5 reasons your resume sucks (and how to make it better)

When I put out a hiring notice a little while ago, I was flooded with resumes. Now, like any business owner, I’m both hardworking and lazy, so I quickly developed a shorthand to help me sift through all the applicants. In short: if I could find a good reason to throw your resume out, it was gone.

In this charming economic climate, if you’re looking for a new job, it may be time to take a good hard look at your own resume, and ensure that you’re not committing any of these cardinal sins.

1. It isn’t proofread.

A resume that’s full of grammatical and spelling errors just screams “Hi! I’m undereducated and unprofessional, and you’d be embarrassed to have me representing your company!” Learn how to use apostrophes correctly, run your text through a spellcheck, and have a friend look over your resume before sending it out. Better yet, have as many friends as you can possibly charm, bribe, or blackmail to have a look at it—or have a professional write it for you.

2. It’s hard to read.

Most people won’t be reading your resume, they’ll be skimming it. You want to make it as easy as possible for them to absorb the information. Just say no to long blocks of text, and make use of section headers and consistent type styles for different pieces of information (job titles, company names, and dates should all have different type styles) to create a hierarchy of information that’s easy to read. Use a font size that’s large enough to be readable, and make sure lines of text aren’t spanning the entire page (for optimum legibility, lines of type should be between 50 and 70 characters.)

3. You’re using a generic Word template.

If your resume looks the same as twenty other resumes in the pile, you’re already at a disadvantage. Everyone judges a book by its cover, and you want to be War & Peace, not a Danielle Steele novel. (That said, you probably want to keep your page count a little less than War & Peace‘s. Maybe The Metamorphasis, instead.)

4. You’re sending a .doc file.

Why is it still common to do this? Word files can contain macros, which can give your computer viruses. That’s bad—the last thing you want to do is give the hiring manager at the company of your dreams a virus. Word files also don’t retain their formatting very well—they’ll look different in different versions of Word. When people send me a .doc, I open it with a basic text editor, which destroys pretty much all formatting, but takes a teeny fraction of the time to load on my computer. Use a pdf instead, which will look the same to everyone. (You can export a Word file to pdf easily.)

5. It isn’t relevant

If you worked at McDonald’s six years ago and are now applying for a position at an accounting firm, they’re not going to care about the customer service and french-fry-handling skills you picked up there. It’s also unlikely that they care what you do in your spare time, unless the hiring manager is also a taxidermy enthusiast—but unless you know this in advance, keep the hobbies off the resume. Keep it relevant.

6. Your cover letter shows no effort

Find out who will be reading your resume, and address him by name. We’re all crazy egomaniacs, so we like this. Don’t use “To whom it may concern”, ever. Show that you know something about the company, and that you’re not just firing off a form letter at random. I once received an application from a person who regularly posted his cover letter as a Kijiji ad, and it was a touch insulting. Compare your skills and expertise to those outlined in the job posting and you’ll be essentially telling them exactly what they want, and that you have it.

In short, what you want to do is make sure that your resume is both well-written and well-designed, and that it represents you to the absolute best of its ability. If you’re having trouble doing this yourself, I’ve teamed up with Natalie Joan to offer a special deal: have a resume designed by me, and written by her, and save 10% off both services! For all the details, check it out here.

Resume Special

Good luck with the job hunt!