21+ Critical Resume Mistakes (To Avoid in 2021)

January 28
14 min read

Unless you’re a career expert, chances are, your resume isn’t perfect.

In fact, there are some specific resume mistakes that just about anyone makes - whether they’re a recent graduate or a senior professional with a decade’s worth of experience.

Get them right, though, and you’re well on your way to landing your dream job!

In this article, we’ll teach you all about these 21+ common resume mistakes and how to avoid them.

So, let’s get started!

Critical Resume Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them)

#1. Including Irrelevant Experiences

In your resume, you should only include experiences and skills that are relevant to the job you’re applying for.

Let’s say, for example, you’re applying for the role of an accountant.

Your entire resume should be focused on convincing the employer you are the perfect fit for the position. So, your work experience and skills section should be associated with accounting.

You wouldn’t want to, for example, mention your experience as a server 5 years ago - that won’t really help your case.

Similarly, you wouldn’t mention something like Photoshop as a skill. Sure, you could be absolutely amazing at it, but it’s not relevant to the position at all - it’s just going to take up valuable space.

Pro Tip

  • The only exception to this rule is if you’re a student or a career changer. In that case, to avoid having an empty work experience section, you can mention some unrelated experiences.

#2. Not Backing Up Your Claims With Data

Let’s compare these 2 statements:

Increased sales.

VS.

Increased annual sales by 20% from the year 2019 by completely revamping the sales script.

Which one do you think is more convincing?

Yep, it’s definitely the second one. Why? Because it’s super-specific. You can see the applicant’s precise results, as well as how they achieved them and how long it took them to get there.

For any type of experience mentioned in your resume, we recommend including information on:

  • The Results. What kind of results did you bring? Explain in numbers.
  • The How. What exactly did you do to get such results?
  • Timeframe. In what period of time did you achieve these results?

#3. Not Using a Resume Builder

Resume builders make the process of creating a resume fast, simple, and easy. If you’re still using Word to create your resume, switching to a resume builder will change your life, we promise.

Imagine spendings hours formatting your resume to perfection. Picking the right font, font size, margins, resume format...

And then you move a section slightly to the left and your entire resume layout gets completely messed up.

By using a resume builder, though, you’re completely bypassing this problem. All you have to do is pick a template that you like best and you’re good to go - all that’s left for you to do is fill in the contents.

Zero formatting hassle required.

Want to give this a go? Pick your resume template and get started right away.

resume mistakes

#4. Including Fluff Skills

“Great critical thinking skills.”

“Team-player.”

“Organized.”

What do these 3 skills have in common?

It’s simple: just about anyone can claim to have them.

A lot of job-seekers (usually recent graduates) jam-pack their resumes with fluff skills like these to “impress” the employer or simply make their resume just a bit longer.

The issue, though, is that you’re just wasting space. Recruiters have seen these skills on resumes so many times that they are not fazed by them anymore. So, they just skip over them entirely.

Instead, we recommend using more hard skills that you can back up with experience (as opposed to overused soft skills).

#5. Including Obvious Skills

Speaking of skills, another common resume mistake is including the obvious skills everyone has.

It’s 2021 - it’s pretty much implied that you can use a computer, Microsoft Office, Excel, and the likes of them.

By including such skills in your resume, you’re just wasting space you could be using to better present yourself.

We recommend sticking to more technical skills that set you apart from other candidates. Such in-demand technical skills today include:

  • Google Analytics
  • HTML & CSS
  • Any Programming Language
  • Salesforce
  • Dreamweaver
  • Photoshop

#6. Using an Infographic Resume

You’ve probably seen an infographic resume or two before - they tend to go viral on the internet because of their creative spin on the traditional resume.

Thing is, though, Infographic resumes may look really cool, but they could be very harmful to your job search.

Unless you’re a graphic designer by trade, most recruiters won’t be impressed by a fancy design and colors. Quite the opposite, actually. 

Infographic resumes tend to be more confusing to read, so there’s a pretty good chance the hiring manager might just skip over it. They might also think it’s unprofessional and, again, skip over it.

To make things worse, infographic resumes can’t be read by applicant tracking systems. Meaning, it’s going to get automatically discarded before it can even reach a recruiter.

#7. Using Responsibilities Instead of Achievements

Have a look at these 2 examples:

Led the marketing initiatives of Project X, driving over $200,000 in sales for the quarter.

Vs.

Charged with marketing Project X.

See the difference between these 2 examples?

The first one is an achievement - it shows how you excel at your role. 

The second, on the other hand, is a responsibility. It shows what you’re responsible for at work.

When evaluating candidates, recruiters always look for the first. After all, they know exactly what your responsibilities were - all the other candidates for the position probably had the same ones.

Let’s say, for example, you’re applying for a job in sales, and you mention that you were:

“Charged with selling products to clients”

Do you know who else had this responsibility? Literally, every other candidate who had the same position.

What if you wrote something like this, though:

“Hit and exceed sales KPIs by 50% in 2020”

Now we’re talking! This shows that you’re not just another sales guy - you’re a high-achiever. 

So what we’re getting at here is that when possible, you should focus on achievements in your resume, not responsibilities.

Pro Tip:

Not every single career is results-oriented. If you’re a server, for example, you can’t really say:

“Served 500+ tables my entire career, delivering amazing customer experience.

This just sounds super awkward. If your profession isn’t results-oriented, it’s totally OK to stick with responsibilities instead of achievements.

#8. Not Tailoring Your Resume

Most job-seekers create one general resume and apply to dozens of jobs with it.

Unfortunately, this is another very common resume mistake.

At the end of the day, every single job you’ll apply to is different - they require different skills and experiences.

So, your resume should focus on what they’re looking for.

To make this a bit more clear, let’s cover a real-life example. 

Let’s say you’re a Sales Specialist. You have experience in:

  • Email Outreach
  • Managing a Sales Team

Now, for the sake of the example, let’s say you’re applying for these 2 positions: Email Sales Specialist and Sales Team Lead.

If you’re applying for the role of an Email Sales Specialist, the role would mainly involve doing email outreach, and the hiring manager would expect your resume to focus specifically on your email outreach skills. 

On the other hand, if you’re applying for the role of a Sales Team Lead, they’d want to know all about your managerial skills. They don’t really care about your email outreach experience, as long as you show them you can manage a team.

If your resume is generic, you won’t be able to cover the important skills in enough detail.

So, what we’re getting at here is, your resume should be tailored for the job you’re applying for.

Pro Tip:

  • We recommend creating 4-5 different variations of your resume for the different types of roles you’ll be applying to. This way, you won’t have to re-do your resume for each new job and save yourself some time.

#9. Getting the Formatting Wrong

There are 3 different resume formats you can pick from:

  • Reverse-Chronological - The traditional resume with a focus on work experience. In this format, you first list your most recent experiences and work your way to the earlier ones.
  • Functional - This one’s more focused on your skill-set rather than work experience. It’s great for recent graduates or career changers that don’t have a lot of work experience to include in their resume.
  • Combination - A mix of the other 2 formats, with equal emphasis on work experience and skills.

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with picking a functional or combination resume, the reverse-chronological one is the most used format. In most cases, it’s the best choice as well. 

At the end of the day, recruiters world-wide are familiar with it and are more likely to recognize it.

If you use an alternative resume format (e.g. functional), the hiring manager might think you’re trying to hide something by not focusing on your work experience at all.

#10. Saving the Resume in a Wrong Format

Your resume should never, ever be saved as a JPEG or PNG.

While it may seem like an insignificant detail, choosing the right resume file type matters. 

Always save your resume in either PDF or Docx, both of which are compatible with applicant tracking software.

We usually recommend going with a PDF, as it won’t mess up your resume layout as Docx does.

However, some recruiters specifically ask for a Docx resume (mainly if they’re using a not-so-good applicant tracking software). If the job ad explicitly asks you to submit a resume as a Word file, do so.

#11. Picking the Wrong Template

Not all resume templates have the same effect.

Some templates are engaging, easy to read and scan, and they’re noticeable even in a pile of a hundred other resumes.

Other templates? Not as much.

So, pick a template that:

  • Is Visually Appealing. In most cases, you’re better off with a resume that has some color in it instead of the traditional black-and-white type. At the same time, though, make sure that your resume template isn’t too over-the-top in terms of design.
  • Has Easy-To-Read Font & Font Size. We recommend using a font like Roboto or Ubuntu.  
  • Has Two Columns. This allows you to fit in a lot more information in your resume without hurting readability.
  • Is Resume Builder-Friendly. Editing a resume template is much faster and easier if it’s part of an online resume builder.

Not sure where to find a good resume template? Pick one of ours!

#12. Including a Photo

This one’s a bit tricky. Depending on where you’re from, you may or may not have to include a photo in your resume. Here’s how this differs based on your country:

  • United States - Including a photo in your resume is NOT recommended, as it can lead to discrimination based on race or appearance. Obviously, this doesn’t apply if your appearance has something to do with the job you’re applying for (e.g. modeling).
  • Europe - It’s common to include a professional photo in your resume in most countries in Europe. This, however, isn’t mandatory.
  • United Kingdom & Ireland - Like in the US, due to anti-discrimination and labor laws, you shouldn’t include a photo in your resume.
  • Australia - Again, including a photo in your resume is discouraged (unless it’s asked for specifically in the job ad).

Didn’t find your country here? Check out our comprehensive article on photos on resumes.

#13. Choosing a Wrong File Name

You should always name the resume you’re submitting something like:

[Your First Name]-[Your Last Name]-[Resume]

This makes you look professional and it’s also easier for the recruiter to identify your resume from a folder of dozen others.

Do

  • John-Doe-Resume.pdf

Don't

  • ResumeFinalVersion10.pdf

#14. Spelling Typos, and Grammatical Errors

Imagine you put “attention to detail’ as one of your top skills on your resume…

But your resume is riddled with grammar and spelling errors.

That’s probably one of the easiest ways to shoot yourself in the foot!

Before submitting your resume, make sure to:

  • Run it through Grammarly to find any spelling mistakes.
  • Check for sentences that don’t sound right or things that could be expressed better. Give it a slow and careful read - you can even read it out loud if that helps. While Grammarly can help catch obvious errors, it’s still not 100% accurate.
  • If you want to make sure you’re error-free, you can even ask a friend or a family member to go through it and catch any mistakes that might have slipped by.

#15. Not Mentioning Employment Gaps

If you have gaps in your employment, you might think it’s a good idea just not to mention them and hope that the recruiter just doesn’t catch it.

Here’s the thing - they will catch it for sure.

Employment gaps are one of the biggest red flags for recruiters.

While such gaps can be harmless (e.g. maternity leave, medical leave, etc.), other times they can mean that the employee is a job hopper or they got fired for whatever reason.

And if you don’t address the gap in your resume, the recruiter will definitely assume the worst.

To address an employment gap in your resume, in-between your work experience entries (or on top of, if the employment gap is recent), include something like this:

Employment Gap Example

09/2019 - 06/2020

Had to take some time off from my career, as I got injured in an automobile accident. After surgery, however, I have recovered and am ready to get back to work.

#16. Not Point Out a Career Change

If you’re switching careers, it’s extremely important to point this out in your resume.

Otherwise, the recruiter will think you’re just applying to random jobs, and automatically reject you.

For example, if your past experience is in accounting, and you’re applying for a role in graphic design, you have to address this.

So, how can you show that you’re a career changer in your resume?

First things first - use a resume objective. Something like:

“Experienced accountant looking for an entry-level job in graphic design.”

Then, use a skill summary to show that you DO have the right skills (even though you don’t have the experience). A skill summary looks something like this:

Skill Summary Example

Graphic Design

  • Customized a WordPress theme to design and created a brand-new website for a client.
  • Designed an infographic using Adobe Illustrator, which got over 200 shares on social media.
  • Used Photoshop to create 11 promotional graphic images for a client’s business.

Finally, make sure to talk a bit about your career change in your cover letter. This will allow the recruiter to understand your situation better and to judge your application accordingly.

#17. Making the Resume Too Long

Your resume is not your life story - it’s a concise summary of your most relevant skills and experiences.

For that reason, we recommend sticking to the one-page limit. For most candidates that’s enough to cover all the essential information about themselves.

If you’re a seasoned professional and truly think that you need more space to cover your lengthy background, then it’s acceptable to do 2 pages.

We wouldn’t recommend making your resume any longer than that, though.

That is unless you’re applying for a role in academia. In that case, it’s acceptable for your CV to be 3 pages and even longer.

For more information on this, check out our article on how long your resume should be.

#18. Not Including Enough Information

On the other hand, your resume can also be too short.

This mainly happens with college students or recent graduates who don’t have any work experience to list in their resume, leaving them with a resume that’s half a page long.

Here’s the thing: even student resumes should be 1-page long. Instead of work experience, you should be filling the empty space with the experiences that you DO have. Some such examples include:

  • Extracurricular Activities.
  • Online Certifications.
  • Courses Taken.
  • Volunteering Experience.
  • University Projects.
  • Personal Projects.

Here’s an example of how this would look like on a resume:

Extracurricular Activities

Club Founder & President

Public Speaking Club

10/2017 -03/2019

  • Founded a club aimed at helping students improve their public speaking skills.
  • Collaborated with several professors, inviting them to do one-time lectures on public speaking.
  • Held 2 public speaking competitions with prizes from sponsors.
  • Personally organized several workshops.

#19. Typos In The Contact Information Section

Imagine spending hours and hours creating a perfect resume.

And no one calls you back because you had a typo in your phone number.

Sounds painful, right?

To avoid this, before sending out your resume, double-check, even triple-check your email address and phone number, ensuring that you don’t have any typos.

If you don’t have the best eye for detail, you can also ask a friend or a family member to take a look at it for you.

#20. Using an Unprofessional Email Address

You should always use a professional email address.

Something like [Name][Last Name] @ [Email Provider].com should work just fine.

Do

jonathan.musk@example.com

Don't

boxing.fan2011@hotmail.com

Bonus points if you use Gmail and avoid outdated email providers. If you’re using an age-old email provider, the recruiter might think you’re not too tech-savvy.

#21. Lying On Your Resume

This should go without saying, but you should never, ever lie on your resume.

Even if you get lucky and get the job, you’ll end up in a very awkward situation where you can’t do what you claimed you can do.

Eventually, you’ll just end up getting fired or quitting yourself, wasting both your time and the company’s.

#22. Not Optimizing Your Resume for ATS

As we mentioned before, most large organizations today use applicant tracking systems (ATS) to automatically filter incoming resumes.

The software works as follows: it scans your resume, looking for specific keywords relevant for a job. If it doesn’t find these keywords, it automatically rejects your resume.

If you’re applying for the role of an accountant, for example, the keywords the ATS looks for could be:

  • 5+ years of experience
  • Tax accounting
  • CPA

If the ATS doesn’t find any of these keywords on your resume, it’s going to automatically reject it.

So, here are our top tips on making your resume ATS-friendly:

  • First things first - pick an ATS-friendly resume template. Not all templates can be read by an ATS. So, if you pick the wrong template, you can end up sabotaging yourself from the get-go.
  • Read the job description and identify the most important keywords for the position. Sprinkle them around your resume. Usually, you mention these in your resume summary, work experience, or skills sections.
  • Finally, don’t include any graphics or images on your resume. Things like pie charts, tables, and the like are NOT readable by applicant tracking systems.

Further Readings

And that sums up all the common resume mistakes out there!

Thanks for the read! Hopefully, we managed to help you take your resume to the next level.

Perfecting your resume, however, is only the first step in your job search - you also need to apply for the right jobs, write a convincing cover letter, and ace the interview.

Want to learn how to do all that and more? Check out some of our top resources:

  • The Job-Seeker’s Odyssey - Our very own, 100% free e-book on how to land your dream job. Includes information about every step of the job-search process, from creating a resume to nailing the interview.
  • Common Job Interview Questions - Most interviews are going to ask exactly the same questions. Learn what they are, how to prepare for them, and how to answer them right.
  • How to Write a Cover Letter - Writing a cover letter doesn't have to be hard. Learn how to do it right with our beginner’s guide.