The Perfect Candidate: Resume Do’s and Don’ts

Let me preface this post with a quick note: I am not a recruiter.  I don’t have any formal recruitment experience (unless you count sorority recruitment *wink wink*) but in my current job, the company is growing like crazy and we are hiring like crazy.  Because I care about my job, my team and who I work with, I’ve included myself in the recruitment process.  I’ve been interviewing candidates onsite and over the phone and reviewing resumes as they come in (I’ve also done this type of informal recruitment at past jobs).

I’ve seen some great resumes and, to be honest, I’ve seen some terrible ones.  From my limited experience, here are my suggestions for what you should and shouldn’t do to create the perfect resume.

If you want to make your resume shines:

Do… List the systems that you have experience with

Even if you’re not applying to a technical job, you should always include the systems you’re proficient in.  Microsoft Office?  Google AdWords?  Salesforce?  Google apps?  It’s actually very surprising how many people don’t have these skills and, I personally, wouldn’t want to get lumped in with them.  Additionally, many recruiting software tools include a search function which means you could get overlooked simply by not having a certain word on your resume.

Do… Brag about what you accomplished and learned at each previous job

Use the descriptions of your previous jobs as an opportunity to brag about what you’ve done.  Instead of giving a boring description of what an “account manager” does, take this chance to explain the skills you’ve learned at this job and your amazing accomplishments that helped the company improve in some way.  Recruiters don’t want to read generic job descriptions, they want to learn about you and what you’ve done.

Do… Keep it short, sweet and to the point

Although you should use your resume to brag about yourself, you need to make sure your points are as clear as day.  A recruiter needs to be able to read through your resume once and understand who you are, what you’ve done and how you can fit with their company.  If a recruiter has to re-read a description just because they don’t understand your lengthy sentence, they’ll lose interest and throw you in the “no” pile.  My tip: write a description of your previous job, review it, and then cut out two thirds of it.

Do… Assume the recruiter has very little time

Recruiters see hundreds of resumes every day, more depending on how large their company is.  So realistically, how much time do you think a recruiter has for your specific resume?  That’s right, not much.  Assume your resume will have very little time in front of the recruiter, less than 10 seconds possibly, and that’s the only first impression you’ll get to make.  So put your best foot forward and don’t hold anything back.  A recruiter isn’t going to look at your resume and wonder “hmm, I bet she did something totally cool and unique and forgot to list it here, I should bring her in for an interview”.

Do… Keep your formatting consistent throughout

If you want to use bullet points, use bullet points.  If you want to bold the names of the companies you’ve worked for, bold them all.  Just make sure you’re consistent.  Nothing irks me more than when I see a resume that is poorly formatted: lines are indented different amounts, different bullet point types are used, one job title is underlined while the next one is italicized.  Inconsistent formatting can actually confuse the recruiter since the formatting of the content signifies the various parts of your resume.  This may be the OCD side of me, but seeing an unformatted resume is an automatic strike in my book.

Do… Use the spell check, please!!

In the amazingly technologically advanced world we live in, it still amazes me when I see spelling errors in resumes.  I mean, this is a summary of yourself that you are using to show other people how amazing you are… and you misspell your job title?!  Spelling errors in a resume say one thing to me: this person is not detail-oriented.  That’s an automatic strike against you and yes, it does affect how I read the rest of your resume.  Do yourself a favor and double check your resume for spelling errors before sending it out.

Do… Tailor your resume to each job you apply for

Think of it this way: you’re applying for a specific job at a specific company.  So shouldn’t you submit a specific application and resume?  The answer is yes.  This means changing the descriptions of your previous jobs to highlight skills and accomplishments that speak to the requirements of the job you’re applying for.  It also means making your objective specific to the job you’re applying for but not necessarily specific to the company you’re applying to.  One thing I would recommend you don’t do is include the name of the company in your objective.  Example: instead of saying “attain a customer service position with X company” say “attain a customer service position with an established tech company in the travel industry”.

Do… Include all of your contact information

This is an easy one but one that many people often overlook.  If you want a recruiter to contact you back about your application, you need to make sure you provide them a way to reach you.  I recommend including your current address, email address and phone number.  Although a company would never send you snail mail, including your mailing address gives the company an idea of where you’re currently located and if you would need to move in order to work for them.

Do… Be creative

If you want to catch the eye of a company or stand out from the rest of the candidates, by all means go ahead.  Create a video, website or even landing page that showcases your skills, talents and desire to work at my company.  Just don’t explode your creativity all over your resume with crazy colors, fonts, formatting or bar graphs (yes, I’ve seen a resume with a color-coded bar graph).  I got a really cool interactive website from one candidate recently that absolutely made me interested in interviewing him.  And I personally have used Tumblr to build a site showcasing my skills and interest in a company when I was applying.  These types of creative projects are the way to catch a person’s eye whether it be a recruiter or the company’s CEO.

Now for the juicy stuff.

Don’t… Forget to format your resume

I’ve recently seen resumes that were not formatted at all.  I mean, at all.  A few line breaks and that was it.  Horrible.  First off, it took me forever to read through these resumes and I had to figure out where job titles started and descriptions ended.  Second, there was no easy way to quickly glance over the resume and determine if the candidate was a good fit.  So what happens?  Went in the “no” pile.

Don’t… Hide the details

Again, your resume is a place to brag, so don’t hide the details!  If you’ve worked with a large user base, tell me about it.  Tell me how large the user base was, how many users you interacted with on a daily basis, and how many new users you acquired.  Numbers work to your advantage in a resume because (1) they don’t take up much space and (2) they give the recruiter hard metrics by which to judge you.  Note: make sure you provide the right numbers i.e. increasing your user base, decreasing response time, cutting costs or increasing revenue.  Also, never lie about your numbers because the truth will always come out in the end.

Don’t… Use multiple colors, fonts or images

Your resume is your professional profile, so make sure it looks professional.  No crazy colors, different fonts or sizes, and definitely no images (not even your strikingly handsome photoshopped picture).  When it comes to colors, your resume is black and white.  Period.  Don’t put in extra colors that will distract the recruiter from the content of your resume and absolutely do not include a key or color code in hopes that the recruiter will figure it out (they probably won’t because they honestly don’t have time to).  As for font types, remember to keep it simple.  I personally prefer Arial but you can get away with Times New Roman or even Verdana.  Absolutely no fonts with curly cues or that are hard to read.  A good test of your font: look at your resume and squint your eyes.  Can you still read it?  If not, something is wrong (font type, size, etc.) and you should change it.

Note: If you’re a designer and applying with a portfolio, obviously this doesn’t apply.  We want to see your design sense and ability and your portfolio is an opportune time to showcase that.

Don’t… List generic abilities or vague skills as your strengths

Telling a recruiter that you’re experienced in “positioning” means absolutely zilch.  What the hell is “positioning”?  Are you talking about sales?  Marketing?  Sexual positions?  Listing generic abilities and vague skills as the reason why you should be hired is actually a reason why you shouldn’t be hired.  When I see something like “positioning” all that says to me is that (1) this guy can’t communicate effectively (2) this guy doesn’t know what job he’s applying for (again, tailor your resume to the job you’re applying for) and (3) this guy won’t do well at my company’s job because he probably didn’t understand what he was doing at his last job.

Don’t… Include Your References

References are a completely separate document and should never be a final page on your resume.  If I want references, I’ll ask for them.  There is a debate around whether or not you need to include the phrase “References upon request” on your resume.  I personally don’t think it’s necessary, after all most recruiters know they can request references from you, but it’s really up to you.  I’ve added it to the end of my resume because I feel like it’s a marker saying “you’ve come to the end of my resume” and because I think it’s polite, but I don’t count it against a candidate if that’s not included.  Tip: if you need more space on your resume, take out the “references upon request” line rather than sacrificing a job description.

Don’t… Copy and paste your previous job descriptions into your resume

I think this is one of the largest resume no-no’s out there.  Whatever you do, do not use the company’s description of your previous job on your resume.  This is an automatic red flag for a recruiter.  It says that you are lazy, rude and passionless.  Lazy because you couldn’t expend the energy to write a short description of what you’ve been doing for the past however many months or years.  Rude because you don’t have the decency to provide the necessary information to the recruiter so they can do their job and make an informed decision.  And passionless because you obviously don’t care about your current job (people who love their jobs won’t shut up about it) or the job you’re applying for – otherwise, you would’ve put more effort into your resume.  Automatic “no” pile.

Don’t… Provide links to your online profiles if the content is not professional

This is actually one of the most entertaining parts of the recruitment process in my opinion.  When people list their Twitter handles or Instagram public profiles, that’s the first thing I look up online.  And sometimes I’m amazed at what I find.  Most of the jaw-dropping content has to do with either alcohol or immaturity, but both do equally as much damage on my opinion of the candidate.  In short, don’t give out links to your online profiles if the content is not appropriate for a recruiter to see.  One of the wonderful things about LinkedIn is that it is specifically built for employers and people use it as such.  So if you want to include a link, use your LinkedIn profile.  I honestly don’t care if you give me an Instagram link, I won’t count it against you.  What I will count against you is if I see photos of you puking in the bushes, showcasing your boobies at a bar, or posing provocatively in a way that should really only be seen by your partner.  So if you don’t use your Instagram, Twitter or Facebook account like you use your LinkedIn account (and I’m betting you don’t), do us all a favor and just hold off on including it.

Don’t… Leave out employment information

This one seems really silly but it happens.  Candidates who are just asking me to put them in my “no” pile will include a job title for a previous job they held, the description of the job, and… nothing else.  No company name, industry or employment dates.  And what am I supposed to do with that?  I guess I can be naive and think you worked for Apple for the last 15 years or I can be judgmental and believe your lack of information implies a lack of interest in working at my company.  The “no” pile just got one resume heavier.

Don’t… Go over one page!

Please, please, for the love of my sanity and the sanity of all recruiters out there, do not make your resume longer than one page.  The only, ONLY, exception to this is if you’re 50+, have an amazing amount of experience, and you literally cannot fit it onto one page.  If you’re 24, have had all of three professional jobs (and one of them was a hostess at the Cheesecake Factory), you don’t need more than one page.  Trust me.

In web design there is a term called “the fold”.  The fold of a website is the point at which a user has to start scrolling to see more content.  Everything “above the fold” of a website includes all the content that you see when the page loads.  Everything “below the fold” includes all the content that you can see only if you scroll down the page.  Good web design puts necessary content above the fold and secondary content below the fold because the average user will not scroll down the page.  Think of your resume like a website and the end of the first page like a website’s fold.  Everything above the fold, meaning on the first page, I’ll read.  Everything below the fold, page two through four, five or six (yes that’s ridiculous!!), I won’t read.  Do yourself a favor and fit everything on one page so I don’t miss anything.

In case you don’t want to take my word for it (and I understand if you want to do more research) here’s a great article from in which hundreds of recruiters were interviewed about the pros and cons of the various resumes they’ve seen.