6 most violated resume writing rules

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This is the problem with the resume-writing world: Everyone thinks they're an exception to the rules. Everyone thinks they can pick and choose which rules are important. Do not do this. Until you work in human resources and personally scan 300 resumes a day, you are in no position to discard rules of resume writing. Here are the six most violated rules among the resumes that people send to me to review:

1. One page. The job of a resume is to get you an interview, not get you a job. A hiring manager has to sift through a pile of resumes to figure out which person to interview. Each resume gets about a ten-second look. If you think you need a longer resume, give someone one page of your resume and have them look at it for ten seconds. Ask them what they remember; it won't be much. They are not going to remember any more information in ten seconds if you give them two pages to look at; ten seconds is ten seconds.

2. Ditch the line about references on request. It's implied. Of course, if someone wants a reference, you will give one. No one presumes that you will not. So when you write that you will provide a reference you seem to not understand how the game is played. (Bonus tip: If you have an excellent reference, like a CEO of a Fortune 500 company who vacations with your Mom, have the reference call before you even go to the interview. Sets the tone for the employer to think you are amazing.)

3. Tread lightly on the personal interests line. Your personal interests are not there to make you look interesting. They are there to get you an interview. Every line on your resume is there to get you an interview. So only list personal interests that reveal a quality that will help you meet the employer's needs. If you are in sports marketing, then by all means, list that you kayak. If you were an Olympic athlete, put it down because it shows focus and achievement. If you are a mediocre hobbyist, leave it off. Personal interests that don't make you stand out as an achiever do not help you. And personal interests that are weird make you look weird and you don't know if your interviewer likes weird or not, so leave weird off the resume.

4. You must list achievements, not job duties. Anyone can do a job. Achievements show you did the job well. Past performance is the best indicator of future performance, so don't let someone think you just showed up for your last job and didn't do it well. It's very hard to see your achievements from the trenches; you might think you did not have achievements because your boss doesn't ask you to do achievements, your boss asks you to do tasks and projects. But you need to recognize that you do not see achievements and ask for help to see them. A resume coach, or even a friend, can help you to see them more clearly.

5. Don't be a designer unless you are. If you have more than three fonts on your resume and you're not a designer, I can promise you that you've botched the layout. If design were easy, no one would get paid for it. Recognize your strengths and keep design elements to the bare minimum. And please, save Photoshop for cards to your mom: Just because you know how to use the shading tools doesn't mean you know how to use them well.

6. List your most recent job first. Chronological order is only a good idea if you are looking to get hired to go back in time. Otherwise you look like you're bucking resume writing convention in order to hide something, which you probably are, but you have to do it with a better sleight of hand than that.

37 replies
  1. Recruiting Animal
    Recruiting Animal says:

    2. “Ditch the line about references on request.”

    Very good advice. But if someone is dumb enough to think I won’t ask for references if they don’t put that line in, there’s little hope of them giving it up. I struggled — struggled — to get a friend to give it up without success. He consulted the VP in his company and that eminent personage (goofball) told him not to listen to me.

    1. “One page.” I don’t agree. It depends on how much information you have to handle. Mind you, if you’re in Gen Y, you won’t have enough experience for two pages and then this advice would be fine.

    4. “List achievements, not job duties.” A lot of people who don’t understand your job will be scanning your resume for duties they can match to the job specifications. I’m one of those people. So, duties then achievements is what I look for.

  2. Jobsearching Jill
    Jobsearching Jill says:

    How do you feel about listing basic computer competence? I feel it is a waste of a line to put: proficient in MS Outlook, Powerpoint, Word, etc. I think you’d have a difficult time finding a professional today that lacks those abilities.

    * * * * * * *

    Yes. Agree.

    • UncleBaldric
      UncleBaldric says:

      You obviously don’t have colleagues like mine, whose documents and spreadsheets I get called on to fix almost every day…

      (On the other hand, if people list computer proficiencies on their resumes, I would tend to be sceptical without a proficiency test.)

  3. veronica
    veronica says:

    on Reverse Chronological Order: what’s the problem with this? I’ve only ever seen resumes that start from the job you currently hold then work backwards from there. It makes sense for an employer to be able to see them in that order. Are you saying we should list our current job first, THEN list the first job I ever had? won’t that look weird?

    Thanks for pointing out the error. I fixed it.

  4. Peter
    Peter says:

    I agree with everything except number one. There is no way a resume should be just one page long. I look for historical performance and job consistency. And to be honest, I am also looking for keywords (skills) and how long those keywords were in use. If I have to go to the 2nd or 3rd page to get those details – so be it. Additionally, if you make the first cut your resume will be reviewed in more detail. One page doesn’t provide much detail.

  5. Daniel
    Daniel says:


    What do you think about including an line in your resume for your “objective”? As in, “Objective: To make company xyz the leader in widget production worldwide”? My stepmother swears it’s essential, but I think it’s goofy. What do you think?

    * * * * *

    Leave it off. Your objective is to leverage your skills and experience to get a job with the company you are applying to. If your objective is anything else you shouldn’t be applying.


  6. Ryan
    Ryan says:

    As far as the one page resume I think this an important rule to follow if it is even a question in your mind. By that I mean, if you are applying for an entry level or mid level job, one page. If you need more than one page you will “know” you need more than one page.

  7. jay
    jay says:

    Accomplishments for scanning by the human eye; a separate resume with duties for those machine scanners that have not yet evolved sufficiently to understand accomplishments.

    That initial 10 second skimming seldom gets beyond the middle of the first page. At that point a one or multi-page resume is irrelevant. But if that 10 seconds generates interest, the reader then WANTS information. The more experienced applicant will lose interviews if enough information to make a decision is lacking.

  8. kay
    kay says:

    I have redone my resume a million times over. I am at wits end…….can’t seem to find a job in this Houston. Moving to PA, my hubby got a job there….seems they have jobs there……..are there sites that can help in doing my resume for a fee..

  9. Chelsie
    Chelsie says:

    This is AMAZING!!!! Extremely useful and helpful but also hilarious at the same time :)

  10. melquiades velez
    melquiades velez says:


    I am sick and tired of rewriting and revising resumes too.

    Now, what is your honest advice in curbing the gap barrier.

    Twenty-three plus years of experience is 23 years.

    Where does a person begin at 57 years of age??

    By the way, make it 2 pages and 3 if need be.

    Thanks for the opportunity

    Thank you

  11. Sofie
    Sofie says:

    I am always looking for a job. I work in the event industry and it was hit pretty hard by the recession. Also, there is a lot of change in the industry, tons of freelancers. All this means is that I’m an expert job seeker — unfortunately. I used to be an agency recruiter and have been interviewed by a lot of HR people, as well as other agency recruiters and have been on the hiring end, both for a company and an agency, also as a salesperson selling recruitment services into any company. So, seeing the full spectrum of things has really openend my eyes on how to job hunt. I agree with all the points listed except the first one. Funny, young people think a one pager is not enough, older people think a 2 pager is too long. Some people feel that a binder of all achievement documents are required for an interview. All I can say is, do what suits your personality. If you just graduated, use one page. If you have been around for 20 years like me, do 2 – 3 pages. Always apply with a cover letter, it looks more professional, it doesn’t matter if its generic. Use a career objective, it means you have a goal. List job duties/responsibilities, because agency and HR software look for keywords, like “operations” “sales”, etc. Type up your achievments and take them with you to the interview, talk about yourself using that. I never much liked people who listed their personal interests. It takes away from the fact that a resume is a summary of your career history. Something more interesting and relevant is volunteer work. At least its commendable. One more final point. No one ever reads a resume from beginning to end, unless its the owner a company and he’s hiring you out of his own pocket. Then the fine tooth comb comes out. Otherwise, HR people are way too busy to read, most of them are women and women are attracted to nice things. Make sure you format the resume to “look” very appealing. This will get you a phone call for sure. Also, if you never want to worry about having a hard time finding work, try to get a job at a big company doing anything and stay there for as long as possible. Recruiters and HR people always look for what is safest for themselves and their company first. THey only hire the ones that fit into a certain mould. Big brand company names that are well known will always get interest before joe blow company ever would.

  12. Cilo
    Cilo says:

    Okay, I will try this. For some reason, I have never been taught about the cover letter, but common sense told me to write a one-page “RESUME” that fits in just after my job history. May I assume the correct way would be to cut that out, and make it my front page? After all, it is my entire history, rewritten in a sort of engaging, friendly and story-like manner.

  13. Pamela
    Pamela says:

    I am a recruiter and I agree with much of what you stated here with the exception of cramming everything on to one page. I would rather see an informative resume. If two pages is necesssary to bullet point out 5 job duty lines along with 3-4 accomplishments that would be useful. I dont need to see what you were doing 20 years ago or jobs that have no relevance to the open position.

  14. Bill
    Bill says:

    One page? Sorry, that is just not enough for an accomplished, experienced professional and results in underselling your achievements. At least from the perspective of every recruiter to whom I have ever spoken about the subject, the “one-page-rule” applies, at most, to the entry-level job seeker.

  15. David
    David says:

    Fire the middle man (the recruiter) and the job market problem will be solved, the company will save and the employees will be happy.

  16. Lovers Mudau
    Lovers Mudau says:


    thanks for your advice. but, i have a few questions to ask. it looks like most recruiters are looking for an experience and accomplishment in a resume. so, how can i write a resume if i dont have any experience and any relavant achievement that match the job?. please help me here, then i will start to build my resume from the cratch. i have been looking for jobs for so long since i am a Computer Science Graduate.

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