50 Resume Killer Mistakes

Does your resume pass the Six Second Screen Test?  All to often, that is how much time your resume has to get you through the initial screening.  HR resume ‘screeners’ are give the task to create two piles: One In & One OUT; basically, they are looking for any reason NOT to consider a candidate for any given position. They will give your resume a quick initial scan, looking for any “knock-outs” or reasons to move on to the next step.

Here are 50 common resume killers that could send your resume to the ‘OUT’ pile faster than you can say delete.   Does your resume include any of these problems:


  1. Exotic fonts or poor use of capitalization. Non-standard or special fonts may not correctly translate on the reader’s computer, or may just look strange. This can also cause problems when a resume gets digitally scanned for inclusion onto a database. Use standard fonts to avoid this. Also, some people do not capitalize their emailed cover letters or their resumes. This is inappropriate for a business communication.
  2. Formatting issues such as the use of columns that may not translate to the Screener’s browser or laptop screen size. A resume can get ugly when tabbing or format issues make it hard to read. The Screener will simply move on the next rather than try to sort it out.
  3. Functional resumes as opposed to Chronological, or resumes that look like they are cover-ups. (Note: A Functional resume lists the various functions a person has performed without regard to the order or time frame in which they were accomplished) The Image Marketer’s use of interactive Infobytes and highlighting resolves the issues that a Functional resume tries to address.
  4. Any lack of pertinent information. Some people leave off titles, dates or names of employers, but this will usually kill your resume in an instant. The Screener will assume that you are either trying to cover something up or there is something negative that you would rather not reveal. Your resume is considered incomplete without this necessary information.
  5. Overly cute or inappropriate business language. This may be viewed as being unprofessional. Sometimes an inappropriate email address will also do this. Keep it formal.
  6. Misspellings or poor language. This is an instant killer. Always have your resume proofread. Spellcheckers are great, but the human touch is also needed.
  7. Lengthy resumes over 3 pages or resumes sent via snail mail (These days, snail mailed resumes may not get scanned or screened at all.) Many Screeners view them as too much trouble and too low tech.
  8. Mislabeling it as a CV or Curriculum Vitae when it is for a non-academic, scientific or medical position. It should be called a resume, which is a summary as opposed to a CV, which is an exhaustive review of what you’ve studied, taught, researched and published.
  9. Overuse of acronyms or inside language that is internal to a prior employer organization. Do not assume that the Screener will know what you are referring to. Rather than try to figure it out, they may assume that you are not a good communicator or are specific to a different industry or range of technology.|
  10. Inconsistencies such as when the past title and responsibilities do not match up, or the date ranges are broken. If you were in sales but talk about finance, confusion and questions will ensue.
  11. Title cover-ups when applying for a position that does not exactly match your past title. If your responsibilities do not match your title, this needs to be explained. For instance, if you were a Director applying for a Manager position, the explanation may be that you were working for a much smaller company.
  12. Buzz word lists or lists that are blatantly added to a resume to get a hit by a search engine can be a killer. This does not include listings of technical exposures or specific lists of qualifications. We recommend adding keywords, but having them embedded in the resume body where appropriate.


  1. Use of nickname like Buck or Missy is inappropriate. If you prefer to have yourself called that, mention that once you get hired.
  2. First name as initials only, like J.R., or an attempt to hide identity or gender is viewed as suspect and this should be avoided. The full formal name is required.
  3. Name missing or listed as “confidential”. This is usually not well received especially when the resume is sent for a specific opening or to a specific individual. Ask for confidentiality and take a little risk.
  4. Absence of address The screener requires this basic information, especially when only considering applicants from a specific locale or region. If you desire to relocate yourself, then mention this. But don’t fail to include your address if you think you’d be overlooked when applying for a non-local position.
  5. Absence of phone numbers/other contact information may be understandable if you would not want to be called at the office or at home, but this information is crucial. You can always field the call and offer to return it at a more convenient time. Voice mail or an answering machine is a requirement. A Recruiter will assume that someone is no longer in the job market if they do not have voice mail.
  6. Use of Dr. (if non medical) or MBA with name. Certifications like CPA are great, however be careful not to overdo it by using that in the name header.


  1. Long and wordy summaries of more than a short paragraph are suspect and will likely not be read. Make your point move on quickly. This is your opportunity to set the stage for what is to follow, so don’t lose them before you get started.
  2. Platitudes without the specifics to support them will be viewed as suspect and as overcompensating. As long as the specifics are within the resume that can support the claim, then it will be fine. Measurable tangible achievements should be spot lighted, not fluff about what a great catch you would be or how you are constantly recruited. It is not what you do, but how well you do it.
  3. Irrelevant information or filler should be avoided. The fact that you belong to a certain church, volunteer for a given charity, belonged to a fraternity or referee for a soccer team could be viewed negatively.
  4. Written in the first person, or constantly refers to the candidate as “I”, or “Mr. Anyname” is inappropriate and seems self-centered. A resume needs to convey the facts as though an independent and objective party were writing it. Referring to yourself in the body by your formal name (Mr., Ms., etc.) is awkward.


  1. Inconsistent objective or an objective not applicable to an employer’s needs such as “I want to eventually have my own company”, “I want to earn more money”, or “I want to build on my experiences” may not be well accepted. The objective needs to be well thought out and crafted to the general type of positions you are applying for, and it needs to fit into what an employer’s needs may be.
  2. Overused objective such as “A challenging position offering an opportunity for growth, yadda, yadda, yadda.” If it is way too general it may be viewed as pie-in-the-sky, or if too specific then you could be an impossible fit for the job at hand. Try to make it fresh.
  3. Closed Objective or an objective to work for a very specific type or size of company may rule you out for a great position. Keep yourself open to any opportunity that may arise. If you have a preference for the type of company to work for, great, but keep an open mind. This will be viewed as more positive by all.
  4. Too lengthy and too many words to wade through. The fewer words the better. The best business communications are concise yet brief.


  1. No dates or incomplete dates are met with great suspicion, and also means that any Functional resume is suspect. Be as specific as possible, and avoid any suspicion.
  2. Current employer listed as “confidential”, or names of past companies not listed. This is critical information and must be included. If you are concerned about this confidentiality, then seek another means for resume distribution.
  3. Unemployed for an extremely long period without explanation. If you are in a tight job market and looking for the right opportunity rather than jumping on something, this needs to be communicated.
  4. No titles, or titles that don’t apply to the general marketplace (e.g. Ideas Expert, or Wealth Advisor). Titles are very important and need to be conveyed honestly, but can be communicated functionally as long as the reader is aware of this. Explain your function by inserting a functional title if it differs from your actual title.
  5. Non-quantified accomplishments without specifics/numbers or information. Again, it is not just what you do, but how well you do it.
  6. Job hopping – more than one job per year, or generally bad tenure can be a big killer unless dealt with on the resume. The reasoning for the moves or explanations should be communicated to lessen the negative impact of this. The reader will ask, “Is this a problem, or a trend, or is this person sincerely looking for something long term?” Employers seek loyalty and stability.
  7. Lengthy lapses in employment not addressed can bring up questions and objections when they are very reasonable.
  8. Career change such as from self-employment or consulting especially if long term is often a showstopper depending on position. A Screener may view a former consultant or self employed entrepreneur as using the position at hand as a stop gap until another independent opportunity can be found. This needs to be addressed in the objective section and/or in the cover letter.
  9. Perceived excuses such as, “Left company when I was passed up for a promotion.” or anything that can be construed as blaming the former employer is a killer. Any criticism of a former employer is almost always a killer, especially in an interview.
  10. Downward trend of responsibilities often may indicate a problem if someone is on the downside of their career unless clearly explained. Often what may look like a lesser title or job was in fact a greater one, and this needs to be communicated. The story needs to be told and reasons given for lessening responsibilities.
  11. Former jobs that do not apply, such as, “Sold real estate as an interim job”, or “Bartender while attending graduate school” may have helped you get by or pay for tuition, but may be better left out or said as “Earned or financed 100% of education costs”. If you changed careers, explain why you did that. An off-track career history needs to be clearly communicated.
  12. Freelancing or moonlighting work may be a killer. The employer may want you 100%, and could raise a concern that they would be competing for your time. This all depends on what you are applying for, but if it is a full time permanent position, be careful in revealing your independent endeavors.


  1. Lack thereof or failure to become formally trained despite having reached a high level of job proficiency can be a killer. Ways to overcome this are plentiful, to include statements from references, actual job performance demonstrations, and indications of future intentions to complete a degree or training.
  2. Obscure unknown schools, specialized schools, correspondence schools should be noted as such and explained in case the Screener questions the validity. Overcome an objection before it occurs. Describe the school and why you attended. Provide a link.
  3. Inappropriate degrees, e.g. B.S. Animal Husbandry when applying for a Systems Analyst job should probably not be listed since it would detract from the job at hand and may give the impression that this person is off-track.
  4. Average or below GPA can be a killer with some companies. A GPA of 2.5 at one school may be the equivalent of a 3.5 at another. Do not expect the Screener to know this. Avoid listing a GPA unless it is 3.0 or above and identify what the scale is.
  5. Future graduation date of 2+ years from now is often viewed as too speculative and overcompensating.  Instead, it is okay to list complete hours of study; for instance: “completed 100 or 120 hours towards degree”
  6. Listing many college courses attended or courses that do not apply may not be beneficial. If an employer wants this information, they will ask for transcripts. Also, unless you are entry level or an intern, the education section should follow the experience section.
  7. Perceived Excuses such as “Did not graduate for family reasons….”, or “Changed majors when the job market dried up for accountants” are better left unsaid, or dealt with in a more positive manner. You may want to say, “Received lucrative career opportunity prior to completion of education that could not be passed up”, or “Changed majors to concentrate on a higher demand job segment”.
  8. Lack of dates for graduation may be a knock out factor with some companies. A note on age discrimination: The general trend is to leave off the college graduation date and to avoid the possibility of age discrimination, and this is now acceptable, however most Screeners appreciate this information to see how many years in the workforce. We suggest including it and it will be appreciated.
  9. DO list continuing education, and professional courses that is relevant towards your professional field, list the class, date complete, and what school/training center gave the course.
  10. Also, do list  the certifications you received, that is relevant to your profession, and if the certification is active or not.


  1. Non-business references are inappropriate and a waste of print.
  2. Specific professional references such as prior superiors and peers SHOULD be listed if there is room to include them. This is a powerful tool, especially when used with the Image Marketers Infobyte that could present such reference statements as, “Highly recommend!” Your references could be your most powerful sales tool.


  1. Personal activity that doesn’t contribute to your business image should NOT be included such as:
    • Enjoys listening to music
    • Extreme sports enthusiast
    • Plays in a rock band on the weekends
  2. Any overly personal statement or reference anywhere on the resume is best left unsaid. Examples may include “Left company because of death in family”, or “Deacon of church and attends every Sunday.” or “Became divorced because job required too much travel” is inappropriate.

Additional Note:

This list of 50 resume killers is a partial list and there are many other factors that can render your resume overlooked unless it is well thought out and well written. Obviously nobody is perfect but maximizing advantages while minimizing faults is expected in a resume. Even once the resume passes the screening it needs to keep working for you by emphasizing strengths and selling your skills.


About Chris

Working for the past 20 years, as an executive recruiter in the technology, as well as accounting & finance field. Clients have included many of the Fortune 100 as well as many smaller privately owned companies, searching for, and working with the full range of candidates from Clerical through CFO/CIO level. Learn more at: www.bexllc.com
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