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How to Make a Resume Spotless: Top 10

A man reacting to someone who doesn't know how to make a resume

For everyone, the resume is an ever-evolving document. Not only does it change as your experience does, but it’s one of those projects that never seems perfect no matter how up to date it is. One day you’re happy with it, and the next day you’re questioning it. (And a few weeks of not hearing back from any of the jobs you’ve applied for makes you really question it.) We’ve covered resume writing tips on this blog before, but this time we’re focusing on the top 10 things that will permanently blot a document that is about anything but permanence. In short, leave these things off of your resume.
 

  1. Your picture

    Unless you’re vying for a modelling or acting job, your appearance has nothing to do with your qualifications. In addition to looking unprofessional, a picture of yourself on your resume puts the employer in an uncomfortable, compromising legal position. Since it’s against the law to hire anyone based on their appearance, particularly with regard to race, many employers will throw away any resume that includes a picture of the applicant simply to avoid any legal risks, such as future accusations of discrimination.

    But why is everyone encouraged to use a picture on LinkedIn? This is a good question, and it remains true that including a picture on LinkedIn is crucial. In fact, studies have shown that it is the most observed component of a LinkedIn profile. While that sounds somewhat depressing from a job seeker’s point of view, it’s important to remember that LinkedIn is a social networking site where people primarily come to connect with new contacts rather than search for and apply to jobs.

  2. Irrelevant information

    When it comes to jobs, hobbies, and awards, always ask yourself if it really matters for the employer to know about them. For instance, if you maintain your own successful blog and are applying to a writing job, then by all means list it. Mentioning how you play hockey on the weekends, on the other hand, adds nothing to your application (unless it’s a sports writing job) – in fact, it takes up valuable real estate in two ways: a) That space could be used to mention something more relevant; b) Using it as filler when you really have nothing else to add is just as bad because whitespace helps make a resume look less daunting at first glance (see number 3 below), which is all the more reason to including only information that matters.

  3. Dense blocks of text

    It’s important for the person reviewing your resume to have a comprehensive snapshot of who you are and what your experience is within a few seconds. Being able to easily scan your resume helps them do that – and it’s whitespace that helps them do that. Large blocks of dense text punctuated by 15 bullet points per role not only immediately looks exhausting, but it can also convey to the reader that you’re not able to pinpoint what’s truly advantageous about your skills.

  4. Personal pronouns

    We’ve offered this tip before, but it’s worth some elaboration. Generally speaking, it’s best to refrain from using the words “I”, “me”, “us”, and “we”, or any word that refers directly to you. A resume is supposed to sound impersonal so that the reader feels more like they’re reviewing an objective document like any other business or academic document. In a way, personal pronouns “remind” the reader of your own bias that you are the best person for the job, and that can put them off. Are personal pronouns really that big a deal? Another good question. There are people who champion at least the conservative use of personal pronouns in a resume precisely because it injects some humanity into the document. However, if you feel that way, it’s still best to restrict personal pronouns to the summary section (see number 10 below). Using them in your role descriptions can sound repetitive and will unnecessarily take up space.

  5. Salary information

    Keep your past earnings to yourself. By including them, you can come off as too expensive, or inexpensive enough that the potential employer may offer you a lower salary than they originally had in mind.

  6. Reasons you left your previous job(s)

    Once more, this is your business, and revealing the reasons you left one job or another in your resume is not only going to clutter it, but it will almost invariably work against you. Only discuss such things in person if they’re brought up. At least in a face-to-face conversation, you can provide the proper context, level of detail, and positive spin that you simply cannot in a resume.

  7. Names and contact info of employers and/or references

    Contact information for past employers and references should only be provided once requested, which is typically after you’ve been shortlisted for the job. In fact, putting “References available on request” in your resume is considered obsolete because of course they will be. Eliminating that line is yet another opportunity to de-clutter.

  8. Your High School

    If you have completed any post-secondary education, there is no need to include your high school on your resume. If you attended university or college, it goes without saying that you made it through high school. Once more, save space.

  9. Fancy schmancy paper

    Use plain white or ivory paper. That’s it. No patterns. No backgrounds. No scents. Format, whitespace, and content are what matter. Anything else is a superficial distraction and does not look professional. That’s the black and white of it.

  10. Resume objective

    The usefulness of the resume objective is still hotly debated. Some argue that a clear, concise declaration of your professional goals shows direction, ambition, self-awareness, and helps the reader immediately understand your interest in the job. Others argue that it’s obsolete, focuses too much on what you want versus what the employer wants, can stop the reader dead in their tracks before they reach your more detailed information, or can even pigeonhole you by being too specific, thereby afflicting the reader with tunnel vision and making them unable to see the flexibility of your skills.

    So should I use a resume objective or not? In the debate over the resume objective, there is a compromise, namely the “summary”. Like a photo of yourself, LinkedIn users swear by it, saying it is one of the most effective components of any LinkedIn profile because not only does it provide a quick overview of your experience, but it also allows you to tell a quick story, let your unique personality shine through, and end with a call-to-action (all of which should be done within about 250 words). So why restrict the summary to LinkedIn when it can make an excellent, modern replacement for the risky resume objective?…Exactly.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. All good advice. One more thing to consider, even though it will cause you more work, one resume does not fit all opportunities! You really do need to customize your resume to every single position you are applying for.

    Like

    April 15, 2014
  2. Thank you so much for this post. I think resume is a necessity for proactive job seekers. Given this information, I’m thinking of redoing my resume so that it’ll be there whenever something may come up.
    I am currently reading guides on how to improve my resume at http://www.exploretalent.com/articles/definitive-guide-to-making-a-professional-resume-for-your-acting-jobs/ so that it may look interesting in the eye of eye of the casting directors. Cheers!

    Like

    February 4, 2015

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