Five Common Resume Mistakes That Go Beyond Spellcheck

Many job seekers have a ‘set it and forget it’ attitude when it comes to their resume. Meaning, they make one and then use it for everything they apply for until they get a job. While this is something that can save a ton of time, this strategy will only work if your resume is perfect… And when it comes to resumes, “perfect” can mean a few different things. Often, I see clients who have a applied to a ton of jobs with their “perfect” resumes and have had no luck. “All of the spelling and grammar are correct, I don’t know what’s happening.” I take one look at their resume and can see what’s happening, and it has nothing to do with spelling! In this post, we’ll go over five of the most common issues that I see in unsuccessful, yet “perfect”, resumes.

a way-too-personal/not-at-all-professional email address

Come on! If you’re an adult who is looking for a job, you need an email address that reflects that you’re an adult who deserves to be hired. You’re on the job market, and it’s time to be professional. Offbeat internet handles are fine for personal use, but not when you’re trying to present yourself to a potential employer in most professional settings. I’m sure there are companies who are looking for sezxipapii6969@, but if you’re not in one of those industries then create an account that is more appropriate for what you’re looking for. The previous example is egregious, but even if yours doesn’t go that far it can still be inappropriate. I’ve seen an uptick in folks who create job search email accounts and name them things like hirejennynow@ or yournextemployee@… Also not okay! The former is pushy, the latter is pretentious, and both are just odd.

Email addresses are important because 1) you’re more likely to email your application documents to an employer than anything else, and 2) it’s one of the first things the reader will see when looking at your resume. Having something inappropriate can get you rejected before they even see what you’re about.

using a template

Pinterest and Etsy will have you thinking that the only way your resume will stand out in the crowd is if your have fancy formatting. Even Word and Pages have templates built into their systems. And, since many people don’t want to use the default ones that everyone else has access to, there is a cottage industry of folks who make and sell beautiful templates precisely for this purpose. For just $50, you can buy the files that will get you hired! Only, they probably won’t… As I’ve written about before, this idea that presentation will give you an edge is a lie. Creative fields might want a more creative resume, but this is not a hard and fast rule. Also, if the content isn’t there then your template can only do so much. (And tbh, if you’re going into a creative field but don’t know how to make a cool looking resume, you might want to rethink your career choice. I’m just saying…)

There are two more reasons why a template is generally a bad idea: limited content and bots.

Templates – especially mass market ones from Word and Pages – are designed for style instead of substance. The default fonts are too large, the space given for describing experiences is too small, the margins are too wide, and the spacing is just way too off for most experienced professionals to be able to add the details necessary to get an interview. And when you try to correct these issues and customize the document, the whole thing gets thrown off. Even though templates make putting together a resume less time-consuming, the result is not worth the convenience. Format your resume on your own so that you can make sure that everything is on there. Just suck it up and tab over! It’s not that hard, and the result is way better.

Creating your own resume also ensures that it gets read properly by the bots. Bots? Yup. If you apply to a position online, chances are great that your resume will be filtered through an applicant tracking system (ATS) and parsed into info bits before a human even reads it. Sometimes, a human never reads it because the bots determined that your info bits don’t match the info bits that the company is looking for. Templates usually aren’t formatted for these machines – they’re made to be pretty. Bots often aren’t able to get through the coding and layering to gather the information from these documents. So even if you’re immensely qualified, your (probably beautiful) resume won’t be seen because the bots won’t understand it.

TL;DR: make your own resume.

writing incomplete statements

A complete resume statement = action verb + description of the action + result/goal/purpose/benefit of the action + frequency. For example, a resume statement (aka: bullet point) for me could be: Write original blog posts to educate readers on career development and job search-related subjects on a weekly basis.

  1. action verb = write
  2. description of the action = original blog posts
  3. result/goal/purpose/benefit of the action – to educate readers on career development and job search-related subjects
  4. frequency = on a weekly basis

It’s a pretty straightforward formula that guarantees that the reader gets a complete picture of what you did in a particular job or activity.

Unfortunately, most job seekers skip a few of these steps when writing their statements. Frequency is frequently omitted, as well as the result/goal/purpose/benefit part. Most often, the above statement would be: Educate readers on career development and job search-related subjects. While this is an okay statement, it leaves the reader wondering both how you do it and how often you do it. Is it by talking to groups once per month? By shouting things on the corner every day? Giving details makes it easier for the potential employer to understand the scope of the task your describing, which can give them a better idea of how that experience could translate to their company.

writing paragraphs instead of bullet points

The flipside of a resume with incomplete statements is one where the experiences are written out in paragraph form. But Lindsay, I thought you just said that resume statements need to be informative! They do… But they also need to be statements, not narratives. Save the long-form details for the cover letter.

The reason that paragraphs have no place on the resume is because employers don’t read resumes, they skim them. (After they are approved by the bots.) That’s why the stat about people spending 10 seconds on a resume is real. When a hiring manager has to decide who to interview and is facing a stack of resumes, close reads are not possible. These folks skim through to see if the points from the job description are easily discernible in the resume, and filter the stack based on whose are most easily and obviously related to the position they’re hiring for. Interviewers are more likely to give your resume a close read, but if it’s hard to tell that you’re qualified for a position you won’t make it that far.

As such, bullet points are the ideal format for a resume because they facilitate the process that the employer is already using. Paragraphs are an immediate turn off because they are more work for a reader to get through. And, since no one wants to do more work, you’ve already made it less likely for your resume to be read at all. In addition, since your bullet points start with a relevant action verb (at least, they should), it’s much easier to figure out your level of fit.

irrelevant objective statement

Objective statements aren’t always necessary, so some are irrelevant by default. If you have a bunch of experience in marketing and you’re applying for a job in marketing, you don’t need an objective statement because your reason for applying for that job is clear. If your experiences are in marketing and you’re applying for a job in banking, an objective statement can be used to inform the reader of your desire to make a change and preemptively answer the “Why” question that they’ll probably have when reviewing your resume.

Objective statements are like a finishing sauce on a dish – the right one will tie your document together while the wrong one will ruin it. If you’re going to write one, make sure it’s related to the job you’re applying for. If it’s generic or doesn’t guide the reader in any way, it’s just a waste of space. Or worse, it calls into question why you’re applying to the job in the first place. And, since objective statements are in a primary space on your resume, having an irrelevant one can sour the reader on the rest of the document and may even get them to not read it. So do yourself a favor – if you feel the need to write an objective statement, make it a useful one.


As you can see, checking your resume for spelling and grammar are just one step in ensuring that your document is ready to be used. Before you can have a multi-use resume, you need to make sure that the structure is correct, the explanations are thorough, and that every part of it is working for you. If not, then you run the risk of missing out on a good job and unnecessarily extending your job search. I’ve said this many times – looking for a job sucks! Take the time to ensure that your resume is “perfect” before sending it out.

Want more resume tips? Read this crazy long post about resume writing and use the resume workbook to get your document application ready!


Dr. Lindsay is career development & academic success coach who loves helping people figure out and proceed to the next levels of their lives.