If you follow this checklist of “Resume Do’s and Don’t’s,” you will be following the resume preferences of a large majority of hiring managers and recruiters. I know this because I frequently talk to them and I constantly assess how they decide which job applicants to invite to interviews. I have also been a hiring manager and recruiter myself so I have screened hundreds of resumes.
Note that these “Resume Do’s and Don’t’s” are specific to the United States. Other countries are likely to have different workplace norms.
DO decide on a clear career focus. If your resume seems scattered or overly generalist, you are doing yourself a disservice because hiring managers will likely rule you out for everything.
DO communicate your career focus by including a “Career Summary” or “Profile Summary” section at the top of your resume. This section should clearly communicate what type of professional you are and what you have to offer. (See the examples farther down the page for how this looks).
DO pursue positions for which you are clearly qualified. If you don’t meet 80% or more of a job’s required qualifications, either focus your job search on networking (because then connections may trump career history) OR do some things (education, professional organization membership, volunteer work, etc.) to increase your marketability before launching a job search.
DO include your city, state, phone number, and email address. It is fine to omit a street address because of identity theft concerns.
DO use a font like Helvetica or Calibri in 10 or 12 point size.
DO use a professional email address, preferably something simple like your name: firstname.lastname@example.org. By “professional,” I don’t mean something like email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
DO quantify your accomplishments whenever possible. If you say you “increased customer satisfaction,” a hiring manager is likely to wonder, “How do you know?” My favorite way to quantify accomplishments is described by Laszlo Bock, Google’s Senior Vice President of People Operations. He is in charge of all Google’s hiring and hires 100 people per week. Bock says the best way to describe accomplishments is to write, “…Accomplished X, relative to Y, by doing Z.” For example, instead of writing, “Wrote editorials for The New York Times,” Bock recommends to write, “Had 50 op-eds published compared to average of 6 by most op-ed [writers].” (Source: BusinessInsider.com.)
DO vary your action verbs and use more powerful words than, “Responsibilities included,” or, “Duties were…” From The Muse, here’s a good list of action verbs for resumes.
DO use formatting aids like headers and bullets to break up the text for readability. (But make a plain text version, too, if you plan to copy and paste this material into online applications – you don’t want formatting characters to look ugly if an employer is viewing the end result).
DO try to limit your resume to one page or two at the most if you are highly experienced. Three starts to look more like a CV, which is only appropriate for academic or research science jobs.
DO describe your previous companies if they are not well-known organizations. For example, if you worked for a small human resource management consulting company called “Henderson and Co.,” you could write in the accomplishments section, “For this boutique human resource consulting company specializing in benefits and retention, managed four client accounts…”
DO include hobbies and community service. Here’s a good instruction guide from ResumeLab about how to do this.
DO convert your resume to a PDF file if you are going to email it to a hiring manager. On a Mac, you can print to PDF. If you are on a different type of platform, you can use a free online resource like FreePDFConvert.com or PDFConverter. However, if you are sending your resume to a recruiter or a company that uses an applicant tracking system, send a Word document instead. Many types of recruiting software don’t read PDF documents as well as they read Word documents, and recruiters want to be able to take notes on the document and potentially edit it for submittals.
DO write a cover letter to send with your resume. You never know if a particular recruiter ignores or loves cover letters, so why take a chance by neglecting to send one?
DO invest in a professional resume writer if creating a resume is something you dread or if you know that you will have difficulty completing the task well.
DO consider including your middle initial on your name. (See research about why).
DON’T use a Microsoft Word resume template unless you resolve any potential formatting problems. Kristen Fife, a Seattle area recruiter and resume writer says, “The resume templates you find in Word tend to waste a lot of valuable white space, but even more frustrating is the fact that many Applicant Tracking Systems translate documents into .txt files, and the template formatting can make a resume virtually unreadable because of the embedded coding within the document.”
DON’T lie or grossly exaggerate your accomplishments. Tell the truth.
DON’T try to use a “one size fits all” resume. You will increase your odds of a successful job search by tailoring your resume for particular jobs.
DON’T use personal pronouns like “I” or refer yourself in the third person (“Mr. Becker is an experienced manager.”). Both of these things irritate hiring managers and recruiters.
DON’T choose fluffy adjectives or phrases like “great with people” or “dynamic executive.” Prove your characteristics with measurable accomplishments.
DON’T list everything you have ever done no matter how irrelevant to the job you are pursuing. Focus your resume by including content that helps market you for the specific position for which you are using this resume.
DON’T write a functional resume unless you have very, very carefully thought about your reasons for doing so and you still think it is a good idea. Most hiring managers and recruiters hate functional resumes. See: “Beware the Functional Resume.” (Tip: A combination resume accomplishes the same things a functional resume might but without the pitfalls.)
DON’T list information about religion, politics, or social causes unless you using this information to screen for employers who are a good match for your specific affiliations and causes.
DON’T reveal personal data such as a photo, height, weight, ethnicity, marital status, health status, etc. Some of this data can expose employers to legal liability because of U.S. EEO law, and even for information that isn’t illegal to include (such as height or weight), hiring managers don’t expect to see these characteristics on resumes.
DON’T list references on your resume or use valuable space to say, “References available on request.” You can submit references on a separate page once you are asked for them.
DON’T send your resume until several colleagues and friends have proofed it for grammatical and spelling errors. Try to choose people for whom writing is a strength.
DON’T let this list of “Resume Do’s and Don’t’s” cause you stress! It may take some time to learn the “Resume Do’s and Don’t’s” preferred by hiring decision-makers, but the payoff is that by learning these guidelines, you are much more likely to land a job sooner and you can then turn your attention to more rewarding endeavors than job searching, like enjoying your new job!
CASE STUDY: One frustrated job seeker wrote to me because her resume wasn’t succeeding in landing job interviews for her. She was trying to use her resume to facilitate a career change but it wasn’t working well. I interviewed a panel of industry and employment experts to obtain advice for her. Read what they had to say about resume writing for career change.