The most common resume mistakes that I see on a daily basis are all related to content. Structure and format hang people up a lot, too, but even the most beautifully laid out resume in the world is useless without the content that makes an employer pay attention.

What can you do to ensure an employer wants to call you? Two things: show the employer you have the skills through the tasks you performed, and prove your abilities through the accomplishments you achieved.

I’ll show you what I mean.

Responsible for answering phones and filing.

A sentence like the above example doesn’t provide any context to understand the role you played in the organization. Passive phrasing like “responsible for” is too vague and doesn’t tell a story. What exactly did you do? What skills did you use? What can you do as a result of this experience that could translate to the next one? These are the kinds of things an employer wants to know.

Often I’ll ask a few questions about a student’s experience and find they did far more than answer phones and file, which generates multiple statements to showcase skills and accomplishments:

–Managed front desk operations for a busy office, handling multi-line phone system and calendars for four senior leaders
–Coordinated travel arrangements and tracked expenses using Excel
–Revamped filing system to improve efficiency and prevent lost client data

Passive phrases encourage you to merely list the duties of your position, rather than explain the skills gained as a result of that position (see also: Assisted with, helped with, and worked with). Students often use these phrases when they didn’t have sole responsibility over a task or project. You’ll need to re-frame how you’re thinking about your experiences to get past this mindset:

–Think about what you can do now that you couldn’t do before you started that position.
–Consider the actions you took and the results of those actions.
–Describe your experiences so that they tell the story of your time with that organization and focus on the skills that the new employer is hiring for.

Don’t fear the action verbs! They jump off the page in a more dynamic way than passive, humdrum phrases like “responsible for.” The CES resume packet has a list of action verbs to help jump start your thinking about the tasks you did in your roles.

Do you need some help taking your “blah” language and making it more dynamic? CES offers resume critique appointments 5 days a week, with quick drop-in advising from 2-4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Bring your resume in and we can work with you to make it as strong as possible!

© 2010 Career and Employment Services, University of Puget Sound