As an educator teaching older students job seeking skills like writing and formatting cover letters and resumes, I have seen hundreds of bad examples. Here are common resume mistakes to avoid when you prepare yours.

1. Using small fonts and narrow margins to squeeze information into 1 page

This makes your resume look crammed and hard to read, which can cause you to lose the interest of the recruiter. This then reduces your chances of being called for an interview because your resume wasn’t read. Save space by being selective about what to include, and use concise language and good formatting. Don’t go smaller than font size 11 for the main resume write ups.   

No margins and small fonts to squeeze info into 1 page.

2. Including unnecessary information

When submitting an online job application, you will usually be asked to fill up a form first. Some of the information that is asked for is date of birth, gender, full address and references. So, it is enough to state your name, email address, phone number and nationality on your resume.

Your resume should focus on relevant qualifications and achievements. Otherwise, you risk being long winded and showing that you don’t understand the job requirements. Worse, it could show that you are too lazy to customise the application. Under qualifications or education, it is enough to mention year of graduation, title of award and awarding institution. If you have a notable achievement like being on the Dean’s List, a Best ‘’Something’’ Award or cohort valedictorian, mention it.

3. Listing your Primary and Secondary Schools when you have a Diploma and above

If you have a Diploma or a professional certification such as NITEC in Singapore, ACCA or CFA, leave out your ‘O’, ‘A’ levels, secondary and primary schools because it is understood that you have them in order to qualify for higher education. However, if you don’t have a Diploma, then do list your last highest education even if it is ‘’O’’, ‘’A’’ or Primary School Leaving Cert.

4. Listing where you worked at with no write ups

Simply listing Start Date – End Date, Job Title and Organisation with no description of notable achievements and key tasks performed is unacceptable. It doesn’t market you, your expertise or show what you are capable of. Worse, you might appear lazy because writing a resume requires thought and effort to customise every job application. So if you don’t do that, it shows you simply can’t be bothered to write a persuasive resume. It also raises a red flag about sloppy work.

This shows lack of effort !

5. Chunky paragraphs

The only paragraph you could have on a resume, is the Summary section (if you include one). If you have this, it should only be 3-4 rows, and not half a page. Otherwise, bullet points are best to increase the readability of your resume as it lists your achievements. A resume should look inviting and easy to read, and not discouraging and boring.  

This is hard to scan!

6. Having Colourful or fancy graphics

Your resume is a professional document. Plenty of colour and graphics can distract and may appear childish or casual. By all means, use 1-2 matching colours for your headings and section dividers. It is also fine to use icons for categories to help your resume look less wordy. That should be all and enough.

Really… you don’t have to try that hard to get the recruiter’s attention!

7. Having A casual picture

Personally, I don’t include a picture because I want the focus to be entirely on my qualifications and achievements, and not how I look. If you do decide to include a picture, make sure it is a professional headshot and you are dressed in office wear. Do not include cute shots with peace signs or you on vacation in front of a landmark, however cute you think you look!

Nice, but better on Facebook or Instagram

Photo by Tamara Schipchinskaya on Unsplash

8. Changing the order of sections

Keep information where it is expected to be found and don’t change the order of things. For example, putting your contact details at the end of your CV or on page 2 as a sign off. Contact details (name, email and phone number) should always be the top header or the 1st thing on a sidebar. The other sections should be Summary, Skills, Work Experience and Education in that order for working adults. Students without work experience should list Education first, followed by Internships, Extra Curricular Activities (ECA) and Volunteer to show non-academic skills. Treat the Volunteer and ECA sections as job write ups and describe what you contributed in those roles.

Contact Details and Professional Summary should be up there in your resume!

9. Being vague

This happens frequently under the job experience write up. Some examples of ambiguity are ‘’Led a team of 5’’, ‘’Headed the sales department’’ or ‘’Implemented branch welfare activities’’. Be more specific and how did what you do add value? Instead, say ‘’Led a team of 5 to improve responsiveness to customer enquiries’’ or ‘’Managed all sales functions ranging from new customer acquisition, marketing and post sales enquiries’’ or ‘’Implemented casual Fridays to create a friendlier work environment.’’ See the difference in the table below?

VagueSpecific
Led a team of 5Led a team of 5 to improve responsiveness to customer enquiries
Headed the Sales Department Managed all sales functions ranging from new customer acquisition,  marketing and post sales enquiries
Implemented branch welfare activitiesImplemented casual Fridays to create a friendlier work environment.

10. Using a linear format

A linear format is one where your eyes move down a document and information is listed row by row. This does not help with quick scanning and allows you to show one type of info at a time. It also pushes equally important information to Page 2. I am a great fan of sidebars to display short information like Awards, Conferences, Publications or Education. Sidebars are really efficient use of space – think of them as wall shelves! You would be surprised how a 1.5 page resume can be shortened into a one page resume with a few changes. You don’t even need to be a super-duper layout designer! A Microsoft Table, borders and merge cells do the trick!

(Left) A linear format running on to Page 2

(Right) The same information displayed in just one page with a sidebar format.

11. Bad punctuation and inconsistent formats.

An award, a qualification and job title are proper nouns, so punctuate properly. Many students write  Bachelor of arts, history, National University of Singapore or Sales manager, Abc corporation, forgetting that these are the names of titles and companies. Write Bachelor of Social Sciences, History, National University of Singapore and Sales Manager, ABC Corporation.  Another thing to watch out for is inconsistent date formats. For example, writing March 2020 – Apr 2020. If you want to spell the month full, do it. If you want to use the 1st 3 letters of the month use it.

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