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5 Resume Rules You Need to Ignore

For jobseekers, the conventional wisdom no longer holds up

By Susan P. Joyce

(This article previously appeared on

In the last few years, technology and the economy have changed most of the resumé “rules” you’ve heard.

As a result, based on what I've learned, you should generally ignore the following five pieces of conventional wisdom because the process of posting jobs and collecting resumés is generally automated:

Rule No. 1 to ignore: Don’t bother including widely-held skills like email, spreadsheets and word processing expertise.

Wrong! If the words are used in the job description, be sure to include them in the resumé you submit for that job.

(MORE: Keep Your Resume From Being a Career Obit)

Rule No. 2 to ignore: When it comes to resumés, one size fits all.

Not anymore. In the past, we created one version of our resumé that was distributed via snail mail, fax or hand-delivered. This physical version was read by a human being and stored in a file cabinet. Those days are long gone. 

Now, resumés are usually stored electronically and read by a human only after appearing in the results of a computerized keyword search.

At a minimum, the top of your resumé should now be customized to match the job title of the job you’re seeking, 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.]

(MORE: 9 Tips to Create a Career-Change Resume)

You’d do even better by customizing your resumé to the particular position you’re going after. That’s because the words in the job description are most likely the ones the searcher will use to pull resumés out of its applicants’ database. 

So make sure you pay close attention to the words in your application or resumé and match them as closely as possible to the ones in the job requirements:

  • 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 say you have “expertise with Microsoft products.”
  • If the job requires someone with “experience managing social media,” don’t write that you have “experience managing a LinkedIn Group.”

Rule No. 3 to ignore: Be consistent in your use of language.

Nope. The person who ultimately searches through resumés may not use exactly the same terms as the one who wrote the job description. And the person who wrote the job description might not have described the position or qualifications accurately.


So it pays to be inconsistent in your use of language on your resumé.

(MORE: How to Botox Your Resume)

Include the exact terms in the job description, but also include alternate versions. For example:

  • If the job requires someone who has “expertise with Microsoft Office,” you might say you have “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,” you could say you have “experience managing social media (including LinkedIn Groups with more than 5,000 members).”

This way, you have the exact terminology from the job description and have also added important keywords that are alternatives. 

Similarly, be inconsistent by including multiple versions of abbreviations and acronyms with the words or phrases they represent. Some examples:

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

Rule No. 4 to ignore:  Use a functional resumé (rather than a chronological one) to highlight your skills, particularly if your work history is a little spotty.

No! Recruiters I’ve discussed this with have told me they ignore functional resumés that are completely focused on a job seeker’s skills.
Resumé expert Susan Ireland has long recommended using only a chronological resume or a “combination resumé” which is basically a chronological resumé with a section near the top highlighting your skills (that type is particularly useful when you’re changing fields).

Rule No. 5 to ignore:  Underlining, borders, and other graphic elements make a resumé stand out.

These may add emphasis, but they can also confuse the computer software reading the resumés. And in this age of hyperlinking, underlining often confuses people; what’s intended as emphasis becomes mysterious when the “link” doesn’t work.

For more help customizing your resumé, check out my Resumé Customization Cheat Sheet.

© Copyright, 2013, Susan P. Joyce. All rights reserved.

Susan P. Joyce is editor and chief writer at and and chief blogger at, websites devoted to helping job seekers find employment. She is also a visiting scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Read More
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