Resume Writing Do’s and Don’ts

If you’re confused about resume writing, don’t feel bad (there’s your first “don’t”!). There is more conflicting information on the internet about what you should or shouldn’t do with your resume than about whether wearing a mask prevents Covid! Ugh.

Here’s my general guidance for you – it’s one word: EMPATHY.

If you were sitting on the other side of the table, receiving this resume, what would you want it to look like? What would you want it to say?

Remember, recruiters are pawing through hundreds of resumes a day – the best “gift” you can give them is a well-formatted resume with information included where they expect to see it. That means:

  • Name, email address, phone number, LinkedIn URL, and city/state/zip at the top.
    • Yes, even if you want remote work you should put the city, state, and zip because some ATS scanners require it.
    • If you’re moving and don’t expect the company to pay for it, putting the new city, state, and zip where you will live is reasonable.
  • Title of the job you’re applying for
  • Brief summary of how adding you to the fold will make the team better
  • 9-12 key skills that align your abilities with the job requirements
  • Education (Move this below work ex.erience once you have some relevant experience.)
  • Work experience
  • Other stuff (Courses, volunteering, affiliations, interests relevant to the work you want to do, etc.)

ATS – what?

Yes, I said ATS. Maybe you’ve heard of the nasty little robots that tear your resume apart and block you from getting a job?

It’s not like that, really. ATS – Applicant Tracking Systems – are tools that help recruiters manage their pile of resumes. Here’s what you need to know about them:

  • Their goal isn’t to keep you out.
  • They can generally read resumes formatted in Word or Google Docs (not always .pdfs).
  • There are many systems, and they are configured by the recruiter for each job they’re hiring for.

Remember I mentioned EMPATHY?

You’ve gotta have empathy for these robots, too. The good news is that if you do it right for the human, you’ll be doing it right for the robot, too.

Here’s an overview of what you should do with your resume to make people and robots happy:

  • Format it in Word or Docs. Submit it as a .doc or .docx file.
  • Put things where they belong (like I already told you).
  • Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS) – limit fancy stuff (like tables); use powerful words so you can keep your bullets short and concise (less than two lines).
  • Title the resume “First-Name Last-Name Resume – Job-Title”.
  • Put your name and correct contact information in the document (not the header).
  • Use months/years or just years in your experience timeline – whichever makes it smoother.
  • Adjust your resume for each job description.
  • Run your resume through Grammarly or another grammar checker.
  • Leave white space; it’s far better to have a 2-page resume than a bunch of lines crammed together!
  • Update your email address to Gmail or something more popular if you have an AOL, Hotmail, or Yahoo address; make sure it’s some iteration of your name and not


  • Include a photo for the US. Photos are a problem for HR managers because of EEO laws. Don’t do it!
  • Provide a bunch of dots to show your skillset. They’re lame and the ATS can’t read them.
  • Omit your location from your header.
  • Go on and on about what you did. Nobody cares. Talk about your IMPACT!
  • Forget to include what you did and how you did it – remember, “Achieved X by doing Y.”
  • Include a resume objective. Everyone knows you want a job.
  • Include unrelated work unless you have to in order to fill a gap; if that’s the case, emphasize the transferrable skills you used in that role.
  • Include overlapping jobs if you can help it. Concurrent work can be a red flag to employers!
  • Get too deep in the weeds about things; only include necessary technical details. Remember, the interview is coming next – you can dig deep at that time.
  • Add references or a line that says, “References available upon request.” We know.
  • List irrelevant skills, certifications, and volunteer activities.
  • Get too hung up on how long the resume is; generally, 1 or 2 pages is fine (3 for project managers).
  • Use jargon or acronyms; at least write out acronyms the first time you use them.
  • List your GPA after you have 2-3 years of work experience (unless you’re applying to graduate school).
  • Build your resume in Canva, Photoshop, or InDesign. The ATS generally can’t read it.
  • Freak out. You’re going to be fine.


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