8 near-fatal mistakes I made when writing my resume

Illustration by TwylaMae

Allow me to impart my wisdom.

If you’re reading this, I’m betting that you, too, are in the process of applying for jobs.

It’s the worst, right? A process filled with mystery, rejection and crippling feelings of inadequacy. Also, so much proofreading.

I know this well, because I recently joined the out-of-workforce. Over the past month, I have crafted three separate resumes for three different careers and have sent said resumes off to no less than 10 different parties for feedback. These respondents have ranged from recruitment specialists (helpful), to contacts within relevant companies (helpful), to Mum (not helpful).

Safe to say, a wealth of ‘constructive’ criticism has since flowed in, meaning I now know what NOT to do in resume writing. Allow me to impart my wisdom.

1. Being a little too enthusiastic with colour

Unlike Professor Callahan, I long considered Elle Woods’ pink, scented resume to be a stroke of genius. There is no way it could have been ignored, nor read in brief. Instead, that pink, scented resume would be read in detail. And if it were good, surely it would not be turned down based on colour?

Turns out I was wrong and should no longer base my career path on a fictional character.

While a little colour may be effective, I’ve been warned not to be too enthusiastic. It may come across as unprofessional, particularly to a top tier legal firm that requires precise and correct execution of all documents so that it doesn’t get sued.

2. Stopping at responsibilities

Unless you have an abstract job title or are switching industries, chances are the recruiter will have a vague idea of the responsibilities involved in your previous roles. Sure, it’s still important to include these, but you can also add some real WOW factor with a jazzy section called ‘achievements’. This will let you show off your mad skillz in a way you didn’t know you could on a pro forma document. Remember, it’s your resume, your time to shine.

3. Keeping personality under wraps 

How an applicant will fit into the company culture is a biggie when recruiters are hiring, so you want to let a little personality shine through in your resume. This is a double whammy because:

a.) if they like it, they’ll want to see more; and

b.) if they don’t, you wouldn’t want to work there anyway, which makes another bitter, bitter rejection easier to bear.

Keep this measured, though. You don’t want to vomit your personality all over the page. Instead, your safest bet is to go fire on ‘Interests’ because that’s the purpose of including interests in the first place, right? Which takes us to…

4. Making up fake interests

If you’re anything like me, you have zero hobbies outside of refreshing Instagram. Which, although I never did attempt to include on my resume, I’m guessing would not have been well-received.

Honestly, ‘Interests’ was the hardest part of my resume writing. You need to be specific, without seeming like a weirdo or straight-up lying. For me, this ended up sounding like I was in grade five (Likes: fashion, netball, writing) or setting up a dating profile (Likes: espresso martinis and long walks on the beach). I think it took me a good week for me to work out what I’m actually interested in, and even longer to frame it in a resume-appropriate format. But by George, I got there. As you can see:

Driving to Doughnut Time = Exploring local dining options
Watching serial killers on YouTube = True crime documentaries
Spending all of Sunday in my PJs = The Sunday crossword
CAFFEINE = Melbourne’s coffee culture

5. Putting Microsoft Word down under ‘Skills’


6. Sticking to the formula 100 per cent

I don’t know who decided the *very precise* format of resumes, or even when it happened, but can we not agree it’s time to push the boundaries? It’s 2020, ppl. Want to hyperlink in the PDF? Go for it! Want to include a short testimonial in your references, yeesss girl! You do you.

But also, don’t do you and make sure it’s still professional. If in doubt just ask yourself, would the most conservative, rigid, old school boss consider this out of line? If so, best to leave it out. But a hyperlink to your portfolio? That’s impressive.

7. Sending one resume to more than two people

Sorry, but did I say I had to craft three separate resumes? Because I lied. I just checked and I’m at a total of 18 resumes so far. This is because each resume has had to be written slightly differently, tailored to the specifics of each role.

For example, if someone is looking for an energetic, passionate and driven team player, that’s going to be very different from a dynamic, inspired and motivated collaborator.

I mean, obviously, it’s still exactly the same. But you’ll want to use their wording in your application, to show that you’ve researched the role etc, etc.

8. Other

I hope I don’t need to touch on this, but for the sake of prudence: keep it to max two pages, use a simple font, proofread for spelling and grammar, get the name of the company right, save the document in an appropriate format, give your references the heads up and please, do not ever describe yourself as a ‘team player’.


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