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Seven reasons your resume doesn’t make the first cut

When recruiters screen a “stack” (literal or digital) of resumes, they’re looking for two things: One, does each candidate’s experience check all the boxes in terms of the position’s requirements? And two, is there anything here that makes this candidate an automatic rule-out?

Your goal is to make that first cut. Your resume’s job is to get you an interview. You can increase your chances by paying attention to detail, focusing on the specific job, and avoiding the most common red flags.

So, how can you make sure your resume doesn’t include a first-level knock-out factor? Recruiters have their own screening methods, and hiring managers often have input. While not a definitive list, here are seven common ways to increase your chances:

No Typos

A recruiter might let one slide, but probably not two or more. Typos suggest you don’t care enough about the job to at least run your resume through spell check or have a friend read it over for you.

a person typing on a laptop
Type carefully! Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

Grammatical and punctuation errors

Use apostrophes correctly and punctuation consistently. Ensure your tense agrees throughout. Word has an Editor tool that’s a huge help here. Again, a recruiter might forgive one, but probably not more, especially if writing is part of the job.

Format is sloppy, boring, or hard to read

You don’t have to have a professionally-written resume, but you can at least use a template from Word, Pages, or Google Docs to give your resume a modern, fresh appearance. Keep it simple, use one color to accent (blue or gray are safe), and be sure the template doesn’t use text boxes, which generally don’t import well into ATS. Don’t cram too much text onto the page. Use an easy-to-read font, 10-11 point, or use two at most. Don’t go crazy with too many text enhancements. White space is your friend. Limit it to two pages.

person in white long sleeve shirt holding a clipboard with resume
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com. (Ignore the headshot on the resume in this stock photo; If you work in the USA in most industries, your resume won’t have a head shot.)

Too many buzzwords

Most recruiters can see right through a buzzword smokescreen; it’s one of their superpowers. Of course, sometimes it makes sense to use industry-specific lingo. But if you’ve used “businessy-sounding” terminology in an attempt to obfuscate your lack of relevant experience, there’s half a chance you’ll end up on the “maybe” pile to revisit, but it’s not likely you’ll advance straight to “yes.” Proceed with caution.

Using the wrong company or job title

We know you’re using the same template and updating it for each application; why reinvent the wheel? But addressing the cover letter (or email) to the wrong company, or using the wrong job title in the letter, is, in my book, unforgiveable. You must take extra time to be sure you replace the company name and job title from the last application with the correct information from the current job posting. (Do a document search to find and replace or ask a friend to review it for you.)

woman dropped fail failure
OOPS. Photo by Gratisography on Pexels.com

Your resume raises more questions than it answers

Use a chronological format, or at least include a chronology somewhere in the document. Resumes without a chronology make one wonder how long ago or consistently you used the skills you feature in your functional list. If you live in one state and the job is in another, make it clear that you are aware, you plan to relocate, or are open to remote work. And, while gaps in employment or a series of short stints aren’t automatically “bad,” explaining them in your cover letter is helpful. Don’t make them wonder.

Your resume is generic

If your resume doesn’t attempt to demonstrate that you’re a shoe-in based on your experience and/or your transferable skills, you’ll end up on the “no” pile. Same thing if it reads like a job description, or fails to include any indication that you did more than just warm your desk chair from 9-5 M-F. You have to make yourself stand out from the other applicants; try to articulate what it is that sets you apart.


That should be enough to keep you busy for a while, yes?

Once your resume is updated, you’ll want to start looking for jobs. But there’s much more to job searching than submitting applications to posted jobs. In an upcoming post, I’ll explore ways to expand your search, so stay tuned.

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