Resumes have been popular for decades, and yet it sometimes seems as though 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 resumes.
The internet hasn’t really helped matters either, as everyone seems to have different opinions to offer about what constitutes the “perfect resume.”
To help you navigate the good from the bad, we consulted our network of professional resume writers, career experts, and former Fortune 500 hiring managers to create this list. Most recently updated in 2021, this list will let you know what to do– and what not to!
Do Use the Right Resume Format
When you’re creating your resume, it’s important to remember 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.
💡ZipTip: 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.
Don’t Rely on Outdated Objective Statements
This is a fairly new addition to the list of 50 resume dos and don’ts, but it’s an important one. Objective statements are old fashioned by today’s standards. As a result, you should skip them altogether.
That’s right: it’s better not to have any statement on your resume than to include an objective statement in 2021.
The fact is that objective statements tend to focus too much on your needs rather than the employers’. Unfortunately, most companies are not going to hire you based on how they can benefit your career! Read the next step to learn what you should do instead.
Do Include a Summary Statement
Instead of an objective statement, include a well-written summary statement. This 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.
💡ZipTip: resume summaries are a fantastic (and overlooked) way to incorporate more keywords on your resume. Check out our full guide on how to write a resume summary that lands the interview.
Don’t Neglect Keywords
To overcome the ATS process, you need to use the right keywords in your resume. Generally, you can find those keywords in the job posting. Choose relevant terms and phrases from that posting and place them strategically throughout your resume and cover letter. That way, the ATS will see them and you’ll have a better chance of having your resume seen by human eyes.
Do Consider the Applicant Tracking System
Applicant tracking systems are a fact of life at many companies these days. These systems screen resumes to eliminate unworthy candidates. Unfortunately, they could eliminate yours if you fail to write your resume with the ATS in mind.
Don’t Forget to Add Value to Your Descriptions
When describing your work experience on your resume, ask one question: “does this highlight the value I can provide a new employer?” If not, adjust those descriptions so that they showcase the benefits you can offer.
Remember, your goal is to sell yourself as someone who can meet the company’s needs.
Do Include Hard and Soft Skills
When describing your skills, don’t forget to include those “soft skills” too. People-related skills, management capabilities, and similar non-specific skills matter. After all, employers don’t hire skill sets; they hire people. And that means they need to take a measure of your entire range of abilities.
💡ZipTip: having the right combination of skills is key to passing the ATS scans. Learn how in our guide: 10 Vital Skills to Put on Your Resume & Stand Out
Don’t Forget to Include Your Volunteer Work
You might not think that your volunteer work matters, but you’d be wrong. This is especially true for job-seekers with limited experience, but it applies to everyone. If you have volunteer experience that has provided you with skills that you can apply to the job you’re seeking, include that experience.
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 your basic template for any resume submission, and modify it for each new job search.
Don’t Reveal Confidential Information
Don’t laugh. Many of us have held jobs where we’re privy to proprietary information or other confidential details. Be careful to omit any such information from your resume.
Do Tailor Each Resume to Fit the Job
You will need to tailor your master resume whenever you’re applying for a job. Move sections around as needed, and work to showcase the skills needed for that position. Check out our great post on tailoring a resume to learn more about this process: How to Tailor Your Resume to Different Positions.
Do Highlight Relevant Experience
Part of tailoring your resume involves highlighting the most relevant experience and removing irrelevant material. Your goal should be to focus on skills and experiences that directly relate to the job at hand. That will help the hiring manager to see you as the ideal candidate for the job.
Don’t Be Discouraged if You Have No Experience
It’s easy to feel discouraged by a lack of experience. Don’t panic, though. You can use a functional resume to highlight your skills and minimize the focus on your work experience. Experience matters, but it’s not always the only thing that matters!
If you don’t have experience, this post is for you: Writing A Resume With No Experience
Do Leave Out those Common Skills
That doesn’t mean that you should include everything you know, however. For example, you probably don’t need to mention that you know how to use the Internet…or Microsoft Word, social media, and similar common skills. Some things are simply assumed in today’s hiring practices.
Don’t Forget to Differentiate Yourself
List real accomplishments and showcase value to differentiate yourself from your rivals. It’s your job to give that hiring manager a reason to interview you rather than those other candidates.
Do Focus on the Employer’s Needs
Go through your resume with a fine-tooth comb and make sure that it’s not focused on your needs. Every detail should be used to show how you can meet the employer’s immediate and long-term needs.
Don’t Mention Anything Controversial
You may have interests or group affiliations that others might consider controversial. Don’t list those things on your resume. In fact, avoid anything that might be considered controversial.
Do Use Real Numbers
Use real numbers in your descriptions to emphasize real value. Don’t just write that you “helped increase sales.” Instead, quantify those results: “Developed new sales strategy that increase quarterly sales by 18%.”
This is one of those top 50 resume dos and don’ts that can really make a difference in your presentation.
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 about those details. Just use a good resume template as your guide and focus on the details that matter.
New: Zipjob now offers a downloadable resume template you can customize. Start by finding your job title (or target) on this page: 200+ Resume Examples from Zipjob.
Do Add Achievements
Have you accomplished certain things in your previous positions that would capture the attention of a hiring manager? Feel free to share those accomplishments in your resume.
Don’t Add Hobbies or Interests that Are Unrelated to the Job
We all have various hobbies and interests. Most employers don’t really care about your bowling league, or your Saturdays spent feeding pigeons in the park. Leave out those interests that have no relation to the job you’re seeking.
Do Focus On Your Achievements
A lot of people write their resumes like a shopping list: without much thought or imagination. Instead, your resume should be chock-full of your achievements, even if you don’t think you’ve accomplished much. Look for opportunities to add context and results to your past responsibilities. Try to think big picture, add in numbers, and focus on how you added value. What would have happened if no one was doing your job?
Don’t Highlight Irrelevant Information
We get it: you’re proud of that summer lifeguard job in high school. You’re convinced that your paper route was the real key to developing good work habits.
Here’s the thing, though: your employer doesn’t want to see that on your resume. Stick to the relevant information and avoid those types of details.
Do Show Your Career Progress and Advancement
Be sure to include any details that demonstrate your career advancement in your previous employment. Hiring managers will view that as an indication that those past employers valued your contributions.
Don’t Lie About Employment Gaps
Many of us end up with employment gaps from time to time. Don’t make things up just to hide those gaps. If you can minimize them by using only the employment years, then do that. If the gaps are still there, however, be prepared to explain them in your cover letter or interview.
Do Be Honest
Don’t lie about accomplishments, employment history, or anything else. Hiring managers will check up on the key facts in your resume. If they find that you’re been dishonest, you can kiss any potential interview goodbye.
Don’t Use Unfamiliar Terms
Always avoid jargon and other potentially unfamiliar words and terms. There’s always a chance that hiring managers won’t be familiar with the words, and that could cause them to lose interest.
Do Rely on Common, Everyday English
Remember to keep things simple. Use common, everyday language and write clear sentences that can be readily understood. As tempting as it might be to write with a flourish, don’t. Your resume is not a dissertation, an essay, or a vocabulary test.
Don’t Be Negative
Avoid negativity. Don’t write negative things about previous employers, co-workers, or positions. Avoid words that have a negative connotation too. Keep your resume positive and upbeat.
Do Add Power and Action Words
Wherever possible, choose active verbs and power words for your resume. That helps to paint a more vibrant picture and will keep the reader’s interest focused on the narrative. Here are 101 Power Verbs to get you started.
Don’t Offer to Provide References
Ever seen a resume that included the words “references available upon request” or something to that effect? Well, don’t use that line or anything like it. It adds nothing to the resume, and may be off-putting for many hiring managers. The fact is that they will ask for references if they need to see them.
Do Make It Easy for Employers to Contact You
Always include updated contact information at the top of your resume. No hiring manager should ever have to struggle to reach you for an interview.
Don’t Add Details that Could Spark Bias or Discrimination
Avoid information about your 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 may cause them to prejudge candidates based on those details.
Do Limit Your Resume to One or Two Pages
Your resume should never exceed two pages. If you cannot condense the information to fit in that limited space, have someone help you.
Don’t Use Creative Resumes
To get the most responses from employers, you want to avoid the trendy “creative” resume templates popular on Pinterest and Canva. Hiring managers want to be able to quickly look at your resume and understand your experience, skills, and qualifications.
Do Use a Basic Template
There are plenty of basic resume templates available online (including one from Zipjob that you can download from this page.). Find a template you like and use it as a guide to help you with formatting, detail placement, and more. Why reinvent the wheel when you have so many good examples from which to choose?
Don’t Add Images or other Media Just to Be Trendy
Creative resumes can be helpful, but only in limited instances. Don’t just add those images and media to create something trendy. In most cases, you will want to stick to the more traditional resume format.
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 for your resume. Look at your resume as a whole and make sure that everything lines up neatly.
Don’t Overload the Resume with Details
You might be tempted to include more details than necessary, especially if you’re trying to stay within that page limit. The finished product should be easy to read, with a normal amount of white space on the page.
Do Limit Your Resume Text to 2 Fonts
As a rule, you should only use one font in your resume. If you must use more, however, limit it to two. It’s common to use one font for your name for distinction and one font for your content.
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.
Do Highlight Job Titles and Employers
Job titles, employer names, and similar details should be highlighted in some way. You should bold or italicize them to make them stand out. Your readers will have an easier time identifying those key details when you set them apart in that way.
Don’t Go Over Two Lines for Your Bullet Points
It’s tempting to add a flurry of bullet points in your resume sections. When it comes to the top 50 resume dos and don’ts, however, that’s a definite “don’t.” Limit those bullet points to two. That will help readability and aid you in your effort to keep the resume limited to one page.
Do Use Numbers, Not Text
Which is easier to read: 128 or one hundred and twenty-eight? Simplify your resume by using the actual numerical digits rather than their text counterparts. Numbers really pop out on a page of text, so use them liberally!
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 about why you should use a .doc over a PDF.
Do Spend Time Reviewing Colleague’s Resumes
If you’re stuck with your resume, spend some time reading others’ resumes. Ask colleagues to let you read their resumes, and see how they present themselves to employers. That will give you a good indication of how you should be describing your achievements and role at the firm.
Don’t Forget to Proofread
If there’s one thing that bugs hiring managers more than any other, it’s a failure to proofread. This should probably be near the top of anyone’s list of the top 50 resume dos and don’ts! Always proofread your resume for content, grammar, spelling, and more.
Don’t Overuse the Wrong Words
Try using a word cloud generator to get a better idea of your language usage. That will help you to see your most frequently-used words. You can then decide whether those are the words you want employers to think about when they read your resume, and adjust as needed.
Pro Tip: use this trick to compare your resume to job descriptions by running multiple scans.
Don’t Forget to Have Others Read Your Resume
Your resume writing job isn’t really done until you’ve tested it with friends, family, and associates. Let several other people read it, and ask for feedback. Is it presenting the right message? Are they left with more questions than answers? Use that feedback to make any additional improvements that might be necessary.
Do Get Help from Professional Resume Writers
Our final do on our list of the top 50 resume dos and don’ts may be the most important of all. It’s simple, really: do be sure to 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 top 50 resume dos and don’ts can help provide the guidance you need. So, if you’re crafting your resume, be sure to follow these tips to help you 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 be a tremendous help.