As a career counselor, I see a lot of resumes. They range anywhere from the absolutely atrocious to the epitome of formatting perfection. Crafting a resume is a daunting task for almost everyone I meet with (cover letters as well, but that’s a whole different ball game).
I’ve compiled a list of my top resume “don’ts” based on all my client conversations. Let’s just call this the resume format version; I’ll put out the 2.0 version on resume content at a later date. You may disagree with some and that’s okay- one of the hardest things about resumes is that every recruiter/counselor is going to have their own opinion. These are just mine.
Kelly’s Top 10 Resume Don’ts:
10. Don’t use a bunch of different fonts. The average hiring manager spends about 10 seconds (if you’re lucky) looking at a resume before deciding whether or not they’re going to put it into the “possible candidate pile”. Don’t make the recruiter think you’re scattered and disorganized before they’ve even started reading it by having too many fonts messing with their eyes. If you need to have more than one font- limit it to two, one for the headings and one for the content. Similarly…
9. Don’t use a bunch of font sizes. In regards to size, your name should be the only thing larger than 12 point font. If you MUST make your headings a larger size, keep it very slight- I’m talking one or two font points larger than the rest of your document.
8. Don’t get crazy with the font styles. Nobody likes Comic Sans- seriously, nobody. Other fonts to avoid: Chiller, Broadway, Curlz and any font that looks like you hired a cheap calligrapher to write your resume. Stick with any standard font that will work across systems. There’s nothing more annoying than when I open up a resume done on a Mac and its some weird font on my PC. Safe fonts include: Calibri, Ariel, Times New Roman (I personally hate this font, but it’s acceptable), Georgia, and Garamond. Just use common sense, if the font looks like that font your 3rd grade teacher used on a flyer for the school play- change it.
7. Don’t leave tons of blank space. In other words, balance out your page. I personally suggest tabbing your dates over to the right side of the page in line with your job title because most of your content will begin on the left. Know that you can have margins as small as .5 inches around your page to give you more space. Career Development has resume samples you can model your resume after- as does your co-op advisor.
6. Don’t use color (unless it is appropriate for your industry). I applaud your attempt to try something new and stand out, but unless you’re a designer, you’re probably not equipped with the correct eye for these things. Know your industry, if you’re a graphic designer, your resume should have color and showcase your “brand” and design talents; if you’re an accountant- not so much.
5. Don’t list “references available upon request”. If you get to this part of the interview process they’re going to ask you for references regardless of whether or not your resume says this at the bottom. Don’t waste the space.
4. Don’t waste space. If you’re just starting out, your resume will be short and that’s okay. Take advantage of styling it so it looks relatively full (maybe a 12 point Ariel font, 1 inch margins, etc.).
If you’ve been in business a while, one page is still the standard- especially if you just graduated. If you have a master’s degree, I’ll let you slide with two pages. Remember that space is a valuable commodity; ask yourself with each section and bullet point- ‘What skill or qualification am I trying to convey with this?’ If you can’t answer that question, the section/bullet is just taking up space: DELETE.
3. Don’t list every course you’ve ever taken. That’s great you took College Writing and Algebra I, so did everyone else in college in America. Don’t waste the space on something that’s not adding value to your resume- especially when it’s at the top listed with your education (or should be if you’re a recent graduate or new professional).
List courses that are relevant to your industry and make your stand out. Also, remember you can be asked about anything you list on that resume, so be prepared to talk about that History of Rock class if you’re going to list it.
2. Don’t make spelling or grammatical errors. I, for one, am NOT detail oriented, but when I’m looking over a resume, all of a sudden, I have an eagle eye. This resume is a reflection of your attention to detail. If you don’t care enough to make sure the resume is written well, than you probably don’t care that much about the position. Even if that’s not true, that’s what the employer is thinking. Plus, it just gives them a reason to throw your resume out, especially if they have 500 to go through and they have to narrow it down to 10. My rule of thumb: always have 3 people read it over- just for that reason.
Drum roll please… my top resume Don’t:
1. Don’t lie. No, seriously, don’t lie. Misrepresenting yourself reflects poorly on you as a professional, but also as a person (oh and the school too). Also, why are you trying to tell people you can do something that you can’t do? Once you get hired (if you even get that far) it’s not like you’ll magically develop the skill. You’ll have to eventually confess that you were lying, or more likely, they’ll figure it out first and you’ll get fired.
Like all humans, hiring managers respect honestly and integrity. If there is a skill they’re looking for and you sort of have it- list it as ‘basic knowledge’ or ‘working knowledge’ on your resume. If you’re asked about it during an interview, you can explain what you know, how you’ve applied that skill, and also what you’ve been doing in the meantime to develop it as you know it’s required for the position.
Don’t list your high school after you’ve done a co-op (or once you’re in your third year). Unless you went to an elite high school that you think will give you some pull wherever you’re applying, it’s most likely not adding any value to your resume at this point. If you’re a freshman or sophomore, high school is still generally OK.
Kelly Scott is Assistant Director of Career Development and Social Media Outreach at Northeastern University. A social media enthusiast and Gen Y, she enjoys writing about workplace culture and personal online branding. For more career insight, follow/tweet her at @kellydscott4.