These 5 resume mistakes are hurting your job search

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The Dying Resume And Cover Letter

As a former hiring manager who now helps clients with their own hiring, I look at a lot of résumés. Day after day, I see job candidates severely harming their own chances by submitting résumés that do a terrible job of highlighting their qualifications and making it easy for employers to spot why they might be the right person for the job.

Frustratingly, most people are making the same small number of easily fixable mistakes. I can't write back to these candidates to tell them to clean up their résumés if they want a better shot at a job – but I can tell you! These are the five most frequent mistakes I see and what you should be doing instead:

1. Writing a résumé that reads like a series of job descriptions. This is by far the most common mistake job applicants make. In the bullet points candidates use to describe what they did at each job, they only list activities, such as "edit documents," "collect data" or "manage website." As a result, these bullets read like a job descriptions.

While this method describes your jobs, it doesn't convey what kind of employee you were, which is what employers care most about. After all, someone could engage in those activities and do a mediocre job, so your résumé should convey that you excelled. That means you should be talking about your achievements: what you accomplished, what the outcomes of your work were and what made you shine in the role. It's the difference between "managed billing" and "completely revamped client billing system to ensure bills are now sent out on schedule" or "resolved an inherited four-month backlog of invoices in three weeks."

2. Leading with your education, even though it's been years since you graduated from college. Once you have some work experience, employers care most about what your work history has been and what you've accomplished. Your education is a distant second, so lead with your work history and save your education for the end. In fact, even if you're a new grad, if you have relevant work experience, you should lead with that. (Some fields are an exception to this, but if you're in one of them, you probably know it.)

3. Giving a long list of "core competencies." It's fine to have a section that lists your skills, but too often people throw everything they can think of into this section, resulting in laughably long lists of skills that most hiring managers end up ignoring. If you choose to list skills on your résumé, they should be hard skills that are truly distinguishing, like software programs – not subjective self-assessments, such as "strong communication skills" or "works well in groups and independently."

Instead of listing your skills, demonstrate how you've used them, via the bullet points describing what you've done at each job. That way, you can frame it in terms of what you accomplished with the skill, instead of just noting the skill itself.

Also, if you do decide to retain this section, please call it something other than "core competencies," which is jargon that tends to makes hiring managers' eyes glaze over. Calling the section "skills" is fine.

4. Including so much info before your work experience that it doesn't start until the bottom of the page. Sometimes job seekers load their résumés with so much extra information that their work history doesn't start until the bottom of the page or, worse, a second page. The thing that employers care most about when reviewing your résumé is your work experience. You want it to be the first thing they see, so don't bury it deep into the document.

5. Mentioning every job you've ever had, no matter how long ago or irrelevant to what you do now. A résumé isn't supposed to be a comprehensive accounting of every job you've ever had. Rather, it's a marketing document that you should edit to present yourself in the strongest possible light. That means that you may not need to include every job you've ever had or jobs from two decades ago. Focus on more recent work (the last 10 to 15 years) and the work that most closely relates to the job you're applying for.

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search and management issues. She's the author of "How to Get a Job: Secrets of a Hiring Manager," co-author of "Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results" and the former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management.

Copyright 2015 U.S. News & World Report

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