Whether you’re looking to score an internship, research opportunity, or your first big position post-grad, your resume is the most crucial part of the application process. It serves as your first impression to the hiring manager, who will use it to determine whether you may be a good fit for the position.

But here’s the thing. Resumes can feel really overwhelming to create.

Do you feel yourself shuddering at the thought of editing your resume? Have no fear! We’ve collaborated with the Michigan Engineering Career Resource Center to provide three major tips that will make your resume stand out from the crowd.

Read on to discover the top three resume mistakes and how to improve.

1) You’re emphasizing the design over the content.

We all want our resumes to stand out. Carefully chosen font styles, graphics, and pops of color can all be great additions to a resume, but it’s possible to go overboard.

Your skills and achievements can get lost on a crowded page, and unconventional formatting may cause issues for employers using applicant tracking systems (ATS).

“It’s often a mistake to choose style over substance,” said Andrew LeMarbe, Assistant Director at the Michigan Engineering Career Resource Center. “The eye moves from top left to bottom right, so some layouts including graphics or scales can be hard to follow. For companies who use ATS, they can have a difficult time reading graphics, lines, and charts.”

When it comes to resume design, it’s often best to stick to the basics, but this also depends on your field. If you’re applying for an engineering position, for example, a clean and simple design is best. For those looking to work in more creative fields like graphic design or marketing, you may have a little more wiggle room to show off your creative chops.

Not sure if your resume design needs work? Check out these tips from the Engineering Career Resource Center.

Use appropriate margins (0.5–1 inch) and font types

Use one easy-to-read font size throughout your resume (10p–12pt); only your name should be in a slightly larger font

Name and contact information should be placed at the top of your resume

Apply techniques to draw attention consistently throughout (bold, italics, underline); do not overuse

Use indentations and bullet styles consistently; ensure consistent alignment of bullet points; do not overuse indents

List experiences in reverse chronological order within each section • Save as a PDF for consistency across applications

2) You’re not sharing the right type and amount of information

It can feel overwhelming to know what needs to be included on a resume. There’s education and class projects, volunteer experience, student organizations, previous jobs, awards and achievements, skills, and more to consider. So how do you narrow your resume down to the most relevant information?

“Using the Action, Context, and Result framework is a great way to make your content meaningful,” says Andrew LeMarbe.

When writing your bullet points, try to think of each skill and experience as a story. Here’s the process as outlined by the Engineering Career Resource Center:

  • Action: What did you do?

This is what we often think to include as our bullet points. What were your job responsibilities? What major actions did you take to make a positive impact? Be sure to use action verbs to begin your bullet point.

  • Context: How did you do it?

Next, you’re going to take that action and put it into context. Define the skills, tools, and programs used to complete the task and provide any background context such as the task complexity. Be sure to use an action verb to begin this bullet point.

  • Result: Why did you do it?

The final step explains why your role in this task was important. Define the outcome of your task or explain its purpose.

Let’s try an example.

Let’s say you created and distributed a survey to assess your colleagues’ satisfaction with a new policy. You may include a bullet point that says, “created and distributed a survey to assess workplace satisfaction.” Let’s use the Action, Context, Result to framework to make this experience stand out and provide the necessary context.

We want to use an action verb to describe our main action, provide the context behind the survey’s creation, and describe the results or purpose of the survey. Using that context, we end up with something like this: “Led the creation, distribution, and data collection on a survey to assess workplace satisfaction after a policy change, resulting in a 90% response rate.”

Using this framework provides a simple way to punch up your bullet points and provide just the right amount of information to employers.

3) You aren’t tailoring your resume to each employer.

Once you’ve finished your resume, it’s time to send it off to employers, right? Unfortunately, it’s not always that simple.

Although your resume looks great, it’s often a mistake to take a “one size fits all” approach. You’ll want to make some small edits to your resume that pertain to each individual position you’re applying for.

“Employers are really interested in knowing that you want to, and can do, their job,” said Andrew LeMarbe. “It’s important to customize your resume based on the skills listed in the job posting.” 

Be sure to scan the job posting for key words and use those words in your resume where they apply. If the hiring manager is looking for someone who collaborates with team members, use the word “collaborates” in your resume. If they’re looking for someone with knowledge of Adobe programs, be sure to highlight that in the skills section if you’re proficient.

Not only does this show employers that you’re an ideal candidate, it also provides a higher chance of your resume making it through ATS software. Try saving your base resume and making a new copy for each application you submit.

Now that you’ve learned three of the most common resume mistakes, it’s time to get to work!

The Engineering Career Resource Center provides a wide variety of resources from resume tips to interview prep and more. See how they can help or make an appointment with an advisor today.


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