7 DOs & 7 DO NOTs to a Great Resume


While you might think that, in the year 2013, resumes seem a bit passe and old-fashioned, they’re still the primary means of conveying one’s credentials and accomplishments.  It’s very true that business-geared social media sites such as LinkedIn now serve as a proxy for one’s resume; however, the same problem applies to that online form factor: you must write it and it must be compelling.

In authoring a resume, whether for online or offline use, you have three major objectives:

  1. you want to be found in an automated search;
  2. you want to be selected for an interview by the recruiter or hiring manager;
  3. you want it to convey a compelling picture of your professional value during the interview.

I’ve seen and reviewed thousands of resumes over the past twenty-five years.  Below is my frank guidance to anyone who needs help achieving the aforementioned three objectives with their resume.  Good luck out there!

The Seven DOs


1. Do customize your resume for your industry, career stage, and personal brand

All rules you hear about resume-writing must be adjusted for your situation: in some industries, being creative and standing out with your resume is expected; in senior stages of one’s career, a bit of formality might be called for given the audience, and in many creative fields, a portfolio-based resume is most appropriate.  Don’t be afraid to adjust all rules to your situation.

2. Do make the first page worthy of standing on its own

Perhaps the most frequent question I get asked is, “should I force my resume onto one page?”  My answer is that while a one-pager isn’t plausible in mid-to-late stages of one’s career, I strongly recommend that the first page of any resume be worthy of standing on its own as a summary or overview; details can follow in successive pages with a total of no more than four or five pages for the most seasoned of executives.  When you’re buying a home, it’s very typical to recognize the right one only seconds after entering the front door; the same should be the case with your resume’s first page: it should make a strong first impression that will tell the interviewer whether or not you’re going to be on his or her short list of candidates.

3. Do make your first section a quick summary of who you are

The first section should provide, at a glance, an overview of who you are: your specialties, current roles you play, sizes of teams you manage, scope of business you oversee, and so on.  It should adhere to all of the rules that follow this one and should serve as a compelling introduction to the rest of the first page.

4. Do use bullets instead of paragraphs

Concise bullets are the very best way to convey high-level information; the interviewer can find out more talking to you in-person so there’s no need for you to list every single detail of an accomplishment or role.  Verbs typically make the best first word in a bullet point and can help you get to the point quickly.

5. Do use a lot of white space

I can’t overstate the importance of white space in a great resume; those of us who aren’t artistically-focused tend to underestimate the visual benefits of white space and how much it contributes to readability.  A great resume has effective use of white space both between and within sections.

6. Do ensure your resume is machine-readable

Most resumes these days are found by machines that index keywords within large volumes of electronic resumes.  For that reason, it’s important to account for the kinds of keywords that human resources personnel as well as recruiters might be looking for.  Moreover, it’s important to ensure that those keywords are not embedded in non-character elements (e.g., images or other non-character formats) that cannot be indexed and found during both automated and manual keyword searches.

7. Do understand and leverage your digital footprint

Just as important as your resume is your digital footprint.  The first thing I do before interviewing finalists is to search for their online presence as it gives me some quick context in addition to their resumes.  Be aware of what your online footprint says about you, especially if your name is quite common and you could in any way be confused with someone else.  If that is the case, make sure to stress your middle name and/or other attributes of yourself to make sure that the correct footprint is found.  One great way to do this is to have your own blog which provides you a sponsored location on the Internet in addition to having the traditional social media presence (e.g., LinkedIn, Twitter, and so on).

The Seven DO NOTs


1. Do not exceed three to five bullets per section

While bullets are so much better than paragraphs in a resume, too many bullets can be even worse.  I strongly recommend trying to stay to three to five bullets per section.  Any more than that and they’ll likely not be read at all.

2. Do not have a single typo or grammatical mistake

A typo or grammatical mistake on a resume paints such a negative impression; it sends the message that the author didn’t care enough to double-check their work when it really counted.

3. Do not bother with high school if you have any college experience

If you’ve attended some college, be sure to include that and, in doing so, exclude your high school experience.  Listing your high school experience typically detracts from the credibility of your education section unless the high school was a college preparatory high school with name recognition (note: very few of that caliber exist).

4. Do not use a funny yet controversial email address

Of late, I’ve noticed a lot of younger candidates using witty or clever e-mail addresses that could be seen as taking it too far.  While such e-mail addresses are just fine for personal use, a good, old-fashioned business-sounding address is probably the best idea if you don’t know the interviewer.

5. Do not bother with an Objectives section

I’ve never really understood the seemingly useless “Objectives” section that appears all too often on resumes.  It always contains nearly identical content with something like, “seeking a challenging position with a great organization that’ll leverage my experience and expertise.”  I know your objective: it’s to get an interview and ultimately get the job.  Enough said.

6. Do not use proprietary acronyms or jargon

Especially with technical resumes, all too often, I find them filled with acronyms that are proprietary to a certain company or industry.  Make sure your resume is readable and understandable by your target audience and don’t assume they know the acronym your last employer used to refer to their customer database.

7. Do not have multiple personalities

While a lot of people advise having multiple resumes, one for each job application, I disagree.  Be proud of your background and your accomplishments and don’t be tempted to create “multiple personalities”.  It’s one thing to “tailor” a resume slightly for a job by removing sections that may not matter to one position or to provide more details for a job that is especially relevant.  It’s completely another to have multiple versions of your resume with different titles on each, none of which reconcile with your online resume available for anyone to see.  Be confident but always be honest.

If you enjoyed this article, you might be interested in: Eight Grammar Rules Every Business Person Knows But Frequently Misuses.

This post is featured on Wired Magazine‘s Innovation Insights.

One thought on “7 DOs & 7 DO NOTs to a Great Resume

  1. Pingback: Against the Herd Is 6 Months Old: The Most-Read Posts So Far | Bassam Against the Herd

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