Three Common Resume Mistakes to Avoid

I have to be brutally honest. In the countless resumes I’ve critiqued for college students and recent graduates, I’ve never seen a first draft of a resume that even came close to fulfilling the primary goal of a resume: to tell your story.

Here’s what a resume is not.

Nobody wants to read your brain dump, particularly if you require the reader to piece your disparate fragments together. You’ve chosen your college, your internships, your interests, and your activities for specific reasons. Your resume must convey those reasons to the reader.

It’s become a cliché for me to hear from hiring managers how often they have no idea what an applicant’s strengths or professional aspirations are. It’s no wonder that when I ask recent graduates what models inspired their resumes, they inevitably say that they asked friends for copies of their resumes. Are you kidding me?

Your friends have a lot of great qualities, but with all due respect, they don’t know much about resume writing. Friends are great resources if you’re looking for a second opinion on what pictures to post to Facebook—though bear in mind that those need to be professional too, but that’s a story for another post. Think of your resume as the first picture you are offering to your prospective employer. You need to make sure it’s your strongest presentation.

Here are three things that you absolutely must consider when you polish your resume:

1. Don’t lead with your education. 

I get a lot of blank stares when I say that, which makes sense because every resume a college graduate sends me starts with an education section. I don’t care if that’s what shows up on your friend’s resume, or if your school’s career services office told you to use that format—after all, they think their institution is your best selling point.

Your employer wants to know your work experience, skills, and how you can leverage those skills to meet their needs. You should also be aware that if an employer is looking for alumni of a particular school or for a particular GPA range that starting with your education—if you don’t meet those specifications—means your resume will be discarded after the first line.

2. Don’t just list your work experience.  

I have a few issues with the way most recent graduates present their work experience. Many just record the name of an employer, as if everyone knows what that company does. It’s nearly impossible to determine what your responsibilities were without knowing what type of company you worked for. A one-sentence description of the organization is all you need, and using a narrative form is a much clearer way to describe your role, accomplishments, and responsibilities. Paint a picture with words; no bullet points.

3. Pay attention to layout and alignment.

Your resume should be neat, organized and properly aligned. Don’t confuse your reader with too many different sized fonts, or bolds and italics.  Make sure that your dates line up with either the left or right margin; too much white space makes your resume appear sparse.

If you haven’t spent a considerable amount of time thinking about and compiling your resume–an admittedly tedious and dreaded process–chances are it’s not a first-class document. And if you have not put that kind of thought into the preparation, chances are that you are not ready to tell your story in a persuasive and compelling way during an interview. There’s no short cut to this, unfortunately, but if you put some effort into the three items above, you will be way ahead of the game.


Lesley is president and founder of Priority Candidates, which prepares college students and recent graduates nationwide to get hired for their first jobs.   Previously, Lesley spent more than 25 years in executive search, working with candidates from entry level to C-Suite executives in organizations ranging in size from small, family owned businesses to large international organizations.  Her fundamental knowledge of what hiring manager’s look for is the core of what Priority Candidates does to prepare college students/recent grads to get hired now.  An alumnus of Duke University who is based in New York City, Lesley has been featured in USA Today, ABC’s New York Viewpoint with Ken Rosato, ABC News with Art McFarland, The New York Times, NY Nightly News with NBC4’s Chuck Scarborough, eCampus News and John Tucker’s Small Business Report on Bloomberg Radio.   Lesley always welcomes connections via LinkedIn, on Twitter or by email or phone, available on her website.

Related posts:

  1. Common LinkedIn Mistakes Among College Students
  2. Resume 2.0
  3. What if Your Resume Was A Car?

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