Learn all about what you should and shouldn’t include on your professional resume to increase your chances of getting hired.
A recruiter only takes 60 seconds to make up their mind about your resume. In that review, even a small typo could spell the difference between getting shortlisted or rejected. They might not even read your cover letter.
It has been said that perfection is overrated. But when it comes to resumes, even one mistake is one too many. Luckily, there’s no need to lose sleep over the quality of your resume.
In this article, we’ll show you the most common resume do’s and don’ts to be aware of for successful job hunting. Follow these tips to make sure that your resume gets moved to the top of the pile.
What are resume do’s and don’ts?
What hasn’t Leonardo da Vinci pioneered? Aside from artistic masterpieces, scientific discoveries, and groundbreaking technologies, da Vinci is also credited with the first resume.
Over the next 540 years, resumes became more or less standardized. The exact qualifications, keywords, and length of your resume will, of course, vary by job or industry.
But today’s recruiters and hiring managers expect all resumes to include so-called essential sections for two reasons:
1. Applicant tracking systems (ATS) need to filter resumes before they’re read by humans. For context, 75% of resumes don’t make it past an ATS.
- When recruiters finally read a resume, these sections make it both quicker and easier for them to assess the candidate.
Studies have even determined that professionally written resumes can boost your earning potential by 7%. On the other hand, optional sections of a resume are nice to have but aren’t considered dealbreakers. Here is a list of the most common sections that fall under each category.
Essential sections of a resume:
- Personal and contact information
- Resume summary
- Work experience
- Education and credentials
Optional resume sections:
- Hobbies and interests
- Community involvement
- Personal achievements
Each section also has its own set of do’s and don’ts.
Resume do’s are resume writing best practices that signal that you are a promising candidate.
Resume don’ts are common resume writing mistakes that recruiters might turn a candidate down for.
General resume do’s and don’ts
Before we dive into any specific section, let’s go over some do’s and don’ts that apply to your resume as a whole.
- Write concise sentences. Resumes with long paragraphs are often dealbreakers. For checking your resume’s readability, we recommend Hemingway.
- Make your resume one page long, or two at max.
- Make your resume ATS-friendly by:
- Submitting a plain-text resume. The machine will skip over resumes with unreadable formatting.
- Adding job-relevant keywords that an ATS would scan for.
- Include contact details in the body of the resume rather than the header or footer. This ensures that the ATS can process this text.
- Proofread your resume before sending it out. You can use a free grammar checker like Grammarly to make sure you don’t miss anything.
- Don’t lie on your resume. If a recruiter or hiring manager catches even one lie on a candidate’s resume, they will lose out on the job. Even if nobody finds out at first, it will probably damage this person’s reputation in the long run.
- Don’t write in a passive voice. But how do you spot this? Both Hemingway and Grammarly have built-in tools that detect the use of passive voice.
- Don’t apply to jobs you don’t meet most of the qualifications for.
- Don’t stuff your resume with cliches.
You might be tempted to think that the more a recruiter knows about you, the better. But there is such a thing as too much information.
When it comes to your personal details, recruiters only need the bare minimum to:
Qualify you if the job is location-dependent.
Contact you about the status of your application.
Do a quick search to verify your identity.
- Full name
- Phone number
- Email address
- City/Town & Country of residence
- Don’t attach a photo if it’s not required.
- Don’t provide family details, such as your marital status or whether you have children.
- Date and location of birth aren’t necessary if they weren’t requested.
Make sure you read every job listing carefully to determine the exact details the recruiter has requested.
Resume summary do’s and don’ts
A resume summary is a short, punchy statement at the top of your resume that highlights your skills and achievements.
Its purpose is to grab the recruiter’s attention and make them want to continue reading your resume.
- Keep it to five sentences max but three sentences minimum.
- Incorporate your top two or three skills.
- Recap your most impressive achievement.
- Mention how many years of relevant experience you have.
- Don’t include personal pronouns. For example, “I am a detail-oriented payroll clerk” should become “Detail-oriented payroll clerk.”
- Don’t go into detail about your educational background in this section.
Work experience do’s and don’ts
Work experience is, in many ways, the make-or-break section. It sets itself apart from the other resume sections in the following ways:
1. It’s the most in-depth section, listing your previous jobs, skills, and achievements.
- It’s also the most flexible section, needing to be updated with every new credential. With the endless selection of online courses available today, you can always add to or strengthen the skills in your resume.
- Add previous positions that are relevant to the one you’re applying for now.
- Focus on your skills and achievements more than responsibilities. While your peers could mention the same responsibilities as you, your achievements are unique.
- List the most relevant skills to the job description first. If you’re applying for a management position, for example, then leadership is the first skill you should list.
- Use action words in your achievements. Examples include:
- Need more examples? Here are 40 more action verbs.
- Quantify your achievements with time, dollars, or statistics. For example: instead of “saved the company money,” you can write “decreased company expenses by 5%.”
Add hard as well as soft skills. Here are some examples:
Add less common skills that are still relevant to the job description. Examples:
- An administrative assistant with conflict resolution skills.
- A sales agent who can create videos.
- A cashier with persuasion skills.
- A truck driver who is multilingual.
- Highlight and prioritize your skills based on what the job listing is asking for.
- Don’t add all your previous job roles here, including those that are irrelevant or older than 10 years.
- Don’t add too many responsibilities or describe them in-depth. Like we mentioned above, your skills and achievements speak volumes more.
- Don’t list every skill you think you have. For example, you might be great at cooking. But unless you’re a chef, the recruiter might not understand how this skill will help you satisfy the job’s requirements.
- Don’t exaggerate your skill level or achievements. Even if this does land you an interview, you might be asked to complete a skills test or provide hard proof of your achievements.
Education do’s and don’ts
The purpose of the education section is to tell the recruiter or hiring manager whether you’ve been formally trained for this job title. But there are two problems with assigning too much importance to this:
Some people land in a career path that differs from what they studied in school.
Some people developed their hard-earned skills in the real world, not in a classroom.
Don’t sweat it, though. If your work experience section is on point, you might just be able to land an interview without having the “traditional” educational background.
- Add the highest education you’ve completed, even if that is high school or a GED.
- Include other courses and classes you took, especially if you received a certificate.
- Don’t lie about your education, such as your school, grades, or diploma.
- Don’t ist a GPA if it’s too low or not required in the job listing.
- Don’t add your high school if you have a college degree.
Optional sections do’s and don’ts
While the above sections are mandatory, only include the sections mentioned here if they bring some added value to your resume.
To recap, these are the sections that belong to this category:
- Hobbies and interests
- Community involvement
- Personal achievements
- Include hobbies and interests that are relevant to the job. If you happen to know the recruiter or follow them on social media, you can also add interests that you two have in common. For example:
- A candidate applying for an electrical job that likes to tinker with smart home devices in his spare time.
- Volunteering and other forms of community involvement can also be relevant if you explain how this experience equates to transferable skills that will work for the job. For example:
- Community involvement helps you develop soft skills like empathy, communication, and collaboration. These skills are desirable in all job roles.
Add personal achievements that display some characteristics the recruiter is looking for. For example:
- A candidate who is part of an adult soccer team that has won a few competitions. This person’s achievements convey that they are a team player.
- Don’t add a references section unless the employer asks for it in the job listing. You’re better off listing more skills and achievements to maximize the limited space in your resume.
- Don’t lie about your interests to seem more well-rounded.
What to include and avoid in your resume
Recruiters reward job seekers whose resumes look professional. Poorly written resumes don’t even make it past applicant tracking systems.
This article will help you make sure your resume gets read and appreciated by human eyes.
You can reference it as you’re drafting your resume or use it as a checklist before you hit send. Either way, these tips will increase your chances of getting shortlisted in your next job application and help you make sure that you hear back from the recruiter.
If you want a handy tool that automatically creates all the essential sections of your resume, essentially forming a template that will improve your job search, try Jobcase’s Resume Generator.