Don't let this simple mistake kill your chances of landing your dream job.

As an HR professional, I know of one definite way to make sure you never set foot in front of a hiring manager: a crappy resume.

  • crappy resume (definition): [krap-ee] [rez-oo-mey] — A crappy resume is a document that doesn't convey your skills and experience in an easy-to-read format.

Even if you have an in at the company and your resume hits the hiring manager's desk, many managers will turn you down if they see grammar, spelling or usage errors, or if your resume doesn't convey your experience and accomplishments.

That is why I always tell people looking for a new job that before they go out and buy a new suit and shoes, they must work on their resume. It's the number one priority.

Your resume is the foundation of your job search.

Even with relatively new platforms like LinkedIn, digital portfolios, and online job search services, a resume is still the most critical document in your job search. A well-written resume can serve as the foundation for all your job applications, no matter how you apply — and it can even be the basis for a revamped LinkedIn profile and other online career boosters. A great resume is a huge asset that lasts beyond a short-term job search.

But creating a good resume requires a serious commitment. Unless you hire a resume writer, you will likely spend four or more hours working on it. And keep in mind that's an estimate — the amount of time really depends on when you last updated your resume.

Common resume killers.

Since many mangers won't even consider applicants with resume mistakes, definitely have a good second set of eyes review your resume before sending it off. And despite technology that should help job applicants get it right, I still see errors. Be on the lookout for these common mistakes:

1. Using awful formatting. This includes bullets that don't align, multiple fonts, inconsistent formatting for dates, and more. The list could go on and on. With a wealth of information available via the Internet, there is no reason for formatting errors. I know it sounds nit-picky, but you want the person looking at your resume to see a very organized and clean piece of paper where they can easily follow your career progression. Don't make that person search to find out how long you were at your last job.

2. Keeping an old resume format. Resume formats have changed a lot in the last 5-10 years, and it will be obvious if you just add recent work history to an old resume. It probably needs an overhaul. A couple recent changes to be aware of:

    • Objective statements are out (with very few exceptions). So is the statement "references available upon request." 
    • Many companies use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) that scan your resume for keywords to filter out irrelevant resumes. Make sure to add relevant keywords to your resume. If there are common computer programs, machinery, licenses, or other skillsets needed for your field, add those to your resume. A great place to start is with the job description. For instance, if a description says you must have a Class C driver's license, be sure to include it on your resume.

3. Not catching every single spelling and grammar error. Mixing up your "there's" or misusing words can be death knells for your candidacy. Some people are more lenient than others in this respect, but if you are in a tight job market, you don't want your resume to get tossed out because you said "there" instead of "their."

4. Including a generic or mistake-ridden cover letter, or not following the instructions. Recruiters have mixed opinions on the usefulness of a cover letter, but the consensus is that if you write one, make sure it is free of grammar and spelling errors and is tailored to the job you are applying for. Cover letters are especially helpful if you are making a career transition — they provide you an opportunity to explain how your previous experience is relevant to a new job. If job application information instructs candidates to include a cover letter with salary requirements or other information, be sure to follow the guidelines. If you don't, you risk having your resume thrown out, especially if there are plenty of applicants who do follow the instructions.

5. Listing tasks, not accomplishments. Everyone can list an accomplishment or two for a job. Use your accolades to your advantage. Instead of saying "responsible for filing all DMV paperwork," highlight what you accomplished. You can rephrase many tasks into accomplishments, such as "reduced paper-filing backlog from two weeks to one day." Think action words.

6. Providing too much personal information. Recruiters and hiring managers don't need to know that you are a five-time hot dog eating champion. In some cases, information you put on your resume could be used against you. We are all human, and some of us are more judgy than others. Don't include irrelevant personal information; stick to information that is pertinent to the job.

7. Using an inappropriate email addresses. Email addresses are free, so there is no excuse for this one. Unless you are applying for a job at a gun shop, might be a little inappropriate for a regular job. Same goes for

8. Having incomplete contact information. It's 2014: put your email address on your resume! And that goes for a phone number too! Whatever number you put on your resume, make sure it's a phone number with voicemail set up so someone can leave a message if they want to bring you in for an interview. (And you may want to check that your voicemail greeting is not a turn-off to potential employers.) Now that you have put a ton of hours into your resume, make sure it's easy for someone to get in touch with you.

9. Sending your resume as a Word, Pages, or Google Docs file. Now that your resume highlights your background and experience in an easy-to-read format, it's time to save all that hard work in a beautiful, open-by-anyone format. That format is PDF. Don't save it in Word or Pages or Google Docs. Save it as a PDF because that is a simple and universal format that anyone can open. Label the file with your name, like this: JaneDoeResume.pdf. Your full name makes it easy for a recruiter or hiring manager to find your resume with a quick search in email or an Applicant Tracking System.

Avoid these common mistakes that cause the crappy resume syndrome, and you'll be on your way to landing a great job. For the record, I don't think it is fair that your entire career is boiled down to a one- or two-page document with strict rules. But there is no alternative to the resume, and you must be on your game when you send yours out.

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