One of the advantages of my role is that we have been continuously hiring software developers. I tend to give a chance to most skilled developers with a below average resume. However, this does not mean that most HR managers or software professionals will do the same.
Therefore, it makes sense for you to avoid evident mistakes in your resume. These are the top 7 resume writing mistakes according to my experience:
1. Lack of relevance to the company you are applying for
This is the most serious mistake that most people overlook. Your resume is an ad for the purpose of convincing a company to hire you. If you apply as a C++ Developer, why would you hide your C++ experience among your Java accomplishments? Make it clear that you have done your research on the company, and make the relevant skills and experience stand out in your resume.
Believe me, no-one will appreciate if they are just another company on your list. Show them how you fit into their long term plans. This gives you a big advantage.
2. Evident contradictions
In my book, The Developer’s Edge, there is a section about explicit and narrative influence.
Explicit influence is when you brag about yourself. Narrative influence is when you tell a story about what you did, and your reader narrates it thinking that you possess the skills you didn’t even brag about. Narrative influence works for you, while implicit influence works against you.
For instance, if you write the buzz-word “detail oriented” and I find formatting mistakes, grammar mistakes, or an empty last page in your resume, your frame of being detail oriented immediately collapses.
If you write that you are an “excellent communicator”, but one of your sentences makes no sense, your resume will also work against you.
3. Serious grammar mistakes
Software developers have to write documentation, comment their code, and answer emails. Someone who makes many grammar mistakes starts at a disadvantage.
An average command of English grammar is essential for knowledge workers. You don’t have to be perfect at it, but showing too many mistakes will work against you.
You can improve your language skills at any time. The best time to start is now.
4. Irrelevant experience
Whether it’s your studies or working experience, chances are that you are getting into the details of jobs or studies that have nothing to do with your current goals.
Unless you did something extraordinary, no-one cares about your high school accomplishments. Same holds for your summer jobs.
Some events in your life may be very important to you. However, many of these events are absolutely irrelevant for your employer. It is a great thing to work two summer jobs to be able to afford your racing bike. Do these jobs add anything to your application? Unless they are relevant IT jobs, I doubt it.
5. Bad formatting
Many resumes are hardly readable. Several applicants have sent me six page long novels with clutter and irrelevant accomplishments. Someone even sent me a table of contents to their eight page long resume. I couldn’t even determine at first sight whether they had a specialization.
Your job is to make it crystal clear to your future employers that they are looking for you. Any elements of your resume that create distractions should be removed. Relevant elements should be highlighted.
Having read hundreds of resumes, empty phrases tend to repeat themselves. These phrases give you a disadvantage, as the recruitment team may think, you have nothing more meaningful to say.
- “I believe I will be a valuable asset to your company”: my first reaction is, show me how! My second reaction is, how do you know this in advance?
- “I am very motivated”: here is the news, everyone is motivated on the surface.
- “I am creative”: show me how.
- “I have great attention to detail”: make just one grammar or formatting mistake to create a contradiction.
- “I am a team player”: many people fake this statement. It is more beneficial to show it.
- “I have excellent communication skills”: it is useless to write this statement, as you will demonstrate your communication skills during the interview.
The generic takeaway from this section is: show, don’t tell.
7. References upon request
We all should have LinkedIn profiles. If you don’t have a LinkedIn profile, read the relevant section on creating one in The Developer’s Edge.
LinkedIn profiles contain your connections, endorsements, and recommendations. If someone wants to research you a bit more deeply, they can reach out themselves. Therefore, in the 21st Century, the “references upon request” phrase is a bit outdated.
In the unlikely case that you hide your connections, hiring managers may ask for references if they were interested.
Here is the catch: do you really want to provide your hiring crew with references? If yes, why don’t you write your references in your application package? If you don’t want to include references, then why do you write “references upon request”?
It is very easy to make mistakes when writing resumes. I have made some of these mistakes when I got started, and I assume, at least one of these seven mistakes were new for you.
If you are interested in improving your resume, check out the my Resume Makeover Service.
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