10 Common Mistakes People Make on Their Resumes

  1. Too Humble

 When I work with my clients, I find that people have a hard time selling themselves. They tend to minimise their achievements and it is reflected in their resumes. Let’s take the example of an Executive Assistant. Most of them describe themselves simply as follows:

“Performed duties such as:

  – answering telephone calls

  – maintaining diaries

  – arranging appointments

  – taking messages

  – typing and word processing

  – filing”

This is quite frustrating to me because they are so much more than that! They are the Porte Parole of the CEO/Executive, they are the event organizer (in most cases), they are the person in charge of the Head Office’s brand and image, so why not put:

“Prepared and processed administrative requests, such as phone redirecting, calendar management and organized meetings/ events for high profile executives. Booked travels and processed visa applications on a daily basis. Performed filling duties and kept appropriate level of office supplies. Acted as a Culture Champion and helped improve business processes through time optimization techniques and dealt with confidential HR matters regularly”.

Doesn’t it sound better? Why not truly reflect what we do in our jobs and why chose to be humble about our achievements?

  1. Unexplained Gaps

Another common mistake is gaps in resumes. Recruiters are trained to find them and they should be avoided as much as possible. Gaps should be easy to explain. Maybe it was a maternity leave, there is nothing to be ashamed of! Maybe it was for health reasons and you then decided to focus on healthy eating and yoga. Maybe you did a yoga certification, a photography class or a language course. These are all worth mentioning! Maybe you volunteered often at your church or maybe you wrote a blog about parenting. Anything is better than a gap! The important thing is to never simply appear to have stopped pursuing your interests.

  1. Lack of Contextualization

I have also observed that people who have studied or worked in a foreign country tend to forget that the reader doesn’t know how important or prestigious a certain University or specific company is. For example they might write:

Bachelor in Physics

University of Sao Paulo – USP”

But what they really mean is:

Bachelor in Physics

University of Sao Paulo – USP

*The most prestigious and selective University of South America”

That alone, will give the reader/recruiter a lot more grounding and will put things into context. The same applies for companies. It is important to use words such as “the most popular”, “the most prestigious”, “the largest” and “the best” when describing a foreign company or university.

  1. No Prestigious University

Some people are lucky and smart enough to have studied in a famous and prestigious University, but for those who aren’t, there is still a way! The best path is to choose an Extension Course or a Continuing Studies Course or a Professional/Associate Certification. Any of these degrees are offered by the best Universities in the world, such as Berkeley and Stanford. My main client base is in California, Silicon Valley, and therefore I am familiar with these Universities. I also studied at Berkeley and completed a Certification in Human Resources Management. These certifications are focused on real case studies, applicable and relevant answers to current problems. They are also very affordable if compared to Bachelor degrees or Master degrees. Not to mention the amount of powerful connection that are established between students. Classmates are actually peers, teachers are in fact inspiring professionals who are accessible and who are well known in their fields. So if you don’t yet have a prestigious university in your resume, go and register for a course even if it is an online course.

  1. Too Much Information

Some people fail at being objective and include too much irrelevant information in their resumes. It is important to note that there is no need to include your full address in your CV, the post code and name of the city or neighbourhood will largely suffice. Never include nationality, date of birth, marital status, religion or sex. If you are applying for a legitimate and ethical company, you will never have to disclose personal information during the selection process. It is actually illegal in San Francisco to ask any personal information to a candidate during an interview.

In Switzerland, where I live, it is unfortunately not illegal yet and some companies might want to know your age, your marital status and if you have children, before hiring you. My advice to you is: do not answer personal questions of any kind in a selection process. If you are asked to answer irrelevant questions, simply explain that you do not feel comfortable talking about your personal life because it might help create a biased selection process.

I have also noticed that people like to include their hobbies in their resumes, but that is actually the kind of information we normally include in biographies. Resumes should be objective and should not help create any type of biased opinion about the applicant. It is important to keep your resume as neutral as possible and this will only benefit you. I also advise my clients to not put their full names on their resumes. You should only put the first and the last name. If you have many names, you can simply add the first letter followed by a dot. For instance:

Rebeca L. Valenca instead of Rebeca Lemos Valenca

A resume is not a birth certificate and, in some cases, our names can reveal our nationalities and origins and it will likely influence the selection process. I advise my clients not to include a picture in their resumes, unless they are in the creative industry and have an artistic picture to add. Nowadays, it is easy for a recruiter to find the picture of any applicant online, so if this is a priority for the recruiter, he/she will find this information on Social Media with ease.

  1. Lack of a Summary of Qualifications

In all honesty, a recruiter does not have time to scan every single resume from start to finish. They will usually read the first 3 lines and if they are “seduced” by your description of yourself, they will read further, if not, they will close that file and open another resume. In this sense, it is important to always start your resume with a strong summary of qualifications. This is the space that you have to nearly exaggerate your qualifications. You must always start by stating the number of years of work experience you have in your field of work.

You have to mention your main skills, technical knowledge, languages and software skills. It is also important to mention the number of people you have managed, the amount of budget you have managed and the names of prestigious clients you have served (if you haven’t worked with a prestigious client, there is no need to include a long list of client names that are not necessarily popular). Is it interesting to also include the amount of revenue you have generated for the company. Maybe you have been successful at attracting new clients and new contracts or maybe you helped save money for the company. This kind of information is more than welcome in your resume!

  1. Omitted Information

The Education section always comes last after professional experience and skills (language and software skills) and must only include date of graduation, name of institution and type of diploma awarded (BA, MA, PhD, Associate, Certification, etc). There is no need to include the start and finish date of the course you took. The only relevant date is the graduation year, no need to include months (unlike the work experience description).

On another note, some people forget to include the courses they did, but did not finish. If you have not concluded a course you can simply state that you attended the first semester or the first two semesters of the course curriculum. There is no need to completely delete the information. You can also state the courses that you are currently taking and mark them as “in progress”, so that your resume is completed and up to date. This is also important because of the number of key words you might add to the resume.

Another important detail to mention is whether you have completed your course with distinction or if you have received an award or any form of recognition for your outstanding performance in your field of studies.

  1. One Size Fits All

 There are cases of people who have worked in various different fields. For instance, I used to be an Executive Assistant and later in my career I became a Recruiter. If I want to apply for an Admin role, I have to highlight my organization skills, my time management skills and my pro-active personality, but if I am applying for a job in Recruitment, I have to highlight my Human Resources background and tailor my resume in that direction. The resume is customized to each job application in order to marry it to the job description. You must adjust your skills to the job targeted, because you won’t be successful with a “fits all” format.

The same applies to the Cover Letters that are sent with the resume. The Summary of Qualifications must be adapted each time you apply for a new role. This is crucial and the more you match the key words of your resume to the key words of the job description, the more chances you have to be invited for an interview.

  1. Bad Formatting

Formatting the resume is time consuming, but the devil is in the details. Recruiters tend to observe the layout of the resumes because it indicates whether or not the candidate is detail oriented. A resume should not take more than 2 pages, the pages should be numbered and the use of font and symbols for bullet points should be consistent. I also recommend you to PDF your CV before sending it out to recruiters.

  1. Understatement of Skills

Language skills and software skills are inserted right before the Education section (Education comes last). If you are applying for a job in an English speaking country, you must not include that you can speak English. Your English skills should be a no brainer and mentioning it will induce the recruiter to think that you are not a native speaker and that you might not be completely fluent. Only add the skills you have in addition to the English skills. This is how I would present the language skills section:


Portuguese: native proficiency

Spanish: good working knowledge

Italian: conversational

German: elementary proficiency”

If you can have a conversation, read an email or simply understand the topic discussed in whatever language you have studied it is worth mentioning it in the language skills section.

Last, but not least, you must always remember to include and update your software skills in your resume. You can mention Google apps, Social Media, Blogs, Web page management tools, MAC, Windows, etc. You should also detail your level of proficiency with Excel and Power Point. These tools are massively used in the corporate world and most jobs require proficient use of the entire Windows package.



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