Resume Do’s and Don’ts When Applying for a Job

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Writing your resume to highlight your relevant skills and experience can mean following some best practices for resume writing such as proper formatting and proofreading. However, there are also some things you want to avoid, like hiding job gaps or embellishing on your skills. You can use the information in this article to help you understand all of the resume do’s and don’ts when you write your own resume.

What to include in a resume

Here are some of the elements to include in your resume:

  • Your contact information
  • A resume summary or objective highlighting your skills and experience
  • Your work experience and educational background
  • Your professional skills and examples of how you accomplished past objectives
  • Awards, accolades and additional certifications
  • Interests that are relevant to the job and showcase your abilities to perform in similar roles

When you write your resume, there are several important elements you should include. Along with your resume summary or objective, work history, education and relevant skills, you can also include additional elements as they apply to your unique position.

The do’s that you want in your resume

Follow these do’s to guide you when formatting and creating your resume:

Follow a template

Following a template can help guide you through each resume section when you write out your professional details. Additionally, there are many templates to choose from depending on your style preferences. For instance, resume templates can be formatted according to the job industry and your level of experience.

Include your skills that match the job description

It’s also important that you only include the skills you have developed and are relevant to the job. An effective approach for ensuring your skills match the job details is to reread the job description and pick out the top skills that the description mentions. Then, match the requirements with the relevant skills you have.

Highlight a combination of your hard skills and soft skills

Plan on highlighting both your hard skills (like expertise running spreadsheet software) and your soft skills. Oftentimes, soft skills like effective communication, leadership and teamwork skills can showcase your professional abilities and can increase employers’ interest in your resume.

Provide quantifiable examples of past accomplishments

You should also provide quantifiable examples of past accomplishments you made in your career. For instance, if you helped increase your organization’s market reach by 50%, you should showcase that in your resume. Doing so can allow employers to get an idea of how you can be an asset to their company.

Write a resume summary

Consider using a resume summary rather than an objective, unless you are entering your career or transitioning into a different career field altogether. Writing a resume summary can highlight not only your professional experience, but it can be used to showcase how you plan to achieve goals in your future role.

Use impactful verbs when listing past responsibilities

Create powerful statements when listing job responsibilities under your work experience. Use impactful verbs like ‘pioneered’ or ‘initiated’. Using powerful action words shows employers what you can do and exactly how you’ve succeeded in past roles.

Keep your resume on one page

In some cases (such as an extensive work history) it can be acceptable to submit a two-page resume, however, most of the information relevant to a job description can be formatted to one page. Keeping your resume one page long can allow employers to scan through every detail more quickly than if you hand in two pages of skills and experience.

Proofread and check for grammatical errors

Make sure you proofread and check for grammatical errors in your resume. If you have time, have a friend or family member read through it to double-check your work. Fix any typos, spelling errors and other style issues before submitting your job application.

Write in active voice to add interest and show impact

It’s also effective to keep your tone active within your resume. Starting statements with impactful verbs and including specific examples of your success can help you keep your resume in active voice rather than passive voice.

Optimize for applicant tracking systems

Do plan to optimize your resume with keywords and phrases from the job description. Many organizations use applicant tracking software (ATS) to sort through resumes, and including specific skill words in your resume that you see mentioned in the job description can increase the chances that an organization’s ATS will retain your resume for an employer’s review.

The don’ts to avoid in your resume

You can use the following tips to help you avoid these resume don’ts:

Avoid including unrelated or irrelevant hobbies and interests

It’s a good idea to avoid listing any unrelated hobbies or interests in your resume. Instead, you can include related details such as any professional groups you’re in or any volunteer work you’ve done.

Leave out your high school activities

As you progress through your career, your high school accomplishments and activities can become less relevant, especially if you hold a college degree and have experience in your field. You might list internships or study programs that you’ve participated in instead.

Avoid copying the exact job description for your resume

While you do want to match your skills to what’s required for the job, be sure you avoid copying the exact description to use in your resume. Instead, list three to five key skills and requirements from the description and create your resume around them.

Leave out the resume objectives

Resume objectives can generally be reserved for entry-level candidates and candidates who are transitioning out of their current careers entirely. Opt for a resume or professional summary instead, where you can highlight your expertise, accomplishments and your capabilities for the job.

Skip the bright colors and whimsical fonts

It can be acceptable and even attractive to use subdued and neutral font colors like dark blue or gray, however, avoid bright colors and any fonts that appear unprofessional. Opt for traditional print like Arial, Verdana or a sans font for optimum readability.

Avoid using colored resume paper

Some resume paper comes in brighter colors than the traditional ivories, grays and light blues. However, opt for one of these traditional paper colors and avoid using anything too bright.

Hiding job gaps on your resume

If you have a gap in your resume between jobs, avoid hiding it. Instead, list your experience as you would normally, and prepare to explain your job gap during future interviews. If you have any volunteer experience or projects related to the job that filled your job gap, you might include that on your resume to showcase your accomplishments between jobs.

Omit the reference statement

Employers usually contact employee references in any case, so creating a whole resume section for your references and then stating ‘available upon request’ can appear unprofessional. Instead, either include two to three of your professional references or omit this section entirely.

Avoid embellishing on your experience and skills

It’s important to avoid embellishing your skills and expertise in your resume, too. Keep your skills and experience honest in detail and highlight the abilities that make you the best fit for the job.