I’ve helped many companies with the recruiting process, and as a result I’ve seen a lot of resumes in my day: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Some resumes have been way too long (9 pages?!), some contain irrelevant information, others include glaring grammatical errors, and others have had misspellings of tools supposedly used for years (e.g., one candidate called Code Warrior “Cold Worrier”), etc. It breaks my heart to see some of these resumes, because all I can think is: you’ve ruined any chance you had, buddy, and it could have been easily helped. To better your chances at getting your foot in the door for that opportunity you have your heart set on, I’ve compiled a list of basic resume rules…no, commandments, that you should adhere to when submitting a resume as a working professional.
1. Thou shalt not submit a resume longer than 2 pages. If you think you need to go beyond 2 pages, then you must learn how to write more succinctly. You aren’t Steve Jobs nor Stephen Hawking to warrant more than 2 pages, hate to break it to you. A resume should be a succinct presentation of who you are as a professional, not a PhD thesis. You send me anything over 2 pages, you will lose my attention and that’s not something you want to do to a potential employer. To give you a better understanding of what’s the focus on a resume, I suggest you read about heat maps for resumes. Only then will you be convinced that more is NOT better on a resume.
2. Thou shalt not use cliches such as “team player”, “hardworking”, “dedicated”, “detail-oriented”, “problem solver”, or other cliches to describe thy self. Using these cliches will result in me seeing you in a not-so-positive light, because it screams that you are using words that you think I want to hear. Tell me: would anyone REALLY describe themselves as lazy, hates working with people, not dedicated, not detail-oriented, and unable to solve problems? No, so don’t use words and phrases that describe the obvious. You might as well use “shows up for work”. Stand out in the sea of generic resumes. If 500 other candidates are also “hardworking, detail-oriented team players”, why should I pick you over those other 500? Don’t be afraid to speak in your own voice.
3. Thou shalt not use poor grammar. How old are you to still be shamefully confusing “its/it’s”, “you’re/your”, “too/to/two”, or “there/their/they’re”? Brush up your 4th grade English skills, otherwise your lack of attention to details will show as a red flag to potential employers. You are an adult: learn to spell like one.
4. Thou shalt include a summary or profile section up top in place of the objective, which is obsolete. You must be able to succinctly describe yourself, your professional interests and your professional fortes within a few sentences. Make those few sentences count! This means not including your favorite hobbies such as brewing beer, basketweaving, and playing the flute during poetry slams. Save that kind of content for the Interests/Activities section that should only go at the very bottom of the resume, if on the resume at all.
5. Thou shalt not include irrelevant work history when applying for a specific type of position. For example, you should not include work history for your role as a cashier at the Piggly Wiggly back in high school when you are applying for a UX Designer role. No one cares, as proud of that job as you are. Save that precious real estate on your resume for relevant skills and experience, like wireframing and prototyping.
6. Thou shalt not include the filler statement “References available upon request”, for if thine potential employer wishes to acquire references, then references shall be obviously requested. Save that precious resume real estate for valuable experience/skills/responsibilities/interests/etc.
7. Thou shalt not include personal information such as marital status, age, race, religion, or gender. You being able to perform duties as a project manager, for example, should be independent of any of those irrelevant things. This is work, not Match.com.
8. Thou shalt not name thy resume something generic such as “resume.doc” or “asmith1.pdf”, for when potential employers are filtering through tons of resumes a week, they shall not be able to easily find thy resume from the hundreds of others in the queue. Again, lack of attention to detail will only frustrate potential employers. Help me help you by doing me a favor and put your first and last name and the word “Resume” into the title of the document (e.g., Carolyn Vo Resume.pdf). You will earn both a virtual high five and extreme gratitude from me.
9. Thou shalt submit thy resume as a PDF to allow for consistent rendering and readability across all platforms (e.g., Windows or Mac, mobile or non-mobile). The last thing you want is for your resume to look like absolute garbage with mangled fonts and overlaid text for a potential employer. Just because a document looks good in Microsoft Word doesn’t mean it will also look good in Google Docs or Apple Pages. PDF is the only consistent format across all major platforms.
10. Thou shalt include links to any sites that are relevant to thy background or the job (e.g., online portfolio, LinkedIn profile) to give thy future employers more information about who thou art, what thou art about, and any capabilities thou may have. If you’ve decided to include a LinkedIn link on your resume, make sure you’ve already updated your profile completely; otherwise do not include it. An empty/incomplete LinkedIn profile is completely useless and meaningless. If you’ve decided to include an online portfolio of your work, again, make sure you’ve already updated your portfolio, for you will be judged on what you make available on the Internet. For example, don’t include a link to a Flash-only portfolio when you are applying for a front-stack developer role, for this will serve as a strike against you in the eyes of the potential employer.