5 common résumé mistakes female applicants should keep an eye on

By Rena Nigam

February 22, 2021

Don’t undersell yourself

Most women are concerned they might appear narcissistic by “overstating” their experience and success. There is also often a large social penalty for women appearing overconfident. However, it’s important to remember that most of the men applying for these same positions aren’t underselling themselves. In fact, many are most likely overselling their experience and capabilities. And, if you aren’t claiming certain leadership skills or using powerful language on your résumé, computer scanning systems might filter you out and your résumé may not even make it in front of a real person.

State your worth with authority

Take an authoritative approach, even if it makes you cringe. Go through your résumé and include your most noteworthy professional achievements. This can mean awards you’ve won, promotions you’ve gained, projects you’ve handled, etc. Include the best feedback you’ve received and ask a trusted coworker or advocate to help you identify your best work qualities to list. Women often take on extra responsibilities outside of their job descriptions at work; these should be listed on your résumé, as they underscore initiative while also communicating important time-management skills.

Use a strong story to describe your journey

Far too many résumés dive straight into detail without an executive summary. Think of your introduction as an elevator pitch. Recruiters have tons of résumés to read, so they usually just skim through content, and the lack of a strong storyline can hurt. Remember, it’s important to tell your story well and include details that convey you are a strong candidate for the opportunity you want to be considered for. If there are departures like career breaks, address them up front and frame them into your story. Get the reader interested in learning more about you; create a narrative for your work experience, and use details. Remember to stay focused.

Take a “less is more” approach

While detail is important, many women dive into unnecessary detail on their résumés. Usually this takes shape in listing who they worked with, who else helped them with a project, pointing out that they didn’t do it alone or that it was a team effort. Remember, most assignments are accomplished with teamwork. It’s implied that you didn’t complete entire projects on your own; you don’t need to point it out on your résumé. Constantly mentioning others weakens your own story. In the quest for accuracy and perfectionism, there is often too much detail and that distracts from the accomplishments and overall impact a person had in their job. Use functional industry titles, as opposed to hierarchical levels that are too specific to certain companies. Talk about your impact on the overall problem or the business.

Quantify your accomplishments with assertive language

Women are more likely to leave out professional achievements and important experiences on their résumés. From my personal experience, women also don’t use the same strong language in their résumés that their male peers do, though recent research studies are mixed. Where men say “led,” “founded,” and “executed,” women use words such as “helped,” “was part of a team,” “aided,” “was asked to.” Using weaker language can make an employer feel as if you aren’t as strong of a candidate as peers with the same experience. Use active words when describing yourself. Go through your résumé and find every instance of this “weak” language and replace it with something else. If you have “helped run a product development team,” could you change it to “led product development team?” Consider how your language might impact a recruiter’s perception of your strengths. Find numbers when you can to quantify your impact and accomplishments in each given role you’ve worked in.

We find these mistakes to be pervasive across levels and functions. In fact, even the most accomplished women still feel the pressure to understate who they are. I encourage you to blow your own trumpet, toot your own horn, because—regardless of gender—no one really knows the tune.

Rena Nigam is the founder and CEO of Meytier, which she started with the mission to help improve diversity at scale through a technology-based approach. She is an entrepreneur focused on building and scaling firms that focus on the reimagination of businesses through technology. Nigam was president and board member at Incedo through 2018, and she cofounded Aspark, a business enterprise company, which was acquired by Capgemini.

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