Resume Rules

7 Resume Rules You Might Be Able To Break


When it comes to writing your resume and cover letter, how do you know where to find the best advice? Who do you turn to? There are many differing opinions out there, and they aren’t all good!

Many online articles contain absolutes: “NEVER do this” or “ALWAYS do that.” I’m always skeptical of that type of advice, because so much of what you’d write in your resume depends on your unique situation. Job seekers frequently ask what they should include or abandon on their resume based on what they’ve been told by friends or recruiters. My answer is usually the same, “Well, it depends.”

This is exactly what was discussed at The National Resume Writers’ Association (NRWA) conference last week — how there are really no absolutes in resume writing. There are too many things to consider with a client before saying never do something or always do another thing. Resume strategy is very complex, but there are things you can consider when confronted with a resume dilemma.

First and foremost, consider the audience. The same resume might look very different, depending on whether it’s going to a recruiter, being emailed to a hiring manager, or being uploaded into an applicant tracking system (ATS).

Then, think from the employer’s perspective. What you include in your resume shouldn’t be determined by what you want to say as much as what the employer needs to hear to justify hiring you. You might think a certain accomplishment of yours is really great, but ask yourself whether the employer cares about that before you include it.

Finally, analyze the particulars of your strategy. Do you have a gap in employment you need to deal with? Are you transitioning from one field to another? Do you have weaknesses that you need to minimize? These things may influence how you apply the “rules” to your resume.

So, how did the experts at the NRWA conference respond to common resume “rules”?

1. Never Use An Objective Statement. They Are Obsolete.

Most of the time, it’s not recommended to label the 3-4 lines at the top of your resume with the term “objective.” It is seen as outdated by many.

BUT, if you are a recent grad submitting your resume to your career center, you may need to. They often use templates, and you have to follow their format.

2. Your Resume Should Only Be One (Or Two) Pages.

This rule is silly. I’ve seen recent grads with a great, accomplishment-laden, two-pager. I’ve seen execs with a two-page resume that clearly didn’t do the job. Try hard to write as concisely as possible, BUT tell your story. Most hiring managers don’t mind something a little longer if the content is worth reading.

3. Always Have A Resume That’s In Reverse-Chronological Order.

Yes, establishing a timeline is important and hiring managers prefer not to see a functional resume.

BUT, I’ve written them, and with some networking, they can work. If you have barriers to or gaps in your employment, you might try it with some good networking. You can always change it if it’s not helping you.

4. Never Include Hobbies Or Interests.

Most employers don’t really care if you like knitting baby blankets.

BUT, if you are applying for a position at a daycare, it’s relevant. You might want to put it in there.

5. Never Use Abbreviations Or Jargon.

You definitely don’t want to overdo it.

BUT, some recruiters or hiring managers may search their ATS for acronyms or specific terms. So, you could be hurting yourself if you don’t have some that are commonly used in your industry in your document.

6. Your Resume Should Only Go Back 10-15 Years.

This is probably true for most people.

BUT, if you are an executive, you probably need to demonstrate more expertise than only 10 years will allow. Ditto if you’re returning to a previous career.

7. Never Use Personal Pronouns In Your Resume.

You certainly don’t want to use them if you are in a very conservative industry that expects conformity to the norm. Write your resume according to traditional resume grammar rules.

BUT, if you are using a quote in your document from a manager, sure. Or, if you are in a very creative field, I’ve seen it done successfully.

I’m sure this article will be controversial with folks who feel it’s a cardinal sin to break any of the above rules. Before you freak about this, though, remember: resumes are as individual as the people they describe. A resume reflects our own talents and skills. Are there rules for how unique we all are, really?

What resume rules have YOU broken? I’d love to hear your story in the comments below.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Kristin Johnson

Kristin is a TORI award-winning, 6-times certified resume writer, job search coach, and social media consultant. She's the proud owner of Profession Direction, LLC, which was recently named one of Forbes' Top 100 Career Sites of 2013.


  1. I broke the cover letter rule in my most recent job application. I gave them the answers to questions that my resume would most likely generate. I actually mentioned in my cover letter that I knew I was breaking the cover letter rules, but the information would come out in an interview anyway so I might as well be up front about it. No point in spending time interviewing if the issues would be a deal breaker. After a phone interview and two personal interviews, I received and accepted a job offer. During the interview, the manager told me that my cover letter had intrigued him because I was candid about my work history in the past three years.

    Sometimes, you just gotta break the rules.

  2. Great tips! Thanks a lot for re-emphasizing the bending of resume rules. To ascertain that this works, the only time I did break the rule #1, I got the job. Have been trying for 18 months with the traditional resume!

  3. Great article! What you said about resumes is very true: there are no hard and fast rules. It depends on the candidate, the experience, and the industry. One way candidates can enhance their traditional resume is by recording a video resume. On video they can tell more about their experience, plus show off their personality and communication skills. If there are things candidates leave off the traditional resume but still want to highlight, a video resume is a great place to do so.

  4. Wolfgang Koch, CPRW

    Hi Kristin,

    Good points. I use the functional format relatively often; it oftentimes is the most sensible way to strut a client’s relevant stuff in a readable way. To “mitigate” the potentially detrimental effect of a functional resume, you can put some chronology back in by stating the number of years of experience with the functional category:

    – “Quality Assurance (8 years)”
    – “Ledger Auditing (6 years)”


  5. Leslie-Anne McKenzie

    A good read. The bottom line on a resume is what skills and value can the applicant bring to the company? How the value and the skills are presented is the key. Individuality is important, templates may not “cut it”.

    Thanks for the article, good to know once again, “different isn’t wrong, it’s just different”.

  6. Two items I have included are:

    1) Listing my high school even though I am a college graduate–it is another proof of US citizenship which some jobs require, and…

    2) Hobbies and interests–this can help break the ice during interviews, but sometimes I delete it if I need room for other items on my resume.

  7. Kristin, good advice! I’m curious what career centers you’re thinking of, however, in point number one. I’ve been a university career counselor for seven years and we don’t use templates. In fact, we discourage students from using them. I haven’t heard of a school that would want to use them.

  8. Hi Kristin,

    I have included a hyperlink to my LinkedIn profile which is in the header of the resume.

    I do not think this will play as a dis-advantage in the job hunt?



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