Dear Sam: I am preparing for a beginning of the year job search. What tips can you provide to help me avoid some of the most common mistakes you see on resumes? – Logan

Dear Logan: There are several areas on a resume to which candidates do not pay enough attention. I have found this is not as a result of a lack of effort, but due to limited understanding regarding what can distract a hiring manager and disqualify a candidate. Some of these areas include:

1. Unprofessional or incomplete headings – As simple as it seems, review your resume heading! Today’s resumes also often do not include a full home address, rather just the city and state. Include your cell phone number and be sure to answer it professionally every time! Review voicemail messages for all of the numbers listed on your resume and ensure they are reinforcing your professional not personal image. Lastly, be sure you have a professional email address. Do not use an email address with your graduation year, birth year, etc.; these are very easy to spot and can destroy strategic efforts to minimize a candidate’s lack or abundance of experience.

2. Spelling mistakes, typos, and poor grammar structure – Proofread, proofread, and then proofread again! Overlooked mistakes send a message to the reader of your attention to detail or lack thereof. Have someone else proofread your resume to be sure you are submitting an error-free document. Turn off the grammar check in Word once you are sure your resume is written effectively. This will avoid your resume appearing with green wavy lines under certain sentences. Fragmented sentences will likely appear throughout your document, and there is no need to try to avoid this as it is a very effective way to write a resume. Turning off the grammar check will ensure that the reader is not distracted by the green lines!

3. Emphasizing job duties instead of achievements – Hiring managers are not as interested in what you were paid to do; they are more interested in where you went above and beyond and contributed to the success of your employer. While you need to include some information on what you were responsible for on a daily basis, emphasis should be placed on the value you contributed to your employer, being sure to distinguish achievements from responsibilities through a separate subheading or formatting choices.

4. Selecting the wrong format for your resume – When considering a reverse chronological, combination, or functional format, choose wisely based not only on your desire to present your experience a certain way, but also the knowledge that hiring authorities prefer reverse chronological or combination resumes, and traditionally dislike functional formats. I see a lot of functional resumes that really do not need to have a purely functional format; instead, the writer could have used a savvier combination format which would have pleased the hiring manager while still achieving the focus the candidate was seeking. While combination resumes can be more difficult to write, the fact that they are a hybrid of the two other formats makes them a wiser choice if you seek to focus the hiring manager’s attention on certain aspects of your career (possibly by pulling out related achievements and responsibilities in a Career Highlights section appearing before the Professional Experience section) while minimizing potentially disqualifying factors (such as limited related or recent experience, large employment gaps, frequent job hops, etc.).

5. Using a cookie-cutter design – Try to create a unique look for your resume, avoiding templates that hundreds of other candidates have used. Think about a hiring manager reviewing his/her 50th resume of the day; if your resume looks like 20 others, it will not stand out from the crowd, regardless of the content. Try to develop a unique and professional design; doing so will go a long way in compelling the reader to spend more than 4-7 seconds on your resume during the screening process.