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Dos and Don’ts in a Resume

By Subraya Mallya on 03 May 2009 | Topics - Career

My first attempt to write something around job hunting strategies got some good responses and also got a bunch of people asking me what would constitute a good resume. So I thought of  expanding on the previous post and writing a “Dos and Don’ts” on the resume.

All through my career I have received requests from my friends and colleagues to take a look at their resume give my feedback. So that gives me some kind of experience in writing this post.

As I look back on all the resumes I have reviewed over the years or seen, of those candidates, that applied for a job that I was trying to fill, I have to say there are lots of similarities.

The first and foremost is that the candidate does not seem to put herself/himself in the shoes of the hiring manager. They make the resume all about themselves. This to me is single biggest hindrance in them getting the job. Resume is a sales tool that one should use to sell her/his value to the prospective hiring manager. But given that most of us are not trained in sales, (not that the sales guys themselves are good at it), it seems natural that we put ourselves ahead of the real need and the person in need.

So what qualifies as a good resume. Is there a good format for it? A resume to me should be a good portrait of who you are and how you are the best for the job you are applying for. Besides the appropriate projects, it should also highlight what you bring to this job you are applying. It is not diary of events that happened in your career. It should be the milestones you hit in terms of achieving career goals. Here are some of the key Dos and Don’ts to keep in mind.


  1. Always send a cover letter with a resume. A cover letter should clearly outline what you know about the company you are applying to and why you are choosing that company, specific needs of the job you will the best candidate for. As you can imagine the cover letter would be different for each job application.
  2. Limit the details in the resume to the last 5-7 years and summarize the previous years in couple of bullets. Keep all the content in bullets (two levels is maximum you should use) and keep the detailed explanation for the interview.
  3. Keep the resume 2 pages. As explained in 2, this should cover your last 5-7 years of work. Any additional things you want to highlight and you are proud of can be handouts during interview. But keep those handouts to bullets and not have stories which the interviewer spends time reading instead of getting to know you better.
  4. Always highlight the value delivered by you in each project and what the project meant for the company in terms cost savings or revenue generation. Listing what you were responsible for without identifying what the overall goal was and what the project achieved in the overall scheme of things for the company that employed you shows that you are worker bee and not a big picture person. This matters irrespective of the position you are applying for. The more numbers you can throw in there the better they can relate. Increased productivity by 30% or decreased costs by 40%, increased sales by $10M dollars are all good tangible things that people can relate to.
  5. Spell Check, Grammar check your resume. Nothing reduces your chance at a job more than bad English and misspelled words. Also avoid being cute and using instant messenger speak in the resume.


  1. Don’t send the same resume to each job. Tailor the resume for each job since the job requirements could be different in each case.
  2. Don’t dump the laundry list of all the things you might have done in your career into the resume. The hiring manager is not interested in things that are not related to this job. Specifically, you technical guys, don’t dump all your technology acronyms of old outdated technologies that are of no use into the resume. It is a waste of space and it also shows you are not focused.
  3. Don’t mention your age, sex, marriage status and other personal details in the resume.
  4. Don’t mention that you can provide reference if requested. It is assumed and in most cases required so omit this line and use that space for something.
  5. Don’t put your hobbies (golfing, skiing etc) in the resume. While making the fact that you are an all round person is good, resume is not the place for that. Sometimes it might even work against you, if you are applying for a job that needs a lot of your time beyond normal working hours. Keep that for the in-person discussion and to connect with the manager once you have figured out the interests of the person.

I have been asked, if the resumes for sales or consulting or engineering should be different. Here are my thoughts on that – some parts of the resume might be different based on your area of expertise but the general structure is still the same. Highlight the key attributes about yourself, your key achievements as applicable to the job you are aspiring for and a clean resume.

About the Author Subraya is a dad, handyman, sports fan and in his part time works on geeky technology stuff. You can check out some of the stuff he is interested on PrudentCloud