Originally Posted: Nov 14, 2019
Last Updated: Feb 12, 2020
It doesn’t matter if you’re a graduate fresh out of college or a seasoned professional with decades of experience—finding a new job starts with creating a great résumé.
But what does a great résumé look like? What should it include? What shouldn’t it include? Whether you’re creating your first résumé or need to update one from 20 years ago, here are seven résumé do’s and don’ts you need to know.
1. Customize your résumé for each job
Having one great résumé just won’t cut it. Instead, you should create one master document then tweak it slightly for each job you apply for. Every résumé you send should stress the relevance of the skills you have for that particular job. Sending the same one to all employers is a major mistake.
2. Show off your experience and transferable skills
Highlighting your soft skills is important—especially if the job you’re applying for isn’t exactly like a job you’ve had in the past. This is especially important for college grads who don’t have a lot of professional experience and people looking to make a career change.
Rather than highlighting specific skills you learned in a former job, highlight the skills that will be useful in the job you’re applying for. For example, let’s say you worked as a barista in a coffee shop. Unless you’re applying for another job making lattes, it’s not relevant that you know how to work a coffee machine. Instead, highlight skills that can be useful in a variety of positions, such as customer service.
3. Include keywords
It’s likely your résumé will only get a brief glance before it gets a full read, so make sure your summary statement at the top includes relevant keywords. Depending on where you’re applying, there’s a good chance your résumé will go through an applicant tracking system before a human ever sees it. Over 98% of Fortune 500 companies use applicant tracking system software. If your résumé doesn’t include the keywords being scanned for, you may as well not even bother applying.
4. Include your accomplishments
Having years of professional work experience is great—but you have to assume everyone else applying has the same background. If you’ve ever received any awards or special recognition from a former employer, include it! After all, this is the first chance you have to sell yourself to a potential future employer.
5. Be specific
Including specifics, numbers, and evidence to back up your experience is a great way to make your résumé stand out from the competition. If you increased sales by 90% at your last job, say so. The more specific you can be with your accomplishments, the better.
If you submit your résumé with typos and grammatical errors, you can be sure of one thing: you will not get the job. From misplaced commas to misspelled words, little mistakes make it clear that you don’t pay attention to detail. Always share your résumé with a few trusted colleagues or friends so they can spot any errors you may have overlooked.
7. Try to keep it short
One page is ideal, but if you have an extensive job history, you may need two pages. Don’t leave out relevant work experience just to make everything fit on one page. At the same time, don’t cram it all on one page using eight-point font that will require a magnifying glass to read.
Include what’s important and if it ends up on two pages, so be it. If you do need a second page, just make sure your name and header appear at the top of each one.
1. Don’t lie
It’s important to be 100% honest about your prior work experience, former employers, dates of employment, and education. These things are extremely easy to verify, so there’s no point in lying about them.
2. Don't use a complicated format
Keep your résumé format simple. Use a clean, neat, professional font, and be wary about adding colors, imagery, or photos. The easier it is to read, the better.
3. Don't include salary requirements
Salary requirements and previous salary history don't belong on a résumé. If an employer asks for it, include it in a cover letter. Otherwise, discuss it during your interview.
4. Don't include high school information
If you went to college, don't include any information about high school. If you have a bachelor’s or master’s degree, everyone will know you have your high school diploma. Unless you just graduated from college, there’s no need to include your GPA either. Recent college grads who don’t have any professional experience can include their GPA (if it’s high enough to be impressive), but in most cases, this information doesn’t belong on a professional résumé.
5. Don't include personal information
There’s no need to include a photo or disclose your age, marital status, or religion on your résumé. Personal information like this should not be included under any circumstances.
6. Don't include references
There’s no reason to include references or say “references available upon request.” This just takes up an extra line at the bottom of the page that you could use for more relevant information.
If you ace the interview and the company wants to hire you, they’ll ask you for references at that point. Have those references ready when you get the request; prepare a list that includes names, job titles, email addresses, and phone numbers. When you're asked for references, you should be able to supply that list in an instant.
7. Don't send your résumé as a Word document
One of the biggest mistakes people make is submitting their résumé as a Word document. Before sending it off to a company or uploading it to a job search site, convert it to a PDF. That way the formatting of the document will remain as you intended it to be.
Related: A 4-Week Plan to Perfect Your Résumé
From recent college grads to seasoned professionals, having a great résumé is the only way you’ll get an interview, let alone a job. Follow these résumé do’s and don’ts and you just might land the interview you want. Ignore them and your résumé is likely to end up in a giant stack of no’s.
For more help finding jobs and fine-tuning your résumé, check out our Internships and Careers section.