12 Common Resume Mistakes by Expats

Happy 2022! It’s been a while since I’ve written anything. In thinking about how I want to use this blog going forwards, I’ve decided to incorporate more of my day job into my posts. That is: human resources with a specialization in recruitment.

Over the past seven years, I’ve reviewed thousands of resumes for various positions. Many of these resumes have been from immigrants and expats. There are common mistakes made by all applicants, and there are common mistakes made specifically by newcomers.

I’ve decided to use my recruiting knowledge to try to help anyone who is planning to move to Canada. You’ve got your work permit, landed in Canada, found accommodation, and now you need to find a job. Below is my list of 12 common resume mistakes that can reduce someone’s chances of getting a job, and why.

This content has been copied and modified from an article I created and shared on my LinkedIn page. I am not an employment lawyer or registered immigration consultant. All advice provided is based off my personal knowledge and experiences, and does not represent the views of any specific organization. This post is intended as a guide and I am not responsible for the outcome of any job applications.

1. Sharing Personal Information

There’s a tendency for some applicants to share personal details on their resume, including their date of birth and marital status. Even if this is the custom in your home country, I recommend not doing this because it can open up the possibility of unconscious bias and discriminatory hiring. Although age and marital status are protected grounds under Canadian human rights legislation, many employers are unfortunately still guilty of age bias against people from older generations. The only personal information you need to include on your resume is your name, phone number or email, and town of residence.

If you’ve arrived in Canada with permanent resident or citizenship status, it’s a good idea to mention this on your resume. If you’re on a temporary open work permit, mention in your cover letter that you are authorized to work full-time in Canada. Don’t mention your visa expiry date because it may turn some employers off. Instead, wait until this question comes up in a pre-screen call, by which time you will have hopefully made a good impression on the recruiter and they’ll be happy to move to the next stage regardless.

2. Wrong Location

Some people that are applying for jobs outside of their town/province will list their location as being in the area where the employer is based. While I can understand the motivation behind this, it can be frustrating for a recruiter to think they have a promising candidate, only to discover later in the screening process that there will be delays because the candidate would need time to find a new place to live. This is especially the case if the company isn’t able to provide a relocation package or needs someone ASAP.

Better practice is to list your actual address but make note on your cover letter that you are able and willing to relocate should an offer be received. If you already have accommodation organized, for example with a friend or relative, make this clear too.

3. Spelling Mistakes & Formatting Issues

Everyone makes typos from time to time. Some employers will excuse a spelling mistake, especially if the applicant is an ESL speaker and the position applied for does not require much writing. However, if you’re applying for a communications or secretarial position, the employer will be less forgiving. This is especially true now when there is so much competition for jobs. If you have a few typos before the hiring manager has even got halfway down your resume, it’s possible they will immediately put you in the reject pile, even if you have good experience.

Additionally, some resumes are very untidy and confusing to look at. They might have inconsistent font styles and sizes, only list employment dates for some positions and not others, or list their past jobs in random orders. To a hiring manager, a sloppily presented resume shows a lack of respect to the application process by suggesting it isn’t being taken seriously. Again, you might be rejected before the hiring manager has got to the bottom of the first page.

Make sure you list the job title, employer name, and employment dates for each position to create consistency and prevent confusion about your employment history. Generally, jobs should be listed in reverse chronological order with the most recent at the top.

4. Language & Terminology Differences

When I arrived in Canada, I was surprised by how certain terminology used in England wasn’t recognized in this English-speaking country. This includes job titles. For example, people in England say “waiter” or “waitress”, while Canadians tend to say “server”. In England, they often say “air steward” but here they say “flight attendant.” Some terms are quite obvious to translate, however, if a hiring manager is not familiar with the terminology you’re using on your resume and they have hundreds of applicants for one position, it’s very possible you’ll miss out.

When writing a resume, it makes sense to adapt your spelling to the country you’ll be working in. Canada uses a combination of British and American spellings, but generally it uses more Z’s than S’s (recognize vs recognise, analyze vs analyse, etc.).

5. Too Much Emphasis on Education

A mistake British applicants often make is listing all their education credentials on their resume. To be honest, this is often a waste of time and space because many Canadian hiring managers don’t know what an A-level, A*, or 2:1 is. Unless the job ad requests it, hiring managers don’t need to know each module you studied at university and what your grades were. In most cases, they are more interested in knowing about your practical experience.

If the job ad requests a resume and not a CV, keep it simple by just listing the highest level of education you have, your subject, and the year you graduated. If it’s required for you to list your degree grade, it’s best to convert it to the equivalent Canadian GPA.

Another issue with listing your entire education history in detail is that it can make you seem over-qualified for a position. PhD students in particular can have a difficult time finding jobs for this reason. If your resume shows you have a very specialized education but you are applying for a junior-level job that only requires a secondary school diploma, hiring managers might have concerns about your commitment.
Structure your resume based on the job specifications in the job description. If more emphasis is placed on practical experience over education, focus on highlighting the former.

6. Too Long/Wordy

Most employers in Canada will ask for a resume vs a CV. CVs are longer, with more details on education and experience. Some people think a resume should only be one page long. I disagree with this personally, but think three pages is a good maximum. Every time I’ve read a five-page resume, I’ve felt that it could have easily been condensed, with repeated or less relevant information removed. Brevity is key. Some job applicants say a lot on their resume without actually saying anything. Some repeat information through the disguise of different wording. A waffling resume might raise concerns about your ability to identify and select important information.

If you’ve had the same role for many years but performed it for a few different employers, consider using a functional resume style. In this format, you first summarize the main skills and experience you’ve demonstrated across all positions, and then list the employment organizations, titles, and dates after.

7. Unnecessary Employment Information

Following on from the above, some newcomers (commonly younger ones) feel a need to include on their resume every single job they’ve had. They perhaps think that showing they’ve been working since they were in secondary school will impress employers. Truth is, employers more often care about quality and not quantity. If you have a long resume that shows a variety of different jobs, it might be unclear to the hiring manager what your interests and best skills are.

If the job description notes they require someone with three years of experience in a specific role, the hiring manager is likely to lean towards the resume that has highlighted experience in that specific role, even if it’s the only work experience that’s listed. That’s because this resume will suggest a greater interest in and commitment to the job.

If you’re in your late twenties and have been working professionally since you were 21, there’s no need to include weekend jobs you had in your late teens. Focus on tailoring your resume to the position you’re applying for and include the jobs that show relevant skills.

8. Tailored to the Wrong Field

In addition to the above mistake of including too much generic information, there’s also a mistake of including too much specific information that’s irrelevant to the job being applied for.

If you have a retail background but are applying to be an admin assistant in the provincial government, having a skills summary that highlights your experience boosting revenue and exceeding sales targets is likely going to make the hiring manager wonder why you’re applying for the job. They might question your career goals and have concerns about commitment. Although the accomplishments you’ve listed might be impressive generally, if they’re not useful or applicable to the role, they won’t seem that valuable to the employer.

Depending on your career interests, it’s good practice to keep a template of resumes that can be modified for different positions, e.g. administration, customer service, marketing, etc. People with an engineering background might have one template for this, one for quality assurance, and another for project management.

9. Stretching

Stretching a resume involves exaggerating or embellishing certain details to sound more impressive. This could include adding a course that you haven’t yet finished in order to seem more knowledgeable, extending employment dates by a couple of months in order to suggest more commitment, adjusting a job title to suggest more seniority, or adding job responsibilities you didn’t have in order to appear more skilled and in line with the job specifications. These might seem like minor adjustments, but if reference checks reveals the discrepancies, it could raise concerns about how honest and trustworthy you are.

When preparing your resume and cover letter, remember that if offered an interview, you will need to be able to back up any statements you make with an example. There’s no point noting that you improved office processes if you can’t give an example of an occasion you did this and how.

10. Copy-and-Pasting Job Descriptions

Some applicants, including native English speakers and ESL speakers, will copy and paste a previous job description onto their resume when summarizing their employment history. Someone very experienced in reviewing resumes will be able to tell when this has happened. A potential issue with copy and pasting is that some employees don’t end up performing all duties listed in the job description. Perhaps they resigned or were let go before having a chance to take on some of the responsibilities. Inclusion of such content would therefore mean your resume is untruthful. A thorough reference check with a direct supervisor will verify job duties that were performed. Again, concerns about honesty might result.

There’s nothing wrong with referencing a previous job description to help you remember the duties you had, but the content should be rewritten in your own words.

11.  Tone

The tone of your resume is something that can inspire a hiring manager’s first impression of you as a person – in positive or negative ways. Sometimes, in an attempt to highlight their skills and experience, a candidate comes across boastful and this makes me wonder how good they would be at working in a team. On other occasions, a candidate has come across as quite casual and informal, which has raised questions about how professional they would be in the workplace and as a representative of an organization. Such impressions might be made consciously, or they might be completely unintended and the result of a language barrier. Before submitting a resume, ask a friend to read over it to assess how “likeable” you sound.

12.  Too Much Emphasis on Hobbies

Listing hobbies helps give the hiring manager an idea of the type of person you are, but should be approached carefully. Some people mention hobbies because they think doing so will make them seem like a good cultural fit. For example, they’re applying for a customer service position at a cricket ground, and they happen to love playing cricket. While this may seem like a good match, the hiring manager wants to be sure applicants will work hard and are not just applying for the job for any perks (like watching cricket for free!). If this candidate devotes their cover letter to talking about cricket and not about their relevant skills and job experience, the hiring manager will likely be suspicious about their motives and hesitant to move forward.

It’s fine to mention your interest in what the organization does, but keep this brief. I also recommend avoiding listing hobbies like “Going out with friends” or “Watching TV” because these don’t add anything of value.


I hope you find these tips helpful. Good luck with your application! 

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