I’ve recently updated both my résumé and cover letter in order to apply for an assistant managing editor position with Willow Springs–something I do generally every three to six months or so. But this edit was for a specific position, and it got me thinking about the problems people commonly run into when writing a résumé. I find things to edit on my résumé every single time I look at it. I pull things off that aren’t as important anymore, I reword lines to make it a bit more punchy, I look at formatting. There’s always something to improve. Maybe it’s my professional writing background.

When I worked at the Writing Center back at MSU, however, I would often see résumés in their early stages, résumés that hadn’t been treated as vital documents, and the mistakes I saw tended to be very similar.

First, lack of consistency. Some sentences would start with active verbs, some wouldn’t. Some sections would have different formatting, some sentences would end with periods while others wouldn’t, etc. I don’t feel that these mistakes will necessarily kill a résumé, but they do show an inattention to detail.

Next–and this is probably the mistake I saw most often–is a lack of prioritization, a failure to give good work proper credit. For example, many students would only want to include paid work in the main section, pushing anything else to a list, maybe, toward the end. Another example is when the writer doesn’t prioritize within an item and lists bullet points in an arbitrary order, pushing important details to the middle or bottom of a disorganized list. This mistake, I feel, is much more costly, since quite frequently employers will scan résumés. And while it is still the accepted norm to list positions in reverse chronological order, incorrectly prioritizing information within that order–not putting the best points in a place where they can shine–can mean the employer misses your skills.

Finally, I often see résumés that are not specifically tailored to a specific position. There are situations where a general résumé is best, but these are, I believe, few, especially as you move through your career life. Again, not tailoring your résumé to a specific position will probably not result in your instant disqualification from consideration, but something that has been purposefully tweaked can often give you a nice step up on the competition. It shows that you understand what they value in an employee and know how to present those specific skills in yourself.

These are just the first few examples that come to my head, but I know there are many more places to misstep. So, readers, what errors do you frequently run into when reviewing résumés? What areas give you trouble when composing your own? Are there any “correct” rules you choose to ignore?