Improve Your Resume by Avoiding These 3 Turn Offs

Posted by Ashley Jones

Let’s face it, writing a resume is time consuming. At least it should be if you’re putting in the work to make it an effective one. So don’t let your efforts go to waste by missing the mark on something that can be easily fixed. Resumes can be subjective, but there are a couple things that are bound to be a turn off to some readers, such as spelling, length, and formatting issues.

Even though resumes have been around for ages, they’re still a hot topic of discussion—likely because the same mistakes continue to be made. In fact, a LinkedIn survey posted by Kris’ Rides, Co-Founder and CEO of Tiro Security, asked what the biggest turn off on a resume is.

With nearly 3,000 votes on the poll, 57% of respondents said spelling / grammar mistakes are the biggest turn off. This was followed by long resumes (28%) and formatting / font issues (10%).

When you submit your resume, it has one chance to make a first impression. Do you want typos, poor formatting, or pages of irrelevant details to convey the wrong message? Consider these warnings and tips to ensure your resume is an effective communications tool.

1. Spelling & Grammar

Get ready to be scared into spelling submission. One person who commented on Rides’ survey shared, “I was disqualified from a position because one quotation mark was going the wrong direction on my resume.” This is a much smaller offense than misspelling “attention to detail,” (which ironically has happened), but it emphasizes the fact that recruiters sometimes look for reasons to move your resume to the discard pile when they have a lot of qualified applicants to narrow down.

A recruiter who commented on the LinkedIn poll admitted they tend to be a little more forgiving of spelling and grammar issues. However, in the same breath they also said, “some hiring managers are pretty brutal on this and may disqualify someone on an initial review.”

Another commenter added, “If you can’t take the time to use proper spelling and grammar, why would I trust you to manage programs, projects and pay attention to detail?” A resume is supposed to showcase you at your best. If it features mistakes, it implies your best is error-ridden work.

So, err on the side of caution, and proofread your resume. With spell checking technology readily available, there isn’t an excuse to miss blatant errors. That doesn’t mean you should skip manual proofreading though.

Watch out for these common mistakes that spell check will not find:
  • Its and it’s — Its refers to possession, whereas it’s is a contraction of it is.
  • Your and you’re — Possession vs. a contraction of you are.
  • They’re, there and their — They’re there, but it’s not their office.
  • Affect vs. Effect — Your actions affect (verb) sales or your actions had an effect (noun) on sales.
  • Would have vs. would of — Would of is never correct, even when you’re speaking.
  • Then and than — Then (next or subsequently) sales increased to a level higher than (comparative) they had ever been.
  • Farther and further — We traveled farther (actual distance) down the road, so we had gotten further (theoretical distance) into our conversation than we expected.

Since auto correct can’t always save you, be sure to double check your resume the old-fashioned way. Print it out and review it slowly. Read it out loud or even backwards. Or put it in the drawer and check it with a fresh perspective the next day.

Additionally, a survey respondent suggested having a trusted person read your resume. “We know our own resume too well and sometimes skim it because we know what it SHOULD say.”

2. Resume Length

Long resumes ranked second as a top turn off on Rides’ LinkedIn survey. While some commentors sarcastically called too much experience an issue, Rides clarified the problem is “the inability to write out information concisely.”

Another commenter shared, “I was always told never more than two pages. Trim out the fat and only include what is relevant towards the job you are applying for.”

We agree, one to two pages is the ideal length for a resume. It’s not a strict rule whether it should always be one vs two pages, because it’s dependent on your level of experience and what the job you’re applying for requires.

Sticking to one to two pages shows you can focus on what’s most critical. So, delete all information that doesn’t directly support your value. Cut down on jobs that are more than 10 years old. And don’t waste space on education or training that’s irrelevant.

The exception to this two-page rule is if the job posting specifically asks for 15 years or more experience—that’s rare. Even if you have many years’ experience, keeping your resume to a shorter length helps you focus on including relevant information vs biographical details.

A long resume risks being overlooked because it takes too much time and effort to find the most relevant information. Your message gets lost.

One survey respondent noted they are tolerant of one page per decade of experience. But even with that in mind they added, “I simply won’t consider a candidate with more than three pages because that tells me you don’t have the ability to prioritize and focus in on what is important.”

If your resume is over two pages long, give it a hard look. Even if you’ve accomplished a lot in your career, it will benefit you to boil it down to the most critical information recruiters and hiring managers are trying to identify.

3. Formatting & Fonts

Though formatting issues only received 10% of the vote for being a big turn off on a resume, it’s a problem that can immediately disqualify you for a job when the issues are severe.

A recruiter who commented on Rides’ poll emphasized your resume format needs to be kept simple. “When they are uploaded in to a company Applicant Tracking System (ATS), some won’t convert and you get a blank page or it’s impossible to read. This forces the recruiter to eliminate you from consideration if they don’t have the time to hunt you down via LinkedIn.”

Your resume doesn’t need to stand out in a pile of resumes by using graphics, tables, colorful type or pictures. It will eventually be scanned by an ATS, even if you’re handing it to an employer at a job fair.

Being straightforward and easy-to-read is what makes your resume stand out. Use a standard font like Times New Roman or Arial, in size 11 or 12. Use one-inch margins and plenty of white space. And avoid heavy paper, colors, shading, over-bolding, graphics and certification completion images.

The simpler it is, the better it is. If recruiters struggle to quickly see your accomplishments, you’re in trouble. So make sure your resume is pleasing to the eye and easy to scan.

Crafting your best resume is a big undertaking, but when you get it right, it pays dividends—hopefully in the form of a new job. Be diligent and make sure yours is up to the task by implementing these tips to ensure your resume isn’t a turn off.


  • Ashley Jones

    Ashley Jones is ClearedJobs.Net's blog Editor and a cleared job search expert, dedicated to helping security-cleared job seekers and employers navigate job search and recruitment challenges. With in-depth experience assisting cleared job seekers and transitioning military personnel at in-person and virtual Cleared Job Fairs and military base hiring events, Ashley has a deep understanding of the unique needs of the cleared community. She is also the Editor of ClearedJobs.Net's job search podcast, Security Cleared Jobs: Who's Hiring & How.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 18, 2022 11:32 am

2 thoughts on “Improve Your Resume by Avoiding These 3 Turn Offs”

  1. Hi,
    If the candidate has right experience in the field where applicant applied, then rest of things is minor.
    If you have active Top-Secret Clearance with an appropriate experience, it does not matter, rest of things is minor because of finding right candidate with clearance is big plus for aerospace industries.

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