Over the past 3 years, we've reviewed more than 5,000 resumes for open roles on the Teal team.
With the help of Typeform, Zapier and AirTable automations instead of a formal ATS like Greenhouse or Workday, we look through every single resume manually to see whether it's a good fit for our open roles, and in doing so, we've gotten a firsthand look at the most common resume mistakes people make.
Given we make consumer-facing tools to help people grow their careers (and that includes creating ATS-friendly resumes!), we've done a huge amount of research about resume best practices and integrated those recommendations straight into our Resume Builder.
But time and time again, we see people submit resumes that don't line up with the job descriptions for the roles they’re applying for.
We're not expecting all Teal applicants to use our Resume Builder (though, hey, that'd be great!), but we wanted to round up some of the biggest resume mistakes that applicants inadvertently make in hopes that feedback can prevent other job seekers from making those same resume mistakes.
First things first: Here’s what recruiters wish job seekers knew about resumes.
You’ve likely read lists of resume do’s and don’ts and know the drill by now: carefully proofread to ensure there are no grammar mistakes or spelling errors; use action verbs; keep your resume to one page (or two pages at most); don't use an unprofessional email address, etc.
Those best practices aren’t chosen randomly out of thin air. They come from careful research and feedback from real recruiters who've reviewed thousands of the same resume mistakes throughout their careers.
A 2018 study from Ladders found that recruiters spend an average of 7.4 seconds skimming a resume during an initial screen—and from there, they decide whether they want to read more. This means you need to grab the employer's attention right away and stand out from other applicants, especially in a competitive job market.
How can you do that?
Through quality content, not creative formatting. Recruiters and hiring managers usually read resumes in a very specific way, and you don’t want to deviate too far from the norm. In the U.S., you want to present information to mirror our natural eye pattern: Since we read from left to right, it’s instinctual for information to be presented as such.
When looking at a resume, a recruiter skims the following to see if you're an ideal candidate:
There are two major resume format options in the U.S.: chronological (which we recommend based on feedback from recruiters about the best resume format) and functional. In both cases, the purpose of your resume is the same:
Your job is to show the recruiter how closely your experience aligns with exactly what they’re looking for—not to list every single thing you’ve ever done with bullet points and hope that the person on the other end will connect the dots.
The 2018 Ladders study found that top-performing resumes (i.e., resumes where recruiters spent the most time and focus) tended to have many of the same things in common:
There’s a common misconception that an applicant tracking system (or ATS for short) can automatically reject your resume. It’s not quite that simple—more on that in the video below—but at its core, an ATS is applicant tracking software: a tool that can scan resumes and serve as a digital filing cabinet to help recruiters and hiring managers to parse, search, and organize resumes and job applications from the thousands of candidates who submit applications. Most companies use an ATS as part of the hiring process to help them keep track of important details.
There are some best practices you can follow to ensure you optimize your resume for the ATS—you don’t want your resume or job application to be glossed over just because of a formatting issue!—but at a minimum, you want to do the following to avoid resume mistakes:
Use the following as a checklist to help guide your next job application. Before submitting your resume, double-check these five things:
Do you have your contact information listed clearly at the top of your resume? All you need is city and state—not a full street address or zip code. You should also include a professional email address and phone number, as well as your LinkedIn profile. A personal website or portfolio is also a great addition.
We recommend formatting your LinkedIn URL like this:
linkedin.com/in/yourname (instead of the word “LinkedIn” linking out to your profile. If the link breaks somehow along the way, the recruiter can still copy/paste your URL right into LinkedIn.)
If you’re going to use a target title on your resume, it has to match—or at least be a close enough fit for—the job you’re applying to. If you have a target title that doesn’t match the title of the role you’re applying for, take it off entirely or revise it.
Let’s say you’re applying for a social media manager role. You could put your name, followed by “Social Media Manager,” or even “Social Media Marketing Manager,” “Social Media Specialist,” or “Social Strategist.” But if you put “Financial Analyst” or “Customer Support Associate,” you’re not projecting to the hiring manager that you’re a qualified candidate—or that you did your research about what the job responsibilities entail.
This goes with the above suggestion about target title—but the job titles in your work history have to at least resemble the job duties for the role you’re applying for.
Here are a few examples.
Let’s say you’re applying for the above social media manager role. If your past experience shows positions in customer support, retail, and sales but doesn’t mention social media or marketing, it’s going to be hard for a recruiter or hiring manager to connect the dots and understand why they should hire you. Your job is to make those connections for them.
We always suggest being honest on your resume and not lying about past experience. That said, there may be ways to frame or adjust the titles you’ve held for past roles to incorporate your target job title. Maybe you were a community manager and a social media ambassador for the company; you could call that out. It's your job to market yourself and make it obvious for the company why you're a great fit.
Whether you include relevant keywords in your professional summary, your target title, your work history, or your skills section–but the important thing is that you include them.
We get asked how to include those target titles or keywords on your resume if you’re a fresh graduate or if you're making a career pivot and don’t yet have that experience. While there’s no hard and fast rule about it, we recommend looking at the job description, using keyword matching, and identifying the transferable skills that you have experience with, and then leveraging and highlighting those strengths in your resume, even if your title doesn't align 100%.
If you're taking a class, workshop, bootcamp, or getting a certification in the area you're transitioning into, incorporate that into your experience and skills section so that the keywords are included.
If the company goes out of the way to call out hard skills or proficiency with certain software, make sure those same skills exist in your resume. They don’t have to match perfectly, but it shouldn't be a complete gap.
For instance, if you have experience with a CRM and the job description specifically mentions Salesforce and HubSpot, you want to be sure to include those exact keywords on your resume.
How can you determine what those exact hard skills are? Save the job in your Teal Job Tracker and look at the highlighted keywords—you’ll see the top five hard skills that you should include on your resume for free, and can upgrade to Teal+ to get even more insights.
You don’t have to match 100% of the requirements in a job description—if you do, you’re probably over-qualified—but generally speaking, you want to aim to apply for roles where you meet 70-80% of the requirements.
A widely cited internal report from Hewlett Packard notes that, “men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them,” and additional research from LinkedIn shows that women apply to 20% fewer jobs than men despite similar job search behaviors. As Tara Sophia Mohr puts it in this article from Harvard Business Review,
For those women who have not been applying for jobs because they believe the stated qualifications must be met, the statistic is a wake-up call that not everyone is playing the game that way. When those women know others are giving it a shot even when they don’t meet the job criteria, they feel free to do the same.
We want to encourage a job search culture where more people feel comfortable submitting around the 70% qualified mark—but at the same time, your resume has to reflect that you meet at least the basic requirements listed in the job description.
Before applying, review those job requirements—they’re generally sorted in order of priority—and ask yourself, “Do I have experience with X?”
And then shoot your shot. If you’ve checked items 1–4 off this list, there’s less of a chance that meeting the exact requirements will be an issue—but ultimately, you want to present yourself as qualified as possible.
Most of these common resume mistakes are avoidable once you know what to look for. From highlighting your unique skills to tailoring your resume to the job description, you can ensure forego a generic resume and instead submit an application that's a direct response to the job posting, showing the hiring manager that you'd excel in the role.
To create a resume with built-in guidance to avoid these common resume mistakes, head to Teal's Resume Builder.