Ultimate Resume Writing Dos and Don’ts
By JR Hindman
After years of working in the executive staffing and recruiting industry, collaborating with countless hiring managers and human resource administrators across various industries, I acquired a thorough understanding of what these individuals were looking for in potential job candidates. I began to see patterns, consistencies, universal tendencies, and I began to see just how important a good resume really is.
As a point of fact, hiring managers only spend around 15 seconds perusing over a new resume and they are really only looking for a couple of things when they do. They’re on autopilot, for the most part. They want to know:
1) Who have you worked for?
2) Have you had steady employment?
3) What notable achievements and recognitions have you had throughout your career?
4) What do you have to offer which will meet with their specific needs?
An effective resume will answer those questions with a minimal amount of effort and, as with any effective marketing tool, it will also leave the reader wanting to know more. You want to give them just enough info to prompt them into action. That’s when they pick up the phone and call you for an interview!
So your resume is your professional introduction. It’s your only chance to make a memorable first impression and I can tell you right now that if you do not take your resume seriously, then your resume will never be TAKEN seriously. It really is that simple.
Now, if you feel you are capable and qualified to write a compelling and dynamic resume, then by all means give it a shot. However, if you’re not extremely confident in your skills as a writer and/or marketer, I would sincerely recommend you hook up with a professional resume writer to help you craft the perfect resume for you. A seasoned veteran in these matters can be an invaluable resource. After all, I trust my mechanic to work on my car because he works on cars all day, every day. Well there are people out there who work on resumes all day, every day…so trust us!
For those who are convinced they have what it takes, this article should help you with some of the finer points. Although job markets and technologies are always changing, there are some things which are fairly universal and constitute the basic principles of a winning resume. To guide you along, I have compiled a comprehensive list of resume writing Do’s and Don’ts, complete with secret tricks of the trade as well as a collection of common mistakes people make. So pay close attention, take my advice into consideration, and you’ll be on your way to landing that dream job in no time!
Misrepresent the Truth – Lying on your resume is never a good idea. You don’t want to start a professional relationship based on the misrepresentation of facts. Just as you would hope the employer is not lying to you about the job requirements, salary, etc, they expect you are not lying to them about your background and/or skill sets. It’s the decent and respectable way to conduct yourself and there is no room for dishonesty in the workplace because, sooner or later, these things always have a tendency to come to the surface. Remember: The truth shall set you free!
Use Slang or Jargon – You need to be as professional as possible in the context of your resume if you expect to be taken seriously as a professional. For this reason, you should avoid using familiar lingo, slang, or jargon in your resume. The exception to this rule is when using very industry-specific terminology to describe your particular skills. This can actually help to lend you credit as a knowledgeable individual and an expert in your field, but your such terms wisely and tactfully.
Include a Picture – Unless you’re a model or in a professional dependent on physical attributes, I always advise against putting your picture on your resume. In my experience, it can do more harm than good. So keep the formatting of the resume simple and let the hiring manager use their imagination until they call you in for an interview. Plus, your looks should have nothing to do with your professionalism or the credentials qualifying you for the position. In the business world (even legally), your appearance should have no value as a selling point for you as a competent job candidate.
Include Irrelevant Info (AKA “Fluff”) – If it’s not important, don’t add it to your resume. If you were a cook 10 years ago but now you’re looking for a job in retail management, don’t clutter up your resume with irrelevancy. Try to put yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager and ask yourself what they would see as important. How does your background correspond with their needs as an employer? Anything else is fluff. Don’t add your hobbies to your resume. Don’t add your references (if they want them, they’ll ask at the appropriate time). And don’t include your high school education either. Finally, don’t be redundant and repeat yourself throughout the context of your resume. It’s OK to reinforce themes, but don’t push it. If your title has been Branch Manager at each of your past three companies, find a way to differentiate each of these positions and highlight your most notable accomplishments. Don’t just copy and paste the line “Managed a team of branch employees” three times. That will get you nowhere.
Include a Core Competencies Section – I find Core Competency sections to be fairly worthless in a professional resume and I’ll tell you why: It doesn’t matter if you’re a waitress, an administrative assistant, a nurse, a teacher, or a sales executive – it doesn’t matter what kind of background you have – anyone can describe themselves as “Self-Motivated”. Anyone can say they are “Goal Oriented” and “Results-Driven” and everyone has “Strong Verbal and Written Skills” when they’re applying for a job. I can say with some degree of certainty that the majority of hiring managers and HR administrators skip right past a Core Competencies section and with good reason. The key to a successful resume is in SHOWING a manager how you are “Results-Driven” and “Goal Oriented” instead of just TELLING them! Your accomplishments speak volumes, let them do the talking. If you are going to include a Core Competencies section, make sure it’s unique and adds value. Again, vagueness will often work against you here because it cheapens the experience of reading your resume.
Rely on Templates or Sample Resumes – If you are surfing the web and looking for a good resume sample or template to use as a guideline for your own resume, make sure the sample you settle on is appropriate considering your background, the industry you’re in, and your career intentions. Because when it comes right down to it, different styles of resumes should be employed in different industries. By way of illustration, a computer programmer’s resume will vary greatly from that of a sushi chef. They both have very different skill sets which need to be highlighted in very different ways in order to be effective. If both those individuals tried to write their resumes in the same format, it would be a disaster. Hiring authorities, respectively, each have their own expectations and some resume formats are better than others at addressing those individual expectations.
Write a Novel and Call it a Resume – I repeat: Do NOT write a novel and call it a resume. Too many people make this mistake. They want to write this wordy, drawn-out thesis outlining their life story and their career aspirations. They have all these skills and accomplishments and they want to include them all in there somewhere, but the problem is most people just don’t know when to stop. Don’t be afraid to leave out some of the details and explore those further in the interview process. My advice is to highlight only those aspects of your background which are most applicable for the job, or types of jobs, you are planning to apply for.
Limit Yourself to One Page – In contrast to the last point, you may not want to limit yourself to a 1-page resume. A common misconception is that a professional resume HAS to be one page. However, that’s not really the case these days. I while back, before the miracles of technology, I may have agreed. But now that most resumes are being read on a computer screen versus on paper, there’s no need to limit yourself in such a way. Those who try to cram all their info on 1-page resume usually resort to smaller font and zero spacing. When viewed on screen, this is not an attractive format and it’s hard to read. Now, I’m not saying you should write a 20-page catalogue of your experiences, nor am I advocating the use of size 20 font. Instead, I would say 12-14 size font should suffice and I recommend you keep it at two pages. That leaves plenty of room to say what needs to be said. Of course, if you have limited experience then a 1-page resume will do just fine.
Use Bullet Points – When it comes time to explain your experiences in your resume, use bullet points to outline your accomplishments. It is much easier to read and even easier to skim, which is what hiring managers are doing most of the time anyways. Bullet points draw attention to important information. They are also visually appealing and make the information seem more accessible to the reader. So keep them short and meaningful. Some people opt for a short paragraph explaining their duties and responsibilities, followed by bullet points highlighting their most notable achievements. This too is acceptable, just make sure to keep that paragraph very succinct and avoid any redundancies as well.
Have a Strong Objective Statement – Although this is a matter of some debate these days, I firmly believe a strong, concise Objective Statement can go a long way. First off, it immediately tells the reader what job you are applying for. That can be a big deal when you’re submitting your resume to a HR representative who has their hands full with many different job openings. Recruiters as well. And if you’re a senior manager, you don’t want to get thrown in the pile with the mail clerks, right? Not only that, but an effective Objective Statement will briefly summarize your qualifications so a hiring manager can make an instantaneous decision whether or not to keep reading. They do that anyways, so why not address their needs in the intro and add value by showing them what you have to offer right off the bat. Remember, I’m only talking about one sentence here. One sentence to market yourself. Once sentence to spark their interest. You don’t want to give the reader too much to think about, rather you want them to proceed on and read the rest of your resume. So grab their attention, establish your professional identity, show them your value, and let them move on to the good stuff!
Choose the Right Format – One thing you need to remember is that there is not one universal formatting methodology because, in truth, there is no cookie-cutter way of writing a resume. What works best for one person may not be best for another. Some people will benefit from a Chronological resume whereas that format may be detrimental to someone who has jumped around a lot in their career. The only thing I can suggest is that you do your homework. Know the different types of resumes (Chronological, Functional, Targeted, and Combination) and know the distinct merits of each. Then make an informed decision as to which style is best for you. If you are surfing the web and looking for a good resume sample or template to use as a guideline for your own resume, make sure the sample you settle on is appropriate considering your background, the industry you’re in, and your career intentions.
Cut to the Chase – Don’t waste time…get to the good stuff. As I said before, a hiring manager will most often skim, scan, and glance over a resume. Keep in mind that they have specific questions in mind when they review a resume for the first time and they expect specific answers. One of the most important questions they are asking is: “Who has this person worked for in the past?” For this reason, I always suggest that serious job seekers highlight their experiences first and foremost. Right below your one-sentence Objective Statement you should transition into and Experience section. In this section you should list your past employers, the years you worked for them, your job titles, and a brief description of your duties there. Of course, this may not be the best approach for some people. If your background is heavily dependent on your academic experience, then you may want to jump into that first.
Focus on Your Target – My reasons for saying this are as follows: An unfocused resume sends a very clear message that you are unfocused about your career. And a hiring authority doesn’t want to see that. They want to see that you have career goals and that those aspirations correspond with their needs as an employer. So keep in mind that a customized resume, modified for a specific position, is always preferable to a generalized and vague resume. If you’re serious enough about a job then you should take the extra time and effort to tailor a resume to that job’s requirements. I assure you your efforts will not go unnoticed.
Be Articulate and Grammatically Exact – In my humble opinion, it’s of the utmost importance to be eloquent within the context of your resume and to make sure you’re using proper grammar and syntax. For your current job description, use the present tense. For past jobs, use past tense. This seems like a no-brainer, but again you’d be surprised at how many people make this mistake. Being articulate can go a long way as well. Most hiring managers will consider it a plus if you can convey your level of intelligence in your written communications. So don’t be afraid to break out the thesaurus and make sure you have someone else edit your resume before you send it out to potential employers. That’s imperative!
K.I.S.S. – A wiser man than me once made this bold statement and it’s extremely applicable when writing your resume: Keep It Simple, Stupid! Too many people make too much of an effort to “stand out from the pack” and in doing so they may unwittingly be hurting themselves. In some professions, such as the creative design field, it may be advantageous to show your originality and imagination, but in other business fields this kind of flamboyancy in a resume is unnecessary and can actually be injurious to your cause. In terms of formatting, the same holds true. I have found that people tend to have much more success when they opt for an uncomplicated formatting style. Some people still want to get all jazzed up with pictures and text boxes and funky font, but that’s just fluff. It’s noise. It is irrelevant to the purpose of your resume, which is to sell yourself through highlighting your skills and accomplishments. And hiring managers see right through that!
Take Your Resume Seriously – As previously stated, if you don’t take your resume seriously then your resume will not be TAKEN seriously. If you choose not to work with a professional, then at the very least have an impartial third-party edit it for you and give you some constructive feedback. This is for your own sake. What happens when you accidentally type “Manger” instead of “Manager”? Do you think Spell Check is going to bail you out? Whatever you do, don’t send it out to potential employers without having someone else look it over. Some people just need to swallow their pride because when it comes right down to it, you may be the best at what you do, but if you don’t write resumes for a living then chances are there’s someone out there more qualified to write your resume than you are. Please consider that if you’re serious about being taken seriously!
So there it is…everything you need to know about writing your resume. I sincerely wish you the best of luck in your endeavors and feel free to contact me if you ever need any assistance. I’m here to help!
JR Hindman is a freelance resume writer and career counselor with an extensive background in executive staffing and recruiting. He is currently the President of BudgetResumeBuilder.com, a website for entry-level candidates and job-seekers with less than 10 years of industry experience, as well as ProResumeBuilder.com which caters to more tenured professionals and managers.