According to the most recent report, New York City has a 9.1% unemployment rate, compared to a national average of 7.7%. With more than eight million people in the five boroughs, the competition for what jobs do exist is fierce. The last thing you need on a job search is a sub-par résumé.
But what does that even mean? Most people know enough to double check their résumé s for grammar and spelling mistakes and not to print it on purple zebra paper. But plenty of well-meaning job seekers just don’t know what else they might be doing wrong, no matter how conscientious they are. Below, 12 tips to help you identify and avoid some the most frequent and egregious résumé infractions.
Don’t include “references upon request.” Anthony Prato, founder of ResumeBargain.net and former résumé workshop leader at the New York City Workforce1 Center, says “it is implicit that if you are applying for a job that you have references to provide.” (And if you don’t, it’s probably good to find some before you go any further in your job hunt.)
If you are looking for a job in New York City and don’t already live in the area, get a New York City area address. Not having a NYC-based address can significantly hurt your chances of getting a job here, because thousands of people before you have said “I want to move to NYC” and then didn’t follow through. Employers are looking for the path of least resistance, so unless you’re at the executive level, they don’t want to have to worry about paying for relocation expenses (or waiting for you to rent a U-Haul and navigate the NYC housing market). There are already many, many qualified applicants who live in the area who don’t have to arrange for traveling and moving in order to start a job. So even if you’re not already here, make it seem like you are.
A PO Box is a decent option if you don’t have a friend whose address you can use. Even better, the postal service recently rolled out an option where you can use the street address of the post office with a unit number rather than the old “PO Box 123” format, which can be a red flag that you don’t actually have a place to live.
Do not have a two-page résumé unless you have more than 10 years of work experience. Not only is it unlikely to be necessary—being concise is a positive thing in job descriptions—it’s also counterproductive. “The top third of the first page is prime real estate for anything relevant and recent in your career,” says Laura Smith-Proulx, founder of AnExpertResume.com and author of 21 Résumé Secrets to the Job of Your Choice. “Many résumé screeners won’t even read your second page, other than to skim your employment dates and look at where you went to school, then they head back to the top of your first page. In fact, you can watch the interviewer do just that in front of you at your next interview!”
Don’t leave out your social media information. Prato says a reference to your LinkedIn profile is especially important today. “Include your LinkedIn account web address at the top of the page,” he says. “And personalize your LinkedIn web address so it is not just a bunch of letters and numbers; you can do this after you sign in on the website. Twitter and Facebook information should be included, too, unless you’ve behaved badly on social media, in which case you’ll want to clean all of that up before job hunting. Even if you don’t list the info on your résumé , chances are high that recruiters will be checking you out via social media to see what kind of person you are.
Don’t use the same résumé for every job. It’s important to have a basic résumé outline that you can tailor to each job application, especially if you’re applying for jobs in related but different fields. “For example, if you are applying for customer service jobs and administrative assistant jobs,” Prato says, “You should have one résumé and cover letter that highlight your strengths in the former, and another résumé and cover letter that highlight your strengths in the latter.”
Don’t list personal information on your résumé, like hobbies, pets, or whether you’re married or have kids. Unless there’s a specific connection between what you do in your free time and what the job entails, the practice is unprofessional. Greg Faherty, founder of a-perfect-resume.com who is featured in the book Designing a Cover Letter to ‘WOW’ Hiring Personnel, says that especially in New York City, job seekers tend to be too open. “New York is a city with a big personality, and its residents can say the same,” he says. “But it’s best to keep your personality out of it and treat the résumé as what it is: a professional business document. Stick to facts and professional skills, not personal traits or lists of hobbies.”
Don’t go too far back. Strong résumé s highlight the last ten years of job experience. “Employers want to know what you’ve done lately,” Smith-Proulx says. “If you go back more than 10-15 years on your résumé, summarize the experience in an ‘Early Career’ section, and give brief descriptions of your earlier work.” There are some exceptions, Smith-Proulx says, such as if you’re an executive who needs to show a progression of your work over the years. “However, for most candidates, listing your degree from 1979 or your first job working in telemarketing is a huge turn-off to employers,” she says.
Never use the pronoun “I.” Résumé s should always be written in the third person,” says Peter Newfield, president of career-resumes.com, who stresses that writing in the first person appears narcissistic. Additionally, Newfield says, you “shouldn’t claim full credit for achievements accomplished as part of a team or group effort” The purpose of a résumé is to show employers how you can help them fulfill their needs with your skill set. “Too many people forget the résumé is a marketing tool, like a business card; it is your initial sales pitch,” Flaherty says.
Don’t use the “undergrad format” If you are just out of college, an undergraduate format—where you start out with your education and then move into work experience—makes sense. But for anyone else, this format is inefficient at best. Newfield says a strong résumé might follow a different format:
1. A Summary of Qualifications (3-8 sentences explaining career accomplishments).
2. Areas of Strength (keywords that will show up if the company scans your résumé using newer technology).
3. Professional Experience (listing companies and dates as well as your quantifiable accomplishments at each place)
4. Education (leaving out dates you received degrees if more than 3 years ago).
And when it comes to the content of each of these sections, make sure you are selling yourself, rather than just conveying information—but don’t leave out specifics. “Résumés without facts, figures, client names, scope of budget responsibilities, etc. are difficult for employers to read,” Smith-Proulx says. “It’s hard to tell how your work makes a difference, and therefore, it’s challenging for them to identify you as a viable candidate for an interview.”
Don’t leave out dates or anything else that might raise eyebrows. If you have gaps in your employment or never finished college, you should still address these issues rather than omitting them from your résumé altogether. “If you can explain the time away from employment and feel that it would be important for a prospective employer to know this information, include it in your cover letter,” Newfield says. Similarly, “If you did not graduate from college but did take any professional training courses, include this information under the ‘Education’ heading instead of just leaving off any reference to education.”
Don’t mention grudges. Yes, sometimes people talk about the things they hated about their last jobs on their résumés. This is a very bad idea, though more than a few people think they are being assertive and honest by offering up this information. In fact, Newfield suggests the opposite: “Don’t include reasons for leaving your job on your résumé. Do not mention “sexual harassment,” “lawsuit,” “workers’ compensation claim,” or “fired me for no good reason” on your résumé ,” he says. Again, remember that you’re trying to sell yourself as a solution to the company’s problem (an unfilled position) rather than as the problem.
Don’t come across like a yo-yo. If you have changed careers but want to include your full experience in your résumé, make sure you do it in a way that doesn’t make you seem flighty. “If you have experience in more than one field and it needs to be included on the résumé, consider grouping the types of jobs together under specific headings such as Instructional/Training or Customer Service/Sales,” Newfield says.
BONUS PRIMER: Just in case you need a refresher, here are a few basic notes on presentation and formatting
In addition to these specific tips, it cannot be stressed enough that the presentation of your résumé makes a big difference. Some people send their résumé s off at 2am, just after they’ve found a position online. Being in a rush is the number one reason people make sloppy mistakes. “When you’re preparing your résumé, it’s best to sleep on it before sending it out,” Faherty says. “Looking at it with fresh eyes in the morning, or even later that day, will help you catch subtle typos that might have slipped by while you were rushing to apply for a job.”
How you format your résumé is another area with potential pitfalls. For example, Faherty says “Using headers and footers can sometimes create problems if a résumé is stored in a database, because the conversion from Word to plain text erases the header/footer. And if that’s where your contact information is…too bad!” Other relevant factors including appropriate margins (1” are sufficient), an easily readable and not-too-small font (12-point Times New Roman should be fine), and single spacing between lines. Use bold face and italics to differentiate sections, but don’t go overboard. Remember, this is a marketing document to sell yourself.
And one final tip: convert your résumé to PDF format (there are a number of tools you can find online to help you do this). It ensures that whatever you see on your screen is what a recruiter will see on theirs; formatting doesn’t always translate well when sending files, but with a PDF you’ll know exactly what you’re sending.