I’m a Hiring Manager — Here’s the No. 1 Resume Mistake You Need To Avoid

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Michelle McGuinness138
Leading with grace and gratitude.
May 19, 2024 at 2:28AM UTC

I often see Fairygodboss postings from job seekers who are frustrated because they’ve applied to many job postings and are not receiving responses. I understand how frustrating it can be. I’ve been in their shoes.

Now, I’m the person reviewing those resumes. You know what? It’s frustrating on the hiring side, too.

In any week, I will get ~50 applications for a single job posting.  

40% will be automatically rejected by the online application system because the application does not meet the minimum qualifications (i.e., geography, education, experience, certifications and/or license requirements). After the auto-filter, I’m left with 30 applications to review.

Of the 30 applications to review, only three applications nearly meet the qualifications stated in the position description and warrant a detailed review. When an application does not appear to fully meet the qualifications, I’ll contact the applicant via email or the messaging feature within the online application system and ask some follow-on questions. Candidates only respond half of the time. 

Out of 50 applications, only 1 -2 candidates will be invited to a phone interview. 

The no. 1 problem with resumes submitted for an “Experienced Professional” role.

The biggest challenge I face as a reviewer is being able to quickly understand if the candidate is qualified for the role. 

When reviewing resumes, I go right to the experience section because I am most interested in the type of work the applicant has done and what the applicant achieved in their previous roles. Once I see the candidate has the experience, I confirm that they have the education, certifications/licenses, and other skills that are required for the role. I spend about one to two minutes on the initial review per application. If I cannot find what I’m looking for, I move on.

The biggest mistake is when a candidate doesn’t make their qualifications stand out.

How to make your qualifications stand out.

1. Put all your qualifications in one “master resume,” then tailor your resume for each position.

The “master resume” is a superset of all of the information you may possibly want to include in a job specific resume. When you apply for a job, you make a copy of the master resume.  Delete any irrelevant info, perform a keyword update based on the job description, highlight your qualifications that match the job description and … voila! You have improved your chances of getting an interview with only a few minutes of work.

2. Keep content relevant.

Content matters — tailored, pithy resumes are easier to review. If your resume reads like a novel, it needs a rewrite.  Here are some tips:

  • For each role, list ~5-7 key points. These points could be key responsibilities or achievements. Bullet point phrases are ok. Paragraphs are not necessary. 

  • Avoid the temptation to list every responsibility/accountability. More is not always better.

  • Adjust your key points to highlight experiences sought after in the job description. This is super important.

  • In the education section, do not include dates of attendance and do not list every course taken toward a degree.

  • Do not include publications unless they are relevant to the job position.  If you want the reviewer to know that you are published, consider including a statement like “A listing of publications is available upon request.”

  • Make sure to check your spelling, grammar and punctuation. Do not rely on MS Word to catch all your errors. Have another human review your resume.

3. Lead with experience.

Experienced candidates should lead with their experience. Your experience should begin in the top quarter of the first page. Here are some formatting tips: 

  • The format should make it easy for the reviewer to locate information. Use headers to help organize your information.

  • Aim for a clean look, not cluttered.  

  • If you use bullets/tabs, be sure that they are consistent throughout.

  • Do not use fonts smaller than 8pt.  Be on the lookout for rogue font styles and sizes.

  • Set the page format and print options in a manner that allows your resume to print without cutting off text.

4. Include the right keywords.

Look for keywords in the position description and update your resume to include those keywords. This means that you should be prepared to make adjustments to your resume every time you apply to a role.  

What other resume mistakes have you seen — or what resume mistakes have you seen in the past? Share in the comments below!


Michelle Mc Guinness is the founder of Pharmaceutical Compliance Partners, LLC . She is an expert in biopharmaceutical regulatory affairs, quality assurance and commercial compliance. In her free time, Ms. Mc Guinness trains for triathlons and volunteers for animal rescue and healthcare organizations.

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