Resume Triage: Do’s & Don’ts of Resumes in a 21st Century Job Search

There are approximately 7 billion articles online about how to write a resume. So, why is this one any different? Because for several years, my whole job was to review resumes and find the right people for all different types of positions! I can tell from one look whether your resume is a standout or just not quite right.

It seems like a lot of the articles I see about resumes are all about what NOT to include. But where is all the information about what you SHOULD include, and how to make it as strong as possible?

Here are some tips for resume writing. I am including both Do’s and Don’ts. Please, please feel free to ask any questions, especially if I omitted anything you have wondered about!

Resume Do’s & Don’ts

  • Do refer to the job description when applying for a particular position.
  • Don’t emphasize the wrong things!

Unless you just graduated from college, the courses you took are unlikely to be relevant. You should be referring directly to the job description for the position to which you’re applying, and using that information to help guide what you can be emphasizing on your resume.

For example: If the job description lists “business and corporate research” or “knowledge of LegalKey a plus,” then you should make sure that under your descriptions of each position, that you noted that you did that specific type of research or used that tool.

  • Do have all of your relevant experience listed!

Please, please do not cut off relevant and useful information from your resume to keep it down to a short length!!! This is one of the most important things I can possibly tell you. If you take nothing else from this article, remember this!

Now that everything is done electronically, there is no “one-page rule” when it comes to resumes. We would ALWAYS rather see relevant experience and details than to have a short resume with limited information on it. Trust me, if it is relevant and specific to the type of jobs you are applying to, you are only doing yourself a HUGE disservice to cut it off just to keep your resume short and sweet. A resume is your place to show off your achievements and experience, and that just isn’t possible if you only have 1 or 2 pieces of information about each of your previous positions.

  • Do discuss relocation if you are applying to an out-of-town position!

This is important. Many people think that if they are applying to a position that is out of town and their address is listed on their resume, the fact that they are relocating should be obvious.

Not true. For one thing, a company may not look that closely at your address, and just assume applicants are local. Another thing is that many companies these days do not pay for relocation and may (incorrectly) assume that you expect them to. This is one reason that some positions explicitly state that they are looking at local candidates only.

Another reason is that if a company feels like you would only be moving to their city for this position, it can make them feel a sense of obligation to you. What if the position doesn’t work out, and you’re in a city you hate? This is what the hiring managers can be thinking.

The way to address this is simple. In your cover letter, you explain that while you are currently in ___ city, you are planning a move at your own expense to _____ as soon as possible, and would love to work for their company because…

This tells them several things, the most important of which is that you are not asking for relocation assistance and that you are already planning a move there, addressing and erasing their concerns.

  • Do have references at the ready, but not on your resume!

In today’s job market, it is assumed that your references will be available upon request. You don’t need to waste space on your resume writing that in, nor do you need to include your references on a separate page with your resume. Wait until someone asks you for your references, and then have them readily available.

A note on references: You should have 3–4 people who will be your references, and none of them should be random friends who will say you’re great. Your references should ideally be previous direct supervisors or managers of yours. If you are currently employed, you do not need to put your current manager.

  • Do have your education at the top of your most recent degree is applicable to the job to which you are applying!

This is not a requirement, but I simply think that having your education at the top is a strong start to a resume. If your degree is not directly relevant, put the education section at the end (but still include it).

A note on education: If you are concerned that some companies may discriminate based on your age, simply leave the date of commencement off of your resume. You can just have the name of the school and the degree you received listed.

  • Do have a TOOLS section!

This is a must. I suggest this to every single person I see whose resume does not have this. After your prior experience, you should have a section listed that includes all of your technical skills and tools/databases that you have used. Recruiters and companies will take a full job description and pare it down to the specific skills and experience that position requires, and when looking at your resume for the first time, we check to see if you have the basic requirements listed, before viewing the rest of your experience in more depth.

Make sure to review the job description and check to see if most of the tools and skills they have listed are also in your own tools section (if you actually do know them).

An example:


Microsoft Office, Asana, Basecamp, Hubspot, Zoho, Salesforce, Zoom, MailChimp, Quickbooks, LegalKey, Autonomy, Factset, Westlaw, and LexisNexis.

  • Do pay attention to formatting!

If you have the dates of employment on the far right, make sure they all line up at the same place. If you have your titles from each position in bold, make sure ALL of them are bolded. If you are using bullet points, they should all be the same and start at the same place. Formatting and consistency are important. You want your resume to look as strong and clean as possible.

Also, spell-check. Please spell-check. This is so necessary. Correct spelling and grammar are essential.

  • Do write in the correct tense!

Any current position should be in the present tense and all previous positions should be in the past tense. Many people will update their resumes by simply adding their current or most recent job to an old copy. This is completely fine, as long as you go back and make the previous position past tense. You would not believe how many people forget to do this.

This is a detail that cannot be overlooked. It isn’t just the way the resume looks, but this type of mistake can point to someone’s lack of attention to detail.

  • Do write a cover letter!

Cover letters give you a chance to give the company additional information about you that might not be in your resume, or allows you to point out specific examples of relevant experience. Your cover letter should always be customized to the position you’re applying for and is a great place to discuss details such as relocation or explain why you think you stand out from the crowd.

  • Don’t assume that you aren’t good enough if you don’t get the job.

Today’s job market is very competitive. It’s simply a fact. You can be incredibly qualified and have exactly what the company is asking for and still not get the job. It can be a very frustrating and difficult experience.

Just don’t give up. You WILL find a job, and you’ll be happy. It may take longer than you’d like, but it will happen. Make sure to be casting a wide net, and be flexible on salary and applying for all different types of positions in your field of expertise.

Remember that where you are applying affects all of this. For example, the market in NYC is more competitive for Tech and Publishing positions that most places. Part of this is that a lot of people want to move to or work in NYC, and a big part of it is the sheer number of those graduate programs in and around the NYC area, as well as limited publishing companies, creating more and equally qualified competition.

  • Don’t give up!

I have been in your shoes, looking for a new job and frustrated at either not getting the job, not being considered, or feeling like I am throwing my resume into a black hole when applying to a bunch of jobs online.

Trust me, keep plugging away, have the strongest possible resume that you can, and continue to work towards your dream job. It can take time, but you will be successful!

  • Do work with a recruiting agency that specializes in your field of expertise and experience!

They may have knowledge of jobs that haven’t been posted to the job boards, and can help you hone your resume and your interview skills. Recruiters are an excellent resource and can represent your best interests to their clients, as well as preparing you for interviews and getting feedback from the clients.

Continue searching actively on your own as well, but utilize recruiting agencies to maximize your search!

Just because I am no longer a recruiter doesn’t mean I don’t still recognize how useful a tool recruiters can be!

Check out my brand new book Concept to Conclusion: How to Write a Book and learn everything you need to know to conceive of, outline, write, publish, and market a book!

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Entrepreneur, writer, editor, book coach, cat lover, weirdo, optimist. Author of “Write. Get Paid. Repeat.” & “Concept to Conclusion.”

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