Your résumé isn’t a place you want to make a glaring mistake. As the key to job search success, this document should ideally be as close to perfect as possible. Yet it’s incredibly easy to fall victim to errors when you’re an inexperienced job seeker who hasn’t had much practice with résumé writing. After all, if you’ve never applied for a formal position before, how are you to know what will irk or impress hiring managers? You might be familiar with the most obvious blunders to avoid, but what about the slipups that aren’t often discussed or those tied to old conventions that no longer apply? To help you submit an application that’s nearly flawless, we’ve outlined some of the common issues spotted by recruiters in the various résumé sections and coupled this insight with related entry-level résumé tips.
The header is the first thing an employer's eyes will be drawn to upon opening your résumé, so you want to make sure it's not only clean design-wise but provides the right information without superfluous details.
Forgetting contact information or online links
It seems like a silly mistake to make, but erroneously omitting contact details can happen easily when you’re so focused on perfecting the meatier parts of your résumé. Always include your city, state, phone number, and email address, and show that you have an up-to-date online presence by inserting your LinkedIn profile URL and, if applicable, a personal website link.
Including sensitive demographics
There’s no need to include your age, gender, marital status, religion, or race in your header. Recruiters aren’t allowed to consider these demographics when selecting candidates, and mentioning them could subject you to the consequences of unconscious bias.
The summary statement
A professional objective statement shows that you can succinctly express your goals, skills, and the benefits you could bring to the job. Here’s how to approach it.
Writing an objective statement instead of a professional summary
The objective statement is a thing of the past. Instead of focusing on what you’re looking for in a job, open with a captivating summary that highlights your skills and interests and outlines what you could offer an employer. Keep it succinct, inject personality, and steer clear of done-to-death descriptors.
Lack of customization and keywords
One of the most important entry-level résumé tips we can give you is to carefully modify this document to suit each position you’re applying for, starting with your summary. This paragraph should make direct links between your abilities and the needs of each particular job, and it absolutely must include keywords from the job description so that screening software flags your résumé as an appropriate fit.
Key skills and technologies
The key skills section of your résumé is extremely important. If you don’t have certain basic skills, or necessary specialized skills, for the position you’re applying for, you’ll see less than stellar results in landing an interview.
No mention of soft skills
College graduates tend to be so focused on the technical “hard” skills they’ve spent years honing that they forget to play up their soft skills too. Recruiters are extremely interested in less tangible personal attributes, like your ability to solve problems, communicate clearly, and adapt to new demands. Failing to highlight these strengths on your résumé is a mistake you don’t want to make.
Failing to leverage transferable skills
When you have no formal work experience, it’s critical to use your résumé to show that, despite this, you still have foundational competencies that will help you thrive in the workplace. Reflect on relevant skills you’ve developed through non-work experiences—through college classes or extramural activities, for instance—that you can transfer to the office, and place these front and center in the appropriate résumé section.
Not illustrating how skills have been applied
It’s not enough to say that you have great critical-thinking, leadership, or coding skills. Prove you possess the competencies you claim to by referencing concrete examples of times you applied them to bring about desirable outcomes.
Your work experience section is what will prove to employers that you can conduct the work expected of you in the position you’re applying for—you’ve done it before, which means you can do it again. Here’s what to include and how to talk about it.
Excluding relevant “unofficial” experience
Entry-level applicants often assume that because they’ve never been formally employed, they have no work experience to list on their résumé. But the truth is, there’s no reason to leave your work history section blank. Any activity that taught you something can and should be described here—internships, volunteer work, part-time positions, summer jobs, and club memberships are all worth including.
Focusing on duties over accomplishments
When you detail your professional experience, spend less time listing the tasks assigned to you in previous roles and instead focus on what you actually achieved in them. How did you add value to an organization during your last internship? What difference did you make to students as a college tutor? Quantify your accomplishments with figures and percentages and you’re bound to impress hiring managers even more.
Your education is one of the more obvious sections to include on your résumé. You spent four years getting a degree that proves you’re an expert in a certain field of study. Most places won’t hire you without at least a high school diploma and a college degree, but there is a right way to present this information.
Too much focus on high school
This is one of those entry-level résumé tips you’ve likely heard before: Don’t harp on the subjects you took and awards you won during high school. What you’ve done since then, at college and in related activities, is far more relevant.
Not enough detail about college
As an inexperienced job seeker, you’ll need to put more emphasis on your higher education than a seasoned professional might. If you were awarded cum laude status or other notable honors at college, say so. If you participated in pertinent activities, mention them. And if you took a particular course that’s relevant to the job in question, highlight this too. That said, do not list every single class you took—you don’t want to put readers to sleep.
Some broader résumé mistakes to avoid as an entry-level applicant include:
- Excessive length and rambling: Don’t waffle unnecessarily in an attempt to make up for your lack of work experience. Only include information that’s 100% relevant and keep this document to one page—two maximum.
- Spelling and grammatical errors: Typos are unforgiveable on any résumé. Don’t rely on spell check alone; ask someone you trust to inspect your work.
- Poor formatting: New grads might underestimate the importance of presentation. Keep your résumé simple, stay away from fancy flourishes, and leave enough white space.
- Clichés and jargon: Make your résumé a true reflection of you by avoiding empty, overused phrases.
Related: A 4-Week Plan to Perfect Your Resume
Your résumé can be a hard thing to master because it takes the finesse of balancing all the different sections to showcase your best self. But with this advice and a little practice, you can craft the perfect résumé that will impress employers and get you an interview. Beyond that, you just need to learn the art of interviewing, and you’ll surely be on your way to landing a great job.