39 resume mistakes that kill your applications

If you’ve not been able to bag the interviews you were hoping for, you’re resume is probably the root cause of this problem.

But the good news is, if you fix your resume, the interview requests will start to flood in.

Check out these 39 damaging (but very common) resume mistakes, and learn how to fix them in order to move closer to landing that dream job.


Not tailoring your resume

Untailored resume


Your resume must be targeted to appeal solely to the niche of employers and vacancies that you are applying to.

Not tailoring your resume is the most damaging mistake that you can make when writing your resume.

If you only address one mistake on your resume, make it this one.

When an employer reads your resume, the fundamental fact they want to understand is whether or not you can do the job.

If your resume doesn’t include the skills and knowledge that your target employers are looking for, you won’t be shortlisted – no matter how well written and structured your resume is.

Do your research and find out exactly what your desired employers are looking for, then make sure that you are making those requirements prominent on your resume.

Relevant job adverts and company websites are good places to start when researching the requirements for your target roles.

Damage rating: High



Wild unproven Claims

“Best salesman in Europe”?

“Most successful project manager in the industry”?

“Widely regarded as leading figure in merchant banking”?

Writing these sort of phrases on your resume may secure you a place on Donald Trump’s Apprentice, but they just look a bit embarrassing in the real world.

Claims like this are often impossible to prove and do not look very credible.

Use facts and real examples of your success to prove your value to employers whilst remaining humble.

Damage rating: Medium


A ridiculous email address

resume email address

When you’re trying to impress and appear credible, it’s a big mistake to brand the top of your resume with something like badboyz4eva69@yahoo.com

It looks hugely unprofessional and will have readers questioning your judgement and general approach to work.

If you do have an email address that seemed really cool when you created it, but now leaves you slightly embarrassed, set up a separate professional email address for your job hunting mail.

Damage rating: Low


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Big chunks of text

Huge unbroken paragraphs of text are a reader’s worst nightmare – especially when those readers are looking at hundreds of resumes every week.

resume paragraph vs bullet points

Instead of making employers wade through large messy chunks of text; break the information up into short paragraphs and bullet points.

This way they will be able skim read your resume and easily spot the information that they are looking for.

Damage rating: Medium


Not showing your impact

It’s great to demonstrate your skills and abilities in your resume but you also need to show what sort of impact they make on an employer.

Don’t simply state your responsibilities and knowledge – but go on to explain the results of your skills when you apply them.


Impact of achievements


For example, don’t just write;

“Producing financial reports and reviewing spending”

Elaborate to show your impact

“Producing financial reports and reviewing spending, resulting in a $10k annual saving”

It may not be possible to do this for every one of your responsibilities but try to do it where possible.

The addition of numbers, figures or facts is a great way to quantify your impact.

Damage rating: Medium



Resume Keyword stuffing

You may have read that your resume will sometimes have to pass through an automated computer resume scanning system before it reaches a human reviewer.

These systems search resumes for key words that are related to a vacancy and then filter out any resumes that don’t contain the words they need – therefore ensuring that only relevant resumes reach the recruiter.

Knowledge of this process has caused some candidates to panic and repeatedly cram keywords into their resume summary in an attempt to “beat the system” – check out the example below.

Key word stuffing in resume profile

Whilst this may seem like a good idea to ensure that you get your resume in front of decision makers; it’s not a great tactic in the long run.

Why not?

Firstly, it looks hugely unnatural and won’t make for very good reading when an actual human lays eyes on it.

It ruins the flow of your writing and stops you from communicating your points fully.

If you received a resume that read like this, would you be impressed?

Secondly, not all companies use these systems and good recruiters certainly don’t rely on them. Most recruitment processes are still very people orientated with IT systems simply supporting the resume reviewing process – not replacing it.

Write your resume to impress real people first and tweak it for computer systems afterwards if need be – but do not stuff keywords in where they shouldn’t be.

Damage rating: Medium


Not giving a high level summary of roles

When writing your role descriptions, avoid diving straight into the details of your responsibilities without setting the scene first. It will make it difficult for readers to understand how your work impacts your employer and how you could fit into a new team.

Start each role with a brief summary of what your employer/team does and how your work contributes to the organization at high level.

Damage rating: Medium


Meaningless clichés

Poor resume profile

Your resume should focus on hard facts like skills, achievements and industry knowledge.

Cliché Phrases like “works well in a team or individually” or “blue-sky thinker with a can-do attitude” may look fancy but they don’t actually tell anybody much about you.

Concentrate on explaining exactly what you’ve done for your employer and how it has benefited the organization to show the positive impact that can be made by hiring you – and demonstrate real hard and interpersonal skills.

Bulking out your resume with vague and overly complex descriptions like the one above will just confuse and annoy employers.

Damage rating: Medium


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Adding reasons for leaving

Recruiters don’t need to see the reasons you left for every job on your resume. Your resume should be solely focused on attracting employers by selling your talents.

You will need to convey your motivation for leaving your current role and joining a new employer, but you can explain this briefly in your cover letter – don’t waste space on your resume with it.

Damage rating: Low


Elaborate fonts

One of the most important aspects of an effective resume is that it should be easy for recruiters and employers to read.

Whilst it can be tempting to use a fancy font to add a bit of elegance to your resume, it will actually make your resume tough to read and give recruiters a bit of a headache.

Take a look at the examples below.

resume font

If you were sifting through hundreds of resumes a week, which font would you be more pleased to see?

Use a simple, clean font like Arial or Tahoma for a professional easy-to-read resume.

Damage rating: Medium


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Salary requirements/details

The purpose of your resume is to secure job interviews by demonstrating your suitability for the roles you are applying for – money does not come into the equation at this stage.

There’s also an element of holding your cards close to your chest when it comes to salary details, if you want to secure the highest possible rate.

For example, if a company is able to pay $60,000 for a job and you’ve already told them that you only want $35,000 in your resume, then you will make it very difficult to negotiate closer to the $40,000 mark when it comes to offer stage.

Making salary demands at such an early stage of the application can also seem a little forward in terms of job search etiquette, so wait until the initial telephone conversation to talk about remuneration.

Damage rating: Low


Logos and images

Logos and images aren’t necessary in a resume; they often aren’t formatted well and take up a lot of space on the page that could be better used describing your value with words.

Too many images can also inflate the file size of your resume and confuse resume scanning software, meaning delayed or failed delivery to some inboxes.

Keep things simple by using text only in your resume – maybe a headshot photo if your industry and region prefer them.

Damage rating: Low


Not enough detail in current role

Your current (or most recent) role, is one of the most important factors in your resume.

After giving your resume a quick scan, most recruiters will jump straight to your current role and study it in some detail.

The reason for this is that your current role gives recruiters the greatest indication of what you’re currently capable of.

Not enough info in first role of resume

If you have rushed the addition of your latest job to your resume and you’re not including all of your newly acquired skills and experience, then you are doing yourself a great disservice.

When updating your resume, dedicate some serious time and effort to writing your latest role, it will pay off in the long run.

The only time this could be acceptable is if you are a recent school leaver and your most recent role is less relevant than your education or other factors in the resume.

Check out our professional resume samples to see some real life examples of effective resumes

Damage rating: High


Too much detail in older roles

Employers don’t need to know all of your day-to-day responsibilities from a job that you did 10 years ago – they will only glance at them at most.

resume older roles

When describing older roles, a short summary will suffice and free up space to add more details in recent roles.

Damage rating: Low


Crazy resume colors

Whilst a splash of color has become more common in resumes recently (Especially when applying to less conventional firms); be cautious with the amount and type of colors you use.

If you’re going to add a bit of color then stick to safe colors and only use them in headings.

Don’t go overboard by writing the whole resume in a bright neon color or changing the background color.

resume colors

When applying to traditional companies like banks or law firms, play it safe with black and white.

Damage rating: Medium


resume builder


Resume skills graphs

Skills graph

The idea behind resume skills graphs is that they give readers a quick visual demonstration of a candidate’s abilities in certain areas.

However, the problem with skills graphs is that they offer no real tangible scale and often leave employers with no real indication of skill levels.

Instead of using skills graphs; stick to plain and simple facts written in text.

To give indications of skill levels that recruiters can actually relate to, use real life measurements such as;

  • Length of experience – “3 years HTML coding experience”
  • Qualifications and training – “Windows certified”
  • Scale of tasks – “Led a team of 5 in the management of a $50k event”

Damage rating: Medium


Inconsistent use of fonts

Inconsistent resume fonts

Few things make a resume look messier than a mish-mash of fonts scattered across the page.

Use one font throughout the whole resume or use one for the body of your writing and another for headings.

Damage rating: Medium


Excessive word repetition

Repeating a word several times in a short space of your resume shows poor written communication and a lack of creativity.

Repetition in resume

If you find that you have done this in your own resume, have a think about how you could restructure the sentence or head over to thesaurus.com to find some alternative words to replace your overused terms.

Damage rating: Medium



Messy resume page transitions

Your resume is a professional document and should be formatted accordingly. Messy page transitions like the one below, look sloppy and may worry recruiters.

Page transition

If you received a leaflet from a business and the information was poorly laid out like the above, you would probably have reservations about hiring them – the same is true of recruiters, when they see a poorly structured resume like this.

This is not a deal breaker but definitely worth fixing by adjusting your page margins or moving a section on the next page.

Damage rating: Low



Photo on resume

Unless you’re a model or actor, then a photograph will not add value to your resume; especially not a professionally staged shot with an attempt at a profound looking pose. The best it will achieve is a few laughs from recruiters as it gets passed round the office for their amusement.

Space on your resume is limited so use it wisely by filling it with compelling content that will convince the reader that you are worthy of an interview.

The only exception to this role is that certain states, industries and regions outside of the US actually like to see photos – check with colleagues or specific industry guidance in your field.

Damage rating: Low



Too many pages

Resume length


A seven page resume is not going to be read by a busy recruiter or employer – they just don’t have the time when dealing with scores of applications.

Keep your resume as close to two pages as possible and make your points short and sharp, to ensure that you are communicating the important information quickly and creating a high impact resume.

Damage rating: Medium


Basic language

Your resume is supposed to be an impressive professional document and the language you use plays an important part in that.

If you use overly simplistic terminology throughout your resume, you run the risk of appearing as an average candidate with poor communication skills.

Avoid writing sentences like this;

“Helping out with different important tasks to free up time for the manager”

It looks very simple and isn’t very descriptive due to the basic wording.

Instead; use more precise terminology and well structured sentences to explain your points properly.

For example you could change the above to;

“Supporting various business critical functions to relieve management of administration duties”

Damage rating: High



Ordering roles incorrectly

Roles should be listed in reverse chronological order; meaning that you start with your current role at the top and work your way down to your oldest role.

Work experience

The reason for this, is that recruiters want to know what your current abilities are and they will study your current or most recent role in great detail to find out. They are not hugely interested in the roles you did 5 or 10 years ago, as you’ve probably progressed quite a lot since then.

This mistake is considered to be a deal-breaker by hiring managers and not many people make it, so ensure that it’s not in your resume.

Damage rating: High


Unexplained Gaps in your resume

Are CV gaps bad


Sometimes there will be gaps in your employment; it’s a fairly common occurrence for people to have time out of work.

But if you leave a big gap in your work history without explaining it, you will worry employers. It gives the impression that you just haven’t done anything for that period.

Don’t be afraid to write about time out travelling or completing personal projects when writing your resume. It’s better to show that you’ve been doing something constructive than nothing at all. Some employers even like to see activities like travelling as it can demonstrate pro-activity and social abilities.

Another thing you shouldn’t be ashamed of including, is time out due to serious illness. Illness is something that’s out of your control and good employers will not discriminate against you for it.

Damage rating: High


Sending your resume in a non-text format

Although it can be a good idea to save your resume as a PDF to give it a more polished look, you should avoid saving it in a non-text version such as an image file, for the following reasons:

  • It’s not editable:

You will often have to make edits to your resume before sending to different jobs, so you should always keep an editable version of your resume on file, such as a Word document – this can be quickly edited and saved into a PDF as and when you need.

  • Text documents are the most widely used and accepted resume format

99.9% of recruiters and hiring managers work with systems that are prepared to open and read text files like Microsoft Word documents or PDF files, so it’s best to use a text based system if you want to ensure your resume gets read.

Damage rating: Low


Including reference details

Reference style

Employers will not ask for reference details until offer stage, so there’s no need to waste space on your resume by including the names and addresses of 10 ex-managers.

More importantly, some less-scrupulous recruiters may contact referees without your permission in order to pitch their services – this could be damaging to your relationships.

Damage rating: Low


Poor file naming

When you email your resume to somebody, the document name can be clearly seen in the attachments. If you haven’t given the file a suitable name, it can look a little unprofessional.

Sloppy vs good resume email

Take a couple of seconds to change the file name to something that creates a more polished image. Your name followed by resume should suffice.

Damage rating: Low


Wasting space

Ideally you should be trying to fit your resume on to 2 pages, so leaving lots of blank space due to large page margins and gaps between sections is not a good idea.

Reduce your page margins, avoid using big gaps between sections and make sure you squeeze your contact details down into a small area at the top of your resume.

Focus on filling the limited space you have, with compelling reasons to hire you.

Damage rating: Low


Grammar mistakes

Strong candidates will be expected to have strong written communication skills, so grammar mistakes can seriously harm your credibility.

resume grammar mistakes

Proof read your resume to check for grammatical errors and use a grammar checking tool like our partner’s resume builder if you want further reassurance.

You can also take a look at this infographic from CopyBlogger that shows the 15 most common grammar errors.

Damage rating: High



Spelling mistakes

resume incorrect spelling

With automatic spell checkers coming as standard with most word processing packages, you really shouldn’t have incorrectly spelt words on your resume.

It goes without saying that spelling mistakes will damage the perception of your resume massively.

Don’t become completely reliant on spellcheck to eliminate all errors though – it won’t always pick up typos or miss-used words, so take the time to proof read your resume.

Damage rating: High



Writing in third person narration

Your resume is a communication between yourself and your potential employers; so it should be written accordingly in the first person narrative.

Third person resume

resume’s written in third person narration break the communication channel slightly and can also appear a little arrogant and out-of-touch.

In my experience, third-person narration also tends to be a sign that the candidate may be a bit of a diva – which is not the image you should be projecting.

Write your resume in the first person narrative to connect with readers and demonstrate an unpretentious attitude.

Damage rating: Medium


Your date of birth or age

Employers do not need to know your date of birth or age to make a decision on whether to hire you or not – they only need to know if you have the right skills and experience.

Damage rating: Low


Your full address

resume address

Similar to your date of birth, your full address is surplus to requirement. It will take up a lot of space on your resume and it’s more detail than recruiters need to see.

Instead of your full address, just include your general location (e.g. San Francisco Bay area, New York City etc.) and if you are willing to relocate, then make that known also.

Damage rating: Low


Keep your personal information safe: Your date of birth and address are valuable pieces of information that can be used against you if they get in to the wrong hands.

If an ID thief gets hold of your name, address and DOB, they can potentially apply for finance in your name – so it’s best not to place these details on a document that you will be circulating online.


Strange or controversial interests

If you have any hobbies or interests that may offend certain groups or give a slightly odd first impression of you – then just don’t include them.

At best they won’t make a difference, at worst they may lead to your rejection.

Damage rating: Medium


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Sometimes candidates (especially junior candidates) will panic if their resume is coming in a bit short and try to “pad it out” by lengthening sentences and including surplus details.

Recruiters want to see the important facts quickly and padding will only weaken your message, so don’t try to lengthen your resume for the sake of it.

If you are worried that your resume is lacking anything, then scan LinkedIn for similar candidates to yourself and see if they are including any important information that you aren’t.

My resume writing guide will also help if you’re unsure of what your resume should include.

Damage rating: Medium



Lies on your resume such as improved qualifications or fabricated experience are not advised.

Do some people lie on their resume and get away with? Sure, some people probably do… but it’s not worth the risk.

Firstly, diligent recruiters will look into facts that don’t add up, so you could find yourself getting caught out in the early stages and even blacklisted from certain agencies.

Secondly, if you manage to cheat your way into a job based on skills and experience that you don’t have; you’re going to struggle to perform from day one in the job, and will eventually get caught out anyway.

Damage rating: High


Overuse of personal pronouns

Recruiters and employers will understand who you are referring to without the need to frequently repeat the words I, me etc.

Sometimes you will need to include personal pronouns but it should be the exception rather than the rule.

As you can see from the examples below – the language flows a lot better and sounds more professional when you refrain from using personal pronouns.

resume personal pronouns

Damage rating: Medium


Leaving resume template instructions in

resume template instructions

Using a good resume template or even a resume builder, is a great way to get a head start in the writing of your resume, but make sure that you remove any instructions that are included in it.

This is a really sloppy mistake that will not go down well with recruiters and employers.

Damage rating: High



Unclear resume section divisions

In order for your resume to be easily navigated and look professional, you need to ensure that it’s sections are clearly defined.

A resume where sections aren’t properly structured, is difficult to read and looks messy.

Headings and subheadings

Clearly divide your resume sections with bold headings and sufficient spacing, for ease of reading and a professional outlook.

Damage rating: Medium


Resume Mistakes – Conclusion

There are a number of mistakes to avoid when writing your resume which can cause a range of negative effects on your job applications.

As a minimum, you should remove all of the high-damage mistakes but also try to remove all other mistakes when you have the time.

Don’t let your resume stand out for the wrong reasons.