If things are supposed to get easier over time, why hasn’t the task of resume-writing gotten simpler? Actually, it feels like we’re heading in the opposite direction—every month, we learn about a fresh resume commandment, like “Thou shalt not use a resume objective statement” or “Thou shalt not send a traditional resume to a creative company.” It’s enough to make any professional a little frustrated.
Fortunately, we’ve compiled the definitive list of resume dos and don’ts, from the tried-and-true to the brand-new. Take a peek, then open up your resume and double-check that it is recruiter-ready.
Table of contents
- 40 Best Resume Do’s and Don’ts
- 1. Always highlight your most relevant experiences
- 2. Use a professional email address
- 3. Don’t fail to optimize for applicant tracking systems
- 4. Don’t use the exact words in the job description
- 5. Always use data
- 6. Refrain from including confidential details
- 7. Always inclue your soft skills
- 8. Use reverse chronological order
- 9. Do Consider Volunteer or Other Non-Work Experience
- 10. Don’t Include Work With Controversial Organizations
- 11. Do Include Personal Accomplishments
- 12. Don’t Include Random, Unrelated, or Off-Putting Hobbies
- 13. Do Think of New Ways to Frame Your Accomplishments
- 14. Don’t Go Overboard
- 15. Give a vivid roadmap of how your professional life has been
- 16. Try not to use an objective statement
- 17. Do Consider a Summary Statement
- 18. Don’t try to hide gaps
- 19. Don’t fake it
- 20. Don’t use clichés or jargon
- 21. Always use plain English
- 22. Leave out the negative phrases
- 23. Always use powerful verbs
- 24. Don’t Include “References Upon Request”
- 25. Do include your contact info
- 26. Don’t Include Anything That Could Be Discriminated Against
- 27. Do Keep it to One Page
- 28. Don’t Squish it All In
- 29. Do Consider a Creative or Digital Resume
- 30. Don’t Spend All Your Time on the Design
- 31. Do Start From a Template
- 32. Don’t use more than 2 fonts
- 33. Do make sure your job titles or companies stand out
- 34. Don’t misuse text effects
- 35. Align your dates and locations to the right
- 36. Don’t use more than two lines per bullet
- 37. Do use digits
- 38. Don’t send it as a word document
- 39. Do swap resumes with colleagues
- 40. Don’t forget to spell check
40 Best Resume Do’s and Don’ts
1. Always highlight your most relevant experiences
The first rule of resume writing is that you should submit a new version for each position you apply for, one that is customized to suit the position you are applying for. After all, your resume should indicate that you have the precise set of abilities, experience, and accomplishments required for the position, not simply a set. Make it simple for the recruiting manager to see why you’re a good fit.
2. Use a professional email address
It is worth noting that using an unprofessional email address would result in rejection 76% of the time. So, if you haven’t already, get rid of that email account you’ve had since high school. To create a professional alternative, use a professional email service such as Gmail or Outlook.
3. Don’t fail to optimize for applicant tracking systems
Many organizations use applicant tracking systems to weed out unqualified applicants. The computers analyze your CV for relevant keywords and phrases, evaluating them statistically for relevance and passing only the most qualified ones through for human assessment.
As you can guess, this strategy isn’t perfect. Keep your layout basic, contain the correct keywords (but not too many), and triple-check for spelling problems to guarantee your resume makes it past the ATS and into the hands of a human.
4. Don’t use the exact words in the job description
Always try not to use the exact terms from the job description. If a firm states it wants individuals who “learn quickly” and “know a variety of programming languages,” your talents section should not say “learns quickly” and “knows a variety of programming languages.”
Instead, find a different way of saying the same thing—maybe devote a resume bullet to the software you learned in two weeks, or list the seven different programming languages you’re familiar with.
5. Always use data
You’ve certainly heard that employers enjoy reading resume bullet points that include figures, such as “Increased sales in Northern area by 300 percent.” They certainly do! So, wherever feasible, take advantage of them.
If your job doesn’t necessarily involve numbers, you can quantify any accomplishment.
6. Refrain from including confidential details
If you wouldn’t want it out publicly, there’s no need to put it in your resume. When deciding on what to put in your resume, first of all, answer the question, do I want it to be published on the front page of a major newspaper?
7. Always inclue your soft skills
Make sure each bullet point perfectly describes a skill the hiring manager is looking for. If you have figures to back it up, that will be perfect.
Knowing which soft skills to highlight in your resume could set you apart from candidates with similar sets of hard skills. Your education, degree, and certifications might help you get an interview, but your soft skills are what will help land you the job.
8. Use reverse chronological order
If you are writing your job experience and education section, always start with the most recent jobs and degrees obtained.
9. Do Consider Volunteer or Other Non-Work Experience
Although it’s nontraditional, if volunteer work has taken up a significant chunk of your time or taught you skills applicable to the job you’re applying for, think about putting it on your resume. Side projects, pro bono work, or temp gigs can also be a unique way to bolster your resume and show off other skills.
10. Don’t Include Work With Controversial Organizations
Maybe that volunteer work was fundraising for a politician or answering the phone at an LGBT-resource organization. Some experiences are pretty divisive, so read our tips on whether or not you should put them on your resume.
11. Do Include Personal Accomplishments
If you’ve done something cool in your personal life that either shows off your soft skills or engages your technical skills in a new way, you should definitely include it. Maybe you’ve run a couple of marathons, demonstrating your adventurous spirit, strong work ethic, and desire to challenge yourself. Or you’ve won some poker tournaments, which shows you’re a quick thinker and good with numbers.
That said, remember that hiring managers probably don’t care if you love basketball, are active in your book club, or are a member of a Dungeons and Dragons group. Eliminate anything that’s not totally transferable to work-related skills (or a really, really epic conversation starter).
13. Do Think of New Ways to Frame Your Accomplishments
Don’t have the exact experience for the job you’re applying to? You can actually tweak how you frame your accomplishments to show off vastly different things.
14. Don’t Go Overboard
Meaning: Don’t oversell your high school babysitting experience. In fact, anything from high school should probably go.
15. Give a vivid roadmap of how your professional life has been
It can be tempting (and more simple) to combine multiple roles at one company, but you should actually be highlighting your different job titles. After all, it says a lot about you if you were promoted within an organization or were able to transition your role.
16. Try not to use an objective statement
There’s only one situation in which you need an objective statement: when you’re making a huge career change. Making the leap from, say, business development to marketing means your resume could definitely use a clear explanation that you’re transitioning roles and have the necessary transferable skills. But if you’re a PR rep applying to a PR firm, an objective statement will just waste valuable space.
17. Do Consider a Summary Statement
A summary statement, which consists of a couple of lines at the beginning of your resume that gives potential employers a broad outline of your skills and experience, is the most ideal if you have years of experience you need to tie together with a common theme. They’re also good if you have a bunch of disparate skills and want to make it clear how they fit together.
18. Don’t try to hide gaps
While it’s okay to glaze over gaps a little (for example, by just using years to show dates of employments instead of months and years), you should never outright lie about them. Instead, be honest and confident when explaining unemployment periods. Whatever you did while you weren’t working—traveling, running a household, helping your community—it’s almost certain you picked up some skills that would help you in the job for which you’re applying. So mention them!
19. Don’t fake it
For obvious reasons, anything that’s not 100% true doesn’t belong on your resume. So, ensure you can prove whatever is on your resume.
20. Don’t use clichés or jargon
Because hiring managers are really, really tired of seeing descriptions like a hard worker, team player, or detail-oriented on resumes. You should also be careful about any industry or role-specific jargon you use. In many companies, if you want your resume to land on the hiring manager’s desk, you’ve got to get it past HR first—which means putting everything in terms a layperson can understand.
21. Always use plain English
Using unnecessarily big words doesn’t make you sound more intelligent or capable. Not only are hiring managers totally aware of what you’re trying (and failing) to do, but “resume speak” can obscure your real experience. So, instead of “utilized innovative social media technique to boost readership and engagement among core demographic” say, “posted on Twitter three times a day and brought follower count from 1,000 to 3,000.”
22. Leave out the negative phrases
You should also be careful of using words with negative connotations—even if you’re using them in a positive light. Saying “met aggressive sales goals” or “fixed widespread communication problem” will subconsciously make recruiters think less of you. Instead, write “delivered on an ambitious number of sales” or “proposed and implemented a solution to make company communication easier and more efficient.”
23. Always use powerful verbs
Skip the tired and all-too-frequently used “led,” “handled,” and “managed,” and go for verbs like “charted,” “administered,” “consolidated,” or “maximized,” which make you look both confident and competent. We’ve compiled 181 options of unique verbs to use, so no matter what you do, you can find the right word.
24. Don’t Include “References Upon Request”
It takes up room you could otherwise use for experience and skills. And, um, it looks presumptuous.
25. Do include your contact info
Pretty basic, but you’d be surprised how many job seekers put together an amazing resume—and then don’t include enough “here’s where to find me” info. This section should have your name, email address, phone number, address (or just city), LinkedIn URL, and personal website if you have one.
Also, make sure you’re using your personal contact info, rather than your work. Because that’s a recipe for disaster.
26. Don’t Include Anything That Could Be Discriminated Against
While it’s illegal to discriminate against a job candidate because of his or her age, marital status, gender, religion, race, color, or national origin, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen subconsciously. Don’t give recruiters the chance, and just leave these details off.
27. Do Keep it to One Page
Recruiters read a lot of resumes, so they don’t want to have to spend a ton of time looking over yours. Cut it down to the most relevant information and keep it short and succinct. Laszlo Bock, Google’s senior vice president of people operations, recommends one page of resume for every 10 years of work experience as a good rule of thumb.
28. Don’t Squish it All In
That being said, don’t try to squeeze as much information as possible into that one page. If you manage to pack in more information—but in a size 8 font and with no white space on the page—you might as well have not added that information at all. Cut it down to an amount of information you can comfortably fit on the page, in a readable font, and with enough white space to make it easy on the eyes.
29. Do Consider a Creative or Digital Resume
Resumes that look like infographics, data visualizations, or even videos or multimedia presentations can be a great way to stand out from the crowd. This is generally a better option when you’re applying to smaller, more creative shops—traditional companies will still likely want traditional resumes.)
30. Don’t Spend All Your Time on the Design
While making your resume look nice is important, recruiters say job seekers spend far too much time worrying about it (that is, unless you’re working in a design field). Focus on the content, make sure the right information is highlighted, and just make sure it looks nice enough to make the information easy to digest.
31. Do Start From a Template
Want your resume to look well designed—without the extra time? We’ve found 41 of the best resume templates ever. They’ll make formatting a breeze.
32. Don’t use more than 2 fonts
And really, it’s best to stick to one basic font. Unless you’re a designer and know a lot about typography, it’s easy to choose fonts that clash or are distracting.
33. Do make sure your job titles or companies stand out
Of course, you want to make sure the most important information stands out and is easy to skim. Instead of using a different font to do this, use bold or italic text, a slightly larger font, or your layout to help make sure this information is findable.
34. Don’t misuse text effects
If every other word is bolded, italicized, or in ALL CAPS, at best, your resume will be distracting—at worst, annoying. Use emphasis sparingly, for your most important info.
35. Align your dates and locations to the right
This minor update will significantly improve the readability of your resume. By creating the appropriate tab, you should be able to create a “column” of dates and places for each work.
36. Don’t use more than two lines per bullet
This strategy will make your resume easier to skim (which is good, because most hiring managers will spend less than 20 seconds reading it). Again, cut it down to the most important information.
37. Do use digits
The use of digits makes your work easy to read. For instance,
Because 4 and 22% take less time to read than “four” and “twenty-two percent.” Plus, using digits saves you space.
38. Don’t send it as a word document
Sending your resume off as a .doc file will most likely result in all of this careful formatting getting messed up when the recruiter opens the file. Save your final version as a PDF to make sure everything stays just as is.
39. Do swap resumes with colleagues
Look at how they describe their duties and the company. Chances are, you’ll get some inspiration for your own descriptions. Plus, having some fresh eyes look at your resume is always beneficial. Ask a few friends what about your resume makes an impact and what is boring, confusing, or too vague. If the same things keep popping up, it’s probably time to edit.
40. Don’t forget to spell check
After drafting your resume to suit, there is a great need to go through the resume using Grammarly or any writing tool to help check for grammatical and typographical errors.
A resume is meant to sell you in the best way possible. By following these resume tips you can rest assured that you’re on the right track.
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