Categories: Careers

The Most Common Resume And Cover Letter Mistakes

Resume and cover letters are the very first impression that you get to make on a hiring manager, so, you know, no pressure or anything. But, one thing to remember is that potential employers aren’t as interested in the job candidates they’re interviewing as much as they are interested in how the candidates can help the company. While that might seem obvious, many job applicants still make the mistake of creating resumes that focus on titles and responsibilities, and beginning their cover letters talking about themselves.

Don’t start your resume and cover letter talking about yourself. You need to immediately let a potential employer know what you can do for the company — because, once they know that, they’ll be much more interested in learning more about you.

Much like an online dating app, your resume and cover letter needs to be different and appeal itself away from the masses. Unfortunately, many people still think these two critical pieces of paper need to be done as they were decades ago. Nope! It’s time to stop making the same common mistakes on resumes and cover letters once and for all.

Start Your Cover Letter With A Value Lead

“I understand you’re looking for a Director of IT and I am very interested in applying for the position.” Yawn. No one cares what interests you. What can you do for the company?

“Would you be interested in a content manager who can create an inbound marketing funnel based on optimizing lead generation through real-time data analysis?”

The first opening sentence above talks about you, while the second sentence talks about the employer and its needs. If you don’t want to open with a question, open with a been-there-done-that confirmation taken from the job description.

“I understand you are looking for a human resources assistant with expertise managing payroll compliance and increasing employment enrollment in voluntary benefits programs.” Think about why a potential employer is hiring for a certain position. It’s not to fill a quota of jobs. What is the benefit the position brings to the company?

No matter what the specific responsibilities, the general role of any department (and most positions) in a company is to help the company become more profitable and help with company culture. Companies become more profitable in one of two ways: increasing sales, or decreasing costs. Can you help a business do either one of those? If you can help run your area more efficiently, you save the company money. If you can innovate and help provide a better customer experience or help a sales team, you help increase revenue.

So, no, you won’t see, “Increase sales” or “decrease expenses” in most job descriptions, but they’re implied in almost every help wanted ad.

Organize Several Key Ideas

Don’t restate your resume in your cover letter. Most cover letters get tossed because HR directors know the information they need is already in the accompanying resume. Your cover letter should be short (about half a page long) and direct the reader to several key items on the resume. Consider using three or four bullet points that are no more than one line each.

The cover letter is a teaser. It’s not going to get you an interview or a job. Its only purpose is to make the reader interested in reading your resume and looking for those several key pieces of information you want them to see.

Finish With A P.S.

The P.S. is often the first thing letter readers notice and read. Add a P.S. to your cover letters that adds one more important piece of information that isn’t included in the main body of your letter. It might feel strange because it’s a bit informal, but it stands out, that’s for sure.

Resumes Should Be Duty Free (Almost)

If you’ve held a job in a fairly common area, such as HR or IT or accounting, employers probably know what your job entailed. What they want to know about your career is what you’ve done special in your jobs. That’s why it’s important to list your accomplishments, rather than just your duties.

For example, if you’ve worked in HR, don’t just list that you placed job ads, reviewed resumes, conducted interviewed, onboarded new hires and managed benefits as the sole listing under a job title on your resume. Employers know that. If possible, add bullet points such as, “Decreased candidate search times by 40 percent by creating a new applicant screening process,” or “Increased voluntary benefits enrollment 25 percent by creating online employee benefits tutorial.”

The only reason employers want to know what you’ve done in the past is so they can try to determine what you can do for them in the future. Some lists of duties are important if they are specific, such as in IT, but they should not be your main selling points.

A good rule of thumb for listing duties is, “Will the employer say, ‘No duh’ if I list this job responsibility?”

Make Your Resume Scannable

If you’re applying for a job which has lots of applicants, the person who’s reviewing your resume will want to be able to quickly find key pieces of information so she can put you in the A, B or C pile. That means you need to format your resume so that your companies, titles, employment dates and education stand out. Use bold face for bullet points and spaces between jobs to make it easy to quickly find these things. When you’re listing your accomplishments, use bullet points and try to keep them to one line.

Right: “Increased voluntary benefits enrollment 25% by creating online tutorial.”

Wrong: “While at ABC Widgets, I created the company’s first online benefits tutorial for employees, which resulted in a 25 percent increase in registrations over the previous year.”

Is The Resume Dead?

More and more employers are skipping job postings, going straight to LinkedIn and seeing how the person identifies his or her personal brand. Employers can register to find potential candidates through keyword searches and then contact them directly. Depending on the job you’re applying to, you might not need to send a resume; you use an email with a link to your LinkedIn profile, rather than sending a traditional reverse-chron resume.

Interviewers don’t always have access to their computers, however, so a paper resume is still important. This is especially true during an interview when the interviewer will probably be writing notes and will want to be able to quickly scan your resume (which will probably have items the interviewer has already circled on it).

Make your resume look more like your LinkedIn profile, and vice versa. Avoid full sentences when possible so that the information you want to highlight (“Save company $40,000 by…”) stands out.


Keep it simple, stupid.

It’s so hard not to go into detail about those really great projects and programs you did at your company, but few people want to read your resume. They want to scan it. So, resist the temptation to create cover letters and resumes with long sentences and paragraphs. Remember, your cover letter won’t get you a job. But it can create interest in your resume. Likewise, your resume won’t get you a job. But it can create interest in bringing you in for an interview.

No one is going to hire you without interviewing you because your resume was so complete. To be as simple as possible: the interview gets you the job. Tease potential employers with your resume and cover letter and utilize each as tools to land an interview.

Lead image via Getty

Steve Milano

Steve Milano is a journalist and business executive/consultant. He has helped dozens of for-profit companies and nonprofits with their marketing and operations. Steve has written more than 8,000 articles during his career, focusing on small business, careers, personal finance and health and fitness. Steve also turned his tennis hobby into a career, coaching, writing, running nonprofits and conducting workshops around the globe.

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Steve Milano

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