Career Pros Share Résumé “No-No’s”

Thumbs-down to résumé red flags and no-no's

The impact of a good résumé is truly immeasurable and can translate into positive outcomes for job seekers, including shortened job searches, higher employment, or increased salaries. In comparison, the impact of a poorly written document containing résumé red flags can create results that are just the opposite: long, frustrating job searches, no interview calls, and a multitude of missed opportunities.

As a Master Certified Résumé Strategist at Career Impressions, I see a lot of résumé red flags — or “no-no’s” — that generate poor outcomes for job seekers. To help job seekers avoid job search frustration, I asked five prominent Canadian résumé writers — all members of Career Professionals of Canada — to share common résumé red flags along with advice on how to rectify them. As career pros, we can all learn from these no-no’s, too.

Using the Wrong File Type

“There are multiple problems with using an unacceptable file type for your résumé, including that the file may not open properly on a hiring manager’s computer, the text within the file may be difficult to read, or the file will not be “scannable” by Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS).  In one particularly memorable case, I saw a client’s résumé written in an Excel file with dense text and sections that were cut off by cells that were not large enough.

Résumés should always be presented as either a Word or PDF file. I recommend Word files for anyone applying for jobs online. PDF files work well for networking résumés. Recruiters want to see creativity, but straying too far from the norm with an odd file type could mean immediate elimination.” — Jennifer Miller, CRS, of Professional Edge Résumés

Discrepancies Between Career Tools

“A big red flag for me is when I uncover discrepancies between a client’s existing résumé and LinkedIn profile.

One client’s résumé showed a different job title (HR Manager) for her current job versus the title of Director of HR on her LinkedIn profile. As well, there was a conflict regarding when she started with the current company (2012 vs 2015 — that’s quite a wide margin). Lastly, the résumé showed a career gap, which was only explained on her LinkedIn profile.

Why are these discrepancies a red flag? They cast doubt in the mind of the potential employer and could potentially be the sole reason an applicant is quickly rejected. The fix is easy. Tell the truth and always update both your résumé and any online profiles (social media or personal websites) at the same time. Show the authentic you, not who you think you should be (as in altering job titles) or who you were (five years ago when you last updated your online profile).” — Brenda Collard-Mills, CRS, of Robust Résumés and Resources

Mistakes, Mistruths, or Outright Lies

“From my experience as a Certified Résumé Strategist, the most serious résumé red flag is the job seeker not telling the whole truth, for example, discrepancies in dates, certifications, and degrees, as well as gaps or omitting relevant information. This is a serious misdemeanor that can lead to the candidate being excluded from the interview selection process or terminated if the falsified information is ever uncovered by the employer upon hiring.

Job seekers need to tell the absolute truth and present all areas of the résumé as honestly and accurately as possible.” — Lori Jazvac, CRS, of Creative Horizons Communications

Too General, Generic, or Vague

“Many, many job seekers believe that they can submit a general, one-size-fits-all résumé for any opportunity whatsoever.   A returning client of mine wanted to know if his existing stonemason résumé (the one I wrote for him six years earlier) would qualify him for a technical trainee job with a large-city transit operation. He was surprised to find out that his résumé — as it currently stands — would never “make the short list” because the hiring decision-maker wouldn’t take the time to connect his stonemason experience with his technical attributes.

Instead, job seekers should locate actual job postings they wish to apply for, list the actual job title (and, where applicable, the Job ID # that needs to be quoted) on their résumé and cover letter, and customize their skills and abilities according to the job posting’s required qualifications. If a job seeker doesn’t feel confident in the ability to do this, or feels overwhelmed by this herculean task, he or she is more than welcome to seek out a CPC member for assistance.” — Marian Bernard, CPRW, of The Regency Group

Stories That Miss the Mark

“Lately, job-seekers are attempting to put value into their documents by using the popular trend of career-storytelling in place of an objective statement. When used correctly, career-storytelling on a résumé has great value.

However, the concept behind storytelling is increasingly becoming misunderstood. Career storytelling isn’t about long and wordy statements or dense paragraphs. It is about putting your accomplishments into context by specifying the challenges you faced and how you successfully overcame them. It is about anchoring your résumé with quantifiable results that reinforce your credibility.

Just telling a story isn’t enough — you need high impact SAR (situation, action, result) statements that outline the strategic impact you have previously made in your industry, such as: ‘Launched company-wide beta test for an Associate Sales Program that fostered profitable customer accounts and grew revenue from $4.5M to $12M in 18 months.’

At the end of the day, job seekers need to remember that résumé storytelling isn’t about writing a book. Write short and concise accomplishment statements in your qualifications summary and throughout your résumé that take an employer through the strategic impact you can bring to them.” — Skye Berry-Burke, CRS, of Skye is the Limit Résumé and Career Solutions

Adrienne Tom is an international award-winning executive résumé writer who founded Career Impressions over 12 years ago to provide senior leaders and top executives across North America with powerful career tools. Adrienne is also the co-founder of Job Search Secret Weapon, a membership platform for non-executive job seekers. As a proud member of Career Professionals of Canada, Adrienne enjoys supporting the CPC community as a certification assessor and board advisor.

Photo by drobotdean on Freekpik

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Great tips! Thanks for compiling these all into one list. It serves as a great reminder for all of us resume writers.

Thanks Adrienne, gonna share this one!

Thank you for sharing Iris!

Agreed; these are great resume tips. Many thanks to the resume writers that shared their insights. 🙂

Discrepancies between career tools… so true. I’ve seen that too, and it kills me when the client only wants an updated resume but leaves the LinkedIn as is.