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Busting 7 resume blunders

by Laura Vogel | November 2, 2011



The purpose of a resume is to get an interview. It's not to keep human resource managers in stitches, mystify them or overwhelm them with the minutiae of your life. You want your resume to be noticed for the right reasons.

Robert Dagnall, president of ResumeGuru.com, says, "Your resume is not for you, it's for the employer. Everything on it should speak to the employer's needs and concerns--specifically, how you can help them." He points out rather than thinking of your resume as a greeting card, think about it as a business proposal.

Prospective employers have seen it all on resumes: the unwittingly naughty, the hysterically funny, the sad and the cringe-worthy. Here are seven blunders to avoid:

1. Don't make 'em laugh

Unless you're applying for a job as a stand-up comedian, don't try to be funny in your resume or email address, advises "Get Hired!" author John W. Lepley. "I received a resume in which the person listed their e-mail address as 'godsgift2011@...com.' Are you kidding me? Another offered the potentially offensive address of 'freakyjoe@...com,'" Lepley said.

Dr. Marlene Caroselli, author of "Principled Persuasion," discusses a gaff that, while funny, is pretty mortifying as well: "An applicant for a job…cited his work with various North American land birds, including California condors. Unfortunately, in place of an 'r' in the name of the bird, he typed an 'm.'"

Blunder buster: If you don't have a professional sounding e-mail address, get one. It can be as simple as "firstnamelastname@gmail.com." Read and reread your resume over the course of a couple of days, even backwards to catch words your eyes may scan over, to make sure it's perfect.

2. Spell check isn't a replacement for the human eye

"The most unusual mistake that I ever saw was a cover letter and resume that we reviewed in which the applicant misspelled his own name," says Timothy G. Wiedman, assistant professor of Management & Human Resources at Doane College in Crete, Nebraska. He also remembers the time an applicant claimed to have "four years of collage."

Blunder buster: Have at least one other set of eyes read your resume before you send it out. In Microsoft Word, there's an "add" button in the spell check box; plug your first and last names, so if your name has a squiggly red line under it, you'll notice it immediately.

3. Keep it to one page

Most recruiters are in a time crunch. Tracy Brisson, a New York City-based career coach and founder of the Opportunities Project says, "Once I received an eight-page resume from an entry-level candidate. I am not sure why I even made it to page five, but I did stop when I read about the Presidential Fitness award she received in middle school!"

Blunder buster: A resume is not the place to list every single accomplishment you've ever made. If it's not relevant to the job, cut it. With the exception of a few careers, a resume should only be one page.

4) Double-check the recipient and company name

Then, check again. Eric Putkonen, senior recruiter and founder of MinnesotaTechJobs.com says, "I have received resumes with objectives saying they want to acquire a certain position at ABC Company, when I am a recruiter at XYZ company." This blunder is a double whammy because, "It looks like our company is not really where you want to be, (and it shows) lack of attention to detail to not notice this one yourself."

Blunder buster: Though you may be occupied with the content of your resume, you can't afford to skimp on careful checking to ensure your envelope, cover letter and resume all line up and are headed for the same place.

5. Stay on target

Alison Green of askamanager.org says one of her biggest resume pet peeves is a wildly nonspecific goal. "One (applicant's) objective was 'to obtain a professional position in corporate America.' This takes the typical mistake of most resume objectives--completely generic, doesn't frame the application in an effective way--and raises it to an even odder level of generic strangeness."

Blunder buster: Fine-tune each objective to the job at hand. Whether the position you want is working as a line cook at a small café or working as an HR generalist at a Fortune 500 company, acknowledge what you want to do and it's much more likely to happen.

6. Getting impersonal

Brisson says there should be a strict division between the personal and professional. "I had someone insert their picture into their resume for a teaching position. Pictures are always a no-no and in this one, the applicant was posing on a red carpet." Dagnall's favorite gaffes in the TMI category include "I have never trapped a man," and "two cats honor my home with their presence." Another job seeker proudly proclaimed she was reunited with her boyfriend following his release from prison.

Blunder buster: If it's not related to your professional life, do not include it in anything you send to a potential employer. Except for the rare job exception--modeling and acting, maybe--what you look like should be irrelevant.

7. Information, please

Bruce A. Hurwitz, Ph.D., president and CEO of Hurwitz Strategic Staffing, has seen his share of job-applicant blunders. "I once received a resume and cover letter from a person who had printed 'confidential' in bold capital letters on the top of both the cover letter and resume," explains Hurwitz. "There was no name, address, phone number or e-mail on the envelope, letter or resume! I guarantee that this person got his confidentiality, but didn't get too many interviews or job offers."

Blunder Buster: Whether you're trying to maintain your privacy or just think phone calls and snail mail are obsolete, leaving a mailing address or phone number off of your resume will make you obsolete in the minds of hiring managers.

You know you're perfect for the job and you could prove it if you could only get an interview. These resume gaffes illustrate that even a small error can make the difference between your resume getting you an interview, or ending up as fodder for a "worst resume mistakes" list.

About the Author

Laura Vogel is a freelance writer and editor based in Los Angeles. She has written for such outlets as Aol.com, The Washington Post, Real Simple, In Style and Martha Stewart Weddings. She has also worked on staff at many New York City publications including Elle, Us Weekly, The New York Daily News and The New York Post.