Most job seekers understand their resume plays a vital role in helping them make the best possible impression on employers. They know that employers use resumes to screen applicants and identify the most qualified candidates for any position. What many of them may not recognize, however, is how those same employers can use resume mistakes to eliminate candidates before they've even received an interview opportunity.

In this article, we'll explain why employers are on the lookout for certain red-flag resume mistakes. We'll also explore eleven common resume errors that you need to avoid if you want to increase your odds of receiving an interview and offer some simple tips you can use to stay away from obvious resume red flags.

Why do employers care about resume mistakes?

You might be wondering why employers even take note of resume mistakes. After all, most employers are not professional writers, so why would they care if your resume contains a few errors here and there? 

The explanation is quite simple: the quality of your resume may provide critical information about the type of worker you might be. 

For example:

  • Poor spelling and bad grammatical construction can suggest you're not focused on the details – which could indicate you lack vital skills needed for the job.

  • Bad resume formatting could be interpreted as a lack of organizational skills.

  • If you provide insufficient or excessive details – or include irrelevant information – the employer may struggle to identify why you even want the position.

The fact is that any avoidable resume mistakes can harm your candidacy during the initial review process. Remember, employers often skim through many dozens of resume submissions. They typically spend only a few seconds with each resume to determine whether it warrants a more comprehensive review. Even one error could get your resume rejected before the employer has given it any real attention.

Eleven resume mistakes: examples of red flag errors

 1.      Spelling and grammatical mistakes

Let's start with one of the most obvious red flags: poor spelling and bad grammar. 

If you've never been particularly proficient with spelling, punctuation, and grammar, you may struggle to create an error-free resume – and employers will almost certainly take note of any of these types of resume mistakes. 

Unfortunately, they're unlikely to simply overlook those errors. Instead, most will simply reject your resume and move on to the next candidate.

To avoid that rejection, it's important to use every available tool to ensure that your resume is as well-written as possible. You can start with your word processing program's spell-check feature, but that should just be the beginning of your proofreading efforts. 

It's also helpful to have your resume read several times by people you trust. Ask them to review it for noticeable errors, narrative flow, and overall messaging.

2.    Using bad formatting and structure

If you're unfamiliar with resume formatting, take the time to learn more about format best practices. While there are three main formats you can choose, experts recommend the reverse-chronological format or hybrid option for most job seekers. 

Check out this article to learn more about The Best Resume Format to Get Hired.

In addition to choosing the right resume format, you also need to structure your resume the right way. Remember, hiring managers don't read resumes the same way they read newspaper stories or books. Instead of reading your document from start to finish, they typically skim it while searching for details that capture their attention. Sometimes, they're searching for required skills or experiences. At other times, they may be looking for achievements that showcase your potential value.

Your job is to structure your resume in a way that facilitates that search. To do that, you need to separate information by grouping distinct types of employment details into clearly identifiable sections. That structure will make it easier for your readers to find what they're looking for.

Related reading: Seven Key Resume Sections and How to Organize Them

3.    Failing to include technological skills

With the rapid advancement of the internet and other commercial technologies, computer skills are playing an increasingly vital role in many job searches. Even if your job doesn't focus on using technology, employers may view a lack of technological skills with skepticism. 

If you are proficient with computers, point-of-sale systems, or online research, it's almost always wise to include at least one of those technological skills in your resume.

4.    Including irrelevant skills

One of the quickest ways to raise red flags with employers is to include a host of irrelevant skills in your resume's skills section. Always remember to match your resume to the job you're seeking to avoid confusing hiring managers and other decision-makers. 

Start by reviewing the job posting and role description to identify the required skills for the position – and then add those skills to your core competencies list.

The final list of bullet point skills that you include in your resume should be a balanced mix of core job-related hard skills and vital soft skills that will help you perform the role's duties. 

To learn more about skills and options for improving them, check out our guide, What Are Skills? (With Examples and Tips on How to Improve Them).

5.    Incomplete contact information

Employers will also take a dim view of any resume that contains incorrect or incomplete contact information. 

For example, if your resume doesn't include a working phone number or a professional email address, they'll likely reject it. That's also true if you include an invalid LinkedIn URL, use an alias instead of your real name, or fail to update your city and state location information after moving. Fortunately, this type of error should be easy to avoid if you're regularly updating your resume details.

6.    Focusing on your objectives rather than the company's needs

There used to be a time when the objective statement was viewed as a normal part of any resume. Candidates would simply include a statement that outlined their career goals and how the company's mission aligned with those objectives. These days, however, many employers dismiss that approach, preferring instead to see candidates focus on how they can benefit the company.

That's why most experts recommend you create a resume summary to take the place of that old objective statement. Use three to five sentences to briefly summarize your experience, notable skills, and relevant achievements to demonstrate the type of value you can provide if you're hired for the position.

Related reading: 11 Key Things to Put on Your Resume

7.    Using a generic resume

Are you one of those people who send out the exact same resume to every employer? If so, it's time to try a different approach. 

Employers usually recognize a generic resume when they see it, and they're rarely impressed. As a rule, you should always tailor your resume to align with each job that you're seeking to speak directly to that employer's needs.

Again, you'll need to start with the job posting to ensure that you've identified all the core requirements for the position. Find the needed skills, educational credentials, and experiences that the employer is seeking, and tailor your resume to ensure that you're targeting that role.

Related reading: How to Write a Targeted Resume that Lands You an Interview

8.    Exceeding standard resume length

Believe it or not, even something as seemingly simple as the length of your resume could be sending the wrong message to employers. Unless you're an entry-level employee who just graduated from school, chances are that you'll need a two-page resume to tell your story. After all, a great resume should contain:

  • Your contact information

  • Your desired job title, in headline form

  • A resume summary

  • Your skills section

  • Detailed work experience section

  • Education information

  • Other optional sections, as needed

For most employees with any level of experience, those details and sections usually won't fit on a single page. Of course, you also don't want to go over two pages unless you're applying for a position that requires information about research projects, publications, or other specialized achievements. So, stick to a two-page resume, and you'll be less likely to raise any red flags with employers.

Related reading: Whether or Not to Use a Two-page Resume

9.    Not using keywords properly

It's also vital to make sure that you don't make any errors regarding resume keywords – those specific terms that job postings use to outline the qualifications for the position. Make sure you understand what the words mean and the context in which they should be used. 

Any employer who sees keywords misused within your resume will likely assume that you're not really qualified for the position.

Expert tip: Don't ignore the important role that keywords play in your resume success. Not only are these keywords and phrases vital for conveying your qualifications to employers, but they're even more important for ensuring that your resume gets past any applicant tracking systems the employer is using to screen candidate submissions.

Related reading: How to Make an ATS-Friendly Resume - Tips for ATS 2024

10. Including references and/or desired salary

Another thing that most employers don't want to see in your resume is any mention of references or your desired salary. Employers expect that you'll provide references if they request them, so any mention of them in your resume is an unnecessary waste of vital resume space. 

Meanwhile, including your salary requirements in the document is always premature and may be viewed as overconfidence or a lack of professionalism. Save it for the interview.

11. Focusing on job duties rather than quantifiable achievements

The last of our major resume mistakes can occur when your resume narrative is focused on your previous job responsibilities and duties. Employers understand that everyone has responsibilities; they want to know how you leveraged those responsibilities to create real value in your past positions. To demonstrate that value, you should focus on providing information about your measurable achievements in those previous roles.

By creating four to six bullet point achievements for each prior job, you can highlight the many ways your employment benefited past companies. If you also include real numbers – how your actions saved money, increased revenue, improved efficiency, or cut costs – in those achievements, you can help the employer recognize the type of value that you could also provide for their company.

Related reading: 47 Accomplishment Examples for Your Resume: Expert Picks

Tips to help you avoid resume mistakes and create a more compelling resume

As we've addressed each of these common resume mistakes, we've also tried to offer some simple advice to help you avoid those errors. But those are not the only things you can do to create a more compelling and error-free resume that speaks to an employer's needs! 

Below, we'll examine some other tips that can help you avoid red flags that employers might be looking for as they review your resume.

Don't rely on generic resume templates

There are a whole host of resume templates available online, and some of them are reasonably well-constructed. Many can even be used as a basic guide to help you structure your own resume document. 

However, it's never a good idea to simply plug your information into one of those templates and send it off to employers. Always take the time to customize that document to align with the job you're seeking and your specific career needs.

Keep it professional

Make sure you read through your resume several times to eliminate any informal language, slang, and unnecessary jargon. Remember, your resume is your primary job search marketing tool; you need to keep everything as professional as possible. 

You only get one chance to make a great first impression that can help you land the interview you need to advance your career.

Related reading: Make the Perfect First Impression with Your Resume

Focus on value

As you read your resume, ask yourself one question: does this document accurately convey the type of value I can provide as an employee? 

If it doesn't deliver that message, continue to revise it with more metric-based achievements that highlight your ability to provide measurable positive results for any employer. It's not what you do that matters to employers; it's how your results benefit the people who pay your salary.

Get professional assistance

If you still find yourself struggling to craft a resume that captures employers' attention, there's always another option: seek professional help from proven resume experts. 

A professionally written resume can dramatically improve your job search success by helping ensure that your resume gets past the ATS, generates interest with hiring managers and other decision-makers, and helps you land more interviews.

Avoid resume mistakes and the red flags employers are looking for

The bottom line is clear: you can't always control every employer's reaction to your resume, but you can control common resume mistakes – errors that are almost certain to make a bad impression on those key decision-makers. 

By taking the time to focus on staying away from these mistakes, you can avoid unnecessary red flags that might distract employers from your resume's positive value-focused narrative.

Want to make sure that you've avoided the most common resume mistakes and employer red flags? Get a free resume review from our team of experts today and enjoy the error-free, compelling resume that you need for job search success.

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