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Resume Do’s and Don’ts 

Caroline BantonUpdated Nov 7, 20215 min

Resume Do’s and Don’ts 

Updated Nov 7, 20215 min

Resume Do’s and Don’ts 

Caroline BantonUpdated Nov 7, 20215 min

Resume Do’s and Don’ts 

Updated Nov 7, 20215 min

If you remember nothing else about resume writing, remember these three tenets: tailor your resume to each job, keep it relevant, and never lie. These rules will guide you to success when job hunting; however, there are quite a few other guidelines to follow when creating a top-notch resume for your job search.

This guide will show you how to write a resume that will outdo the competition and land you an interview. Read on for formatting, structure, phrasing, and content tips in the form of succinct do’s and don’ts.

Resume Formatting

There are three resume formats to choose from: chronological, functional, and hybrid. For details on which template to choose, read “Which Resume Format or Outline Should You Choose?” Below are some general do’s and don’ts that apply to all three resume templates.

  • Do - Use appropriate fonts and italics, a substantial margin, and a two-column format to highlight skills and education.

  • Do - Format your resume with some white space so that it is not cluttered and difficult to read.

  • Do – Be ruthless in your editing, and stick to a one-page resume.

  • Do - Include only the high points of your professional career that the hiring manager will be most interested in.

  • Do - Use simple subheadings so that the document is easily skimmed. Make subheading titles slightly larger than the normal text, which should have a font size of  10-12 pt.

  • Don’t - Try to get creative by adding color, wacky fonts, images, or graphics. It’s distracting and confusing. Save your artistic style for your online portfolio.

  • Don’t - Go for a two-page resume because you want to include all your experience. Unless you are an academic, scientist, or a professional where tenure and study are everything, the recruiter is only interested in your most recent work.

Resume Phrasing

The phrases you use in your resume can decide whether you pass the initial screening by applicant tracking systems. Your phrasing also determines whether the hiring manager is yawning before they get to the second bullet point. Here are some pointers for phrasing.

  • Do - Use buzzwords when they are keywords in the job description, or when used by most people in the industry.

  • Don’t - Use the first person. Use action words instead. Save the first person for your cover letter and email.

  • Don’t - Include keywords from the job listing verbatim. It might seem too obvious and that you don’t really have those skills. Use one word from the job description and include it in a phrase with the same meaning. For example, if the job listing for a data scientist states,

“Parse and manipulate raw, complex data streams to prepare for loading into an analytical tool,” use the terms “raw data,” analytical software,” and “data manipulation” in your resume.

  • Don’t - Use the passive voice on resumes. It is boring to read. Here’s an example.

“Revenue growth of 14 percent was realized in my department after I spearheaded new product development.”

Instead, use the active voice and power verbs. Say, “The department realized revenue growth of 14% after I spearheaded new product development.”

  • Don’t - Use the same tired action verbs like “managed” or “led” to itemize your work experience. You won't stand out. Even the phrase "communication skills" is worn out. Use a thesaurus and get creative but not obnoxious.

  • Don’t - Use the wrong verb tenses or go back and forth between tenses. If it was a past job, use the past tense. If you’re listing a current position, use the present tense

  • Don’t - Use obvious jargon or clichés. You’ll sound pompous and annoying.

  • Don’t - Use job titles Founder, Entrepreneur, CEO. With such success, why are you looking to work for someone else?

Resume Construction

Construct your professional resume in a systematic way. Do your research before you start to write anything. Below are some general guidelines followed by do’s and don’ts organized under the section headings of a typical resume. For more resume tips on the different resume sections, read, “What Resume Sections Should You Include?”

  • Do - Thoroughly read the job description and thoroughly research the company before writing.

  • Do - List your past jobs in reverse chronological order unless you are using a functional format.

  • Do - Tailor your resume to the job description. Identify relevant keywords that you find on the job description.

  • Don’t - Write your resume without a true grasp of what skills they are looking for. Read the job description and even find an insider who can give you real insights to the organization and the job.

Contact Information

  • Do - Use a professional email from a reputable provider, such as Jadon.Smith@gmail.com

  • Do check that your voicemail message is professional and your inbox is not full!

  • Don’t - Use a whimsical email address, such as hottotrot@yahoo.com. Also, don’t use a provider that seems dated, such as @aol.com (apologies to aol).

  • Don’t - Add more than one phone number in case you miss a call. Use your cell number because it’s likely to be the one you use the most.

  • Don’t - Add your street address unless the employer is seeking local candidates.

The Resume Objective Statement

  • Do - Include three key components: a strong descriptive word; years of experience; and a metric that proves the applicant’s worth. Here is an example of a resume objective.

“Adept client-facing [strong descriptive word] CPA with 3+ years of experience [years of experience] in auditing and tax accounting. Seeking an opportunity to use client-facing skills to build a client portfolio. 100% client satisfaction in past positions [metric].”

  • Do - Make your summary content a statement about what you can do for the employer. For example,

“Adept client-facing CPA with 3+ years of experience in auditing and tax accounting. Seeking an opportunity to use client-facing skills to build the client portfolio.”

  • Don’t - Use a rote objective statement for every job. Tailor the statement to reflect what the job description is really looking for.

  • Don’t - State that you have more than ten years of experience. That may put off some employers who might be biased toward younger candidates who might accept a lower salary.

  • Don’t - Make your resume objective or summary more than four sentences in length.

  • Don’t - Make it about you and what you are seeking. For example, “I hope to advance my career with a leading technology firm.” Make it about the employer and what you can do for them.

Work History

  • Do - Show your most recent and relevant experience. Include transferable skills, particularly if you are switching careers. For more details, read the article, "The Resume Summary for a Career Change."

  • Do - List achievements in chronological order unless you are using a functional resume format.

  • Do - List measurable achievements on your resume. For example, “increased revenues by 30 percent” or “reduced inventory wastage by $13,000 in six months.”

  • Don’t - Lie. You will be found out in the end when your potential employer conducts a background check. Save yourself the embarrassment.

  • Don’t - List experience that is outdated or irrelevant.

  • Don’t - Go back more than ten years unless you are a researcher, educator, or scientist where you need to show a body of work and experience. Your last two or three previous positions are enough.

Education 

  • Do - Add your high school if it is the highest education level that you’ve completed.

  • Do - Place this section right before or immediately after your resume work experience section on a chronological resume or the core capabilities section on a functional resume.

  • Do - Look through the job listing and find skills that the hiring manager is looking for. Emphasize your unique skills if they are applicable.

  • Do - Let your accomplishments speak for themselves.

  • Don’t -Include high school information unless you have just graduated high school and don’t have a university degree.

  • Don’t - Include your GPA unless it is stellar.

Core Competencies/Skills

  • Don’t - List everything that you know how to do, and don’t state the obvious. If you’re applying to a finance analyst position, Microsoft Excel should be a given. Microsoft statistical analysis software, now that’s worth noting.

  • Don’t - Add outdated skills. It will make you look obsolete.

  • Don’t - Claim to be “exceptional” or brag. You might not be able to live up to it, and you’ll appear arrogant.

Additional Sections

Some job seekers include additional sections that draw attention to other job-related achievements. 

  • Do - Use an additional section to showcase your awards, certifications, publications, presentations, or other relevant achievements.

  • Do - Include volunteer work if it is related to the job. If it is a significant source of experience in the same sector as the job, add it as a section under the heading “Volunteer Experience.”

  • Don’t - Add “hobbies” or “interests” or anything else if it is not relevant to the job.

  • Don’t - Include a references section or state “References will be provided.” That goes without saying.

Social Media 

It’s crucial to manage your social media because employers will check your profiles, particularly Linkedin.

  • Do – Update your LinkedIn vanity url so that it shows your name and occupation. For example, the url https://www.linkedin.com/in/98888000 could become https://www.linkedin.com/in/stuartwhite_data_analyst

Here’s how to change your url on LinkedIn.

  • Do - clean up your online presence. Make sure your LinkedIn profile matches the information on your resume.

  • Don’t - add all of your social media accounts, just add key handles like Twitter and LinkedIn.

Final Checks

In addition to the three tenets of resume writing—tailor your resume to each job; keep it relevant; and never lie—here are some final yet crucial tips.  

  • Do - Personalize the cover email. Include the hiring manager’s name and write a short paragraph to introduce your resume and cover letter.

  • Do – Name your resume and cover letter files sensibly. For example, “your_name_the position_resume” and “your_name_the position_cover_letter

  • Do - Proofread your documents for typos.

  • Do - Double check your resume, cover letter, and email before sending them out.

  • Do – Have someone else check your resume and job application before sending it out.

Lastly, don’t forget the cover letter. It matters. Here's guidance on "How to Write a Cover Letter."

Phew! That was a task, right? Well, don’t rest on your laurels yet. With such a great resume, you can now start preparing for those tough interview questions you’re going to face in the not-too-distant future.

Caroline Banton
Expert on career acceleration and business topics with vast experience writing for globally-recognized publications
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