Six Things That Shouldn't Be On Your Resume (and Six Things That Should)

It’s that time of year again, when recent graduates turn their attention to the job search and get their resumes in order. Here are some things you’ll want to leave off this crucial document, and others you’ll want to include. Remember that resumes are scanned quickly, so you need to make a positive impression quickly, and keep your goal in mind regarding your resume (and cover letter): to get the interview.


Items to leave off your resume:

1. Errors

In addition to providing facts about your work history, qualifications, and accomplishments, your resume serves as a work sample, a writing sample, and a demonstration of your attention to detail. In a good economy employers can be unforgiving regarding errors, and in this still-recovering job market with so many applicants for every job, one small mistake can put you out of the running.

Spellcheck and grammarcheck are useful but they won’t catch every error. Check, double check and triple check everything: spelling, punctuation, capitalization, grammar, verb tenses, etc. After making changes, put the resume aside for at least a few hours before reviewing it again; you may find that errors you missed earlier are now very noticeable. Have a friend who is good at spelling and grammar look it over too.

2. Information that doesn’t support you as a candidate for the job

Clichéd, irrelevant, personal, or untrue info can be left off of your resume. Remember that hiring managers and recruiters read resumes all the time, and they will regard as filler anything clichéd or not relevant to the position for which they are interviewing. Phrases like “team player” or “self-motivated,” or hobbies or volunteering not related to library work are best left on the chopping block. You don’t want the reader to have difficulty finding pertinent info among details unrelated to the job at hand.

Highlight the information relevant to the job and keep any additional info to a minimum. A resume should be “just the facts” but you can show a bit of your personality and enthusiasm and share some not-strictly-work-related facts in a cover letter (again, briefly), and verbally in the interview. Including false information on your resume is, of course, foolishly risky, likely to lead to long-lasting regret. Doing so is not recommended.

3. Older information

A resume is not meant to be a comprehensive work history from day one of your first job. It should be no more than two pages with focus on recent and relevant information. Work experience and accomplishments from roughly the last 8 - 12 years are what the reader is going to want to know about most. Including information from the distant past is more likely to hurt rather than help your chances of getting called for an interview.

4. Functional format

Hiring decision makers want to see a timeline of where you were and what you were doing, ideally with a progression of responsibility and relevant experience. If you choose a format other than traditional reverse chronological order, the reader will assume that you have a reason for doing so. Most often this reason is a gap in employment or a lack of experience that you are trying to hide, and using a functional format actually calls attention to what you are trying to conceal. It is better to give hiring managers the information they want in the format they prefer, and if anything requires explanation, address it briefly in the cover letter.

5. Objective

Objectives are a bit old-fashioned, left over from a time when the information on resumes was not easily changed. They take up valuable space on this brief, important document without giving the reader useful information. If you are applying for a job it will be clear to the reader that you are interested in obtaining such a position; that does not need to be stated explicitly. You can mention your goals and plans, briefly, in your cover letter, or in the interview if asked. Replace the objective with a summary (it may also be referred to as a “profile” or “branding statement”) and have the whole resume focus what you have to offer, rather than include what you are seeking.

6. "References available upon request."

This is also old-fashioned, and no longer necessary. It is understood that you will provide references when they are requested.


Things to include on your resume:

1. Accomplishments

Whenever you can, describe how you contributed above and beyond just the basic duties of the job. Include examples of projects you initiated and/or led, ideas of yours that were implemented, and ways in which you demonstrated extra value as an employee. Imagine the hiring manager asking, “Why should I consider you for this job? What are you offering that makes you stand out from other applicants?” Convince the reader with your past performance.

2. Numbers

It is always good to use numbers to convey the scope of what you’ve done (for example: “supervised 12 employees in two departments,” “negotiated with vendor and saved 20%,” “increased attendance at weekly programs by 30%”). It is a quick and effective way to convey, again, your contribution to past employers.

3. Keywords

The reader of your resume is going to be looking for certain words and phrases. This is true whether the “reader” is scanning software or a human being. Refer to the job description to determine what keywords to include. Your summary is especially critical if we’re talking about a human reader; if it doesn’t have what the reader is seeking, s/he might not read further.

It is a good idea to include the phrase “ALA-accredited” in your summary or education info, as a Master’s degree from an accredited program is nearly a universal requirement for library jobs.

4. Customization

Your resume should be tailored to the position for which you are applying, every time you send it out. Only those who are a good match for the requirements of the position will be contacted for an interview, so make sure to clearly convey that you have what the employer is looking for, especially in the summary and duties/accomplishments for each position you have held.

5. Service in professional organizations

Service in professional organizations conveys effort above and beyond the minimum, and shows dedication to the profession. Such service helps to present you as a well-connected, professionally-engaged employee, which will makes you more attractive as an applicant. The networking that goes with it benefits you in your job search as well.

6. Easy to read font, font size and formatting/some white space

A resume that is uninviting to the eye for any reason may get tossed out unread. Use a font that is easy to read (Times New Roman, Arial, and Garamond are just a few of your options), and make sure the font size is not so small the reader will have to squint. Use bullet points and keep them as brief as you can. It is far better to go to a second page than to have a tiny font and small margins. Have some white space on the page so the document is not margin-to-margin text and make sure your formatting is consistent throughout the resume.

While a well-crafted resume is certainly vital to job search, it is not all you need and it is not a static document. Networking is necessary too, as are cover letters. In addition to customizing your resume each time you send it out, plan to add skills and experience and accomplishments to it on a regular basis.


Ellen Mehling received her MSLIS from LIU and works as a librarian, instructor, writer and job search/career advisor in and around NYC. Her professional experience includes work in special, public, and academic libraries, as well as archives. She has been METRO’s Job Bank Manager and Career Development Consultant since 2009.