Nine Résumé Tricks That Can Backfire

A topnotch résumé is vital to getting hired in the job of your dreams. And because of that, you want to do everything you can to make it sparkle and shine.

After checking for spelling and typos, grammar and accuracy, search your résumé for any of these nine resume tricks which could backfire on you, no matter how fabulous your fit for the job is.

  1. Squeezing the résumé onto one page

While it’s true a résumé should only be one page, the way to do that is to edit the content, not squish everything down. Don’t shrink the margins or change the font to a smaller size. That’s one trick that will never work.

People who read a lot of résumés can spot immediately if the font has been changed. Even going from a 12 pt to an 11 is noticeable. When the margins are made smaller, there is not enough white space on the page, and it becomes obvious to the reader that the text has been crammed to fit it all. What that tells the hiring manager is that you are a person who either can’t edit himself, which is a bad sign, or that you won’t edit yourself, which is even worse.

If you can’t fit all what you think you need to say on one page, read a few articles on résumé writing and learn. Discover what you can or should eliminate and learn how to write a powerful résumé without trickery.

  1. Pilfering complete phrases right from the job description

Of course you should study the job description and echo some of the keywords of the skills you possess that you show your qualifications for the job. But copying entire sentences is a red flag for a hiring manager. That will put you in the category of one who is trying too hard.

  1. Listing a college degree you don’t actually have

You’ve almost completed your degree. You’re merely a few credits short. But for whatever reason you didn’t finish the program. Would it really be so terrible to say you have a degree, when you almost actually do have it?

Yes, it would be terrible. Because many firms HR departments do a standard degree verification. And you will end up looking like a liar, because basically you lied!

If you don’t have a degree, you need to state, “Coursework completed toward…,” Don’t state, “Have degree.”

People often think that if they exaggerate their skills or capabilities, they won’t get caught. But you will. Maybe not right away, but the truth always comes out. So, in addition to not lying about a degree you don’t have, don’t lie about pretty much anything else, including GPAs, your age, or previous duties and job titles.

  1. Using a functional résumé, as opposed to a chronological one

Nothing screams “I’m hiding something!” like a functional résumé. If you send one, the hiring manager will make it his or her personal mission to find out what you are trying to hide. And it could be anything: gaps between jobs, your current length of unemployment or maybe several short-term jobs you’ve had. It doesn’t matter. He will find it.

Use the chronological résumé. Otherwise, the hidden message is that you are trying to camouflage areas of your work history. Another huge red flag. The chronological format helps a hiring manager to understand your career progression. If you are a strong candidate, he will call you and give you a chance to clear up any issues you may have had regarding earlier employment.

  1. Leaving dates off of the résumé to avoid age discrimination

Sometimes older candidates are advised to leave dates off of their résumé for fear that they will be seen as too set in their ways, too old to learn, or even to expensive to hire. Age discrimination is real. So it’s understandable if you want to skirt around the issue of dates.

But the dates of employment are such a standard part of the résumé, that if you don’t include them, the résumé looks truly weird and bizarre. It’s not just for convention or custom that dates are included. Your dates of employment are actually significant. Did you manage a team that achieved fabulous results two years ago or two decades ago?

So the way you handle the issue is to remove any job from your résumé that is older than 15 years or so. Your recent accomplishments will be more impressive than those that you had when you just graduated from school anyway.

  1. Using résumé screening software “keywords”

It sounds good on paper, doesn’t it? You scatter some keywords in you résumé, so that if a company uses résumé screening software, yours will come out on top. But in reality, not all companies use the software. If you tailor your résumé to what might look good to a computer, that could backfire on you. Your goal is not to impress a computer software program; it’s to impress the human being who, at the end of the day, is the one who will read the résumé, and who will ultimately decide whether or not to call you in for an interview.

  1. Using elaborate, impressive, ornamental, and complex vocabulary to sound smart!

Really? I could have just said “fancy words” and that would have been more than enough.  Using the words elaborate, impressive, ornamental, and complex shows how unimpressive fancy shmancy words can actually be.

You don’t want the hiring manager to have to comb through the dictionary just to read  your résumé. You want him to like you, not be put off by your attempts to turn your résumé into an embellished, elaborate essay.

  1. Using graphics or color paper to make your résumé stand out

You might be tempted to try something like this in order to have your résumé be conspicuous, but this is wrong on so many levels. Yes, using neon green or fluorescent pink paper will get you noticed. But not for the right reasons. What will happen is that your résumé will get crumpled up and thrown into the trash can. Why? Because official documents are traditionally done on high quality white or cream paper. And you want your résumé to be seen as an official document. An uncluttered, clean document that does not sacrifice content for flash.

So forego the lavender smelling paper, the clip art, and the cute graphics. You want your résumé to stand out for its content, and not for the doggie clip art you’ve so cleverly included in the corner of the page!

  1. Using a one-size-fits-all résumé

You’ve got one résumé, which you’ve decided to send out to several different job offerings. Will that work for you? Probably not, because no two jobs are exactly alike, so no two résumés should be either. Rather than sending one résumé to 25 job openings, it would work more in your favor to concentrate on only a few jobs at a time. Tailor your résumé by creating one fabulous one, and then adapt it to focus on what each individual employer needs. Modify it to match the work details for each individual job.

There you have it! A clean, uncluttered résumé without the nine tricks that can backfire on you.