Important Resume Do’s and Don’ts

Rachel Schneebaum

I’m going to list and briefly describe some common mistakes job seekers make when writing their resumes; I’ll also list and briefly describe some important things to keep in mind while writing your resume. This article is meant to be a sort of checklist that you can refer back to at any point during your resume writing/job searching process. Read it before starting your resume so that you have a sense of some good (and bad!) practices right off the bat; go back to it when starting a new section in your resume or adding to an existing section; check it again before sending off your job application, to make sure you’ve done all the good things and avoided the bad. (For more detailed information about any of the advice in this article, check out the full list of resume resources on this site!)

Resume Structure

Don’t:
Worry too much about that commonly quoted “rule” that a resume can’t ever be longer than one page. If you have a lot of important experience, skills, and achievements (especially if you’re applying for a job in, say, senior management), it’s ok to go on to a second page. If you need two pages for all your awesome qualifications, use two pages: a two-page resume is easier to read and therefore better than a one-page resume where you’ve squeezed in all the same information using minuscule margins, microscopic font, and barely differentiable sections. However,

Don’t:
End up with a resume that’s longer than two pages. If you’ve got a five-page resume, odds are that you don’t really have five pages’ worth of important and relevant qualifications (unless you’re a doctor or academic writing a CV, for example—there are a few exceptions). Instead, it’s more likely that you’ve included skills that have nothing to do with the job you want, listed every part-time position you’ve ever worked since you started high school, and so on. It’s important to be concise and focused in your resume: your aim should be to catch an employer’s attention and then hold that attention long enough to demonstrate your excellent qualifications. In order to do this, your resume needs to present all information as clearly and quickly as possible. So, on this note,

Do:
Consider writing your resume in the form of a bulleted list. This is a very reader-friendly style that many employers prefer. Keeping your information in list form can also be a helpful tool for you while writing: you can easily check each bullet point to make sure it includes only crucial information. Delete all unnecessary words; don’t let any bullet point grow too long and unwieldy. Writing your resume as a reader-friendly bulleted list, though, doesn’t mean that you have to make it boring and identical to the piles of other resumes submitted for the same job. This means,

Don’t:
Use one of Microsoft Word’s resume templates, for example. These templates may be designed for readability, but they also make your resume look exactly the same as the many other Microsoft template resumes submitted by many other applicants. If you can, make your resume’s design original (this is especially important if you’re applying for a job in design or another creative field!). However, this isn’t a hard and fast requirement:

Don’t:
sacrifice readability for design. If your unique, original, and beautiful design is impossible to read, don’t use it. A template resume might be boring to look at, but it’s your skills and qualifications that are most important: your resume’s content can make it stand out even if its design looks like everyone else’s.

Resume Content

Don’t:

Lie in your resume. Ever. Best case scenario, you end up in a position that you’re completely unqualified for, where you’re expected to perform tasks that you have absolutely no idea how to do. You’re probably fired and end up back at square one. Worst case scenario, the employer calls one of your references and learns that you lied: now, you’re guaranteed never to be considered for a job at that company (or even in that industry, if the employer warns other hiring managers about you).

However, there are cases where you might think you don’t have one of the qualifications required, but in fact your experience and skills in another field turn out to be nearly identical to that qualification. In these cases,

Do:
Describe the skills you have in the same kind of language as the listed job requirements. In these sorts of cases, you aren’t lying; you’re taking advantage of your transferable skills.

Further good and bad practices to keep in mind:

DON’T:

  • Focus on skills and qualifications that you don’t want to use in future, or skills and qualifications that have nothing to do with the job you’re applying for.
  • Focus on job duties or responsibilities.
  • Use “weak” phrases such as “worked at…” or “was responsible for…”
  • List work you did more than 15 years ago; or include high school in your education information; or talk about any other information that’s irrelevant or potentially perceived as irrelevant (hobbies, for example).
  • Leave out information about dates and/or locations when listing past work experience and education.
  • Include a list of references.

DO:

  • Start your resume off with a strong focal point, and keep the rest of the resume related to that focal point.
  • Focus on skills and qualifications that are specifically mentioned in the job description and/or skills and qualifications that you’re particularly interested in using in your new job.
  • Focus on achievements and accomplishments; describe your achievements using numerical information and/or superlatives whenever possible.
  • Use strong verb phrases; use nouns and noun phrases that are position- or company-specific and likely to be used as search terms—that is, take advantage of keywords.
  • List all past positions you worked and schools you attended in reverse chronological order. List all information about each position and school in order of importance to the reader.
  • Provide your contact information.

And, of course, never forget to proofread!

About The Author

Rachel Schneebaum

Rachel Schneebaum is a PhD candidate in philosophy, with a graduate minor in cognitive science, at the University of Arizona. She graduated from Williams College in 2009 with Bachelor of Arts degrees in both English and Philosophy. Rachel hopes to more effectively help students decide on, prepare for, and eventually succeed at their dream jobs.

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