When Putting Together Your Resume, Avoid These 4 Mistakes

Walker Brown


How many resumes do you believe an HR Director or hiring manager receives for each job posting? Do you think you’d guess twenty? Thirty? I’m sorry to break it to you, but if it’s a sales position, you should revise your estimate significantly. Try more than seventy or eighty – and that’s just in the first few days after posting the job!

Now consider how hiring managers decide who to put in the “to call” pile or folder and who to reject and delete. Think again if you believe that relevant skills and experience are the most important aspects of a resume.

As you can see, there are numerous other factors that influence whether a resume is qualified for a call back versus the delete button. Before we get into the best way to write and organize your resume, let’s start with the common mistakes you want to avoid – mistakes that will automatically disqualify your resume regardless of your experience or suitability for the job.

Because of the volume of resumes received, the first thing a hiring manager does is quickly review all of them in an attempt to separate the bad ones from the good ones. You obviously don’t want your resume to be disqualified right away, so here are four mistakes to avoid so you can stay in the running.

The first error is obvious spelling mistakes or out-of-date resumes. While it may seem obvious, the first thing you should do is thoroughly spell check your resume. Even one misspelled word can signal that your resume – and you as a job applicant – are not detailed or well prepared enough to be taken seriously. It will, at the very least, push your resume to the bottom of the stack.

Your resume is your written representation of yourself, and submitting one with obvious spelling (or grammatical) errors signals that you may not be organized, detailed, or careful in your job as well. This is obviously not the impression you want to make on a hiring manager.

It is simple to avoid these mistakes, and you can start by using your spelling and grammar checker. If you are unsure about any errors, take the time to Google them and then choose the best words and tenses you can. Furthermore, always have someone else read and comment on your resume before submitting it. Another set of eyes on a document that you have worked on for a long time is essential for catching errors that you may have missed.

Error Number Two: It is critical that you properly list the dates on your various jobs. There are two things to keep in mind here: The first requirement is that none of your dates overlap; the second is that no time lapse between jobs exceeds two months.

The first is simple. If you worked at ABC company from December 2009 to January 2013, your next job should start in August 2013. Don’t make the clumsy mistake of stating that your new job began in July of 2013. This is a red flag that makes the hiring manager wonder how you managed to work two jobs at the same time. If you started the new job earlier, or if you worked at both jobs in the same month, simply stagger the start dates so they appear contiguous.

As a result, the job descriptions should be as follows:

ABC Company from December 2017 to the present CDS Company from January 2009 to March 2013

The point here is to demonstrate that after leaving one job, you were immediately hired (and thus employable) by another. There are no red flags because there are no questions. You want your employment history to be clear to a potential employer.

There may have been a three or four month gap between jobs in some cases. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but unexplained time gaps on resumes raise red flags that raise suspicions and doubts in the minds of hiring managers. You must enter a brief description of the time lapse here (and I mean brief – a sentence or two).

Make sure to choose the appropriate way to describe the passage of time. For example, if you spent the summer with your parents at their Minnesota lake house, don’t write: “Summer 2013: Spent three glorious months at our family’s lake house.”

Instead, type: “Summer 2013: Took a brief vacation before resuming my job search, which resulted in the right opportunity. ABC Company was founded in November 2013.”

If the gap is longer than three months (job searches can sometimes last six months to a year or more), you can phrase it as follows (or something equally appropriate):
“During my time between jobs, I continued my education in order to be better prepared for my next job opportunity. ABC Company was founded in February of 2014.”

The goal here is to explain any significant gaps in your employment history; you don’t want the hiring manager to wonder why you were out of work for so long. Your goal is to be succinct, professional, and upbeat.

Now that you’ve corrected any spelling or grammatical errors and explained or accounted for any time gaps between jobs that are longer than two months, it’s time to focus on the length of your resume and, more importantly, the length of time you’ve worked at each company.

Error number three: Including a history of jobs that lasted no more than two years. I can’t tell you how many resumes I’ve seen where a job applicant hasn’t worked in more than two years at a single job (or perhaps only one). When you list five or six jobs where you stayed for 24 months or less, it tells the hiring manager that you will be with them for less than two years as well. And this means that all of their time, energy, and money will be wasted because you will leave them in less than 24 months. Even if you have good reasons for leaving jobs every two years, the hiring manager will perceive you as a short-term player with a history of quitting frequently.

If this is your work history, there are several options available to you. The first is to prominently display and describe your most recent job. For example, if you worked for one company for five or six years, make sure to describe how you took on more responsibility, discuss your production and awards, and discuss the skills you used that are relevant to the new job you are applying for.

Furthermore, if any company you worked for was acquired by a new company or renamed, do not list it as a new company! Instead, include it in your job description, along with any other job titles you have. Many people make the mistake of listing a new company as if it will benefit their experience, but it will not. What will help you is to demonstrate to a potential employer that you are a long-term player who is dedicated.

If you have a string of jobs that you have held for less than two years, you have a few options. The first and most important step is to explain why you left each company. Again, your response should be succinct and professional. “Found a better opportunity,” whether true or not, is NOT the right reason. Putting that down tells the hiring manager that you are always looking for something better, and if something comes up for you while working for them, you will most likely leave as well.

Better reasons include “Company reorganized and position was eliminated,” or “Company slowdown resulted in layoffs.” Both of these are good, professional reasons that hiring managers can relate to. Others may include “Company relocated out of state” or “Company was acquired by another firm and position eliminated” (if true, of course). List additional reasons such as these if your employer had to let you go (and it was not your fault).

If you left the company for a better opportunity, you can mention it, but always explain any increased job responsibilities or positions: “Was recruited into a team lead role,” or “Was hired by ABC Company to head up new lead generation division.” The goal here is to demonstrate increased job responsibilities or positions that required better skill sets or provided opportunities for advancement. Opportunities like this that demonstrate career advancement make you appear more appealing to the hiring manager.

Error #4: Making your resume too long. Many job seekers believe that more is always better. Your resume does not fall into this category. Similar to the preceding example of not listing too many short-term job stays, you should aim to keep your next resume under two pages total. If possible, keep it to one page. You will accomplish this by limiting the number of jobs – and years – you have worked.

I hate to break it to you, but listing every job you’ve had since graduating from high school isn’t what the hiring manager is looking for. In fact, by listing all of your previous jobs on page after page, you will be raising a red flag that will alert them to the fact that you tend to move around a lot. Furthermore, a hiring manager is only looking for recent, comparable experience. So listing a variety of jobs and companies, especially if the job responsibilities differed, will not help your cause.

Instead, you should list the most recent – and most relevant – jobs that match what your prospective employer is looking for. If you have a few jobs that don’t directly relate to the skills or responsibilities required, find a way to connect them. For example, if you were a customer service representative who is now applying for a job in sales, you should emphasize how many phone calls you answered, how much your success was dependent on working with and solving problems with customers, and even how you discovered up-sell opportunities. These are transferable skills that will be very valuable to the hiring manager.

Next, as a general rule, you should limit your job history to the last ten years. Again, it makes no difference how long you’ve been working, whether it’s been eight years or twenty-eight. What they are interested in is how relevant your work history is to what they require of you. As a result, keeping your list of jobs – and thus the length of your resume – short and to the point will make you more appealing to the hiring manager. If the hiring manager asks about your work history over the phone or during the interview, you can provide it. However, if you want to move your resume to the top of the list, don’t submit a four-page resume thinking that your long and extensive job history will impress them. The reality is that this will work against you.

The bottom line with resume length is that you want to make it easy for a hiring manager to read it. You don’t want them to have to sift through three or four pages to figure out which jobs are relevant and which aren’t. It is not necessary for the hiring manager to know that your first job was at McDonald’s. What they want to know is how your current experience compares to what they are looking for right now.

To summarize the four mistakes to avoid, consider the following: The first step is to ensure that your resume is free of spelling and grammatical errors. Make sure your resume accurately represents you. Second, you want your employment dates to coincide. Furthermore, if there are any gaps in employment that are longer than three or four months, make sure to explain them in a professional manner. Third, avoid listing job after job with a duration of two years or less. Remember that whatever you put down in terms of your average length of employment is how long the hiring manager expects you to stay with them. Finally, number four is to keep your resume as brief as possible. One page is ideal, but one and a half will suffice if time is of the essence.