The Absolute Unbreakable Rules of Resume Writing

The Absolute Unbreakable Rules of Resume Writing. A resume is your marketing document. Companies invest a lot of time building their marketing collaterals and have strict rules to write them. So should you !! Let's check some rules of resume writing. People often wonder what language should they use while writing a resume. The ground rule that you should keep in mind while writing a resume is 'think of your reader first'.


A resume is your marketing document. Companies invest a lot of time building their marketing collaterals and have strict rules to write them.

So should you !! Let’s check some rules of resume writing.

# 1. Write with your audience in mind.

People often wonder what language should they use while writing a resume.

An honest answer to that would be  – ‘It depends’.

The ground rule that you should keep in mind while writing a resume is ‘think of your reader first’.

Which language to use, what should be the font color – questions like these would then be easy to answer.

I would explain this with an example. Let’s say you are an engineer and you want to send a resume to a technical hiring manager. In this case, it is okay if you use technical language as he will understand it.

But if the same resume is going through a recruiter first, you need to use easier language.

This is also the case if you are a Ph.D. candidate building a resume for a research position in a university. In all probabilities, your resume will land in the mailbox of the Head of Department. He will understand whatever technical jingo you write.

However, if you are applying to a consulting firm after Ph.D., you need to make it easier to understand for the HR.

Another example is that traditional industries like finance, legal prefer a plain format. For more creative roles like designers, artists, and the likes, you can use a visually appealing format.

What if I do not know my audience?

In most situations, you would not be knowing what path would your resume follow.

And so, as a general rule, use easier language than complex. If a high school junior can understand your resume and appreciate what you did, anyone would do.

# 2. Write relevant stuff on top.

This also derives from Rule #1. You need to keep the facts relevant to the target job on top to ensure the recruiter reads your resume.

Most recruiters read your resume for an average of 6 seconds. If they like it, they keep it for further reading, else it lands in the waste paper bin.

If you want the recruiter to read your resume in detail, you must place bait on top.

Put yourself in the recruiter’s shoes, think about what would you like to see on the resume if you were hiring for the job. Read the job description to find that out.

And place something from your experience to make him think that you are a prospect.

# 3. Do not send the same resume for every job.

One size does not fit all !!

And this is an adage especially applicable to the resume world.

DO NOT repeat DO NOT send the same resume to every other job. Period !!

You must check the job description to see what parts of your experience would be relevant. Keep only those parts – that too in the decreasing order of relevance and impact.

# 4. Do not include personal details and photographs.

Avoid giving out personal details in your resume. Recruiters are not ( and should not be ) interested in those. In a lot of countries, recruiters are not allowed by law to ask these details.

Besides, no one will gain much information about your candidature by watching your photo or knowing your family size.

Avoid the following in your resume –

  • Photograph
  • Family Details ( Father’s name, etc)
  • Birthdate or birthplace
  • Passport No. or other identity card details (unless asked specifically)
  • Marital Status ( You are not writing the resume to impress a  matrimony prospect)

# 5. Do not use distracting formats.

You must avoid distracting formats that take the attention away from the content. Behavioral research has proven that content appeals to people more than design.

So, focus on content more than visualization.

I have seen funny resumes coming from people with high experience. This also reflects on their maturity levels. ( Yes, life is hard !! People can judge you on your resume formats.)

Formats preferences vary from industry to industry. As I stated earlier, some industries like finance, audit, consulting, legal prefer basic formats. Other more creative industries like Designing, Arts, etc may prefer more visual resumes.

If you are not sure about which formats to use, follow this rule – ‘Simple is better than complex’. No one hates a simple resume.

# 6. Keep it short and sweet.

Remember that you are writing a resume and not a biography.

Ain’t nobody interested in reading what you did in school when you are heading operations for a company.

Unfortunately, there cannot be a single rule defining how many pages your resume should run into.

However, based on my experience, I can state the following –

  • If you have less than 5 years of experience, you should be able to write a 1-page resume.
  • If you have greater than 5 years of experience, you should be able to express within 2 pages.
  • A 3rd page should only be used if it is absolutely necessary. Remember, a resume can speak a lot about your prioritization skills.
  • For people over 15 years of experience, combine everything over 15 years in a short ‘Career Note’ or ‘Previous Experience’ section. Trust me, 15 years are more than enough to define your work. You can always highlight your major achievements in a separate section on the first page from anywhere in your career.
  • An exception to this is if you are writing a CV for an academic position, where they expect you to write everything under the sun like your

# 7. Write in the first person.

Please write in the first person!! There is a reason people like to read autobiographies more than biographies.

It is not personal, and frankly boring to hear this as your summary statement –

” John is an accomplished marketing professional with experience in domains like…”

The first thought that comes to my mind is – Who is writing for you, John. You are supposed to write your own resume.

# 8. Numbers convey more than words.

Quantify, Quantify, Quantify !!

I cannot stress more on this. Numbers can express everything that words can and much more.

Consider this statement –

“Grew an underperforming area to a profitable level with healthy financials.”

Now compare it with –

“Undertook an area with -2% CAGR and improved it to a CAGR of 15% within 3 years through implementing new incentive policies and strict marketing discipline.”

Which one looks more believable? You got your answer.

# 9. Use action-oriented language.

Use action verbs to start your bullets. These words not only make you look more active in your experience but also convey skills that get picked up by both recruiters and ATS.

For example, words like ‘Directed’, ‘Spearheaded’, ‘Led’ convey leadership in your work.

Words like ‘collaborated’, ‘liaised’, indicate that your work involved teamwork.

# 10. Avoid grammatical errors or inconsistent figures.

No one likes a person who is not diligent.

A resume containing grammatical errors will most likely get rejected. (unless the recruiter is not diligent as well !!)

It not only indicates your lack of diligence but also shows that you are less passionate for the job.

Also, if your cover letter and resume contain different figures for the same job, the figures will be seen as made up numbers.

Check thrice before sending a resume to the recruiter.

So that is how important a resume can be. Shell out a good time to write one that will get you the jobs that you want. Let me know in the comments your thoughts about it. 

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