Breaking These Resume Rules Could Land You That Job

Nancy Anderson
Posted by

Commonly accepted resume rules help job-seekers create readable, succinct resumes that don't drive hiring managers crazy. However, a few misguided rules have become so overused that they've lost their purpose. Instead of creating engaging resumes that speak of unique experiences, these rules result in generic applications that leave managers bored and unimpressed. Breaking these rules can help you create a stronger resume that potential employers want to read.

1. Never Use Full Sentences

Short phrases and sentence fragments may add to brevity, but they also lose the personal, human touch that connects the reader to the job-seeker on a deeper level. Keep sentences short, but don't be afraid to use them when they make the job resume sound more engaging. Keep in mind that brief fragments are still preferable for bullet points, as they create tighter prose.

2. Only List Tasks and Duties From Previous Positions

Anyone can perform the basic duties listed in the job description. Rather than following this dull resume rule, mention the times you've gone above and beyond your job description. This might include instances of exceptional teamwork or leadership, ideas you've implemented that have benefited the company in a measurable way, or particular problems you've solved.

3. Avoid the Word "I" at All Costs

While personal pronouns in a resume can raise eyebrows in more conservative industries, you can easily break this outdated resume rule for more modern and creative openings. Using "I" and "me" is especially useful for telling quick stories about what you've accomplished or how you've provided clever solutions at a previous job.

4. Always Use Recognizable Job-Seeker Terms

Terms such as "motivated self-starter" have been overused to the point of cliche. These terms are just fluff words, and they don't add any real value to your resume. Opt for more concrete descriptions that paint a clearer picture of who you are as an employee. For instance, instead of calling yourself a seasoned professional, simply state how many years you have been a part of the industry.

5. Keep Your Resume to One Page in Length

This resume rule has good intentions behind it, assuming that a short, succinct resume is more appealing to swamped hiring managers. However, you can easily break the rule if it forces you to cut essential content. Keep your job resume as brief as possible, but don't be afraid to go a little longer to successfully list all your major accomplishments and experience.

When deciding which resume rules to break, think about what makes your resume easier to read, more interesting and more representative of who you are as a professional and an individual. The risk is always worth taking. Forcing your resume to conform to a template might result in cutting the unique aspects of your career that make your application memorable.

Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles at


Become a member to take advantage of more features, like commenting and voting.

  • Elizabeth M.
    Elizabeth M.

    Keeping everything relevant to the position you are applying for is best. Having a generic resume to fit different positions will not work. Research the companies you are interested in and craft your resume accordingly. That's what I learned.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Cindy A thanks for your follow up comment. So great that the tips offered helped you out. Fingers crossed that it was a good interview and that you got your job. All the best.

  • Cindy A.
    Cindy A.

    Thank you Nancy for your response! I do have 2 degrees, long sob stories but unfortunately true. I rewrote my resume trying to keep it short. I got it to 2 pages. The experiences I have may be mundane, ordinary but my willingness to do multiple responsibilities of others made me versatile and in demand. Listing them, in brief form is difficult. But they are all I have, so it is necessary. My solid work history, before a medical error, is in demand by most companies. There has been only 4 main jobs in 30 years-two overlapped by 3 years-that ended in 2009 when the 'error" occurred. After it, my work history is an average of 1 plus years per each of 4 jobs till Feb. 2016. NOT GOOD. I DID 'combine' as you mentioned below. I wrote to the effect that this jobs' duties are listed above or see above---. Write/word it appropriately for your resume. I then dealt with including a Major clothing retail job (list the 10 years) and working for the State, with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV). Noting that the last 3 years of those 10 years were spent working at the BMV simultaneously. My wording was that is was a higher end Department store with 6 floors. Using words such as versatile, solid work history and willingness to learn all I could, etc. I noted the importance each job. I gave special attention to duties at the BMV; that they be accomplished correctly. All this condensed into a couple of short paragraphs. I have gotten an interview offer since rewriting. Thank you for your tips. So far pretty good.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Giselle M thanks for your comment and your viewpoint. Most companies tell us that one page is enough and that, if they want to know more, they will contact the candidate for additional information. It is very true that it can be tough to include everything on one page which is why companies indicate that they only want to see the past ten years since most work older than that is obsolete. Now this is certainly not true in every industry across the board but it is true for the majority. If you held two jobs wherein you completed relatively the same tasks, you could combine the jobs like Administrative Assistant, ABC Company, Dallas, TX, Jan 2006 to Dec 2008; Administrative Assistant, XYX Company, Boulder, CO, April 2008 to Oct 2010 and then list the tasks. That way you can cover 4 years of work in one entry.

  • Giselle M.
    Giselle M.

    I strongly disagree with the hard and fast rule of one-page resumes. That is an outdated rule that existed since the 70s, and it does not apply for everyone.

    With jobs being more complex due to technology and having to use keywords to bypass Application Tracking Systems (ATSs), it's hard for an experienced person to cram all their information on one page. Also with the gig economy where people are working as contractors or temps, they can easily have more than one job in a year. If they've been contracting for a long time or their jobs are very complex, it can easily take one page to explain the most recent contracts and they'll need at least another page to explain the rest of their experience to go back 10 years, plus their education, professional affiliations, volunteer work, areas of expertise, special skills, professional development training, and so on.

    One page resumes do have their place for a new grad, someone with limited work experience, or someone who had only one or two jobs in their career.

    I usually get questions about resume length from highly experienced clients, and I advise them to keep their resume to three pages at the most because eliminating too much information could significantly weaken their position.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Cindy A thanks for your comment. So sorry about the medical issue. Hope that all is well now. You didn't mention if you had completed any higher education or not. If you did, try using your school's career services to get your resume written. They can also help you out with interview techniques. If that is not a possibility, look around your area. Many places offer free resume service. What about the library? They have a wealth of information for those seeking jobs. There are millions of resume examples on the internet, also. You could use those as a guideline and write your own. Don't fear the resume. It's simply a "hello" into the company. You will be the one to sell yourself, not the resume.

  • Cindy A.
    Cindy A.

    These are great! "I" need to rework my resume now. I have always been one to bend rules. When I answer the business phone, I do not say "Hello", I say "HI! This is ... What can I do for you?". Rarely have I gotten an angry or upset person. For the most part, you can hear the surprised, slight pause and then their good spirits sneak out into our conversation. So Please, now if you have any great tips on how to work with a resume that has an older writer with the barest of experience or money for the new career path forced upon them due to a major medical error, I will most certainly follow them. Thanks very much!

  • denise b.
    denise b.

    Got it

  • Keith Enste
    Keith Enste

    Nancy, Thank you so much for your wonderful follow-up and feedback; I truly appreciate your taking the time to personally respond. I am going to try to follow your suggestions. Thank you so very much for taking the time to personally respond.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Keith thanks for your comment. It's a judgment call. I do not maintain two sets of resumes/cover letters. I modify my resume to fit the position for which I am applying. I have found that most companies use a lot of the same keywords for like positions so that makes it easier. As to the length, again a judgment call. I have condensed an over 40 yr career into one page. It wasn't easy but it can be done. However, if you just can't do that, then stretch it out to two pages. Make sure that you include a heading on both pages so that your resume stays together. There really is no right way. It always depends. Depends upon your resume, upon what the company has requested. But you can truly condense your resume into one page. How I did it was to group my experience together under headings such as Business Analyst and then everywhere I worked as a BA; SEO Analyst and everything associated with that. For the first one I would have the heading of BA and then Company ABC, New York, NY, Jan 2000 - Dec 2002 and the next line Company DEF, Miami, FL, Jan 2003 - present and so on. Hope that helps.

  • Keith Enste
    Keith Enste

    How does one create a resume that is esthetically pleasing, succinct, thorough, cocked full of enough “key-words, and key-phrases to get it to move to the top of the pile after it is scanned into a resume data-base?

    Is it wise to have two resumes one for “human eyes” and one for being scanned into a resume data-base cocked full of key words and phrases?

    Everything that I have read about this subject often says “one and only one page” or fill your resume with relevant, industry specific jargon, and phrases.
    I’m not certain that it is possible to achieve both objectives within only one document.
    What would you recommend?

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Timothy thanks for your comment. So very true that a one-page resume will not work in academia. Actually, in academia, they usually request a CV - a more intensive type of resume where you have to include all of your education and academic type positions. In your case, two pages or even three will be fine.

  • Timothy Rodriguez
    Timothy Rodriguez

    A one-page resume is not doab;e in academia.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Annie thanks for your comment. Unfortunately there is not a pat answer for your question. I can offer suggestions. Since you have been self-employed, I would suggest that you find a recruiter that specializes in your area of expertise. This way they can help you with your resume and they can help get you introduced to some companies. Same thing with a temp agency. The issue that you will encounter is that you are a total unknown since you have not actually worked for anyone other than yourself. That is why it would be better to get into a company through an agency or a recruiter.

  • Annie C.
    Annie C.

    I'm a young looking 63, ( look late 40's) self employed 33 years. There's no way to get a face to face interview when they hear my age or "experience". What can I do?

  • brian s.
    brian s.

    I will update using your tips since I have had little response to resumes


    Good information

  • nicholas p.
    nicholas p.

    Video. . No more than 4 to 5 minutes in length. . Just a thought

  • John G.
    John G.

    Have had a two pager for many years!

  • Patrick M.
    Patrick M.

    Or be a woman.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks again for the great comments. @Harold thanks for that insight as it's so very true. Honestly, unless this is your first job, it is hard to keep your resume to one page. This is why we always stress to only include information that is relevant to the position for which you are applying. For instance, if I was applying for a job as financial business analyst, who cares that I worked at Macy's as a sales associate for my first job? It's always best to have one totally complete resume ready to send if the hiring company needs it. @Kathy - very true. Do not include references on your resume and do not waste precious space by adding: References available upon request. Always have your references ready to send though and make sure that those references know where you applied so that they can be prepared to be there for you. Nothing worse than getting a reference call and be totally clueless.

  • Mark West
    Mark West

    I use 12 point font with some blank areas in between sections. So, my resume is a 2 pager, but it's easier to read and has space for the interviewer to write notes on it.

    Also, how silly would it sound if you were verbally speaking about things you've accomplished...

    And never ONCE used the pronoun, "I"

    You'd find yourself in a padded cell after a while.

  • rufus m.
    rufus m.

    Great insight for resumes. Thanks.

  • Kathy N.
    Kathy N.

    @ Maureen N - In the US, you don't include your references with the resume; you provide them when the hiring company asks for them. And don't put "references available upon request" in your resume - that's self-evident.

  • Maureen N.
    Maureen N.

    Is it true that the referees should be on a different page, it's own page?

Jobs to Watch