Top five resume mistakes (and how to avoid them)

By Hillary Mantis

A lawyer who is changing careers recently asked me, “What defines a good resume?”

“One that gets you the interview,” I answered.

If you are sending your resume out and not getting any interviews, check to see if you might be making one of the following, easily fixable, mistakes:

1. Typos are the number one reason an employer may discard your resume. A 2013 CareerBuilder study listed typos in resumes as a primary reason that potential employers put your resume in the trash can. It seems so obvious — don’t send your resume out with typos. And yet, it’s a very common error. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s so hard to make sure your resume is perfect. I recommend printing out a copy of your resume, rather than reading it online. Actually read it out loud word for word. Finally, have a trusted friend or colleague read it for you. Read it over one last time, and send then send it out.

2. Your resume is not targeted: If the potential employer does not see right away that your skills and experience are a match for the job, he or she may not contact you. Gone are the days when one resume works for all job listings. To target your resume, try to match what they are asking for in the actual job description as closely as you can. Make sure pertinent information is on page one, and preferably towards the top of the page. I like to use headings to accomplish this — for example, if you are applying for an entertainment law position, you could use the heading Entertainment Law Experience, and group all of your experience, paid and unpaid, under that heading. Then you can create additional headings if you have other experience. Drawing the employer’s attention to your experience, rather than making them hunt for it, can really help.

3. Your resume is hard to read: You might be trying to pack all of your experience onto one page. But if your resume type is small, and you have paragraphs that are ten lines long, you might be in trouble. I know when I have a stack of resumes to get through, the ones with the tiny print are the ones that I don’t read first. Solution: try 10, 11 or 12 point Times Roman, Garamond, or other easy to read fonts, and either use bullet points, or make sure your sentences and paragraphs are relatively short. If you need a second page, make sure both pages are well spaced out, and that crucial information is on the first page.

4. You are not marketing yourself: It’s easy to think of your resume as a general job application, but that can work against you. You are not just filling in the blanks — you are marketing yourself. Include all of your accomplishments, and don’t worry that you are bragging. Any academic honors, awards, publications, and scholarships can be helpful. Include an accomplishment for every job entry, rather than just stating your duties.

5. Your resume is not action oriented: If you begin each sentence of your job descriptions with “Responsibilities included…” I think you should run, not walk to your computer, and delete those words. Use an action verb instead to start each sentence or bullet point (“Researched”, “Managed”, Wrote”, Initiated” are a few examples). Keep your sentences short, and focus on specifics, rather than generalities.


Hillary Mantis works with law students, pre-law students, and lawyers. She is the author of Alternative Careers for Lawyers, and a Director of the Pre-Law Program at Fordham University. You can contact Hillary at