13 Resume Mistakes That Make You Look Dumb

Before you get invited in for an interview, employers and recruiters look at your resume to see if you’re a good enough candidate for the job to be worth their time. If your resume doesn’t look good, you don’t look good. Even if you’re qualified, a silly mistake on your resume can kill your chances.

Think of your resume as your 60 second audition in front of a judge on one of those reality TV talent shows. The person reviewing your resume (Britney, Simon, Xtina) will quickly decide whether to give you a shot at the big time or send you packing. So the golden rule is: Make a good first impression, and don’t look dumb!

You can do this by avoiding common mistakes on your resume — the kind that we see even great candidates making.  Remember, you only have a few seconds to either make a good first impression or to make a really bad one.

Basic Appearances

Crumpled Resume

1. Spelling mistakes and grammatical errors

A grammar error or misspelling can stand out like a sore thumb and tell the employer that you’re careless. Luckily, these mistakes are easily avoidable. Spell check, but don’t rely on spell check to do all of the work for you.

I have seen plenty of resumes with embarrassing mistakes that spell check didn’t catch — it was a real word, just not the one that the candidate wanted to use in his resume (be careful to never, ever leave that first “L” out of “public relations” in your resume).

Take the extra time to re-read your resume several times or have an English major friend look it over for you. It’s easy to miss even big, embarrassing mistakes when you’ve been looking at your resume for too long.

Your eyes see what you meant to type instead of what’s really there. An objective reader can make a big difference in helping you catch spelling and grammar problems as well as many of the other mistakes listed in this post.

It is particularly important to proofread carefully if you are applying for jobs that require writing skills and/or attention to detail. For a potential future boss, your resume is your first work sample and should reflect your ability to write, edit, and proofread if hired.

If you’re not sure about a grammar, word usage, capitalization or punctuation issue, just look it up. Grammar Girl is just one great resource for practical application of grammar rules.

2. Sloppy formatting and fonts

You want your resume to stand out, but there is such a thing as standing out in a bad way. You may think it’s creative to use 6 different fonts and colors, but that kind of creativity tends to just look clumsy. Avoid too many font types and steer clear of font sizes that are too big or too small.

Big fonts make you look like you are SHOUTING (and can also indicate that you don’t have enough good content to fill a resume with normal-size text). Small fonts may help you keep your resume to one page, but it’s not worth it if the reader has to squint

You should also avoid long paragraphs and long blocks of text. Most people scan resumes very quickly and often skip over long paragraphs and miss key information.

Use white space and bullets to make your resume format easy on the eye. Use of bullets can also ensure better reader comprehension when visually scanned.

Leave comfortable margins on the page and make sure that everything is neatly aligned. Look neat. Look smart.

Also, keep in mind that there’s a good chance you resume will be scanned electronically as more and more companies use special software to index resumes. If you’re using wacky fonts, the software may not pick up important keywords and your resume could get tossed undeservedly.

3. Just plain ugly

Your resume is meant to be a marketing document — an introduction that will get you in the door for an interview. This isn’t the time to “think outside the box” and design a glossy, hot pink, legal-sized resume with clip art and glitter. There are better ways to demonstrate your creativity. Save the arts and crafts for Pinterest.

Also, avoid using weird colors, weird formats  or weird paper stock. Your resume should be simple and elegant. Go minimalist and let the words speak for themselves.

If you’re presenting a hard copy of your resume in person, make sure it doesn’t look like it was just pulled out of the trash can (or it’s very likely to end up back in the circular file).

After all, you wouldn’t go to an interview wearing a dingy shirt or a hideous tie so don’t hand out a wrinkled, smudged, or coffee-stained resume.  When you bring your resume to an interview, carry it in a folder to keep it crisp and fresh.

4. Too short

In general, try to keep your resume to 1-2 pages in length. Recent graduates should aim to stick to one page while more experienced candidates can get away with using more space.

If you’re still short on work experience and are having difficulty filling a page, think about listing relevant school coursework and extracurricular activities. Include volunteer work and the contributions you’ve made in that arena.

You’ll also have space to list pertinent skills  — including your prowess with different software programs and other tactical skills that apply to the job (review the job description and use the employer’s language).

As you develop in your career and add more jobs to your resume, you won’t have space for these “extras.” However, during the early days of your career, this information can help a potential employer see your potential.

Remember to use common sense here:  No need to mention your collection of Twilight memorabilia or that you were runner-up in the 2010 SpongeBob look-alike competition.

5. Too long

Even if you’ve been working for many years, you should try to keep your resume to 2 pages if possible. There are exceptions — CVs for academic positions and some other roles tend to be longer and more detailed. (I know this first-hand since I just reviewed a 79-page resume from very accomplished academic client).

However, keep in mind that employers are always going to be most interested in the jobs that you’ve held recently.

Use your space wisely to share more details about your most current and relevant work experience and edit down the descriptions of your earlier jobs to the bare necessities.

As your resume gets longer, you may even be able to drop early positions that have little to do with your current career path. Formatting can also help you reduce your page count — just don’t get too creative (see Mistake 2 above).

Inaccurate Information

Inaccurate information

6. Lies and half-truths

If you lie on your resume, you’re taking a big risk. First of all, you’re very likely to get busted during the background and reference checks. Even if you get lucky and make it through the hiring process,  dishonesty on your resume can get you fired down the road — even if you’ve been doing a great job. Just ask former Yahoo! CEO Scott Thompson.

If you haven’t yet graduated from college, for example, put down the name of the school you’re attending and state your expected graduation date. Don’t say you’ve graduated if you haven’t.

Another common fib is with languages. Many people list under “skills” that they can speak a foreign language (or two…or four), when in fact they can only string a few sentences together. Don’t think you won’t eventually be found out – you will. And trust me, it’s tough to learn Japanese in a weekend.

7. Sketchy job dates

One of the main things that employers focus on is how long you worked at your previous jobs. They are going to be scanning for dates and zeroing in on short tenures and long gaps between positions.

Make sure to put down, for each job, the date that you started working and the date that you left (month and year is sufficient). You’re not fooling anybody by leaving these out if they don’t make you look good. A lack of dates will read as an attempt to hide something. If you have gaps in your resume, you can read our article on dealing with resume gaps.

Proof the dates carefully. It’s easy to overlook mistakes when it comes to numbers. You don’t want your resume to say “May 2020” instead of “May 2010.”

8. Contact information

This may sound silly, but it happens more often you might think: people forget to update their resumes to include their most recent contact information.

If you’ve moved or changed phone numbers, make sure that your phone number, address and e-mail information is up to date.

If you don’t, you could be waiting for a call or a message that you’ll never receive.

Also, make sure you have a professional sounding email address. If your name is John Smith, using the address “stonerjohn69@gmail.com” (which you hilariously created in 2005) is not a good idea.

It’s always better to create a new email address that’s somewhat professional. Even if you can’t get [yourname]@gmail.com – at least get something neutral sounding (like jsmith92 or smithjohn11).

Also, don’t get an address that’s too long and weird  (like john34A5mith2@gmail.com). It’s too easy for a typo to happen when someone is emailing you – and it’ll drive people crazy.


Resume Substance

9. Vague objective

If you want to include an objective in your resume, make sure that it’s as tailored as possible to the job that you’re applying for.

Avoid vague statements like: Looking to apply my skills and experience in a fast-paced, challenging environment.

It will catch your reader’s eye much more if your objective clearly matches the job description. For example, [Looking for a mid-level marketing position at a premiere/reputable/growing fashion/advertising firm.]

You should also think about whether including an objective statement is really the best use of that prime real estate at the top of your resume. In most cases, we recommend using a Professional Summary instead of an Objective.

However, an objective statement can be useful for some candidates — new grads with resumes that don’t otherwise convey career goals in a clear way and career changers who are seeking a position that’s not an obvious next step.

10. Too general or irrelevant

Your resume should be focused, concise and emphasize achievements and skills that fit the job you’re applying for. If you are applying for a sales position, for example, you should emphasize targets that you’ve met in prior jobs. Including percentages and numbers can be useful.

For example, [“Increased _______ by 25% in Store XYZ” or “Reduced operations backlog by 50% for the fiscal year in 2009.”] Think about how best to present your experience and skills in a way that would impress your potential employer.

This probably means customizing your resume for each position, especially if you are considering more than one type of opportunity. Carefully review the job description and then take the time to tailor your resume to emphasize the strengths and experience that are most relevant for the position.

11. Including “red flag” information

Your goal is to land an interview by giving the employer a compelling overview of the job skills and experience that make you a good candidate. Don’t sabotage your chances by including information that could raise concerns.

Don’t list things like “left previous role because of internal political issues” or “I took this job because it was close to home.” There will be time to discuss your reasons for leaving and taking positions in the interview.

By then, you will have used Big Interview to prepare and practice so that you can discuss your reasons in a positive and professional way.

12. Too much information

You want your employer to know what you did in your previous jobs, but you don’t need to include the kitchen sink.

Describe your job duties in enough detail to give the employer a good idea of your general responsibilities.

Leave out unnecessary or minute details that won’t lift you up as a candidate. More importantly: Highlight your job achievements. Use bullet-points to help the reader focus in on your accomplishments.

Too many candidates make the mistake of including a detailed job description instead of emphasizing individual contributions.

13. Passive tone of voice.

Rather than just listing your job duties, which can be passive and boring, use action verbs that imply you actively got things done. Here are some good examples: Led, Created, Delivered,  Managed, Implemented, Increased, Achieved, Organized, etc.

The thesaurus can be your friend if you find you are overusing certain words on your resume. Just don’t get too crazy trying to impress them with your awesome vocabulary — you want them to actually understand what you did (skip “confabulate” and “propagage” and other Word-of-the Day entries).

Your resume is your first face forward to the employer, so it’s very important that you take the time to to make sure it looks great and is an accurate and powerful representation of your qualifications. Common mistakes (even the seemingly little ones) can kill your chances of getting an interview. When it comes to your resume, you really can’t be too perfect.

Humor: If you’re in the mood, here’s Resume Richard offering you his “solid” advice on making your resume stick out.

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Ready to ace your next job interview and land your dream job? Take your preparation to the next level with Big Interview, our training/practice software that will have you conquering tough questions and impressing employers in no time. Grab a 7-day free trial and use our Fast Track curriculum to get immediate results!

About the Author

Pamela Skillings is co-founder of Big Interview. As an interview coach, she has helped her clients land dream jobs at companies including Google, Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, and JP Morgan Chase.She also has more than 15 years of experience training and advising managers at organizations from American Express to the City of New York.She is an adjunct professor at New York University and an instructor at the American Management Association.

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36 Comment to 13 Resume Mistakes That Make You Look Dumb

  • Erica

    I find that a frighteningly large amount of people don’t really proof their resumes (especially younger applicants). It’s a shame since it hurts their chances tremendously.

    The employer will say, if they’re not careful on their own resume, how can they be trusted with my projects?

    Great article, great tips – will bookmark.

  • Sarah

    Writing a generic CV with one or two specific sentences… then sending it to the wrong place. Bonza.

  • http://www.biginterview.com Pamela Skillings

    @Erica – I agree. People think a typo is no big deal, but it can make a big difference when you’re trying to make a first impression.

    @Sarah – Great points! Generic resumes get overlooked (and rightfully so…boring). In terms of sending to the wrong place, a lot of candidates fail to follow directions carefully. I have tossed decent resumes because the person didn’t follow very specific and clear directions on submitting (who to send to, what to send,etc.).

  • Brian

    How about an objective statement that spells out what the applicant wants out of the prospective employment relationship with no mention of what they have to offer the employer? (e.g. ” … a position that will provide me benefits …”). Overall, I say skip the objective statement. The best you can hope for is not to say something that will rule you out. It will carry little to no weight in the decision to grant an interview.

  • Maryline Trilia

    Thank you Pamela for this great article.
    I saved it in favorite, I would need to check my resume, in fact each new training or professional experience that I do I add in my resume, I always have to take care of errors

  • Marck Cha.

    You have chosen the number “13” for more attention to these errors :)
    The article is very detailed and ordered, I congratulate you for this work.

  • Miniard Vanina

    I printed the article I need it.
    Thank you for your advice

  • Selman Diffo.

    The problem is that people were not paying attention to their resume errors and after everyone said he has no luck in his candidacy.
    A resume is like the business card, it is your image and presentation that you made ​​on you.
    Take good care of your resume.

  • Jiffo DissoP

    Very important.
    A resume with a one error even smaller, and you candidacy is denied

  • Haifa Mi.

    Thank you for these details. There’s a lot of articles on the internet dealing resume errors but not with such precision

  • Patricia Dongue

    I corrected my resume using this article, thanks

  • patricia via

    People write the strangest things on their resumes, sometimes downright hysterical.

  • olivier tjou

    We have all done horrible spelling on the recovery at one time or another

  • Mario

    I imagine that many people do not think that there may be mistakes in their resumes and continues to use it without revising

  • Britney Jarbouii

    People generally write their resume once only and continue to use it for years, but resume must be checked sometimes add and edit content, especially if you have a new exeperience or training

  • Nicole chlabik

    A few years ago, when applying for a job designing electronic surveillance equipment, I have included in my letter that I had to get a pilot’s license. They offered me the job!

    Sometimes adding something unusual for a job application can help you. In my case, I tried to prove that, in 49 years, I still was not “over the hill”, and I could not handle stressful situations.

  • Isabelle Essel

    This article is a reference for creating and editing a resume

  • Linda

    People in general download a template on the Internet then modify the text, it is easy but it is not right, it is not require a CV model simply write text + titles. The key is that you make a resume without errors and that suits your presentation

  • Isabelle Essel

    I worked for a staffing company as a supervisor, so I saw a LOT of bad resumes. My favorite was from a college-aged girl named Candace. She had written her name vertically on her resume (where the work experience section normally is) and had written an adjective for each letter of her name, with an explanation.

    C – can do anything
    A – attentive to detail
    N – not afraid to go the extra mile
    D – delightful to work with
    A – always on time
    C – clean
    E – elegant

    It cracked the whole office up. I wanted to frame it and put it on the wall,

  • Morgan Giovinazzo

    the best way to get a hiring manager’s attention is by having a resume that corresponds to exactly what she’s hoping for,

  • Elo B Grissay

    Morgan- a lot of people give out that advice, but they don’t finish telling it all. To get serious for a moment…a resume is a sales document, the point of which is to get you an interview. Everything on it should be there to sell you to the hiring company. If you think that company wants to know about your art (for example), put it on there. If not or unsure, leave it off. And you should ask yourself those customization questions pretty much every time.

  • Delphine Brami Slomovits

    Isabelle : I saw one like that recently too. This guy had his surname vertically, faded into the background, with words like that (I don’t have the CV here, so I couldn’t tell you the details).

    His email address was also vertically down the side of the page, meaning that I had to go through it letter by letter to figure out what it actually said.

    The CV itself was a flow-chart. I had to search through the boxes for the “previous experience” section to even figure out what kind of job this guy was applying for. Needless to say, we had a bit of a laugh about it, and, while I left it with the people who deal with this kind of thing, I seriously doubt he’ll be hearing anything back.

  • Cécile Duménieu

    There are a variety of mistakes people make when developing their resume. One blooper may be enough to move your resume from the interview pile to the circular file.

  • Laurence Scaillet

    errors but proofreading can save you from ours of embarrassment. Get it? Double check for silly mistakes that can rule you out immediately such as addressing the letter to a different company, like I :)

  • Stephanie Vega

    Hey – question. Should you include every job you’ve ever had? Or only back a few years? What about positions irrelevant to the position you’re applying for?


  • Kim Rawks!

    I’m glad you included the link on resume gaps. This goes with what Stephanie said. I have a two year period where I worked outside my profession. The job is completely irrelevant to my career.

  • Jennifer D.

    Hey – not only grammatical errors and misspellings but sometimes when you apply for jobs online and have to paste your resume and cover letter into form fields, the formatting gets messed up – and this can include things like missing apostrophes! So when you resume gets printed out by a potential employer, the formatting issues are still there! So always either upload your resume or sent it as an attachment.

  • Anonymous

    Just remember that your resume has to pass the dolts who work in HR, hence the one-page rule for resumes. This moronic rule meas that Paul Krugman could not get an entry-level analyst job in many companies if he submitted his C.V. from the Princeton website (I picked him because his C.V. is available, and he is a well-known Nobel Prize winner) because of their rules. I have seen dozens of supposed hiring managers in online articles stating that they immediately throw away or disregard multiple page resumes. If you have any work experience your resume should be longer than one page, but again these are HR dolts, so they assume every person has been happy doing the exact same tasks for 15 years.

    All of these articles should be based on the premise that most HR people are morons, and tell people how to work within that framework. As soon as I realized that simple fact I started getting 2-3 job offers a week until I accepted one of them.

  • Steve

    Kind of funny! So many of you commenting about other people making typos and grammatical errors on their resumes, but you all have typos and grammatical errors in your comments. In other words, you are trying to come off sounding so smart but your typos and grammatical errors in your comments make you sound dumb. :)

  • Jay

    I work for a university and frequently interview for full-time, student intern, and part-time student employee positions. I try to look past the bad formatting and cliches and focus on the content when I review resumes, especially student resumes since those applicants typically don’t have much experience in job hunting when they apply with us. Someitmes it’s hard.

    My all time favorite bad resume came from a full-time applicant with 20+ years of experience, however. His resume was about five pages long, and consisted of a two column grid with thick borders around each roughly 3″ tall cell. In one column, the applicant pasted the logo of each company at which he had worked. In the adjacent column he listed the job details. Behind all of this was a tiled American flag graphic. The guy was a vet and I admired his patriotism, but the resume looked like a bad Netscape 4-era web page.

    We did phone screen this candidate because he did have solid experience in the areas we were seeking. I remember struggling to read from the black and white printout of the resume I had in the conference room where we conducted the call.

  • Sandeep

    Good work Pamela and Judy. I have personally seen many instances where a job seeker comes with bizarre resume with not required information on it, and what is required is actually missing from there.

  • Anonymous Job Seeker

    Why aren’t there articles out there about the rules the employers should follow? Monster, CareerBuilder, and even Ms. Skillings here could make a name for themselves if they put the employers in equal check as much as the employees. “Interview Dos and Donts” for employees? What about horrible employers that give awful interviews?

    1. Multi-tasking has been proven a medical impossibility. It’s a term that’s just as tired as “perfectionist.” It shows that HR doesn’t have enough insight or intelligence to write up an accurate description for a job posting, or give an intelligent interview.

    The Myths of Multitasking: https://www.google.com/#q=Multitasking+impossible+brain

    2. Write about Employers that handicap themselves by depending on online resume readers that pick up on buzz words. Those don’t read PDF documents, even when applicants are told they can upload to that format. This causes possibly valuable employees from getting hired. Source: Monster.com

    3. What about employers not putting what the salary will be on job postings? The applicant wastes all their time and energy on multiple interviews just to find out the employer will not pay enough for them to live. And the employer has all their time wasted just to find out the applicant needs more money to make ends meet in today’s inflated economy. Both parties wasted their time, energy, and resources.

    4. Don’t have young starter employees give interviews. They rely too much on cookie cutter questions off the internet that sometimes can’t be answered. This results in the applicant looking bad, even though it was the interviewer that asked a bad and lazy question.

    5. Enough with these 50 questions in an interview. They’re horrible and debilitating. So many of them don’t even address the position an applicant is applying for. But a foolish interviewer might ask them anyway just as a formula to follow. If this harms the applicant who’s fault is that? It’s certainly not the applicants fault that the employer pulled down bad questions off the internet to ask.

    6. What about hostile toxic work environments where managers lash out at their employees? I have a manager now, and a co-worker who both have a depressant syndrome. They refuse to take medication, and they continue to lash out at me. The manager is friends with the CEO. Instead of taking proper action, the CEO makes the whole team take an anger management course as a smoke screen to cover up the managers poor leadership skills and anger management issues. Too much nepotism and “good ol boys” in the work place.

    7. I’ve been a victim of irresponsible employers where I’m glad I didn’t get the job after all. I submitted a resume and a week later the hiring manager told me that the HR department never got him my material since they found it laying behind a desk. Some irresponsible person in HR lost my material BEHIND A DESK, and they confessed to the blunder.

    It’s time to shake up the employers as much as the employees and job applicants. All Job Search Engines should allow an anonymous place for people to report job issues. This would keep everybody on their toes, making sure everybody behaves for lack of a better word/phrase.

    There wouldn’t be any overly disgruntled reports if companies treated all employees the way human beings should be treated.


  • Harland Mozell

    It happened to me too!

  • Wilson Gachihi

    I have found your advices on the mistakes that people commit when writing a CV to be very helpful to me especially now that I m looking for a job. Thank you.

    However, I just want to ask whether these mistakes do apply to other countries, because I am from Kenya and I have realized that I have committed most of the errors you’ve highlighted in most of my applications.

  • db

    well i am glad you assholes find it funny that people try to be creative with their resumes…its painfully obvious that lame shit like bad resumes are a highlight of your shitty boring lifes…you asslicking,unimaginative assholes!Laugh it up!

  • Portia Bleechington

    @Isabelle: It wasn’t enough that you took the girl’s bad resume around the your office for everyone to make fun of, you had to add more insult to injury by childishly (if not illegally) framing and hanging it up in your office??! Sounds like she’s the one that dodged the bullet. I cringe reading some of these comments!

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