Writing a summary of your strengths, and then using it to apply for a role has been around for centuries. In fact, it’s Leonardo da Vinci who’s credited with sending the first resume in 1482. Things have changed a bit since then, but it seems we’re no closer to identifying a magic resume formula than we were when they were first introduced! No wonder so many people struggle to create their own resume. The internet hasn’t helped either, as people seem to have different opinions about what constitutes that “perfect resume.”
So what are the ultimate resume dos and don’ts? We’ve consulted our network of professional resume writers, career experts, and hiring managers to create a list of 50 resume dos and don’ts, updated for 2024.
So read on to find out what to do–-and what not to do!
1. Do Use the Right Resume Format
When you’re creating your resume, it’s important to choose the right resume structure. Depending on your work history and skill set, you can choose a functional resume, chronological resume, or a hybrid that combines the best elements of both.
If you aren't sure what resume format to use, this guide walks you through the three most popular resume formats for American and Canadian employers.
2. Don’t Rely on Outdated Objective Statements
This is a new addition to the list of 50 resume dos and don’ts, and it’s an important one. Objective statements are old fashioned and tend to focus too much on your needs rather than the employers’, so skip them altogether.
Read the next step to learn what you should do instead.
3. Do Include a Summary Statement
A well-written summary statement enables you to highlight your skills and experience in a way that demonstrates value to the employer. It puts the emphasis on how you can meet the employer’s needs rather than how they can meet yours.
Summaries are a fantastic way to incorporate more keywords on your resume. Check out our full guide on how to write a resume summary.
4. Don’t Neglect Keywords
To score highly with the applicant tracking system (ATS), you need to use the right keywords in your resume. Choose relevant terms and phrases from the job posting, and place them strategically throughout your resume. That way, the ATS will identify them, and you’ll have a better chance of getting your resume in front of an actual person, rather than being rejected straight off.
5. Do Consider the Applicant Tracking System
Applicant tracking systems are a fact of life now at many companies. These systems are designed to screen resumes in order to eliminate unworthy candidates. Unfortunately, they could eliminate yours if you fail to write your resume with the ATS in mind.
Refer to our guide on How to Get Your Resume Past the ATS Scans.
6. Don’t Forget to Add Value to Your Descriptions
When describing work experience on your resume, ask yourself one question, “does this highlight the value I can provide to a new employer?” If not, adjust those descriptions so they showcase the benefits you can bring. This is a must as one of the many resume dos and don’ts to consider.
Remember, your goal is to sell yourself as someone who will meet the company’s needs.
7. Do Include Hard and Soft Skills
When describing your skills, don’t forget to include “soft skills” as well. People-related skills, management capabilities, and similar non-specific skills matter. Employers don’t hire skill sets; they hire people. And that means they need to take a measure of your entire range of abilities.
Having the right combination of skills is key to passing ATS scans. Learn how in our guide on 10 Vital Skills to Put on Your Resume & Stand Out.
8. Don’t Rely on AI to Write Your Resume
New in 2024, there’s been a lot of hype around using AI (Artificial Intelligence) to compile resumes. With the launch of ChatGPT, among others, it’s very tempting to let a bot do the work. But it isn’t intuitive, and hiring managers can tell if you’ve “cheated” by the generic content it regurgitates. Find out more at Why You Shouldn’t Use AI to Write Your Resume.
9. Do Use a Flexible Resume as a Foundation
One of the top 50 resume dos and don’ts involves making a comprehensive, flexible resume that includes all your skills and experiences. Use that as a basic template, modifying it for each job application.
10. Don’t Reveal Confidential Information
Many of us have held jobs where we’re privy to proprietary information or confidential details. Make sure you omit such information from your resume.
11. Do Tailor Your Resume to Fit Each Job
This is one of the most important resume dos and don’ts. Move sections around if needed, and work to showcase the skills required for that position. Check out How to Tailor Your Resume to Different Positions.
12. Do Highlight Relevant Experience
Part of tailoring your resume involves highlighting relevant experience and removing irrelevant material. Focus on skills and experiences that directly relate to the job in hand. This will help the hiring manager see you as the ideal candidate.
13. Don’t Be Discouraged if You Have No Experience
Don’t panic if you lack experience. Use a functional resume to highlight strengths, and minimize the focus on work experience.
14. Do Leave Out Common Skills
You probably don’t need to mention that you know how to use the internet, Microsoft Word, social media, and similar common skills. These things are assumed in 2024.
15. Don’t Forget to Differentiate Yourself
List real accomplishments and showcase value to differentiate yourself from rivals. You want to give hiring managers a reason to interview you rather than other candidates.
16. Do Focus on Employer Needs
Go through your resume with a fine tooth comb, making sure it’s not focused on your needs. Every detail should show how you can meet the employer’s immediate and long-term objectives.
17. Don’t Mention Anything Controversial
You may have interests or group affiliations that others consider controversial. Don’t list them. In fact, avoid anything that might be considered controversial.
18. Do Use Real Numbers
This emphasizes real value. Don’t just write that you, “helped increase sales.” Quantify it by saying, “Developed a new sales strategy that increased quarterly sales by 18%.”
This is one of those top 50 resume dos and don’ts that can really make a difference.
19. Don’t Obsess Over Design Elements
What size font should you use? What about page margins? How many paragraphs should your resume contain? You can drive yourself crazy obsessing over these details. Use a good resume template as your guide, and focus on the details that matter.
New: ZipJob offers downloadable resume templates you can customize. Check out our 200+ resume examples.
20. Do Add Achievements
A lot of people write their resumes like a shopping list--without much thought or imagination. Your resume should be chock-full of achievements, even if you don’t think you’ve accomplished much. Look for opportunities to add context and results to past responsibilities. Try to think of the big picture, add in numbers, and focus on how you added value.
21. Don’t Include Unrelated Hobbies
We all have various hobbies and interests. Spoiler alert--most employers don’t really care about your bowling league or your Saturdays spent racing pigeons. Leave out interests that bear no relation to the job you’re seeking.
22. Do Add Relevant Volunteer Work
This is especially true for job-seekers with limited experience, as you can showcase skills that you’ve picked up in a volunteering capacity.
23. Don’t Highlight Irrelevant Information
We get it--you’re proud of that summer lifeguard job in high school. You’re convinced your paper route was the key to developing excellent work habits.
Sorry to break it to you, but a prospective employer doesn’t want to see that on your resume, so stick to relevant information.
24. Do Show Career Advancement
Include details that demonstrate your career progression in previous employment, such as promotions. Hiring managers will view that as an indication that past employers valued your contributions.
25. Don’t Lie About Employment Gaps
Many of us end up with employment gaps at some point in our career. There’s been a real shift since the pandemic where having gaps is not seen as detrimental. You can minimize them by using employment years, rather than months. If the gaps are still evident, be prepared to explain them in a cover letter or during an interview.
26. Do Be Honest
Don’t lie about accomplishments, employment history, or absolutely anything. Hiring managers check up on facts. If they find you’ve been dishonest, you can kiss any potential interview goodbye.
27. Don’t Use Unfamiliar Terms
Avoid jargon and other unfamiliar words or terms. There’s always a chance that hiring managers won’t understand what you mean, and will swiftly move onto the next resume.
28. Do Use Common, Everyday English
Remember to keep things simple. Use everyday language and write clear sentences that are easily understood. As tempting as it might be to write with a flourish, don’t. Your resume isn’t a dissertation, an essay, or a vocabulary test.
29. Don’t Be Negative
Don’t write negative things about previous employers, co-workers, or positions. Avoid words with a negative connotation, and keep your resume positive and upbeat.
30. Do Add Power and Action Words
Choose active verbs and power words. These help paint a more vibrant picture and will keep the reader focused on the narrative. Here are 101 power verbs to get you started.
31. Don’t Offer to Provide References
Back in the day, it was normal to include something like, “references are available upon request.”
Not in 2024. It takes up valuable space, and it’s a given that you’ll provide them at the right stage of the hiring process.
32. Do Make It Easy for Employers to Contact You
Hiring managers shouldn’t have to struggle to reach you, so make sure your contact details are front and center. This includes your name, cell, and email address at the very least.
33. Don’t Add Details that Could Spark Bias or Discrimination
Avoid information about faith, age, race, or other personal details that could leave you open to bias. Hiring managers may not consciously discriminate, but most people have certain biases that might cause them to prejudge candidates based on those details.
34. Do Limit Your Resume to One or Two Pages
The optimum length for a resume is normally one or two pages. There are exceptions, of course, but that is the norm in 2024.
35. Don’t Use Creative Templates
To get the most responses from employers, avoid “creative” templates popular on Pinterest and Canva. ATS can’t “read” graphic style resumes, and hiring managers want to be able to scan your resume quickly and easily.
36. Do Use a Basic Template
There are plenty of basic templates available. Find one you like, and use it as a guide to help with formatting, detail placement, and more.
37. Don’t Add Images or other Media
Creative resumes can be helpful… in limited instances. Don’t add images or media to create something trendy. Sticking to a more traditional resume format is the way to go in 2024.
38. Do Pay Attention To Page Alignment
Dates, locations, and similar details should be aligned to the right of the page. That creates a uniform, easy-to-read appearance. Look at your resume as a whole and make sure everything lines up neatly.
39. Don’t Overload the Resume with Details
You might be tempted to cram in more detail than necessary. When it comes to the top 50 resume dos and don’ts, this is a definite “don’t.” The finished product should be easy to read, with a normal amount of white space.
40. Do Limit Your Resume Text to 1 Font
As a rule, you should only use one font in your resume. If you feel the need to use more, limit it to two. It’s common to use one font for your name, and then a different font for content.
41. Don’t Go Wild with Text Effects
Be sparse with your use of text effects like italicization, bolding, and capital letters. Overuse can make your resume difficult to read.
42. Do Highlight Job Titles and Employers
However, do use them for job titles, employer names, and dates. Readers will have an easier time identifying those key details when you set them apart in that way.
43. Don’t Go Over Two Lines on Bullet Points
Bullet points are great for ensuring your achievements stand out, but avoid making them too long. One line or two is plenty as it will help with readability.
44. Do Make the Most of Numbers
Which is easier to read: 128 or one hundred and twenty-eight? Numbers really pop out on a page, so use them liberally where you can.
45. Don’t Forget to Proofread
If there’s one thing that bugs hiring managers, it’s a resume littered with mistakes. This should probably be near the top of anyone’s list of resume dos and don’ts. Carefully proofread your resume for content, grammar, spelling, and more.
46. Do Send Word Documents
You should always send your resume as a .doc or .docx file. An ATS can easily process a Word .doc and they’re easy to format. Follow this link for more information on the best file format.
47. Don’t Overuse the Wrong Words
Try a word cloud generator to get a better idea of language usage. That will help you see your most frequently used words. You can then decide whether these are the words you want employers to think about when reading your resume, and adjust as needed.
Pro Tip: use this to compare your resume to job descriptions by running multiple scans.
48. Do Review Colleagues’ Resumes
If you’re stuck, spend time reading resumes of colleagues so you can see how they present themselves. That will give you a good idea of how you can describe your achievements and role responsibilities.
49. Don’t Forget to Have Others Read Your Resume
Your resume writing job isn’t really complete until you’ve tested it amongst friends, family, and associates. Encourage other people to go through it, and ask for feedback. Is it conveying the right message? Are they left with more questions than answers? Then use that feedback to make additional improvements.
50. Do Get Help from Professional Resume Writers
Our final do on our list of resume dos and don’ts may be the most important of all. It’s simple: get the help you need to craft the perfect resume. You can hire your own personal resume coach or take advantage of free resources like blogs or a free resume review.
Resume writing can be a major challenge, but these 50 resume dos and don’ts can help provide the guidance you need. If you’re crafting a resume, be sure to follow our tips to avoid the most common pitfalls and problems. That should increase your odds of landing more interviews and winning that new job you’ve been dreaming about!
Whether you’re struggling to create a resume, or just want yours reviewed by someone who understands the process, a professional resume writer can help.
Elizabeth Openshaw, Editor & Content Writer, Elizabeth Openshaw, Editor & Content Writer
Elizabeth Openshaw is an Elite CV Consultant with over 12 years of experience based in Brighton, UK, with an English degree and an addiction to Wordle! She is a former Journalist of 17 years with the claim to fame that she interviewed three times Grand Slam winner and former World No.1 tennis player, Andy Murray, when he was just 14 years old. You can connect with her at Elizabeth Openshaw | LinkedIn.