Recruiters are on tight schedules and, when reviewing a potential candidate for a job, have to move quickly. This often means taking only a few minutes to scan resumes before deciding on who will be invited for an interview, or who will be referred to the hiring agent. During a recruitment, recruiters are on the lookout for specific candidates with specific skill sets. If they have to try to “guess” if you have that skill set or the experience they are seeking, they will just move on!  An applicant may be completely qualified for the job, but a disorganized, poorly-written resume and, one where applicant has buried their experience in a lot of text, will take them out of the running.  Though resume writing norms differ from country to country, and sector to sector, there are several common mistakes that professionals make when applying for a position.

Here are common mistakes to avoid:

1) Using the same resume/CV and cover letter for every job.   It is a fact: job seekers can look careless when they rush to apply for jobs without first tailoring their resumes  or cover letter for that job.

Would you grab any old suit out of your closet and rush off to church to get married?  I hope not.  It's a real pet peeve of most hiring professionals.  A cover letter and resume tailored to show  you meet the qualifications requirements of the job,  makes the recruiter's job a lot easier when they forward that resume to the client, or hiring manager.

2) Missing candidate address/contact info on the resume.  Make sure to include your permanent address (including the name of your country!) and do show your citizenship/nationality on the resume. Candidates should also provide a cell number, a home number, and a personal email address.  Although such information may have been in your email as you sent in your documents, the resume may be copied for a review team and get separated from the original email.  You would be surprised how often a hiring agent contacts us, looking for contact information that should have been in the resume of their top candidate.  Not having it on the resume could handicap your prospects of being called for an interview.

3) Burying your work experience in volumes of text:  The most important part of the work entry is the bold line with dates of assignment, jobs title, project name, employer and country.  Many applicants bury this critical information that should be in the bold headings in long paragraphs of text instead.  Other applicants start with a long paragraph from the project website that tells what the project did! Boring! The text should be only a few lines of text that tell us specifically what you did on the project that is relevant to the job or that responds to the qualifications requirements of the job. The more seasoned consultant applicants have also learned to put their experience first and get right to clearly showing they meet the qualifications requirements. Second, they follow with education, then personal information.

4) Not providing enough detail or distinctive information:  It’s crucial to provide full coverage of your career. In the International Development sector, longer resumes with detail on your work experience are more compelling than shorter resumes summarizing your experience. Some resume tailoring services have been teaching job applicants that resumes need to be as short as possible. While this may be true in some sectors or may have been true in the past, it is best to err on the side providing more information than not enough. Or better yet, ask the recruiter or hiring agent what they expected or prefer.

5) Including too much irrelevant history: It is a tricky guessing game to decide how much (or not) to include, when you have a full and interesting work history. Experience as a sales clerk in your early career stages is no longer relevant to your current career as an accomplished consultant or subject matter expert. Recruiters don’t need to know where you went to elementary school, or if you are married and have children.

6) Not providing Country name in your work locations. Some applicants do not provide the country where they worked because they mostly worked domestically in their home country in the past. However when working internationally or applying for jobs in foreign countries, it is imperative to show the countries where you live, worked, and country where you were educated. The recruiters and reviewers that are in different countries may not know where the cities or provinces of your work history are, when the country is not named.

7) Lack of dates or time periods to show length of assignment or job.  Show the time period or number of months for each position or assignment worked. Please do not use single year only like 2009 which does not tell us how long you were on assignment in a given country or region. Was it 3 weeks or 3 months? If three weeks, then show it as 2009 (3 wks).

8) Do not use lots of graphics and boxes.  The use of tables, boxes and other graphics often makes it confusing and harder to read. Boxes get in the way of software programs that read and summarize resumes for the hiring agents or store them in a resume database.   We now all live with Apps or software that restructures information for all sorts of use -- some of these store resumes for future searches. The only boxed-in resumes that has not been offensive to me, as a recruiter, is the European format resume. For some reason, applicants adhere to a strict standard or format when completing European format resume.

9) Fancy fonts, funky margins, colored background:  Formatting can make the resume stand out, but such heavy formatting, too often, has the recruiters very agitated and seeing red. Use a clear font, that’s easy to read, like Arial and Times New Roman. Also make use of bold and italics, where needed, to highlight positions. I have found that fancy fonts make the resume more difficult to read and for the recruiter to retain the information.

10) Resumes, CV in a foreign language:  Your resume should be written in the same language as the advertisement unless the posting, itself, requests that you send in a resumes in another language. For example, if the advert is in English and the requirement is for someone with strong English language skills to work with foreigners, don’t send your resume in another language, even the local language. Do not assume the recruiters know Spanish or French or will hire a translator to read your resume.

11) To add or not to add references:  Do not send pre-written letters of references. Hiring agents prefer to do their own reference check and speak with previous supervisors or professional referees. When requested, it is helpful  to add a list of referees (i.e. persons, and contact information, who will provide references when asked) at the end of the resume. Do add your referees only after they have agreed to serve as such, and, if they have been in your resume for a while, do make sure that the referees’ contact information is accurate and up to date. Such references will guide the employer to positive information you want them to have about your past accomplishments. Otherwise the hiring agent will be left to their own device and that may not lead to the person most familiar with your better accomplishments.

What is the best way to help your resume/CV make it to the hiring agent? Put yourself in the place of the recruiter that sees hundreds of resumes for any given job each day. Most of the applicants have all the right qualifications. If you put their resumes side-by-side, some of their skills and experience would be equal. The recruiter has to select the candidate just the same and present them to the employer within a short time period. Thus, it is imperative to have your work and achievements outlined and highlighted clearly within the chronology of your resume. With a few tweaks, applicants can make that experience and career information stand out more clearly.

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