12 Resume Do's And Don'ts You Need To Know

If your resume is relevant and polished enough to impress the hiring manager, you'll land an interview — and maybe even the job. But if it doesn't make an impact, or worse, seems generic or sloppy? Well, you're back at square one.

This list of straightforward resume do's and don'ts will help you craft a resume that's destined for the top of the pile. 

Resume Do's To Stand Out From The Competition

There's a lot that your resume needs to accomplish. It's your introduction, your basic profile, and your elevator pitch all at once. It's a tall order—especially for a one or two-page document. 

So, let's start by focusing on what you absolutely should be doing on your resume. Here are a few ways to set your resume (and yourself) up for success in your job hunt. 

1. Do Tailor Your Resume For Each Job

"Tailor your resume" is common advice for job seekers and for good reason: Hiring managers (or even applicant tracking systems) are scanning resumes for relevance. They want to find the candidates that are the best match for the open role.

That means your goal is to present yourself as a no-brainer fit for that position — and that's almost impossible to do with a generic document that you're sending to everybody.

But what does it actually mean to tailor your resume? Don't panic—it's pretty simple. Take a fine-tooth comb to the job description and pull out any skills, qualifications, or keywords that you see emphasized or repeated. For example, you might see that they mention "communication" or "communicator" several times throughout the description. 

Now, provided you honestly possess those qualifications, find places to incorporate them in your own resume — like your summary, skills section, or even in your past job responsibilities.

Basically, it's your job to connect the dots between what you bring to the table and what the job requires. Tailoring your resume is the best way to do so. 

2. Do Focus On Relevance

One of the biggest struggles people face with their resumes is keeping them short (which we'll talk about in detail a little later). They feel like they need to cram their entire life story and career history into the document, just in case it's a nugget that impresses the employer. 

Remember though, the most successful and impactful resumes are the ones that focus on relevance. They draw parallels between the job duties and your own experiences.

So, as you work on each resume, make relevance your primary goal. When you're applying for a Sales Development Representative position, absolutely include your past sales position, your expertise with Salesforce, and your top-notch relationship-building skills. Your previous part-time job at your college campus' coffee shop? It probably doesn't need to be there. 

3. Do Use Bullet Points And Sentence Fragments

Writing a resume feels a little counterintuitive. You need to toss out everything you learned in English class and write in bullet points and sentence fragments.

Traditional career advice will tell you that hiring managers only look at your resume for six or seven seconds before deciding how to move forward. So, your document needs to be as skimmable and scannable as possible.

That means ditching long paragraphs and big blocks of text and instead working in plenty of: 

  • Bullet points
  • Clear section headers (like "Education" and "Career History")
  • Sentence fragments
  • White space between sections 

>> Read More: How many bullet points should I list per job on a resume?

4. Do Mix Up Your Verbs

As you work on your bullet points describing your previous job duties, remember this rule: Every single bullet point should start with a verb (that's an action word, if you need a quick grammar refresher).

But even so, you don't want your bullets to end up looking like this:

  • Assisted with migrating all 85,000 of our customer contacts to a new CRM
  • Assisted with planning our annual customer conference with over 3,500 attendees
  • Assisted with overhauling our retention strategies to reduce churn by 12%

See how starting with the same verb over and over again starts to seem bland and repetitive? Instead, pull out a thesaurus and see how you can mix things up. Aim to have a different verb for each bullet point to keep your resume fresh and action-oriented. Also, avoid common buzzwords and cliches that might make your resume look unoriginal.

5. Do Quantify Your Achievements

Did you notice something about the example bullet points in the previous section? They included numbers—lots of numbers.

It's smart to quantify your experiences and accomplishments wherever you can on your resume. Employers don't just want you to talk the talk—they want to know you can walk the walk too. Incorporating real results and numbers helps you go beyond generic claims.

For example, you decide which one of these sounds more impressive:

  • Offered ideas to reduce customer churn
  • Reduced customer churn by 12% during Q4 by increasing our contact with customers in the three months leading up to their billing and renewal

Resume Don'ts That Land You In The Recycling Bin

You're feeling pretty confident about what you should do. What about the resume mistakes you should stay far away from?

Here are six different resume mistakes that should stay off your document — so you can stay out of the recruiter's trash bin. 

1. Don't Forget To Proofread 

Listen, you aren't perfect and a single typo likely won't knock you out of the running for a job. But, a resume that's riddled with errors will make you look sloppy and like you didn't invest the necessary time and energy into polishing your application.

Make sure you dedicate some time to editing and proofreading before you send out your resume.

Share it with a trusted friend who can review it with a fresh set of eyes. Or, try reading it backwards—from the bottom to the top. That forces your brain to focus on each sentence so you won't skip over any mistakes. 

2. Don't Neglect Your Contact Information

Most people approach their resumes like this: They dig up one they put together ages ago and then make some updates from there.

Of course, you need to add your more recent jobs and experiences. But, don't forget to also take a close look at the contact information at the top of your document.

Is that phone number still correct? Do you still reside in the same city? Is your college email address still listed and should be swapped out?

Remember, that information is what employers will use to get in touch with you—so you need to triple-check that it's accurate. 

3. Don't Miss Updates

While we're talking about making updates, if you're starting from an older resume, make sure you revise all of the other sections too.

Does your education section still list an anticipated graduation date, even though you've now officially obtained your degree? Are you missing a recent position—or maybe even several? All of that more up-to-date information should be added.

As you update your past positions, remember to pay close attention to updating your verb tense as well. Any jobs you no longer have should use past tense (for example, "managed") while current jobs should use present tense ("manage"). 

4. Don't Make It Too Long

We've already mentioned that hiring managers won't dedicate too much time to reviewing your document—and, as a result, you want to keep it short. But how short? 

One page is ideal. That doesn't mean size-six font and non-existent resume margins. You still want easy-to-read text and enough white space to balance things out.

If you absolutely can't fit everything on one page? Two pages will work. However, your second page should be at least half full. If you only have a few straggling lines on a second page, then you need to work harder to keep trimming and get everything on a single page. 

5. Don't Include Your References

Since you're working with limited real estate on your resume, you don't need to waste space including your references there.

Instead, put them on a separate, polished document. Copy and paste your name and contact information from your resume to the top of a new sheet (you want all of your career documents to match!) and then list your reference contact details. You can share that document when you need to.

While you're at it, there's no need to say "references available upon request" (or anything similar) on your resume. Hiring managers already assume that, if they ask for them, you'll provide them. 

6. Don't Send a Word Doc

After all of that polishing and double-checking, you're ready to send your document. But, before you do, make sure you save and send it as a PDF — not a Word document.

Unless specifically requested to send your resume in another format, PDFs are best for two reasons:

  1. It's not editable, whereas Word documents are.
  2. It won't underline any perceived errors — which are pretty common in a document that likely uses a lot of proper nouns, jargon, acronyms, and sentence fragments.

7. Don't Make Your Name Take Up Too Much Space

Your name actually isn't the most important part of your resume. Recruiters will spend more time scanning your work experience, skills, and education.

Some applicant tracking systems even hide non-essential information — such as a person's name — to combat bias.

To keep it simple, your name should be listed at the top of your resume and in an easy-to-read font. Don't make it much larger than the rest of your resume contents. Focus on what matters most: your relevant experience and your skills.

Use Your Resume To Make The Right Impression

Your resume is your golden ticket during your job search — it's what gets you through the door and one step closer to the job.

Making sure your document is as polished and impressive as possible can take some effort. This list of resume do's and don'ts will help you pull together a document that lands at the top of the pile. 

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Kat Boogaard

Kat Boogaard

Kat is a freelance writer focused on the world of work. When she's not at her computer, you'll find her with her family—which includes two adorable sons and two rebellious rescue mutts.

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