Eight Résumé Don’ts

In our formative years we’re taught again and again that one should never judge a book by it’s cover, but when seeking employment that all goes out the window when you create a sheet of paper so that potential employers can judge you by it. Ironic, eh? That’s life, so  make sure your résumé represents you in the best possible light. That way you can maximize your chance of avoiding the trash can when HR spends a paltry 6 seconds deciding if you’re worth a phone screen.

My team has a bunch of open positions, which means we’ve been looking at lots of résumés. A few are great, some are good, and sadly, most fall under the category of “meh”. As we go through more and more of them I’ve come up with a list of things that I really don’t want to see on a résumé. Here they are in no particular order:


Ok, this is the easy one. The purpose of a résumé is to give a very quick impression of your skills and background to potential employers –  any type of error, grammatical, innocent, or otherwise, will make you look sloppy at best. You should be proofreading your résumé regularly, and when you’re tired of proofreading, do it again. Let others have a look at it as well because a fresh set of eyes can do a document wonders. No matter how good your qualifications look, saying that you’re proficient on a “Macingosh” computer or have experience with “Windows 2007” will tell a very different story.

Unprofessional Email Addresses

An otherwise spotless résumé might not look quite as good if you tell an employer you can be reached at [email protected]. There’s lots of ways to get free email addresses, so take 5 minutes and create one that’s based on your name.

Calling Yourself An Expert

I’ve seen 2 résumés now where “expert” was the first word on the page after the name. In phone interviews, both of these people couldn’t answer simple questions like naming the system databases. I feel very fortunate to know several legitimate SQL Server experts, but I don’t think any of them would use that word when describing themselves.


Papers This one is huge. I’ll take it one step farther and say don’t put anything on your résumé that could be remotely considered as misrepresenting yourself. The second that a potential employer starts to think you’re saying something that isn’t completely true, your chances of getting the job go out the window. Why take a chance on someone who might be lying when there’s a whole stack of résumés of people who probably aren’t? Even if you somehow get the job, it could come back to haunt you later.

Irrelevant Information

I’m not sure it’s necessary to write a completely custom résumé for every job you apply for, but it’s a good idea to remove things that aren’t really relevant to the position. For example, if you’re applying for a DBA role, the fact that you were a cheerleader in high school probably isn’t going to help you. Remember that HR or whoever is reading your résumé will want to want to find potential hires very quickly. The more noise they have to read through, the less appealing you’ll be.

Being Too Verbose

A résumé should only be long enough to prove you’re qualified for the position you’re interested in. For most people, this is probably 1 to 2 pages.  I can see it being longer if there’s good reason, perhaps if you’re a consultant with a wide variety of relevant experience, otherwise keep it short. I’ve seen quite a few that are much longer than they should be, such as 10 or more pages. I actually got one that was 16 pages not too long ago. Listing your entire employment history and every project you were a part of isn’t necessary. If you’re applying to be a .Net Developer, the fact that you did assembly programming on a mainframe in the early 1980’s might be a good anecdote to bring up during the interview, but doesn’t warrant real estate on your résumé.

Using Crazy File Formats

I keep my résumé in 2 formats: a plain text file, and Microsoft Word. Whenever possible I try to submit PDF files made from the Word document. I think PDFs are the best way to ensure your résumé looks the way you intended it to, no matter who’s reading it. Even if you don’t want to fork over the cash for Adobe Acrobat Pro, there’s a bunch of free PDF generation tools out there that can also do a great job. As for the text file, I keep that around for times when HR websites won’t allow uploads and instead require that I cut and paste my résumé into a web form. Having everything ready to go in a text document makes this much easier.

Bonus Tip: If possible, try to embed your fonts in the PDF file. (Acrobat calls this “Press Quality”). This way, whatever fonts you use are in the file so it’s sure to look exactly the same on whatever computer is reading it. Otherwise if the font you’ve chosen isn’t installed on the computer that’s reading it, the PDF reader application will will substitute whatever it can. No matter what, try to stick with a common and professional-looking font. Comic Sans won’t do you any favors!

Using Paragraph Form

I had never heard of this before and there's a good reason for that – it's terrible! There wasn’t a single bullet point on the entire résumé. It read like a book and was 3 pages of solid text. Again, HR or whoever is reviewing résumés is going to want to find things quickly – they aren’t going to waste their time reading this.