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Common Resume Mistakes

It happens. We all make mistakes. Let's just catch them before you submit your resume to an employer or graduate school. Proofread forward and backward, and again tomorrow. And imagine yourself in the place of an employer or grad school admission officer. They want to see your best side. Watch out for these common mistakes. And we're happy to help you through advising.

Common Errors:
Virginia Polytechnic and State University
Virginia Tech University

Full name: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Official abbreviation: Virginia Tech

Which should you use?
To be on the safe side, you may wish to use both: the full name followed by the shorter name in parentheses, which you'll see in some of our samples. Why? You cover the bases. Different employers may not know one name or the other. Sometimes a database with university names might contain only one or the other.

Include the location as "Blacksburg, Virginia" or "Blacksburg, VA." (Except for your own contact information in your header, do not include street addresses or zip codes of your university and work locations. That information may appear on your reference list to enable prospective employers to contact your references, but is not necessary in the content of your resume.)

  • You have once chance to make a first impression. In many cases, your resume, or your resume plus a cover letter, are the only things an employer has on which to base an impression of you.
  • The resume is a critical document for presenting yourself. The view is that if you would make a mistake on your resume, you'll probably make a lot more mistakes on the job.
  • Relying on spell check alone will get you into trouble. Common errors include misuse of "there," "their" and "they're"; "state" and "statue"; "perspective" and "prospective"; "manager" and "manger"; "with" and will."
  • Example: "Resolved customer's concerns"
    That means you worked with one customer. If that's what you did, that's fine. However, if you worked with multiple customers, use the plural possessive: "customers' concerns."
  • Incorrect: "Deans list"
    The list belongs to the dean, who is one person, thus it is singular possessive, as in the "Dean's list."
  • Employers are typically reading many resumes, and take less than half a minute on a first read.
  • Very small fonts are more difficult to read, so this does not make a favorable impression on the reader. 
  • It's fine for your address to be in a smaller font than your resume content, but make it large enough to be easily read. 
  • It generally looks good for your name to be in a larger, bolded font. 
  • What's too small for content? This depends on the font style, because font sizes are not consistent among styles.
    An 11-point Garamond is probably too small; an 11.5 could work.
    A 10- point Arial can be read; 11-point is on the large side.
    A 10-point Times New Roman is a bit too small.
  • Your margins should be at least one-half inch. That's sufficient when you use left-side-column headings and have most of the content indented further.
  • Two-inch margins on both right and left with squished-in content probably won't be the cleanest layout.
  • Students occasionally ask if their resumes have enough white space. While you want a clean and uncluttered document, an employer isn't reading the white space. They're reading your content, so use the white space to best format your content.
  • This is the flip side of the mistake above.
  • Have a blank line — think of it as breathing room — between each of your sections and blocks of content.
  • Complete sentences are not needed in a resume.
  • Concise, understandable phrases are sufficient. 
  • Wording like "to obtain a challenging position utilizing my extensive background and knowledge in my field..." does not tell an employer anything useful, and indicating "extensive" knowledge or experience may sound presumptuous on the part of a college student.
  • Avoid boring objectives: See Words to strike from your resume. Forbes.

Sometimes students start a resume draft by copying a friend's resume or looking at one sample. That might not best showcase your collection of experiences and the purpose for which you are using your resume at present.

  • Read about content and why it matters to an employer. 
  • Look at a variety of samples.
  • Customize your resume to best showcase your strengths and to match the jobs you seek.
  • An employer could spend 15 to 30 seconds, or less, on a first read of your resume.
  • Keep the layout simple and clean. 
  • Avoid too many levels of indentation.
  • Use one font style and size for the content; you can make your name a bit larger and your address a bit smaller.
  • Don't mix font styles.

Example of too much detail: 

  • Long descriptions of your work in non-career-related experience such as explaining how you ran the cash register in a retail job.
  • Long description of a one-day volunteer service position with limited responsibility.

The fix:

  • DO list the retail job. Employers value people with work experience and work ethic — who are not too precious to do non-glamorous jobs! Just don't explain the obvious. We know you folded shirts if you worked at the Gap. 
  • DO tell if you got a sales award or trained other employees or were promoted to manager.
  • DO list the one-day volunteer work. Just don't mislead anyone that it was more than it was.

Example of not enough detail:

  • Lack of description of a student leadership or committee role involving a large time commitment or a lot of responsibility.
  • Lack of information on a personal project that is relevant to your career goal, such as rebuilding bikes or investing personal funds.

The fix:

  • DO give more detail on leadership, volunteer work, and projects that took a lot of time and effort and represent responsibility and initiative on your part. Those are sources of great transferrable skills, and they distinguish you from other students.