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“Irene, I’ve sent out my resume to a dozen of recruiters and I haven’t heard back from anyone. I’ve spent hours tweaking it and adding to it, but I don’t know if I’m including the right things. Help!”
Unfortunately, I hear this very, very often.
By the way, it’s a problem that you can solve – quickly and painlessly – by using my premium resume writing service (shameless plug, I know).
If you’re not quite ready to hire a resume writer, let me show you how to do it yourself.
Writing a great resume begins with knowing how much detail to include.
This is why I decided to create a comprehensive list of ALL the things you MUST INCLUDE in your resume.
That being said, you also need to know which items to cull. To that end, I’ve also included 22 elements you MUST EXCLUDE from your resume.
By the way, do you want to be absolutely certain that your resume contains all the right elements? Consider using my:
- recommended free resume builder, if you’re on a budget.
- premium resume writing service, if you’re a mid-career professional.
- executive resume writing service, if you’re a senior leader.
Include: A Crisp Employment Summary.
Recruiters and hiring managers spend an average of 6 seconds reviewing a resume.
Within those 6 seconds, they primarily look for employment history (job title, company name and dates of tenure).
Adding an employment summary to the front page of your resume makes this information pop. Keep the format clean, simple and in line with the ‘F’ shaped technique used in scan reading.
Director of Operations Aug 2017 – Current
Head of Operations Sep 2012 – Jul 2017
Exclude: Unnecessary Demographic Details.
Your resume should not include your gender, location, age, marital status, sexuality, number of children, health status or anything else that fuels unconscious bias in the recruitment process.
Recruiters don’t expect to see these details – and blind recruitment as a technique is becoming more and more popular.
Include: A Key Skills Section.
The inclusion of a key skills section in a resume is perhaps one of the most debated topics online. I’m an advocate on including key skills in one of two formats:
- A grid or table: Including no more than 16 carefully selected key skills that align with the role you’re applying for. This approach will optimise your resume for ATS (Applicant Tracking Systems) and enable scan reading for ‘human’ reviews. For example:
- Bullet point key assets: Up to 4 succinct bullet points that highlight your key competencies and are backed up with a tangible benefit or result. I typically use this approach with executive clients as it elevates their leadership skills and declares loudly the organisational problems they can solve. For example:
Exclude: A Home Phone Number.
Including a home phone number on your resume suggests you’ll be there. All day.
Successful people don’t stay at home waiting for The Bold & The Beautiful to start, so do yourself a favour and list your mobile number instead.
Exclude: An Inappropriate Email.
Don’t put an overly personal email on your resume (e.g., firstname.lastname@example.org). Also, avoid the noughties throw backs: e.g. Hotmail or Yahoo! email addresses.
Finally, remember that work emails are not appropriate.
You won’t make the best first impression on recruiters if you blatantly use your employer’s resources to find alternative employment.
The best option is to pay a few dollars per month for an email that’s hosted on your personal domain – e.g., email@example.com. Doing this demonstrates that you take your professional brand seriously.
Include: Social Media URLs.
93% of recruiters claim to vet candidates on social media prior to offering them a role.
It means including your LinkedIn or Twitter URLs on your resume a good idea. However, you must audit the accounts first, to make sure they’re devoid of personal content.
You don’t want Brenda in HR seeing *that* picture from your last holiday.
Exclude: Attempts To Hide Employment Gaps With ‘Consultant’.
It’s true – gaps in employment can be a red flag to potential employers. However, attempting to obscure the gap with the ‘Independent Consultant’ doesn’t make the problem go away
Instead, it does exactly the opposite by attracting unnecessary scrutiny and arousing suspicion – especially if you use vague descriptions with nary a client name or project detail in sight.
You don’t need to worry about gaps of 3 to 6 months.
They can even be positioned as a benefit later during your job interview – that you’re rested, rejuvenated and ready to take on new challenges.
If, however, you’ve legitimately been a sole trader, freelancer or independent consultant, be sure to provide specific details such as:
- Clients you’ve worked with.
- Duration and scope of engagements.
- Quantifiable impact.
- Responsibilities associated with building a business and finding clients.
Include: Strong Action Verbs.
Recruiters want to see competencies which demonstrate your skills and experience in solving organisational problems. In other words, power and purpose.
The easiest way to inject both power and purpose into your resume is by ensuring that your resume includes carefully selected action verbs. For example:
- Shaped vision and strategy…
- Forged relationships with influential stakeholders…
- Drove continuous improvement…
Be aware of matching action verbs to your level. Choose transactional if you’re at a manager level and those with a strategic slant if you’re an executive. For example:
- Execute vs Spearhead
- Persuade vs Inspire
- Developed vs Shaped
Exclude: Company-Specific Jargon.
This mistake most often made by engineering and military types. If that’s you, you’re probably used to including niche jargon in your communication.
Likewise, your company may use acronyms that aren’t universal across the business world. Recruiters need plain English – they don’t have the time to figure out what you mean by:
“Led the FTRE team to achieve 10% LXR target, YOY…”
Similarly, recruiters may not know all the specialist competencies and skills required for every job in every industry, so if you have specific qualifications that need to be communicated, add a summary of technologies, methodologies or other niche knowledge nuggets at the end of your resume.
Exclude: Reasons For Leaving.
Your resume is a marketing document and should be 100% positive.
Including ‘Reason for leaving: made redundant’ adds nothing to your value proposition.
Recruiters will have these conversations later in the recruitment process and in a way that allows you to elaborate (positively) on your experiences.
Include: Razor-Sharp Achievements.
Recruiters like facts, figures and verbal brevity. When writing your achievements use punchy, front-loaded sentences:
“Increased revenue by 10%…”
“Reduced staff attrition to under 3%…”
“Built a $2M business from the ground-up…”
“Awarded ‘Team of the Year’…”
For bonus points, spell your achievements out in a way which provides a reader with additional context. For example:
“Was responsible for managing relationships with European stakeholders…”
Is nowhere near as effective as:
“Conducted successful contract negotiations with ABC Industries, resulting in savings of $3 million in 2017”.
Include: Non-Executive Director/Voluntary Positions.
The 2016 Deloitte Impact Survey found that over 80% of recruiters agreed that “volunteer or non-exec director experience builds leadership skills”.
Sadly, it also found that only 30% of candidates include this information on their resumes.
If you have this type of experience, make sure to include it on your resume.
Include: A Killer Headline.
Recruiters won’t go hunting through the text of your resume to understand what your value proposition is. They want it to bounce off the page.
A powerful headline (usually placed under your name) will tell recruiters your profession and your unique value.
CEO | International Business Leadership | Maximising Return
Chief Financial Officer | Chartered Accountant | Manufacturing
Head of Human Resources | Mergers & Acquisitions
Exclude: Silly Attempts To Sound Hip.
When writing your headline (and beyond!) avoid the temptation to label yourself as a “Number Monkey”, “Head Honcho” or “Morale Captain”.
Those were (somewhat) cool in 2015. Today they’re a sure-fire way to get your resume placed in the ‘No’ pile.
Exclude: Any Hint Of Boredom From Your Personal Statement.
Your personal statement needs to be snappy, succinct and powerful – a perfect paragraph of no more than 150 words constructed of elegant sentences that highlight your unique brand.
A dull personal statement with generic phrasing is a real turn off for recruiters.
Sentences that start with “Results-orientated”, “Hard-working”, or “Outcome-focused” should never be included on your resume.
Exclude: Irrelevant Education.
I know you’re proud of that Diploma In Management that you got back in 1922.
The reality is, employers don’t care. They want to see recent or highly relevant qualifications that add to your value proposition.
Review education and professional development related content on your resume with that in mind. Is it relevant? Is it of value? Does it add to your value proposition?
If you answer “yes” to these questions, place the content front and centre on the first page of your resume. Otherwise, place it towards the end.
Also, consider splitting your education and professional development into two sections. For example, a ‘Selected’ section on the first page and a ‘Continued’ section towards the end.
Include: Names Of Institutions.
When listing your education and professional development, remember that the institution you studied at is as important as the course itself.
Failure to include them on your resume can give the impression of a sub-standard award, so don’t neglect to include them alongside the course name. No need to list dates.
Exclude: Referee Details.
Data protection, privacy wasted real estate on your resume are three reasons why you shouldn’t include your referees’ details – especially if you’re making speculative applications.
Referee details aren’t required during the early stages of the recruitment process.
If they’re needed in later stages, you’ll be asked. For now, the standard ‘References available on request’ is sufficient.
Exclude: Irrelevant Jobs.
This mistake is commonly made by candidates who use online resume templates.
Recruiters want to know about the appointments you’ve held in the last 10 years. Only go back further (typically 15 years maximum) if the experience is highly relevant or forms a core part of your value proposition.
Earlier experience can always be ‘name dropped’ into your professional profile if you feel it adds value. For example,
“Building on an early career with market innovator Apple, I bring +10 years leadership experience…”
Include: Short Periods Of Employment.
What should you do if you’ve had a short (6-12 month) stint?
I recommend that you list the role and date accurately in your employment summary (so you don’t have any gaps). Next, you should place that role in an ‘Additional’ employment history towards the back of your resume, along with your earlier experience.
Don’t try to make it something it’s not – it will dilute your story.
Include: Company Info.
Recruiters like to see company names which they recognise because it gives them context (business size, revenue turnover, areas of operation).
If you’ve worked in lesser-known companies then your resume should include a short ‘blub’ about those companies to helps recruiters understand your experience. Try to keep these blurbs to 1-2 lines and focus on facts/figures.
Exclude: Irrelevant Responsibilities.
When reviewing resumes, recruiters look for core competencies. They don’t want a comprehensive list of everything you did during your time in a role.
Typically, responsibilities fall into 5 categories: strategy, finance, people leadership, stakeholders and continuous improvement. The structure of your bullet points should tell recruiters the “what”, “how” and “why” of each duty.
“Shaped a 3-year marketing plan [what] informed by comprehensive consumer data and insights [how], to drive an increase in sales revenue, market position and brand reach [why].”
Include: A Marketing Hook.
A resume is a marketing document that tells your unique story.
Having a ‘hook’ or ‘theme’ in your resume will keep you in the memory of recruiters as ‘that’ professional who did ‘X’.
Research shows us that most people will remember three things about any social encounter or document review.
Read over your resume, keeping this ‘Rule Of Three’ in mind. Which three key strengths do you want to emphasise?
Exclude: Excessive Cross-Functional Experience.
This resume mistake is often made by high achievers with complex work histories.
Whilst cross-functional experience can be of value, cramming all your areas of expertise into your resume is counter-productive. For example, a claim like this…
“Expertise spanning business analysis, accounting, marketing and sales.”
…dilutes your brand and confuses recruiters. Don’t position yourself as a jack of all trades. Pick a direction and tailor your resume to suit.
Exclude: Rambling Sentences.
Long-winded sentences that join disparate ideas and outcomes will leave the reader lost and disengaged.
To grab a recruiter’s attention, stick to sentences with a maximum of 2 lines and 2 clauses that relate to one core competency.
For example, instead of writing this monster:
“Bringing a reputation for helping to optimise financial processes whilst maximising productivity within a challenging fast paced environment, I leverage advanced communications skills to engage with stakeholders and meet tight deadlines.”
Split the sentence to make it more readable:
“I bring a reputation for optimising financial processes to optimise productivity. Leveraging advanced communication skills, I influence stakeholders in a challenging, fast-paced environment to meet tight deadlines.”
Exclude: The Damn Objective!
Once you’ve applied for a role, your objective is implied. Adding an explanation such as “currently seeking new leadership challenges” is of little value.
Recruiters aren’t interested in solving your problems. They want to know how you can solve theirs.
Include: A Hint Of Personality.
Job seekers almost always forget to include this on their resumes.
Your resume is a representation of who you are – and failing to inject any personality will make it difficult for you to gain the traction you’re looking for.
That’s because likability is important, both for getting hired and for succeeding at work.
Added to this, employers are looking for indicators of culture fit. In other words, how your values, goals and approaches match those of the organisation you are applying to.
Be sure to include touches of personality colour across your resume by highlighting not just what you do, but how and why you do it.
Exclude: Personal Statement Written In 3rd Person.
Writing your personal profile in the third person is old-fashioned and, quite frankly, makes for uncomfortable reading. Interestingly, it’s one of the most common resume mistakes made by lawyers.
As an introduction to your brand, your resume needs to connect with recruiters on a personal level. Writing it in the first person facilitates that. So instead of:
“Chris is an accomplished operations director with 10 years’ experience in retail.”
“I am an accomplished operations director with 10 years’ experience in retail.”
By the way if you need to brush up on the rules of apostrophe use check out my blog post here.
Include: The Remainder Of Your Resume, Written In 1st Person.
Whilst a personal statement needs your voice, the rest of your resume should have a more professional tone. Avoid using any first-person references in your responsibilities and achievements section.
‘Led a team of 12 HR advisors’
‘I led a team of 12 HR advisors’
Include: Precise Targeting.
Tailoring your resume to each job is time-consuming. This is why it’s easy to get complacent and start sending out the same version of your resume to all potential employers.
Unfortunately, this practice significantly lowers your chances of obtaining a positive response. There are two key reasons for this:
- Recruiters are relying more and more on Applicant Tracking Systems for initial screening (read this article to learn how to pass ATS tests). These platforms rely on algorithms to “thin the herd” of applicants by screening out those with least relevant resumes. By not tailoring your resume you almost certainly guarantee your rejection.
- The recruitment world is small. Firing off your resume to every job ad that is vaguely related to your future direction means that you’re likely to hit the same recruiter more than once – and they’ll spot this shotgun approach a mile off. This will lower your credibility and leave a lasting impression of ambivalence.
Include: The Correct Number Of Pages.
Resume length varies across markets. In Australia, recruiters expect a 3-5-page resume. A longer resume loses impact and a shorter one forces you to exclude the necessary detail.
Exclude: Tables, Images or Graphs.
Recruiters like resumes that are easy to scan read.
Including tables (apart from the one instance I mentioned in #30), images and/or graphs can make your resume ‘busy’.
Include: A Modern Font.
The font maketh the applicant. Times New Roman has been out of style for about a decade now. Stick to Calibri or Arial, 11-12pt.
It can be tempting to use a more “funky” or “pretty” font, however you can never guarantee that this font is installed on every recruiter’s computer – which means your resume will be out of alignment when someone who doesn’t have this font opens it.
Exclude: Your Photograph.
Unless you’re aspiring to be the next Tom Hardy, Cara Delevingne or Harry Styles, it’s unlikely that your looks will have an impact on your career.
It’s not necessary to include a photograph on your resume.
It could leave you open to discrimination and it will take up precious time in a recruiters review – almost 20% according to an eye-tracking study by The Ladders.
Include: A Spell And Grammar Check.
Check your resume for spelling mistakes, typos and grammatical errors, then get someone else to do it. Any or all the above make you look careless.
Any or all the above make you look careless. I mean, careless.
Exclude: Informal Grammar.
A resume is a professional marketing document and needs the tone to match. Simply using formal grammar, e.g. ‘I am’ instead of ‘I’m’ or ‘I have’ instead of ‘I’ve’, elevates your resume to the right level.
Again, this is one of the more common and easy-to-miss resume mistakes.
Exclude: Any Mention Of Money.
Your resume is not a place to start negotiations. And you’re not Floyd “Money” Mayweather. References to salary, terms or benefits expectations come across as obnoxious and distract from what you can do for an employer.
Leave this conversation until either you’ve been asked or made an offer.
Exclude: Negative Phrasing.
Recruiters do want to know about the performance you have turned around and the teams you have whipped into shape, but they want to hear about it in a positive way.
Career Coach and Executive Trainer, Kathy Caprino conducted over 8 years of research into the factors that contribute to career success and found this:
“Professionals who are consistently more negative than positive in their communications and interactions suffer from an untimely demise of their career potential”.
Stay positive by carefully phrasing mandates and achievements, for example, ‘change fatigued’ instead of ‘change resistant’, ‘unrealised potential’ instead of ‘under-performing’, or ‘multifaceted’ instead of ‘complicated’.
Include: Logical File Names.
A poorly named resume file could give a negative first impression before a recruiter has even opened your resume.
Emma_Draft.docx – Doesn’t suggest much effort in preparation.
John_Sales.docx – Could suggest a second sector choice.
Alex_2006.docx – Looks like your resume hasn’t been updated since 2006.
To remove yet another mistake from your resume use a very simple format: Surname_Name.docx.
Include: An Effort To Align Your Online Profiles With Your Resume.
We live in a digital world, where 90% of recruiters use social media during the recruitment process to screen candidates.
Your online presence needs to align with your resume and add layers to your professional brand. This gives recruiters a deeper and richer insight into who you are as a professional.
A non-existent online presence will leave recruiters wanting more – not wanting you.
Include: Reverse Chronological Order.
Recruiters expect to see the details of your most recent role first, so failure to use reverse chronological order (i.e. your most recent role detailed first on your resume), could be an issue.
You may be seen as more junior than your capabilities or worse, a recruiter may assume you’ve been unemployed since 2002.
Include: Key Capabilities.
This is one of the most difficult aspects of resume writing. You must understand which key capabilities and responsibilities hiring managers are looking for.
Conduct your own research into the role to ensure your resume addresses all key capabilities. Keep it to about 5-8 points per role.
Include: Great Design.
It’s important for your resume to have a modern, elegant, understated and bold design.
Unfortunately, most resumes that come across my desk have a cluttered, over-designed look to them, straight from the 1990s.
Make sure your resume has plenty of white space to ensure that its readability remains high.
Include: Vital Sections.
Sometimes it’s easy to leave out a critical part of a resume. Sections which I see missing most often are:
- Summary of experience.
- Personal profile.
- Key capabilities.
These should be tailored to you and your experience, as well as closely matched to the requirements of roles you’re interested in.
Include: Precise Dates.
You must include the month that you commenced and ceased employment with each company (not just the year).
Include: Consistent Formatting.
Nothing screams “poor attention to detail” more than an inconsistently formatted resume. Is the font the same size throughout?
Are the bullets the same shape? Are you using the same indent? Are there missing commas or semicolons?
It’s also a good idea to ask another person to proof-read your resume. As authors of our own work, we’re often blind to the formatting and spelling errors we make.
Exclude: Any Lies.
I’d like to end on a serious note. ‘Embellishing’ experience or achievements on a resume may not be uncommon but it is dishonest and you will get caught.
A survey from CareerBuilder found that 58% of hiring managers have caught candidates lying during the recruitment process.
Being untruthful impacts your credibility, spoils your reputation and blemishes your character. To quote Einstein, “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters”.
That’s My Guide To Everything You Need To Include On Your Resume.
So, there you have it. The ultimate list of things you need to put on a resume – and what you need to leave off it, informed by over 15 years experience in the HR and recruitment sphere.
Use these to refine your resume, enhance your value proposition and propel your career to the next level. Remember – most job applications fail because of a few vital things not being included on a resume.
All the best with your job search!