Resume Do’s and Don’ts Every Job Seeker Should Know
Before we get into Resume Do’s and Don’ts, let’s go over the purpose of a resume. The purpose of a resume is to provide a summary of your skills, abilities and accomplishments. It is a quick advertisement of who you are – not an autobiography. It is also a “snapshot” of you with the intent of capturing and emphasizing interests and secure you an interview. Since your resume is a primary tool in your job search, it needs to be carefully written and critiqued. Below are tips on resume do’s and don’ts when writing your resume.
Showing Off Your Experience – Resume Do’s and Don’ts
- Don’t 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.
- Do Consider a Summary Statement
A summary statement, which consists of a couple lines at the beginning of your resume that give 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.
- Do Create a Master Resume
Remember rule number one on tailoring your resume? Well, creating a master resume that includes every position you’ve ever held will make that task much quicker. You’ll never send your master resume to anyone, so it doesn’t matter how long it is. Just write out each and every job experience you’ve ever had. With all of the possible corresponding bullet points.
Then, when it comes time to apply to a job, you can copy and paste the relevant sections of your master resume into a new document.
- Do Highlight Your Most Relevant Experiences
Rule #1 of resume writing is that you should be turning in a different version for each role you apply to, tailored and targeted to the position. After all, your resume should demonstrate you have the specific set of skills, experience, and accomplishments necessary to do the job—not just a set. Make it easy for the hiring manager to see why you’re the right fit.
- Don’t Freak Out if You Have No Relevant Experience
Whether you’re fresh out of college or switching to a brand-new industry, you can help bolster your lack of relevant work experience by listing your transferable skills, related side projects, and relevant coursework.
- Do Optimize for Applicant Tracking Systems
Many large organizations (and even some smaller ones) use applicant tracking systems to weed out unqualified applicants. The systems scan your resume for contextual keywords and phrases, mathematically scoring them for relevance and sending only the most qualified ones through for human review.
As you can guess, this strategy isn’t perfect. To ensure your resume makes it past the ATS and into the hands of a human, keep your formatting simple, include the right keywords (but don’t go overboard), and quadruple check for spelling mistakes.
- Don’t Steal the Job Description’s Exact Wording
That said, you shouldn’t take exact phrases straight from the job description. If a company says it’s looking for candidates who “learn rapidly” and “have a diverse knowledge of programming languages,” your skills section shouldn’t read “learns rapidly” and “has a diverse knowledge of programming languages.”
- Do Use Data
You’ve probably heard that recruiters love reading resume bullets with numbers, like “Increased sales in Northern region by 300%.” And they do! So use them whenever possible.
- Do Include Soft Skills, Too!
Soft skills consist of a combination of people, social, and communication skills, character traits, attitudes, and mindsets, as well as social and emotional characteristics, among others, which are sought for in all professions.
- 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.
- 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 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.
- Do Show How You Moved Up (or Around) at Past Companies
It can be tempting (and more simple) to combine multiple roles at one company. However, 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.
- 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!
- Do Tell the Truth
For obvious reasons, anything that’s not 100% true doesn’t belong on your resume.
Choosing Your Words Carefully – Resume Do’s and Don’ts
- Do Use Real 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.”
- Do 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.
- 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.
- Don’t list a quirky email address on your resume. Employers generally don’t want to ask “email@example.com” or “firstname.lastname@example.org” in for an interview. Instead, create a separate account for professional purposes.
- 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.
Making it Look Amazing – Resume Do’s and Don’ts
- Do Consider a Creative Resume
Resumes that look like infographics, data visualizations, or even multimedia presentations can be a great way to stand out. Check out some great options here. (This is generally a better option when applying to smaller, more creative shops.)
- 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 that the information is easy to digest.
- Do Make 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, use bold or italic text, a slightly larger font, to help ensure this information is findable.
- Don’t Go Overboard With 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.
- Do Align Your Dates and Locations to the Right
This small change will make your resume way easier on the eyes. You should be able to make a “column” of dates and locations for each job by creating a right tab.
- 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).
- Don’t Send it as a Word Document
Sending your resume as a .doc file will likely result in all of the formatting getting messed up once it’s opened. Save your final version as a PDF to ensure everything stays as is.
Getting it Written – Resume Do’s and Don’ts
- 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.
- Don’t Forget to Spell Check
And proofread. Multiple times…
In polling company executives, 84% said it takes just one or two typographical errors in a resume to remove a candidate from consideration for a job opening. Also, 47% said a single typo could be the deciding factor. So, ask a few close friends to review your resume before sending it out. They may spot problems your spell-check function didn’t catch.
TIP: Use editing software like Grammarly or Hemingway to catch any obvious grammatical or spelling mistakes.