By Elaine Pofeldt, contributor February 25, 2011: 2:36 PM ET
(MONEY Magazine) -- Been applying for work and have little to show for it? Don't assume the lousy job market is solely to blame. Your résumé could be working against you as well.
Best practices for résumé writing have changed a lot over the past few years, says Wendy Enelow, an executive trainer and author of Expert Résumés for Baby Boomers. If you haven't kept up, your document may be signaling that you're past your prime.
1. Overdoing the contacts. Multiple phone numbers make a résumé look dated; you're a dinosaur if you list a fax!
The fix: Instead, simply state your cell number and e-mail -- without labeling them as such, says executive coach Donald Asher, author of The Overnight Résumé.
2. Relying on cliches. Certain language has become so common in résumés that it's now virtually meaningless.
The Fix: Skip these words and phrases, which LinkedIn found to be the most overused in online résumés: innovative, motivated, extensive experience, results-oriented, dynamic, proven track record, team player, fast-paced, problem solver, and entrepreneurial. Instead, use keywords from the job ad, which will help you get past the résumé-scanning programs many firms use nowadays.
3. Not describing past employers. A younger hiring manager may not have the same scope of industry knowledge you do, and won't be able to put your experience into context.
The fix: "Unless it's a Fortune 500 company, add a line such as 'privately held company that manufactures pencils around the world,'" says Patricia Lenkov, CEO of Agility Executive Search in New York.
4. Using outdated formatting. For your first résumé, you may have been taught to put dates on the left, but that's not how it's done it anymore.
The fix: List the years -- not months, which are relevant only for recent grads -- on the right after your title and the company, says Asher.
5. Underselling self-employment. Job seekers are often too vague about periods of self-employment, which makes these look like periods of unemployment, says Lenkov.
The fix: Be specific about the projects you tackled and name some of your clients, if you have permission.
6. Leading with an objective. "This is all about what you want from the company," says executive coach Enelow. "What does the company care? You're a dime a dozen in this marketplace."
The fix: Start with a summary or career profile focusing on what you can contribute. This person might say: 15-plus years' experience spearheading global business development campaigns. (Why not 28 years? "Fifteen-plus communicates well-qualified, but not over the hill," Enelow says.) You might also break out a bulleted list of expertise, like "Developing new clients" or "Making financial projections."
7. Revealing when you got your degrees. Scary as it is, the hiring manager may not have been born yet.
The fix: Take the grad dates off. "Are we fooling anyone by doing so? No," says Enelow, "but at least we're not slapping them in the face with it."
8. Delving too deep into the past. Your earliest job experiences are probably well removed from the level and type of work you do today.
The fix: In general, go back only 15 years unless you have significant achievements before that, Enelow says.
9. Showcasing run-of-the-mill skills. Stating your familiarity with MS Word, PowerPoint, or Excel makes it look as if you've just gotten onboard.
The fix: List only specialized software (such as Quick-Books) or newer technologies (programming platform Ruby on Rails, for example), says Garrett Miller, a former hiring manager for Pfizer who now owns CoTria, a workplace-productivity consulting firm.
10. Noting passive activities. While hobbies can create common ground, says Miller, you don't want to highlight those that make you seem sedentary or unenergetic.
The fix: Athletic pursuits like cycling or running demonstrate vivacity, as do activities in which you're giving back -- organizing a fundraiser, for example. Experts once advised against noting religious activities, such as singing in a church choir, but that's changed; such activities telegraph integrity, a quality that's very important to hiring managers today, says Miller.
11. Giving short shrift to recent experience. Lots of older job seekers are hamstrung by outmoded rules requiring résumés to fit on one page, and they therefore crunch down their recent -- and most relevant -- experience until it says nothing.
The fix: Expanding your résumé to two or three pages is perfectly acceptable for someone in his forties or fifties. Devote half a page to your most recent job, Lenkov says. And bullet out action-oriented highlights, making sure to include quantifiable achievements, such as "Reduced costs 16% over two years."