The Top Ten Pitfalls in Resume Writing

1. Too long.
  • Most new graduates should restrict their resumes to one page. If you have trouble condensing, get help from a technical or business writer or a career center professional.

2. Typographical, grammatical or spelling errors.

  • These errors suggest carelessness, poor education and/or lack of intelligence. Have at least two others proofread it before submitting. Don't rely on spell-checkers or grammar-checkers on the computer.

3. Hard to read.

  • A poorly typed or copied resume looks unprofessional. Use a computer and a plain typeface, no smaller than a 12-point font. Asterisks, bullets, underlining, boldface type and italics should be used only to make the document easier to read, not fancier. Again, ask a professional's opinion.

4. Too verbose (using too many words to say too little).

  • Do not use complete sentences or paragraphs. Say as much as possible with as few words as possible. A, an, and the, can almost always be left out. Be careful in your use of jargon and avoid slang.

5. Too sparse.

  • Give more than the bare essentials, especially when describing related work experience, skills, accomplishments, interests and club memberships that will give employers desired information. For example, including membership in the Society of Women Engineers, would be helpful to employers who wish to hire more women, yet cannot ask for that information.

6. Irrelevant information.

  • Customize each resume to each position you seek (when possible). Of course, include all education and work experience, but emphasize only relevant experience, skills, accomplishments, activities and hobbies. Do not include marital status, age, sex, children, height, weight, health, church membership, etc.

7. Obviously generic.

  • Too many resumes scream, "I need a job-any job!" The employer needs to feel that you are interested in that position with that company.

8. Too snazzy.

  • Of course, use good quality bond paper, but avoid exotic types, colored paper, photographs, binders and graphics. More and more companies are scanning resumes into a database, so use white paper, black ink, plain type, and avoid symbols, underlining or italics.

9. Boring.

  • Make your resume as dynamic as possible. Begin every statement with an action verb. Use active verbs, describing what you accomplished on the job. Don't write what someone else told you to do; write what you did. Take advantage of your rich vocabulary and avoid repeating words, especially the first word in a section.

10. Too modest.

  • The resume showcases your qualifications in competition with the other applicants. Put your best foot forward without misrepresentation, falsification or arrogance.

The Three R's

The three R's of resume writing are Research, Research, Research. You must know what the prospective company does, what the position involves, and whether you will be a fit, before submitting your resume. That means doing research about the company, the position, and the type of employee the company typically hires.

Research the company.

Read whatever literature the company has placed in the career library. For additional information, try the Internet or, even more directly, call the company. Ask for any literature they may have. Find out how the company is structured, and ask what qualities the company generally looks for in its employees. Ask if they are located in your area, find out the name of the department head and give him or her a call. Explain that you are trying to decide whether or not to apply to their company, and ask for their recommendation for next steps. Thank that person for the information, and ask to whom your resume should be directed.

Research the position.

The more you know about the position, the better able you will be to sell yourself and to target the resume to that position. If possible, interview someone who does that same job. In addition to finding out about the duties, ask if there is on-the-job training, whether they value education over experience (or vice versa), and what kind of turnover the department experiences. Ask what they like about the position and the company; more importantly, ask what they don't like about it.

Finally, research yourself.

Your goal is not just to get a job. Your goal is to get a job that you will enjoy. After you find out all you can about the company and the position, ask yourself honestly whether this is what you really want to do and where you really want to be. The odds are overwhelming that you will not hold this position for more than two or three years, so it's not a lifetime commitment; however, this first job will be the base of your lifetime career. You must start successfully so that future recommendations will always be positive. Furthermore, three years is a long time to spend doing something you don't like, working in a position that isn't challenging, or living somewhere you don't want to live.

Once you have done this research, you will sell yourself more effectively. Most employers devote an average of 15 to 30 seconds to each one, so it is your responsibility to make it attractive, readable and informational. One last word of advice: Before you go to the interview, review the version of your resume that you submitted to this employer. The resume can only get you the interview; the interview gets you the job.