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5 Resume Rules You MUST Ignore

Unless the employer is small, with fewer than 100 employees, the process of posting jobs and collecting resumes is automated. Succeeding in today's environment means learning new ways to succeed while ignoring old, out-of-date ideas.
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What works and doesn't work for job search has changed substantially in the last few years. Technology and the economy have changed many of the basic "resume rules" we have trusted in the past.

Unless the employer is small, with fewer than 100 employees, the process of posting jobs and collecting resumes is automated. Succeeding in today's environment means learning new ways to succeed while ignoring old, out-of-date ideas.

Ignore These Out-of-Date Resume "Rules"

1. Don't waste space listing widely-held skills like email, spreadsheets, and word processing expertise.

Wrong! If those tools and skills are included in the job description, be sure to also include them in the resume you submit for that job. See the next two rules for the reasons.

2. One version of your resume is all you need.

Not anymore! In the past, we created one version of our resume that was distributed, via snail mail, fax, or hand-delivered. And this physical version of our resume was read by a human being and stored in a file cabinet. Those days are past. Now, resumes are usually stored electronically and read by a human being after appearing in the search results for a keyword search through the resumes or applications.

At a minimum, the top of the resume should be customized to match the job title of the job being sought, like this:

Objective: [employer's job title]


Summary: [one or two sentences that summarize why you qualify for the job, like "Administrative professional with 5 years of experience managing the calendar, group meetings and conferences, travel arrangements, and staff communications for the VP of Whatever" assuming that you actually have that experience and are applying for a job which requires it.]


To be found in a resume database or applicant tracking system, resumes must be customized to the opportunity because the words in the job description are most likely the words the searcher will use to pull resumes out of the database. They may also be the words used by software to screen out unqualified applicants. "Qualified" applicants, according to the database, are found because they included the "correct" terms in their resumes - the ones used in the description of the job.

So, make sure that in addition to customizing the summary or objective described above, you also pay very close attention to the words you use in your application or resume. As closely as possible, match the terms used in the job description:

  • If the job requires someone who has "managed" a group of workers, don't use the term "supervised."
  • If the job requires someone who has "expertise with Microsoft Office," don't describe it as "expertise with Microsoft products."
  • If the job requires someone with "experience managing social media," don't describe it as "experience managing a LinkedIn Group."
  • If the job requires someone with a "PMP Certification," don't describe yourself as "a Certified Project Management Professional."

NEVER be untruthful! But do match the words in the requirements very closely. The language you use should match the description as closely as possible.

More on this next...

3. Be consistent in your use of language.

Nope! The person who does the searches may or may not use exactly the same terms as the person who wrote the job description. And, reality is that the person who wrote the job description may or may not have created an accurate description.

Cover the exact terms in the description, like the examples in number 2, but then you also include alternate versions. For example:

  • If the job requires someone who has "expertise with Microsoft Office," describe it as "expertise with Microsoft Office (Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Microsoft PowerPoint, and Outlook, both 2007 and 2010 versions)."
  • If the job requires someone with "experience managing social media," describe it as "experience managing social media (including a LinkedIn Group with more than 5,000 members)."
  • If the job requires someone holding the "PMP Certification," describe yourself as holding the "PMP (Project Management Professional) Certification."

Now, you have covered the exact terminology used in the job description and added important keywords that are alternatives to the words used in the job description. Continue being inconsistent with keywords, including multiple versions of important terms like abbreviations and acronyms with the words or phrases they represent:

"BofA" and "Bank of America"
"NM" and "New Mexico"
"WP and "WordPress"
"Admin Assistant" and "Administrative Assistant"
"CPA" and "Certified Public Accountant"

4. Use a functional resume (rather than chronological) to highlight your skills, particularly if your work history is a little spotty.

Wrong again! Every recruiter I've ever asked this question has told me that a functional resume, one which is completely focused on the job seeker's skills, sends up red flags, and they automatically ignore that applicant. Resume expert Susan Ireland has long recommended using only a chronological resume or a "combination resume," which is basically a chronological resume with a section near the top highlighting applicable skills and accomplishments, particularly useful when you are changing industries.

5. Underlining, borders, and other graphic elements make your resume stand out.

These may add emphasis for a person reading, but they may also confuse the software that "digests" the resume, and, in the age of hyperlinking, underlining often confuses people. What is intended as emphasis becomes confusion when the "link" doesn't work, as above.

First your resume needs to meet the needs of the technology used to store it for retrieval and viewing by a human being later. So, keep your resume simple and clean. This will help any software used to "digest" your resume doesn't miss important information that could be the difference between your resume being found in a search and your resume being ignored.

For more help customizing your resume check out the Resume Customization Cheat Sheet. It will walk you through the process of customizing your resume for each opportunity.

Follow me on GooglePlus and Twitter (@JobHuntOrg) for more job search tips. Join the Job-Hunt Help LinkedIn Group for more help with your job search.

Susan P. Joyce is president of NETability, Inc. and the editor and chief technology writer for and A veteran of the United States Marine Corps, Susan is also a Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management. In addition to, Susan also contributes to LinkedIn,,, and BrazenCareerist.