Does your resume help your job search or hurt it? In working with job seekers and career changers, we often find that their resumes under-represent their abilities and background for their job target, creating a weak first impression. More detrimental than that, however, are resumes that actually evoke a negative reaction from the employer.

Here are five resume mistakes you can easily avoid to make sure your resume gets the positive reaction you want:

Mistake #1: Using a general resume rather than a targeted resume.

Employers spend 30 seconds or less skimming a resume. If you submit a general resume, they simply are not going to take the time to see what you have to offer for a specific position. You have to do the work for them by developing a separate resume for each of your job targets. 

To create a targeted, or focused, resume, put a "Job Objective" at the top (under your name and contact information) with the specific job title for which you are applying. Next, include a "Summary of Qualifications" or "Highlights of Qualifications" section that lists your top "selling points" for that position. Make sure that the job duties, accomplishments, etc. you include in your resume are the ones most relevant to your job target. Plan on customizing your resume for every job for which you apply. Doing this will greatly increase the chances that your resume receives the attention it deserves. (See more about targeted resumes in our article, How to Write a Resume that Gets Results.)  

Mistake #2: Using a chronological resume format when a functional format would better represent you.

You want to make the most strategic choice for your resume format based on your job target;  not just use a chronological format because that is most familiar to you. A chronological resume is an arrangement of your qualifying experiences and training listed in reverse chronological order. A chronological resume is most effective when you are applying for a position that is similar or directly related to work you have done previously.

functional resume highlights your skills and lists your qualifications in their order of importance regardless of the time of occurrence. In a functional resume, you make use of the skills and duties from all of your work history (paid and/or volunteer), education and leisure activities that relate to and qualify you for the job objective. Use the functional format if you plan a career transition, or if you do not have specific paid work experience related to the job you want.

Mistake #3: Using a format that is hard to read.

Your resume should be visually appealing and make it easy for the employer to see what you have to offer for the position. Use adequate margins (no less than .75 on the sides) and a large enough font (usually no smaller than 11 pt.).

Use bulleted items, not paragraphs, to present the information about your background and accomplishments. Paragraphs of text are NOT reader-friendly; employers have said that they are more prone to discard text-dense resumes than ones with a clean bulleted format.

Mistake #4:  Advertising your age by going back too far in your job history.

If you are a job seeker in your late 40s, 50s or 60s, you want your resume to showcase your abilities, not present a picture of an "older worker." Age discrimination is a reality with some employers for a variety of reasons; some employers, for example, may think you will be too expensive if you have decades of work experience in a particular area. Depending on the level of position you are seeking, list no more than 10-15 years of work history. Also, omit the year of your college graduation if it was more than 10 years ago.