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Top 20 Resume Mistakes to Avoid


What is the purpose of a resume? There is only one – to get an interview. Wondering why you are not landing interviews? If you have been diligently applying as I suggested, it is most likely that your resume needs some work. Over the years, I have reviewed tens of thousands of resumes. Many of them are just not interview-worthy. Don’t want to get your resume tossed? Stop making the 20 mistakes below.


Caveats:

  • The following advice is based on my personal job-hunting experience, conversations with recruiters/hiring managers/professionals at large financial institutions in Canada, and my coaching experience at 36paths. Disagreements are always welcome.

  • The target audience of this article is entry-level job seekers (less than 5 years out of university) trying to break into finance/accounting industry in Canada; some of the advice may not apply to folks at a different career stage, located outside of Canada, or targeting other industries.

  • These are merely patterns that I have seen. In other words, this is more of a correlation than causation. You may find plenty of successful counterexamples.


1. Typos & Grammatical Errors

The number one reason your resume gets dinged. There is absolutely no excuse to have any spelling mistakes whatsoever. When hiring managers screen resumes, they are looking for reasons to reject you. Once they spot a typo, your resume immediately goes to the “No” pile. Why? It shows that you cannot write properly and/or that you have no attention to detail (even if you put “A detail-oriented professional…” on your Summary section).


2. Inconsistent Format

Not as terrible as a typo, but it will still leave a negative impression. A common example is inconsistent date format. If you want to use abbreviation for months, that is totally fine. But do so throughout your resume. Don’t use “Aug. 2018” for one experience and “March 2019” for another. Another common one is that not all dates and locations are aligned properly.


3. Too Long

Let us settle this here. If you are within 5 years out of university, I am 100% sure that you can fit everything relevant in one page. This is especially important if you are applying for an entry-level finance position. I have talked to many recruiters/hiring managers and they will literally throw your resume in the trash bin if it’s not a one-pager. The reason is simple: it shows that you have no prioritization skills.


4. Prioritize Duties over Accomplishments

Whenever you have impressive accomplishments, highlight them by using specific numbers and putting them on the very top of your bullet list. Here is an example: “Led a team of 5 to participate in the CFA Research Challenge and won the 1st place in the Ontario region”. This is an actual bullet of one of my students, but she put this most impressive point at the very end (bullet 5), which is likely to be skipped.


5. Lack of Action Verbs

You really should start each bullet point with an action verb that accurately describes your accomplishments. Why action verbs are so powerful? Because they help hiring managers easily visualize what you have done. But don’t overuse one word. I have seen resumes with more than 10 “Analyzed…”. Here are some good ones in addition to “analyzed”: built, created, executed, delivered, initiated, collaborated, facilitated, led.


6. General Bullet Points

This is a mistake 90% of job seekers are making. Their bullet points are not specific enough, which makes it difficult for recruiters and hiring managers to quickly paint a mental picture of what you have accomplished. Try to quantify your achievements as much as possible. For example, “Responsible for portfolio management with good returns” is not as good as “Managed a $5.7MM portfolio of U.S. equities and generated a return of 6.9% in 2018 while S&P 500 lost 4.4%”.


7. Long Bullet Point

Long bullet points are unpleasant with poor readability. Do you enjoy reading a three-line bullet? Probably not. Therefore, most of your bullets should be in one line. Occasional two-liners are okay, but one-liner bullet is always preferred. If you have a three-line bullet, trust me, you can definitely break it down to 2 or 3 bullets.


8. Too Many Bullet Points

I have seen one resume with 14 bullet points under one experience. It just looks ugly and makes recruiters and hiring managers NOT want to continue to read your resume. Do them a favour and do yourself a favour by cutting it down to a maximum of 7 bullets. Generally speaking, 3 to 5 bullet points are the easiest to read.


9. Too Creative Design

There is no need to be overly creative with the design of your resume. No skills chart. No elaborate fonts. No colourful headings. They don’t work in the finance/accounting industry. They are distracting. Keep the design of your resume boring – focus your time and energy on the content.


10. Lying

No matter how inexperienced you are, lying on your resume is never an option. Invented internships, enhanced GPA, and fluent in French (when you are not) are just some common examples. It is not only that you will likely get caught (either at the interview or background check process) but also it’s just flat out unethical, especially you are a CFA candidate (you know what I mean). And please, don’t even think about using CareerExcuse.


11. An Unprofessional Email Address

I cannot tell how many resumes I have seen with unprofessional email addresses. Raps4life@hotmail.com is not a good idea, nor is 635882457@QQ.com. I recommend my clients at 36paths to create a dedicated email address just for job hunting and it should be based on your name. For example, Kawhi.Leonard@gmail.com. If it is taken, you can add your middle name initial or just a number such as Kawhi.A.Leonard@gmail.com or Kawhi.Leonard2@gmail.com


12. Incorrect Contact Info

Probably even worse than having an inappropriate email address is to have an incorrect email address or phone number. Although not too often, I have seen quite a few job seekers who had an incorrect email address or forgot to update their new phone number. Again, triple-check everything, including your contact information.


13. Leave Out Your Physical Address

Your physical address will be parsed by an ATS, and recruiters will often filter out candidates who don’t live in the city they are hiring in. So please do include your physical address. But at the same time, there is no need to tell them your apartment number. Generally speaking, “City + Province + Postal Code” is enough.