Based on discussions with hiring managers and countless opportunities to work closely with job seekers, we’ve collected a list of some of the most important resume dos and don’ts for applicants in almost every industry, no matter their age. These rules work for beginners, mid-career job seekers, account managers in New York, and warehouse workers in New Mexico. Keep them in mind as you set off in pursuit of the job of your dreams.
Dos and Don’ts for Job Seekers
DO put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes before you begin to write. What you want is important, but at this stage in the process, what she wants is all that matters. In all forms of negotiation—in the workplace and in life—the most direct path to success comes from focusing on the other person’s needs, not your own.
DO open your resume with a short, clear, relevant summary. Your summary should state the most important reasons why you—and no other candidate—should be hired for this job. Think of the summary as an “elevator pitch,” or the things you’d say to this manager if you stepped onto an elevator together and only had thirty seconds to make your case.
DO keep your phrases and sentences short, elegantly written, and easy to understand. If a sentence seems vague to you, it will seem twice as vague to a reader you’ve never met. Delete the entire phrase and start over.
DON’T stretch the truth. Spin may work in sales, but even if this is an application for a sales job, keep the spin, exaggerations, and razzle-dazzle to a minimum. Use strong verb choices and relevant industry jargon, but don’t use overstatements and fibs, even if you’re sure there’s no way for your readers to cross-check them.
DO channel your inner genius. Don’t just try to convince managers that you’re the best at this. Believe it. You’ve worked hard to get where you are. And no other candidate has the exact combination of skills and credentials that you have.
DON’T use weak verbs. Take words like “is,” “has,” “was,” and “had,” and replace them with words like these: Organized, managed, ran, developed, created, launched, supported, designed, led, followed, built, dismantled, reworked, renewed, etc.
DON’T let any accomplishment go unmentioned if you think it might be relevant to these employers and this position. No matter how long ago you led that team to victory, or published that book, or launched that successful product, or came up with that multi-million dollar idea, make sure this accomplishment has a place in your resume.
DO refer back to the job post as many times as you need to, especially while drafting and polishing your cover letter. Managers often like to see the exact language of the post repeated in the application, since this reduces the possibility of an error or mismatch. If you have skills and certifications that are mentioned in the post, your resume and letter should make this very clear.
DO use a template. Customizing your resume to meet the needs of each individual job and employer is a good idea, but you don’t need to keep rewriting your entire resume and cover letter from scratch. Visit LiveCareer and use the Resume Builder and Cover Letter Builder on the site to create a perfect, professional model that you can use over and over again.