The Five Most Common - And Most Avoidable - Resume Errors

Julie Shenkman
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Writing an effective résumé can certainly be challenging. There are numerous rules and none of them apply 100% of the time. It is often much easier for people to craft their document if they understand the boundaries within which they will need to operate 100% of the time - the mistakes that should never be made and will brand a job-seeker as unprofessional. Eliminating all of these errors from your résumé will go a long way in improving your chances of securing an interview.

1. "Responsible for..."

The Problem:
This is one of the most common, and most amateurish, résumé errors. There is no greater example of weak, passive writing than the overused "responsible for." There are two base reasons why this phrase is to be avoided. The first is that it is already understood that the information included in your résumé are activities that you were responsible for; this is the equivalent of writing "we cook..." before an item listed in a restaurant menu. The second reason is what I alluded to above: "responsible for" is passive, bland, and boring. It does nothing to draw in the reader, and demonstrates no specific or relevant skill. With the average résumé being read in approximately seven seconds, the first word or two in each sentence is absolutely critical because it is the information that will be read first and most. Whether anything else in a given sentence will be read at all entirely depends on if the first couple of words strike a chord with the reader. If the hiring manager holding your résumé does not spot keywords of interest in those vital locations, then the entire résumé is probably going in the trash, no matter how great the rest of your information is.

The Solution:
A great way to test the quality of a résumé is to read just the first word in each sentence, and see what image those words build of you as an employee. If your first words consist of "responsible for", "helped", "handled", or other passive language, then you're not creating a powerful or compelling first impression. Open each and every sentence with a power verb that is relevant to the job you are applying for. Words such as "manage", "direct", "administer", and "process" can often be used to replace "responsible for", and are far more effective.

2. Using a paragraph format.

The Problem:
As mentioned above, the average résumé is read in approximately seven seconds. In those precious few seconds, the hiring manager will skim through your entire document and determine if you possess the qualifications needed for the job. If your information is organized in long, dense paragraphs that are difficult to read quickly, they are most likely not going to be read at all. Think of your résumé as a shopping spree... if you have only seven seconds within which to conduct your shopping spree, which would you rather be faced with: an enormous pile of products where it is impossible to discern what each individual product is without an in-depth perusal, or an organized, easy-to-navigate row of products that are displayed independently so that you can easily see what each is? Remember, you have only seven seconds. I think we'd all agree that it is much easier, when on limited time, to approach information that is already parsed out for us. Paragraphs are intimidating to the eye and for the hiring manager who has literally hundreds of other applicants to choose from, the loss of one whose document is difficult to read is not going to be a consideration.

The Solution:
Create brief, bulleted statements. Each statement should focus on one particular skill and be no more than two lines in length.

3. Repetition.

The Problem:
It is not uncommon for people, in an attempt to not overlook anything, to mention the same skills multiple times within the same résumé. This creates a boring, stale document in which the heavily repeated skills overshadow everything else. In addition to this, the repetition contributes to excess length; again, we come back to that same seven seconds. Let's say, for example, that in your resume you want to list skills A, B, C, and D. If you do just that, then it is easy to identify all of those skills in seven seconds. If, however, your résumé lists A, B, A, A, B, B, B, C, A, C, B, A, A, C, B, D, C, A... suddenly, your qualifications are not as obvious and one - D - could very easily be overlooked.

The Solution:
Identify which skill each and every statement is addressing and write that information directly on a copy of your résumé. Then review the skills listed next to all of your statements. Are you seeing one or more skills listed over and over? Consolidate this information. Also, don't fall into the trap of repeating information from one section to another; if you mention an accomplishment in your Professional Summary, do not mention it again in your Professional Experience.

4. Writing job descriptions.

The Problem:
Committing this error is what can make the difference between getting an interview and losing the opportunity to someone else. Employers are not interested in what activities you performed on a daily basis - they are interested in how well you performed those activities. Stating that you "processed paperwork" gives no indication of what type of employee you are... this same statement could apply accurately to the person who doodles on the desk and misses deadlines as well as the person who exceeds deadlines and quotas and has 100% accuracy.

The Solution:
Focus on accomplishments. Many job-seekers disregard this advice with the mistaken notion that they do not have any accomplishments. Most of the time these people do have quantifiable achievements; they just don't realize that they do. It can be difficult to look objectively at our own experiences. Review employee evaluations. What positives are noted? Think about special projects or busy times; were there any instances in which you were praised, or were very proud of the job you did? Any times in which you improved processes, made or saved money, or lifted some of the burden off your supervisor's shoulders?

If you truly have no accomplishments, then focus on results. What are the results of your work? For example, "processed paperwork." What paperwork and why? What does this paperwork do for your company? "Facilitate ongoing litigation by processing complex legal documents" is much more effective than simply "Processed paperwork," although both would technically be correct.

5. Using Objective statements.

The Problem:
This is often the result of a job-seeker who has either been out of the market for a long time, or someone who is using a dated résumé-writing manual. Objective statements have, thankfully, gone out of style on résumés. Why thankfully? Objective statements are counter-productive. By definition, an Objective states what you, the job-seeker, want. The problem with this is that the hiring manager does not care what you want; the hiring manager cares about what you can do for the company. Additionally, what you want should be clear from your cover letter and by the simple fact that you sent your résumé in the first place - it does not need to be repeated (see #3, above). Since this is often positioned at the very top of the résumé, it is a regretful waste of highly visible space that should be used to appeal to the interests of hiring managers, not to address information that the hiring manager isn't interested in.

The Solution:
Professional Summary, Profile, Summary Statement... whatever you want to call it, a summary section at the top of your résumé that reviews your strongest, most relevant skills and abilities is a surefire way to capture the attention of your reader and encourage him or her to read on. This is also a highly effective strategy to position notable achievements that occurred early in your career in a visible location.

About the Author: Jaimie Marzullo is a professional résumé writer and career counselor, and owner of With additional expertise in U.S. employment and labor, family medical leave, disability rights, and human rights laws, she has served as a consultant to small businesses, educational systems, healthcare organizations, and government offices. Her client base is spread over six continents and includes professionals in nearly every industry, from entry-level to executive, and Ivy League students.


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