five points in mind can help make your résumé shine as brightly as you do, and get you past the shredder and on to the interview list. Remember, the better you avoid common mistakes, the more you stand out, and that’s before your résumé has even been read!

Nicole Smartt is the Vice President and co-owner of Star Staffing. She was awarded the Forty Under 40 award, recognizing business leaders under the age of 40. In addition, Nicole co-founded the Petaluma Young Professionals Network, an organization dedicated to helping young professionals strive in the business world. Nicole recently created her website, where she provides advice on workforce and careers, startups, and so much more!

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