It can be downright overwhelming to figure out what you should and shouldn’t add to your resume. You may have heard that some additions or exclusions can make or break the success of your job application — and indeed, some employers can be picky about who they hire based on their CVs.
However, you mustn’t allow yourself to be overly consumed by what you should include – and leave out – of your resume. Instead, your focus should be on the quality of your skills, education, professional expertise, and projects, as these are the factors that will truly wow would-be employers.
Read on as we break down what you need to include in your resume, what would be better left out, and why employers choose concise and short CVs over those packed full of fluff.
What You Should Include On Your Resume
There are five essential sections you need to add to your resume, no matter what. These are an introduction or personal profile, your work history, educational background, professional skills, and of course, your contact details.
These sections should be in-depth enough to give employers all the information they need to make the decision to hire you. Take care to highlight and mention your most valuable skills, especially those pertinent to the position you’re applying for.
The more you market yourself as a potentially valuable member of the company or team you wish to join, the more likely a recruiter is to consider you for the job.
Let’s take a look at the level of detail each section should offer.
1. Your Personal Introduction
There are two different types of introduction that you can add to your resume: summary and objective.
Resume objectives are more traditional. They outline your ambitions and your career goals and are best used by students, recent graduates, and job seekers with little to no work experience.
Resume objectives are still somewhat acceptable introductions in this day and age, but most professionals prefer using summaries. Resume summaries allow you to showcase your achievements and point out how those accomplishments could add value to the company you aim to join.
Your summary should highlight your qualifications, skills, and expertise in a way that relates them directly to your desired work position.
2. Work History
Your professional experience will form the main section of your CV. It shows hiring managers what you have achieved during your career and explains clearly the skills and knowledge that you can offer them.
List any relevant positions on your resume, starting with the most recent one. Add three to five bullet points under each position detailing the respective skills and expertise you gained from them.
Don’t include every job you’ve ever had, unless you’ve only had a few. Rather cherry-pick the positions that pertain most closely to the job you are currently applying for.
3. Educational Background
Your resume’s education section should list your highest level of education, and the title of your degree, if you have one. You should only ever include your senior school if you’re currently still in school, or don’t yet have a college degree.
List any relevant courses, qualifications, or degrees that you’ve completed, along with any academic awards and honors you’ve received. It’s not necessary to add your GPA unless you’re a recent college graduate, or applying for academic positions.
4. Professional Skills
Your resume’s skills section should boast a combination of hard and soft skills. Hard skills are gained on the job or through courses, while soft skills relate to your personality, such as the ability to handle pressure well.
Good examples of skills to add to your resume include:
- Leadership skills.
- Communication skills.
- Time management skills.
- Interpersonal and people skills.
- Computer skills.
Whatever areas you are strongest in are those you should add to your resume.
5. Contact Details
Adding your contact details to your resume is essential, as employers cannot contact you for a second interview without them! Your resume header should contain your full name, email address, and current phone number.
It’s also a great idea to add a second contact number, just in case a hiring manager cannot reach you on the first one provided.
Recommended Reading — 5 Tips to Make Your Resume Pop
What You Should Leave Out from Your Resume
We’ve explored the sections that you need to have in your resume to attract employers’ attention. Now, let’s delve into some things that are better left out if you want to market yourself as a solid candidate for a job.
1. Spelling and Grammatical Errors
Typos and grammatical errors will instantly make your resume appear sloppy and unprofessional. Be sure to double-check your CV for errors before submitting it. If you battle in this department, you can hire a skilled CV writer to edit and neaten up your resume – or simply do it yourself using Grammarly or Spell Check.
2. Casual and Slang Language
The hiring process may be more relaxed in the modern age, but the casual language and slang are still not acceptable. Keep your use of language formal at all times, and absolutely do not use any profanity!
3. Tired Clichés and Buzzwords
Employers have heard it all. If you aim to make your resume stand out from the crowd, you’ll need to find a way to market yourself as a ‘team player’ or a ‘hard worker’ without using overworked clichés. Hiring managers always appreciate applicants who can promote themselves authentically and creatively.
Speaking of clichés, avoid using buzzwords such as ‘proactive’, ‘go-getter’, and ‘results-driven’ as well. This will be viewed as meaningless fluff that takes up valuable space. Rather offer details about real contributions and helpful changes you made in previous roles.
4. Dozens of Pages
Hiring managers are usually pressed for time, and won’t spend long browsing through your submission. Studies have shown that on average, a recruiter looks at a resume for just over 7 seconds. For this reason, your resume should only span one or two pages at the most.
Trim off any unnecessary information or long-winded explanations and stick to concise descriptions of your skills and strengths. Use bullet points and lists where needed to keep your resume short and sweet.
5. Over-The-Top Formatting
Keep your resume clean and simple. Leave off fancy graphics, borders, background colors, and designs. This definitely includes emojis, hearts, virtual stickers, and other animated visual elements.
6. Your High School
Unless you have recently graduated from senior school, your employer likely won’t care about the school you attended. Rather focus on your professional skills and work experience.
7. Third Person References
Avoid speaking about yourself in the third person as it’s not the accepted format in this case. Always use the first-person language, such as “My duties included…” or “I was tasked with managing…”.
8. Your Old Teen Email Address
Most people have one of those old, cringe-worthy email addresses they made as a teen. Don’t add it to your CV! It’s best to use an address consisting of your first and last name, or a combination thereof.
9. Fancy Fonts
Boring is best when it comes to resume fonts. Choose simple, easy to read styles like Times New Roman, Calibri, Arial or Helvetica.
10. Unnecessary Personal Info
Potential employers will need your email address and phone number to contact you, but they certainly don’t need your social security number or any personal details like your gender, sexual orientation, religion, height, or favorite color.
11. Personal Hobbies and Interests
You may think that adding your personal interests and hobbies to your resume will show employers what a well-rounded person you are. This may be the case, but that’s what your interviews are intended for.
Your recruiter may also search for you on social media networks to assess your interests outside of a working environment, so there’s no need to list them on your CV.
12. Keywords Sections
The widespread use of Applicant Tracking Software (ATS) has become an appealing target for job seekers who know how the software works. In case you’re unfamiliar with it, ATS is a system that’s used to screen candidates when a company receives huge volumes of applications regularly.
The company will run resumes through the software, which picks up certain keywords found in target job descriptions. If there are too few matches, the resume will be disqualified and won’t even reach a human hiring manager’s desk.
Some savvy candidates attempt to guarantee that their resumes will make it past the filter by adding a ‘keyword section’. This could look something like this:
Key proficiencies: Public Relations – Leadership – Process Improvement – Team Management – Customer Care Experience
Unfortunately, many recruiters will view this kind of inclusion as unoriginal and lazy. Passing the ATS filter is definitely important, but a better approach is to incorporate target keywords into the content of your resume instead of adding them to a single section. Hiring managers will spot your intentions immediately, and you could well be penalized for it.
Recommended Reading — What You Should NOT Include in Your Resume
Other Things to Cut from Your Resume
The simplest way to avoid becoming consumed by what to include in your resume is having a clear idea of what not to add to it. Some exclusions are fairly obvious, like emojis and slang terms, but others you might not be aware of.
Other elements to avoid if you want to create a resume that makes an amazing first impression include:
- Your photograph or headshot — Unless you’re applying for a position in Europe or Asia, most countries do not require a picture of you alongside your resume. As a general rule, it’s better to leave all images out, unless otherwise requested. Employers can always pull up your social media profiles to check what you look like.
- Information about your spouse or children — Recruiters don’t want to know the ages, interests, or personal details of your spouse or your kids, nor are they interested in your marital status. It’s best to keep this kind of information private or to share it during an interview if you feel it’s necessary.
- Irrelevant job experience — Any work experience that does not pertain to the position you’re applying for should be left off your resume, as it has no value to hiring managers. You should only ever include experience and skills that relate directly to your target job.
- Your ideal salary — It’s perfectly normal to inquire about the salary a company plans to offer in return for your services. However, adding a salary figure to your resume could backfire in a big way. It could put potential employers off if they feel that it’s too high, and it could prevent you from being able to effectively negotiate better pay during your follow-up interviews.
- The term, ‘References available on request’ — This is an old and outdated inclusion that’s no longer a relevant addition to your resume. If your employer wants your references, they’ll ask for them. However, it’s good form to include them from the start, as it makes you seem organized and eager to land the job you’ve applied for.
- Explanations about past negative events — If you’ve had a negative work experience in the past, or been fired from a position, your resume is not the place to be highlighting or explaining these events.
- Recommendations and endorsements — Younger generations, in particular, have gravitated towards the idea of modernizing their resumes by including quotes and endorsements from past clients and employers. Some hiring managers may like this idea, but your resume just isn’t the right place for this sort of information.
LinkedIn is the perfect place to show off your endorsements. If your recruiter likes your resume, they’ll probably check out your profile and see these recommendations anyway.
Recommended Reading — 10 Differences between a Resume and a LinkedIn Profile You Should Know about
It’s best to leave them off completely. Once you have landed an interview, you can always speak about past challenges and how you handled them sensitively, and deliberately.
We’ve covered everything here that you should put in your resume and told you exactly what to leave out too. By following these guidelines you’ll stand out from other applicants.
You’ll be showcasing exactly what you’re capable of without getting weighed down in irrelevant information. This can only work to your advantage, and give you a better chance of landing the job you really want.