10 Resume Rules

March 19th, 2013

I’ve been in the advertising and recruiting business for over 20 years so I have seen hundreds of resumes: great ones, exciting ones, bland ones, encyclopaedic ones and ones that do not reflect the author in the slightest!

For the Junior Strategy blog, I have written a series of articles on planning your career, the first one being about preparing your resume.

10 Resume Rules

1. The ONLY purpose of a resume is to get you an interview.

It is a mistake to think of your resume as a history of your past, as a personal statement or some sort of autobiography. Its purpose is simply to get you in the door, so you can wow them in person.

Of course most of the content is focused on your job history, but write it with the intention of creating interest and persuading the reader to meet you.

A great resume doesn’t just list everything you have done, but like a good ad, it emphasizes benefits not features. Train yourself to ask “so what?” after each sentence, as this will help you move away from phrases like “duties included” and “responsible for” to focus on the impact of your work.

2. Most reviewers scan, not read, hundreds of resumes.

You have between ten and twenty seconds to create an impression, so a quick screening should convince the reader of your qualifications for an interview. Keep your resume short, interesting and persuasive.

But simple is difficult, and you need to work at keeping it short enough to read quickly – two pages or less. Choose a professional font, clearly laid out in logical reverse order (ie your most recent experience and achievements first), with sufficient spacing and clear headings.

Typos and spelling mistakes can be an immediate fail. With so many resumes to review, many recruiters say that applications with mistakes are the first to go in the bin. Spell Check is not enough – ask someone to read it.

3. Make it easy for people to contact you for an interview.

It may sound obvious, but you would be surprised how often people forget to include their name, email, contact phone number and address at the top of your resume.

Make sure your website/LinkedIn status etc are all up-to-date. Check the privacy settings on Facebook if you don’t want people looking at your photos. Your digital presence will almost certainly be checked.

4. Include a personal objective OR summary, but not both.

Personally, I prefer a personal summary as I find objectives rather generic. But whatever you choose, make sure it demonstrates a clarity of direction – that you absolutely know (or at least appear to know) what you want.

A vague or overly broad paragraph will not work. A personal summary should be a short statement that gives an idea of the sort of person you are, your qualities and attributes that may not be otherwise apparent in your resume.

An objective states the sort of position you are aiming for and include some of your career strengths. Do not say “ I am looking for a role that…” An employer is hiring you for what you can do for them, not to fulfil your private goals or agenda.

5. Your work experience should show progression.

Your career is a journey, with each job a stepping stone to where you are now. Concentrate on your most recent jobs and edit early work to only the most relevant information. For example: knowing you helped with a competitive advertising review 5 years ago is not relevant to the innovative digital planning director you are today!

For each entry include: the name of the company, the dates you worked there, your title or position, the main responsibilities/clients, and your key achievements. Give relevant examples to show how you got results.

If you are only just starting out, voluntary positions are totally acceptable as part of your career history – the skills and experience you gained can be as relevant as those gained from paid employment, and show you are committed to your career.

6. If you’ve worked for more than two years, your career details are more important than your education.

List your education in reverse chronological order. Put degrees or licenses first, followed by certificates and advanced training.

Set degrees apart so they are easily seen. Put in boldface whatever will be most impressive. Don’t include any details about college except your major and awards you may have won – no clubs, competitions or interests!

If you are still in college or just recently graduated this section will probably take a higher priority and include more detailed information.

7. Highlight only the most relevant information.

The less irrelevant information there is on the page, the more clearly your achievements stand out.
Your reason for including personal interests or hobbies is that you want to tell them more about yourself. But as you know, this is a summary not an autobiography. If your hobbies and interest are reasons to believe why you are perfect for the job, or so unique they define who you are, include them; otherwise leave them out.

Also you do not need to include: marital status, number or ages of your children, age, previous salary and reasons for leaving previous jobs. “References available upon request” at the end of your resume is unnecessary – they can be given to a potential employer when asked for.

8. Jargon says nothing.

Avoid long passive phrases, and write in the present tense.

CV clichés are to be avoided as they no longer carry any weight, examples include: excellent communication skills, flexible, (self) motivated, strong work ethic, reliable, multi-tasker.

Use positive and pro-active expressions and descriptions: accurate, confident, adaptable, achieved, completed, implemented, broadened.

Formulate strong statements that demonstrate your experience. For example you could say “responsible for digital strategy team”. But better to say “created a new global team of six diverse digital strategists to develop innovative solutions for new business presentations.”

9. Be confident not arrogant.

While arrogance is not a good trait, you won’t be able to convince anyone to hire you if you show doubts in your abilities, or come across as apologetic, needy or insecure.

If there are weak points on your resume (if you are missing experience, or were fired after a short time) prepare to explain how you are overcoming them.

Be realistic about your skills – no one is an expert in everything, plus you may be asked to justify it in an interview!

10. And finally some email mistakes that should be avoided….

Don’t use an embarrassing account on a lame email provider. I know hotmail and yahoo are free, but your rockchick21 username just isn’t cool. If necessary get a new work email that sounds more professional.

Don’t forget to attach your resume. Don’t send a wonderful email and forget to attach your resume. We all make mistakes, but people who make mistakes during the application process don’t get hired.

Don’t save your resume as resume2013.doc. Use your name in the file name if you are sending your resume as an attached file: for example “Caroline Watt Resume 2013”.


Caroline Watt is a headhunter based in London who specialises in placing strategists in the US and UK. She is regular contributor to Junior Strategy and you can find out more about her here.


  1. Love this read especially #9. I’d love to add be careful when you write your resume in the third person. It can sometimes come across as douchy. Also, try not to put quotes of people saying amazing things about you. Its a resume, not a movie trailer.

  2. What about phone calls? Is it okay or encouraged to call someone you’ve been going back and forth with via e-mail to check in on the status of selecting people to interview/hire?

  3. Nice typo in the HELLO-resume picture

    • Matthias,

      Nice job spotting it! We borrow beautiful pictures from the internet and typically give photo credit at the bottom of each post. Not sure where this photo credit has gone to, but the typo seems fairly serendipitous given the subject, wouldn’t you say? 😉

      Keep reading the blog and let us know how we’re doing.

      Ashly + Ben

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