6 Resume Rules You Can Ignore

Resume rules can be useful, there’s no doubt about this. Many people who step onto the job market are new grads and novices, or they’ve been steadily employed for a long time and their job search skills are a little rusty. Under these uncertain circumstances, rules and structure provide a sense of direction and security, and most job seekers find them helpful. Universally accepted “rules” also let managers and employers know what to expect from candidates, and they make it easier to compare each resume in the applicant pool with the next.

So rules can move us forward. But sometimes they also hold us back. Here are a few resume rules, guidelines, and common “musts” that aren’t always beneficial for job seekers. Some of them also make the staffing process more difficult for employers (which can undermine a candidate’s chances of winning them over.). 

1. Optional means Optional

Optional does NOT mean optional. When employers ask for a resume or a web-based application, candidates who follow the directions exactly will improve their odds of landing the job. But when these instructions include phrases like “Upload a cover letter if you choose”, or “Optional portfolios of past work will be accepted,” don’t be misled. If you see the words “optional” or “encouraged”, take action. Your competitors will, so you should too.

2. Buzzwords and jargon show that you’re an insider.

When correctly applied, industry jargon can set you apart from less knowledgeable candidates who lack the benefit of your experience. But jargon and buzzwords are not the same thing. Say yes to specific terms that demonstrate deep knowledge and specialization within your larger field. Say no to businessy-sounding nonsense and nominalizations, like “datafication,” “systematize,” “utilization,” and “paradigmatically.”

3. Exclusions and omissions are as bad as lies.

This is not the case. If you’re going to limit your resume to one or two (at most) pages, you may very well have to remove some information from your history, including non-relevant jobs you’ve held in the past. There’s nothing wrong with this, and in fact, it can make your resume easier to review and your reader’s job easier. If you feel like it might streamline your message and improve your chances, you can even omit certain degree and education credentials. Just make sure the information that stays on the page is accurate and correct, including employment and degree completion dates. 

4. A GPA below 3.0 will ruin your chances of getting a job.

Your GPA won’t have much influence over your candidacy unless you graduated within the past two years. After two years, you’re wise to remove your GPA from your document altogether.

5. Arrange your previous jobs in chronological order.

You can arrange your previous jobs in chronological order if you choose, but you can also arrange them in order of relevance to the job at hand. Either method is acceptable.

6. Let your reader know that you can provide references.

Your readers will assume that references are available if they ask for them. You don’t need to state this on your resume.

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