Common job application mistakes — and how to avoid them

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Job ApplicationBy Michelle Filippini,

In today’s tight job market, many candidates focus their attention on acing the interview, and perhaps rightly so. While it’s true the interview is often the do-or-die moment when employers decide whether they think you’re a good fit for the position, you first have to land that interview. Don’t derail the process before it begins. Here are some common mistakes you should avoid when applying for jobs so that you can advance to that next crucial step in the process — making it to the hot seat.

Don’t mess up the application
Most employers have their own unique application form that candidates must fill out and submit along with their résumé and cover letter. Here are some simple rules to follow when tackling these preliminary questions:

  • Apply only if you meet the minimum qualifications. You’re not going to possess every skill listed in a job announcement — and employers don’t expect that — but don’t waste everyone’s time if, for example, you’re a recent college graduate applying for a position that requires four years of professional experience, or someone with a GED applying for a job that requires a college degree.
  • Prepare in advance of filling out the application. Job applications typically require information involving one’s work history and references, which may require some archival digging and research on your part. Having that information on hand before you begin filling out the application will help the process go more smoothly — and quickly.
  • Follow the directions. This might seem like a no-brainer, but you could be eliminated at the preliminary screening phase simply by not following formatting requirements or signing the application if it requires a signature.
  • Re-read your application for spelling, punctuation or grammar mistakes. Some find that reading it out loud is also helpful, as the ear can often make the best editor. Don’t rely solely on spell check.
  • Don’t substitute your résumé for the requested job application form. Yes, applications can be time-consuming and tedious to fill out. That’s because they generally ask for information not found on résumés — detailed information specific to the position and company you’re applying to.

Cover letter faux pas
Even if it’s not requested, include a cover letter with your job application. Failing to include this would be a missed opportunity on your part. Here are some other dos and don’ts:

  • Don’t address your cover letter “Dear Sir/Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern.” Doing so indicates a lack of effort on your part to find out the name of the person you’re contacting (much less his or her gender) and is likely to earn your application a place in the circular file. If in the unlikely event the name or gender of the contact person is impossible to locate, then a “Dear Hiring Manager” or “Dear [name of department] Director” may suffice in lieu of a real name.
  • Don’t be a comedian. Your friends may appreciate your puns, wit and thinly veiled sarcasm, but the person reading your letter wants to know why you’ve applied for the job. Leave the stand-up for your Facebook posts.
  • Do talk about what you can bring to the company, not just how excited you are for the opportunity. How will you be able to make your new boss’s life easier, for instance? Make your cover letter work for you by explicating your specific skills, experience, and accomplishments.
  • Do include your phone number, along with all other pertinent contact information, in your cover letter. Even if this information already appears on your résumé, you’ll want to also include it in your cover letter in case the two get separated.

Résumé misfires
Finally, the résumé — so important and yet so often the victim of its creator’s desire to have it stand out in the stack. According to a CareerBuilder survey, employers cited the following as the most common résumé mistakes that could result in a candidate’s automatic dismissal in the application process:

  • Typos in résumé. Correct punctuation and grammar are also important.
  • Generic résumés that aren’t tailored for the position. Résumés should be personalized for the specific job that is being applied for — you’ll want to highlight those skills you have that match the position description and downplay those that don’t.
  • Résumés lacking a listing of skills. Employers will want to easily see what it is that you’ve been doing at your previous jobs.
  • Exact wording from the job posting used in résumé. Yes, you want to personalize your résumé for the job advertised, but don’t just copy and paste the job description verbatim or use all of the ad’s keywords.
  • Wrong email address listed on résumé. Nothing will frustrate a potential employer more than having an email returned undeliverable due to “address unknown.” And, not all employers want (or have the time) to pick up the phone to call you.
  • Exact dates of employment not included on résumé. Not including the actual dates you were employed at a specific company could be a red flag and a cause for suspicion on the employer’s part. If your résumé has gaps in employment, it’s likely that you’ll have the opportunity to address this at the appropriate time.
  • Decorative paper used for résumé. Keep the design simple and the paper white. A résumé shouldn’t be viewed as an opportunity to demonstrate how well you excel in “thinking outside of the box.”
  • Photo included with résumé. It doesn’t matter if it’s the best, most professional-looking picture you’ve ever taken or the most adorable picture of your puppy. Just don’t do it.

Michelle Filippini is a writer for This article was originally published on

  1. Excellent article! I wish more people would take more time when submitting online resumes and cover letters. It’s also a good idea to not include text lingo in your email correspondence – I see that on a regular basis!

  2. Dear 4 people listening,

    I have been a stay at home mother for the past 17 years and eager  to rejoin the workforce. Made $10/hr back then as a payroll clerk with some college but no degree. Boy have things changed. Remember getting out the Sunday paper to find a job? Our children have access to so much we didn’t  Appreciated your articles…they were helpful but I need some advice about updating my resume. It has been so long since I was last employed I can’t remember specific months (not years) of employment nor do I remember all of the rates of pay. I don’t want to be “red-flagged” as a liar if I guesstimate. My last employer is a local accounting firm, who wrote the greatest letter of reference anyone could hope for and every partner of that firm signed the letter on my behalf but all of my other previous employers/businesses/supervisors are no longer there. How does that look on an application to put I don’t remember supervisors name or business no longer there and none of them can be contacted? I was told with my experience I needed to have a summary that included the reason for the gap in my employment history for the past 17 years and did not need a career objective. I have been looking for a year now and am so frustrated. As I said before I am updating the resume now with “Action Verbs”. Some other site gave me a critique score of 77 and told me I passed the 30 second test, not using personal pronouns was to my credit, good use of bullets and verb tense usage. I  would like some input on this “summary” as I  feel that I am bombarded daily with so email alerts I can’t keep up and somebody else just wants money for a resume that I don’t have. I know you haven’t seen the resume in question but someone feel free to give me some advice!

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