Avoid These Four Resume Killers

With hiring managers spending seconds on each resume-or a bot doing the work-here's how to make sure yours isn't discarded.

Published: May 15, 2019

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It's fair to say hiring managers have a tough job. For every opening they post, they sift through 250 resumes, on average, spending about only six seconds on each one. Then, if you make it past the first stage, your resume may be reviewed for all of two to five minutes before you come in for an interview.

And on top of those quick glances, studies have found that our unconscious biases make those decisions all the more subjective. Multicultural candidates see higher rates of interviews, for example, if they hide indicators of their background or simplify their name. This was the result even in cases where companies had language in materials that discussed their desire to find diverse applicants.

Your resume should concisely demonstrate one major message: This is how I made things better for my employer. 

As a job seeker, you most likely can't control how a hiring manager views your resume. But you can do several things so it doesn't flat-out get rejected. Below, some tips on how to ensure HR professionals aren't flipping to the next applicant too quickly.

Killer No. 1: Listing positions-not accomplishments.

It's natural when putting together a resume to list the jobs you've had along with a brief description of the responsibilities you had. But that tells hiring managers less than you think. Lists don't provide what managers need: Proof you can perform. "Your resume should concisely and compellingly illustrate one major message, which is, ‘This is how I made things better for my employer while I was there.'" says Korn Ferry CEO Gary Burnison.

Killer No. 2: Writing an objective.

Objectives rarely work because they're usually too broad or too specific. Think about it: how much does "seeking a challenging position" really say about what you can do for a prospective employer? Moreover, hiring managers know your real objective-to get hired. So instead of wasting time (and space) on that, focus on a summary that succinctly shows what you can do. Something like, "award-winning graphic designer" or "communications manager for fast-growing Fortune 500 company." However, if you're an entry-level employee, ditch the summary because "in most cases, it would require stretching or inflating what you know or what you've done," Burnison says.

Killer No. 3: Using meaningless words.

When describing yourself, it's common to want to use words such as "energetic," "self-starter," or "team player." But because these descriptors have been used so many times on resumes, they essentially are meaningless now. Instead, as you think of ways to showcase your story, ask yourself, "What am I known for? What are the accomplishments I want to highlight?" Often, this exercise can help you drill down on the real words that'll help you get your point across.

Killer No. 4: Not checking your spelling and grammar.

It seems obvious that you'd want to triple check names, dates and descriptions. But you'd be surprised how many people forget about this step. "Don't get tossed out of the running for a misused comma, a run-on sentence or some other error that's easy to prevent," says Gabrielle Bill, a Korn Ferry Advance career coach. Even if you do use spell check, be sure to read over it slowly with your own eyes, too. One of Bill's friends who was recruiting for CPAs once had a candidate put "certified pubic accountant" on the resume. "Since pubic is a real word, spell check didn't catch it," she says.

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