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.
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.
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.
14. Generic Summary Section
I am not a huge fan of the Summary section – it rarely makes sense. It is usually generic and a poor use of the valuable resume space. If you are applying for a “Financial Analyst” position, putting “A recent finance graduate with strong analytical skills and attention to detail” does not add much value.
15. No Interests Section
I am a big fan of having an interests section at the end of your resume. It gives you an opportunity to showcase your unique personality (similar to what a pocket square does to the business formal attire). I remember one interview I had a few years back, the interviewer and I spent half of an hour talking about an interest of mine (i.e. playing basketball) as both of us are Lakers fans. In the end, I got the offer. Hiring managers are humans too. They certainly want to hire a competent candidate, but they also want to hire someone they will enjoy hanging out with.
16. Reference Available by Request
You don’t have to tell recruiters that you have references available at the bottom of your resume – because they already assume that you do. And definitely don’t include actual references in your resume – they are a waste of your valuable resume space. If a company wants to hire you, there will be a background check process where references will be required. Therefore, no need to mention it on your resume.
17. Attach Your Photo
Some of my clients come from countries where you are actually required to attach a photo on your resume. But if you are looking for a job in Canada and the U.S., please don’t do it.
18. Include Irrelevant Personal Information
Similar to attaching your photo, please leave out personal information such as date of birth, marital status, nationality, height and weight. You are hurting your chances of getting interviews when you do so, at least in North America.
19. Send Your Resume in Word Doc
Unless the job description specifically asks for Word Document, your best bet is to send a PDF file. You would be surprised how often your Word Doc resume won’t open on the recruiter’s machine or the format is completely off because of some Microsoft compatibility issues. Even for online applications, most ATSs are smart enough to extract the right information from your PDF resume.
20. Generic Resume File Name
When I was a hiring manager, I have seen hundreds of resume files with the same name such as “Resume.PDF” or “My Resume.PDF”. To make your recruiter’s life easier, you want to include your full name in your resume file name. It also makes searching for your resume much easier. “Kawhi Leonard – Resume.PDF” is a good example.
Your resume is your face before the interview. Make sure it’s absolutely perfect before you hit that send button.
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