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Do's & Don'ts of Writing a Professional Resume
Including the essentials and avoiding the most commonly made mistakes is easier said than done, but the following compilation of resume do's and don’ts from three career experts should put you on the right track.
The Do's for your resume
Customise your resume for each application
“Cover letters and resumes should be adjusted to display all of the skills and experience that are pertinent to the job you’re applying to,” says Morgan McBride, human resource expert and managing editor at GenFKD.com
“It’s very common to get a very generic resume or cover letter and have no clear indication that the candidate has the skills I need or that they have even read the job listing,” she says.
“The candidate who is clearly interested in my firm, and who took the time to read about what I need, always stands out.”
Kandi Mensing, owner and founder of EliteHRTeam.com, notes that many job seekers miss out on the opportunity to highlight their transferable skills because they aren’t specific enough.
“Even if you were a waitress, you can highlight your abilities by mentioning how much cash you handled, whether you trained incoming staff, and if you effectively practised customer service, or ensured accuracy of orders and cash handling procedures,” she says.
Another good way to emphasise your accomplishments is to use numbers whenever possible. For instance, rather than simply saying that you managed a team, you could be more specific and say you managed a team of six.
Show the employer what you can do for them
McBride notes that too often, resumes and cover letters are all about how the candidate would be lucky to get the job – rather than how the employer would be lucky to get the candidate.
“I get so many resumes that just talk about how the job I’m offering will do so much for them – how it’s the perfect place for them to start their careers, build their resumes, and achieve all of their dreams,” she says.
“I want to know what you can do for me – not what I can do for you,” says McBride.
Use the right keywords
“A lot of resumes are electronic and employers search them based on keywords, so some will be highlighted or marked in recruiting systems for containing those keywords,” explains Mensing.
To figure out which keywords you should be using, it can help to read job postings carefully and pick out any specific terminology or words that stand out.
Of course, it also has to read well once an employer or recruiter takes the time to scrutinise it, so don’t go overboard with keywords, and keep an eye out for awkward phrasing or repetition.
Remain consistent in your writing and formatting
One thing that can be distracting in a resume is inconsistency.
“Formatting errors drive me nuts,” says McBride. “So many people do not align subtitles, bullet points, and text. In one part of the resume a title will be centered, while in another section it’s aligned to the left, and often indentations do not line up properly.”
The same goes for your writing; if you choose to describe your current position in the present tense, and prior positions in the past tense, that’s fine, but it has to be done consistently.
The DON’Ts for your resume
Include irrelevant or damaging information
It should go without saying that some information simply doesn’t belong on a resume, but there still seems to be some confusion about how much applicants should let an employer know.
Career coach and author Lavie Margolin says job seekers don’t need to share personal family information like marital status or number of children, and jobs that occurred more than 20 years or that lasted only a few months should also be left out.
“Your resume is a marketing piece as opposed to a work history,” he explains.
Of course, things like history of incarceration or controversial political or religious leanings that have nothing to do with the job should never be included.
“Provide this information if and when necessary on a job application but leave it off the resume,” advises Margolin.
Forget to include up-to-date contact information
An obvious, yet frequently overlooked section on a resume is the contact information. “Applicants sometimes leave their contact information off their resumes and/or cover letters,” says McBride. “Having contact info on every page of your application makes things easier for the hiring manager, plus it makes contacting the applicant for an interview a breeze,” she says.
Another common mistake is not updating contact information on your resume when you move or change your email address or phone number. Employers are not going to spend their precious time trying to track you down, so make sure you always include at least an up-to-date phone number and email address.
Use an unprofessional email address
Although this may seem obvious, many job seekers fail to think about what kind of image their email address is portraying to a prospective employer.
“Non-professional email addresses such as “jessicarabbit4real@” should not be on a resume,” says Margolin.
Generally your email address should just be a combination of your first and last name, and if necessary a number or two.
Use an objective.
Kandi Mensing notes that objectives are often vague and limiting. Instead she suggests highlighting your education or having a “skills and attributes” section that contains keywords that are relevant to the position you are applying for.
Use vague or overly flowery language
It’s one thing to use keywords and industry-specific language, but it’s another thing entirely to use big words and purple prose just to fill space or make your qualifications sound better than they are.
“Sometimes the language in some of the job description bullet points is so vague and/or complex that I have no idea what the candidate has done during their career - let alone whether or not it’s applicable to my company,” says Morgan McBride.
Whenever possible, use clear and concise language that conveys what you are trying to say without boring the reader.