Money & Career

The 3 most common résumé mistakes

Author: Canadian Living

Money & Career

The 3 most common résumé mistakes

Whether you knew it or not, if you're looking for a job, you're already employed. What do I mean? Welcome to the world of sales. Even if you haven't worked a day in months or are currently employed by Greenpeace, you need to get comfortable with the idea of selling your skills, talents, and expertise in the marketplace if you want to land a job in the next 50 years. As we stated earlier, selling yourself isn't about becoming fake or phony, but let's acknowledge the fact that in most cases, the phone isn't ringing off the hook with job offers for you. If you want the phone to ring, you've got to make others aware of how you can contribute to the success of their organizations. And, friends, that's sales, 100 per cent.

For job-seekers, selling begins on paper
Whether you're writing a résumé, cover letter or e-mail, your ability to communicate with insight and impact is critical when applying for jobs. After all, busy professionals -- including recruiters and hiring managers -- are inundated with e-mails, resumes and other materials on a daily basis. The result? Long e-mails, boring letters and unprofessional résumés get discarded, deleted and ignored. If you want your résumé and cover letter to get read, be remembered, and stand out above the noise and competition, avoid the common mistakes that many job seekers make.

Mistake #1: You confused them
Let's imagine a typical job-search scenario: You've read about an interesting job online, so you whip up a cover letter, dash off your résumé, and you wait by the phone (or computer) for some kind of acknowledgment or reply from a recruiter about what's to come. Unfortunately, the phone doesn't ring and you're left wondering what you did wrong. Consider this possibility: You were confusing. Maybe you applied for a sales position, but you also mentioned that “you'd be open to a position in marketing or finance” in your cover letter. Or perhaps you have job experience in everything from teaching English to baking pastries -- and it's all on your résumé.

The solution? Clarity. When you give too much information about you, your professional history, your future career goals, or anything else for that matter, you run the risk of confusing people. As much as we'd like to think people read what we write (she writes, hopefully) and listen to what we say, chances are, they don't. People are busy and time is limited. Your job is to be direct, clear, and get to the point -- fast.

Before you send out a résumé or pick up the phone, ask yourself this question: “Above everything else, what is the one thing I want the reader of this e-mail/résumé/cover letter to know about me?” Think about how you can edit -- or even remove -- everything on paper that doesn't fit your “one thing” requirement. For instance, if you're dying for a position in investment banking, do you really need five bullet points on your résumé about your work as an English teacher? The more information you throw at somebody, the less likely it will be read and really remembered.

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Excerpted from Work 101 by Elizabeth Freedman. Copyright 2007 by Elizabeth Freedman. Excerpted by permission of Delta, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Mistake #2: You bored them
Busy professionals -- including recruiters and hiring managers -- are swamped with information. Consider the hundreds of résumés, e-mails and phone calls they have to field within any given day, not to mention the number of candidates they meet and interview within any given week, and you see how critical it is to break through the clutter and capture their attention in a professional way. Bore them, and, chances are, you'll lose them.

The solution? Offer meaningful information that matters to readers. If you want your résumé and cover letter to stand out above the noise and competition, your written materials must be concise, clear, and deliver meaningful messages that grab the reader. Leave out the clichés like, “I'm a team player,” “I think outside the box,” or “I'm a hard worker.” Even if these things are true about you, everybody writes this stuff, and these kinds of descriptors are just too broad and sweeping to really deliver any meaning, anyway. Plus, do you really believe it when someone else tells you that they are a “hard worker”? If you're like most people, you'll believe it when you see it. Recruiters are the same way. If you really are a hard worker and you want to say so, then you also need to prove it. Don't write it unless you're also prepared to offer a clear, concise example about a time when you really put the pedal to the metal. In fact, whenever you write anything about yourself, always be ready to offer up a story, an example, or some other evidence that truly demonstrates you are who you say you are.

Mistake #3: You didn't tailor for them
When it comes to your résumé and cover letter (though I prefer “marketing materials”), one size does not fit all. Writing a powerful résumé and a cover letter that packs a punch aren't exactly a walk in the park. This stuff takes time and effort, which is why many of us don't relish the thought of going through the process more than once. The result? We send the exact same résumé and cover letter (with a change of name or address here or there) to each and every job we apply for. But this isn't smart: When you don't take the time to tailor your résumé and cover letter for distinct positions, you dilute the strength of your résumé and will have a tougher time competing against others who will have a stronger focus and message than yours.

The solution? Position your resume and cover letter, each and every time you send them out. I'm not suggesting you reinvent the wheel or create an entirely new set of materials for every job that's out there. Instead, look carefully at the job description before you click send and make sure that your information truly reflects the needs of the employer and how you can best contribute to those needs. Yes, this is extra effort, but it's not always easy to get a foot in a door and a shot at your dream job. Make the most of every opportunity and take the extra time to really customize your marketing materials -- it may make the difference between an interview for you or someone else.

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Excerpted from Work 101 by Elizabeth Freedman. Copyright 2007 by Elizabeth Freedman. Excerpted by permission of Delta, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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The 3 most common résumé mistakes

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