Resume Writing Dos and Don’ts

As a professional resume writer, I’ve had the opportunity to see (and fix) a lot of poorly written resumes. As a career and job interview coach, I’ve fielded lots of questions about how to write a great resume.

Just the word resume strikes fear in job seekers. They ask me, “Will mine stand out from the pack? Will it accurately portray my skills and personality?” These are common concerns.

Here’s a basic list of dos and don’ts. If you follow these basic guidelines, your resume should be quite respectable. However, if a prospective employer offers an “informational interview,” by all means bring in your resume for feedback, listen carefully and take notes, and then revise your resume accordingly.

• Include an executive summary at the top of your resume, which is a brief list of your qualifications and experience. This gives a quick snapshot of you.
• Have an objectives statement. This is a short (1-2 sentences) statement of what you’re seeking. Write it from the perspective of how it will benefit your employer.
• Use strong verbs. If necessary, pick up a thesaurus to find alternatives to weak or boring words such as do, use, work, help, lead, serve. You don’t need to avoid these, but don’t use them repetitively.
• Include objective measures of your success, sales results, and numbers wherever possible.
• Show your promotability, which includes such things as skills and talents that aren’t necessarily related to your position, development courses you’ve taken or plan to take, or degrees, such as an MBA, you’re pursuing or plan to pursue.
• Stick with one page, if possible, especially if you are less than 10 years out.
• Make use of plentiful white space and normal-size type. Make every word count so you can avoid cramming too much information onto the page, which is unpleasant for the interviewer to read.

• Don’t write an objectives statement that only says what YOU want. Make sure it mentions your benefit to the employer. Bad: “To get a position as a salesperson…” Good: “To leverage my contacts and networking ability to help the company grow their customer base and increase sales revenues…”
• Don’t overuse adjectives. No need to say you did interesting work, challenging assignments, or earned an excellent reputation. Let your record embroider the facts, not flowery language.
• Don’t mix up your tenses. Instead, use one tense (generally past tense) even for current jobs.
• Don’t use the word “I”–ever.
• Don’t put “References available upon request” unless you’ve been laid off or let go and don’t want a prospect calling everyone you’ve ever worked for. If you haven’t been laid off, that line is a red flag to employers.
• Don’t be creative–even in a creative field. No yellow paper, no cute touches, no funky typefaces. Yes, we all hear about the video resume accompanied by music that landed the guy or gal a peachy position. Lucky them. That probably won’t be you.
• Don’t repeat yourself, don’t have typos, and don’t have formatting errors–one heading boldfaced and another not. Proofread it, then have two friends proofread it too.

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