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Written by Charlotte GraingerCharlotte Grainger

Resume dos and don'ts: expert advice for successful applications

16 min read
Resume dos and don'ts: expert advice for successful applications
Mastering the art of resume writing no longer needs to be a mystery. If you want to land more interviews and get hired faster, we’ve got you covered. Let’s take a look at the golden rules for writing this potentially powerful document.

Your resume is the key to your professional progression. When you’re ready to take the next step on the career ladder, you need to tell your story persuasively to spark the reader’s imagination. It’s a tall order. 

To make matters even harder, you don’t have long to make that first impression. Hiring managers spend less than seven seconds reviewing each new resume that lands on their desks. So, how can you make sure that your next application hits the mark fast?

Luckily, we have the answers you’ve been looking for. While each resume is unique to the candidate, there are some hard and fast rules you need to follow. Understanding them will ensure that your application gets more than a mere cursory glance from the hiring manager. To help you along the way, the following guide will touch upon these core topics: 

  • How you can choose the right words for your professional resume
  • The best way to showcase your education and training
  • Advice on how to effectively highlight your past experience
  • The design dos and don’ts that you need to know about
  • Final thoughts on how you can master your resume writing

Looking for the basics of resume writing? We have just what you need. Take a look at our comprehensive resume writing guide to learn the fundamentals of this practice now.  

Choosing the right words: resume dos and don’ts 

When you’re writing a resume, choose your words wisely. The phrases you use tell the hiring manager what type of professional you are. It’s not merely about getting all of the right content down on the page. You need to do so in a stylish and articulate manner. Before you put pen to paper, it’s helpful to take a look at these resume dos and don'ts.

1. Do aim to use a varied vocabulary 

Your vocabulary speaks volumes about you. If your resume reads like a broken record, it’s unlikely to win over the hiring manager. Read your document and see how many times you repeat the same word. For example, if you keep saying that you are “excellent” at things, you might want to look for different adjectives to get the job done. Spice things up a little. 

2. Don’t bamboozle the reader with jargon

Jargon is a snooze-fest. When you’re writing your resume, steer clear of industry-specific terms that cannot be understood outside of that setting. Here’s the thing—you have no idea who will read your resume first. It could be someone who has limited experience in your field. If that is the case, you don’t want to confuse them with impenetrable words. 

3. Do use powerful action verbs

Your resume should captivate the hiring manager. If it’s crammed full of bland words, it won’t do the job. Try sliding in some powerful action verbs. These words give your application color and movement. Weave them into the document to entice the reader. 

4. Don’t use a long word for no good reason

As the late, great George Orwell wrote: “Never use a long word where a short one will do.” 

You might think that including long, complicated words in your resume makes you look smart. It doesn’t. Instead, you are likely to alienate or even confuse the reader. You don’t want to give the hiring manager any reason to pass over your resume. 

5. Do add some personality to your writing

Before the hiring manager meets you, they only have your resume and cover letter to go on. Now, you might be the most charismatic person in the world but how can they tell? When you write your resume, read it and see what’s missing. Allow your voice to come through the writing here. Don’t be afraid to sprinkle in your own personality. 

6. Don’t rely on tired, old clichés 

Clichés are lazy writing. Saying that you are the “cream of the crop” or you can “exceed their expectations” is basically meaningless. Hiring managers have heard it a thousand times before and, frankly, they are bored of it. Find unique ways to accurately describe what it is that you will bring to the position. Be specific and paint them a colorful picture.

7. Do make sure you include keywords

Experts estimate that a massive 75% of resumes will never be reviewed by a hiring manager. Why? Because most businesses now use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to filter incoming resumes. Before you can land the job, you need to beat the bots. 

To make sure that your resume is ATS-friendly, you need to use the right keywords in the document. Go back to the job advert to find the right terms here. You should use the same words in your resume that the employer has used in the advert. These are likely to be the keywords that the hiring manager has put into the ATS software as a filter. 

8. Don’t write numbers out in full

Writing numbers out in full is a waste of space. Instead of saying that you “managed twelve workers,” say that you “managed 12 workers”. This small change will mean that you have more room on your resume for the important details. It also looks neat and tidy.

Showing off your education: resume dos and don’ts

Next up, let’s take a look at your education section. This is where you tell the hiring manager what qualifications and training you have. The resume dos and don’ts here are relatively straightforward. However, you might want to refresh your memory. 

9. Do include your degrees in this section 

First up, if you have degrees, you need to include them here. You should list your institute name, your qualification, the year you received it, and your grade. And voilà, you’re done! Of course, you can also bullet-point extra details, such as specific modules or awards.

10. Don’t always include your high school education

Don’t waste valuable resume real estate on your high school education. If you have a degree, the hiring manager can deduce that you probably completed high school or undertook a similar qualification. You don’t need to spell it out for them on your resume.

Expert tip

If you don’t have a degree, don’t sweat it!

The modern world of work is vast and you don’t always need a degree to land a high-level job. If your only formal education is high school, include it on your resume.

11. Do emphasize any additional training you have

If you’ve done some extra training, don’t forget to mention it on your resume. You can add details of your training beneath the rest of your education. Simply bullet-point it there. You should also include the institute or provider and the dates that you completed the training.

12. Don’t write too much about your qualifications

Spoiler: the hiring manager doesn’t have the time to read a memoir about your college days. While they may have been the best years of your life, you don’t need to elaborate on them. Some candidates waste space by writing a short blurb about their degrees. You don’t need to do that. Save the space for other sections of your resume instead.

Highlighting your experience: resume dos and don’ts

Your prior work experience has shaped you professionally. Lessons have been learned. Mistakes have been made. And you have come out of it more skilled than ever. Sharing this journey with the hiring manager could help you land your next interview. So, how can you perfect this section? Let’s take a look at some of the main resume dos and don’ts.

13. Do brag about your achievements 

Chances are, you’ve got a lot to brag about. Don’t be modest when it comes to your resume. Consider what achievements will wow the hiring manager and outline them in this section. Start out by noting down the things of which you are most proud. It may be excelling in a certain project, getting a promotion, or managing a team of people. 

When you have a succinct list, add them as bullet points beneath the corresponding job title. Be as detailed as possible here. Explain what you did and the impact that it had, quantifying that impact where possible. Using that formula will help you share your story accurately. 

14. Don’t include experience that is not relevant 

Let’s say you’re going for a sales manager position. Should you include your experience working in a hospital? The answer to this question should be obvious: no. 

Your resume is not a short history of your career experience—it is a marketing resource. It aims to land you the job for which you are applying. Nothing more, nothing less. Avoid including experience or job roles that don’t align with the role for which you’re applying.

15. Do quantify your tasks and duties 

How much value can you bring to the role? That is the question you should answer for the hiring manager. Quantifying your tasks and duties will help you do just that. So, instead of saying that you “served customers and dealt with complaints,” you should say that you “served 100+ customers per shift and resolved an average of 7 complaints”. 

The second statement tells the hiring manager just what you are capable of. It also shows them that you have a high level of attention to detail. You know the facts. You know the figures. And you’re not shy about stating them directly on your professional resume. 

16. Don’t be vague about your experiences 

Always add in details. One well-known marketing principle is that specific details are far more memorable than generic messages. Once you have the basic information down on your resume, add in some color. That may mean quantifying your everyday experiences —as we mentioned above—or throwing in a descriptive anecdote. 

17. Do include volunteer experience too 

Do you have any volunteer experience that is relevant to the vacancy? If the answer is yes, you should absolutely include it on your resume. It doesn’t matter whether this was a paid role or one that you undertook for free, if it fits the bill, you need to talk about it. You can include voluntary positions beneath your main experience or add a volunteering section. 

Designing the document: resume dos and don’ts 

Making the right first impression can be challenging. Sure, you might have a well-written resume that showcases your value. However, if it looks messy or chaotic, you’re unlikely to get an interview. Fortunately, there are some clear resume dos and don’ts when it comes to the design. If you’re new to this part of the process, here are some key pointers.

18. Don’t go for a “unique” resume design 

Yes, you want to catch the hiring manager’s eye, but being too experimental with your resume designs is likely to backfire. Looks are subjective and there’s a chance that the reader won’t appreciate your flair for creativity. It doesn’t end there. If it doesn’t follow a traditional format, your resume may not get past the ATS software in the first place.

19. Do make use of the white space

You don’t have to cover every inch of your resume. White space can be powerful when used correctly. Space out the sections of your resume so that the document is easy to read. When the hiring manager looks at your application, they should be able to quickly find the most important information. 

20. Don’t use unprofessional fonts 

Comic Sans is always a no-go. The font you choose when creating your resume matters more than you might imagine. Check that it is easy for the hiring manager to read — both on a hard document and on a screen. You should also choose a professional font style. The hiring manager will subconsciously judge every aspect of your resume, even the font.

21. Do consider using a template 

If design isn’t your strong suit, don’t panic. Nobody expects you to become a creative genius overnight. Create a professional, eye-catching resume by using a field-tested template instead. This approach takes the stress out of designing your next application so you can better focus on your job search.

Final notes: resume dos and don’ts 

If you’ve got to this point, you have the core rules down. But wait, because there’s more. Ahead of clicking “send” and crossing your fingers, there are some final resume dos and don’ts you need to consider. Here’s a quick rundown of what you need to remember. 

22. Don’t forget to tailor your resume

The above resume dos and don’ts are vital when creating a generic application. However, before you start applying for individual jobs, you need to tailor your resume accordingly. Take a look at the job advert and research the company. Use all of the information you find to effectively create a resume that suits the business at hand.

23. Do make sure it’s easy to skim

Take a look at your resume. Can the hiring manager skim it and find what they need? If your application is hard to understand, the reader won’t bother to try. In that case, try breaking up the content of your resume so that it’s in shorter sections. The more space you leave between each piece of information, the more legible your content will be.

24. Don’t forget to proofread your resume  

Spelling mistakes and grammatical errors will destroy your chances of success. Ahead of applying for your next job, be sure to proofread your document. But don’t stop there. Ask a friend or someone you trust to do the same. Then, put the document through Grammarly.

25. Do send your resume as a PDF

You’ve ticked a whole bunch of boxes, and now all that there is left to do is send your resume. Don’t fall at the final hurdle. When sending an application, you should use a PDF format. This file type is the best as it keeps every element of your resume in place. 

If you use a Word Document, the format of the document may change depending on how it is opened. That could mean that your resume looks a real mess, even though you worked tirelessly on the design. Never forget this golden rule when applying for jobs.

Key takeaways 

  • Resume writing can be demanding. However, if you perfect this practice, it will increase your chances of landing a job interview.
  • The words that you choose to use have real power. Take the time to pick out the most effective terms when writing your resume.
  • When you have completed that stage, take the time to ensure that your resume looks the part. You can use a template to help you along the way.
  • Before applying for jobs, follow our final resume dos and don’ts. Doing so will give you the highest chance of being a successful applicant.
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