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Five Resume Mistakes That Will Kill Your Candidacy

Jim Pallouras was a senior executive at a national retailer based in the Northeast when he was laid off as part of a downsizing.

He'd joined the company after leaving the military, worked his way up the ladder and took pride in his contributions as the retailer expanded nationally.

When Mr. Pallouras sat down to update his resume for the first time in years, he was faced with the challenge of condensing a 30-year career full of achievements into an effective one- to two-page document. Yet, he remembers thinking, "How hard could it be?"

He started by listing every important aspect of his life dating back to the 1960s, including every job title he'd held at his former employer, as well as his accomplishments from high school through the Army. When he was done, his resume stretched to three pages, starting with an objective statement and ending with his marital status.

Once Mr. Pallouras's resume reached employers and recruiters, they took one look before dropping it into the wastebasket. It was wordy, overdone and out of touch with the realities of a today's job hunt.

Fortunately, it wasn't long before Mr. Pallouras realized his resume had problems. After gathering critical advice, he revised it to present a more competitive version of himself. The rewrite worked. His new, improved resume generated interviews, which led to another senior-level position.

Red Flags Flying

Executive recruiters, professional resume-writers and human-resources managers say they've seen more poorly written resumes cross their desks recently than ever before. So before you waste time, money and postage with a resume that will eliminate you from consideration, review the following common mistakes to make sure you avoid them in your documents:

Mistake #1: No Dates Listed

"I can understand that by leaving off graduation and employment dates, the candidate's intention may be to avoid possible age discrimination," says executive recruiter Edward M. Hughes, vice president of Hughes & Podesla Associates in Somerville, N.J. "But most corporate recruiters use resumes to screen out rather than screen in candidates," and a resume without dates won't be considered, he says.

From a recruiter's perspective, candidates eliminate dates on their resumes for only one reason: to hide information, such as a history of job hopping or a long period of unemployment. As an alternative, Mr. Hughes suggests focusing only on the last 10 to 15 years of your professional experience.

"It's a double-edged sword," he says. "You want to diminish the negative and do everything you can to get an interview. But the people on the recruiting end tend to be myopic to the fact that the economy has put many well-qualified senior execs into the position of having to vie for fewer jobs, and you have to be somewhat sensitive to that."

Mistake #2: Few Achievements Shown

The most frequent resume faux pas is to fill it "with unsubstantiated claims and too much industry jargon that doesn't sell the candidate," says Alesia Benedict, executive director of Career Objectives, a resume-writing firm in Rochelle Park, N.J.

"A resume is a marketing document designed to sell your skills and strengths," she says. By including and highlighting specific achievements that present a comprehensive picture of your marketability, Ms. Benedict says that you'll attract many more interview offers.

Mistake #3: Outdated Information

A glaring red flag on many resumes is job descriptions dating back 30 or more years. "A resume isn't your biography," says Ms. Benedict. Employers want to know "what you've done lately, so including information from the 1970s is hardly relevant and can do much more harm than good," she says.

Mistake #4: Calling Yourself a Consultant

Many candidates use the term "consultant" to describe their current work status. But unless you can quantify your consulting activities, recruiters and hiring managers will be skeptical.

"The consultant title tends to be death on a resume unless a specific task and result are stated and the consulting project is for a recognizable concern," says Steven M. Lavender, president of Morgan/Webber Inc., an executive search and consulting firm in Massapequa, N.Y.

Mistake #5: Irrelevant Information

Recruiters and HR specialists agree that listing personal information isn't appropriate or necessary on an executive resume, and including your photograph is the worst offense of all.

"Your resume is the one step in your job search over which you have total control," says Frank Fox, executive director of the Professional Association of Resume Writers in St. Petersburg, Fla. "Based on the strength of that one or two pages of information, you'll either be selected for an interview from among hundreds of other candidates, or passed over." Thus, every word you include should be meaningful and help to sell your skills and experience.

Don't Forget to Network

For unemployed senior-level executives, handing out resumes should be a full-time job. "Eighty percent of jobs are filled through networking, so contact absolutely everyone you know -- in addition to headhunters -- who's in a position to hire you" or suggest others for you to meet, says Mr. Hughes.

"Networking can include personal business contacts, people you've worked for, people who worked for you but have moved on, vendors and sales representatives you've dealt with in the past five years, and even people listed in the alumni directory of your alma mater," he says.

With an impressive resume in hand, you'll greatly increase your odds of earning a closer look.


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