Submitting countless job applications but never receiving a callback? Common resume mistakes could be holding you back. On average, hiring managers spend just six seconds scanning your resume before making a decision as to whether they’re going to give your candidacy a closer review or toss your resume into the “not this time” pile. Adding to the challenge: many large organizations now rely on applicant tracking systems (ATS) to pre-filter resumes, outright rejecting any that don’t include the right keywords or are formatted improperly. Unless you have an inside referral, your resume may never get read by a human.

Taking your resume from “ho-hum” to amazing – and ensuring it gets past the computer screeners and in front of the right hiring manager – could be as easy as correcting one of these four common resume mistakes:

Mistake 1. Omitting keywords. ATS software scans resumes for contextual keywords and phrases, scoring the resumes for relevancy. Only resumes with the highest scores make it through to the hiring manager. So, how do you know which phrases are most relevant to your position? Start with the job description and identify the essential keyword phrases listed in the requirements or skills section. Next, consider how to naturally integrate the most important phrases into the qualifications summary at the top of your resume. Finally, cover your bases and include both the full title and acronym when listing positions. For example, if you’re a CPA, list your job title as Certified Public Accountant (CPA).

Mistake 2: Complicated formatting. For years, job seekers have been told to submit resumes as PDFs to preserve formatting. Unfortunately, as more organizations move to pre-screening candidates via applicant tracking systems, these resumes are getting overlooked. ATS software still isn’t great at reading PDFs and may miss important content. If you’re submitting a resume through an online job portal, rather than emailing someone directly, use a Word Doc or Rich Text format. Remove any extraneous formatting like logos, images, and shading. Use a standard font; Arial and Times New Roman are always safe choices.

Mistake 3: Failing to quantify and contextualize your accomplishments. Always quantify your accomplishments and then contextualize them against broader company/industry performance. For example, “increased year-on-year sales by 54% when industry-wide sales dropped by 22%.” If your role does not have traditional hard numbers, consider how you can quantify the volume, frequency, and scale of your work. For example, “Led 6-person team to complete client project one week ahead of schedule and $5,000 under budget; first time client project came in under budget in 3 years.”

Mistake 4. Failing to customize your resume for the position. You don’t need to completely redo your resume for every application, but a few tweaks can help your resume stand out to the hiring manager. Always ensure your resume shows a clear match between your skills, experience and the position. Add a custom headline or branding statement (and integrate those keywords!), include a recent industry certification, and reorder bullets to highlight the professional achievements most relevant to this position.

For more recruiter resume secrets, be sure to check out our other blogs:


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