Did you know that some recruiters read resumes not to select applicants for an interview, but to see how they’re NOT fit for the job?
You see, recruiters receive a ton of resumes for any given job and
many of those read alike. So, it’s easier to thin out the herd instead
of cherry picking from a hundred applicants with practically the same
That’s why it’s equally important to know what not to put on a resume. In this tutorial, you'll learn some words not to use in a resume as well as what you shouldn't do when designing a resume. We'll also share some of the best resume template designs.
Make a Great Resume in 30 Minutes or Less With a Template
With a pre-made resume template, you don’t have to worry about the spacing, layout, or fonts in your resume. You’ll have more time to concentrate on writing an amazing application that sums up your professional experience and intrigues the recruiter enough to give you an interview.
Check out Envato Elements and GraphicRiver to see hundreds of resume and cover letter templates that you can choose from.
In a hurry? These two articles include a round-up of the best resume templates offered at Envato and GraphicRiver:
- Resumes29+ Modern Resume Templates With Clean (Elegant) CV Designs (2021)Brenda Barron
- Resumes30+ Simple Resume CV Templates (Easily Customizable & Editable for 2020)Andrew Childress
What Should You Not Do When Designing a Resume?
You may think that only your resume’s content matters, but that’s far from the truth. Unless your resume will only be viewed on an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) or an online database that standardizes how the information appears for all applications—not likely—your resume needs to be well formatted.
Below are a few things not to put on resume, design and formatting wise:
1. Long Blocks of Text
Recruiters skim resumes instead of reading them line by line. That means you should avoid long paragraphs and big blocks of text. Use bullet points and keep your sentences concise.
2. Wrong Format
If the job ad states the resume should be sent in PDF, then you should send it as PDF. You might think this isn’t a big deal, but the employer might be requesting PDF because that’s the format used on the ATS they use to process job applications. So even if your resume is read, your qualifications might not read properly, or the bullet points and columns could get messed up.
3. Bright or Hard to Read Text
Yellow or any light-colored text is at the top of the things you shouldn't put on your resume.
Resist the temptation to use fancy colors on your resume’s font and design elements. Stick to black when it comes to the resume body’s text and keep the font size from 10 to 12.
If you really want to add color, make sure it’s not a strain to the eyes on screen and on print.
You now know what you shouldn't do when designing a resume.
But perhaps you don't have the time to design a template from scratch, so here are some creative resume templates that don't use hard to read color combinations or any of the things not to put on a resume.
What Not to Include in a Resume Work History (and Other Content Blunders to Avoid)
The work history is an especially sensitive area when it comes to what not to put on a resume. Here are some specific things to avoid:
4. Made Up Titles
Writing you’re the CEO of a company on your resume isn’t impressive unless that company actually employs other people. Otherwise, who are you CEO of?
Solo-owned businesses are impressive and there’s nothing wrong with that, but the recruiter or HR manager reviewing your application would understand it better if you called yourself a business owner or entrepreneur. CEO doesn’t make sense unless you’re in charge of an executive team.
Job titles like Customer Happiness Officer or Client Success Manager are understandable and may even be official job titles your employer uses. But will a recruiter use them when filtering candidates? Not likely.
While such job titles aren’t exactly words not to use in a resume, they’re not the best choice if you want to get your resume found on the ATS.
Use the industry accepted job title in your resume. If you don’t want to use it as the job title in your work entry, then at least include it on some of your work history’s bullet points.
5. Including Jobs Irrelevant to Your Target Role
Only include employment history that'll contribute to your current job search.
If you're transferring to a different industry or a different line of work entirely you can include these jobs, but the emphasis should be on the transferable skills you earned and not on your previous job title.
6. Including Personal Information
This tip depends on where you’re applying for a job. In the U.S. and other Western countries, applicants aren't required to put personal information on a resume.
Here’s a list of things not to put on resume:
- street address
- marital status
Recruiters don’t want to discriminate against you, but if you give them the information, their gut reaction might not be in your favor.
For instance, if you include your nationality on the resume, the recruiter might wonder if you can fit in with the company’s corporate culture or if your religious beliefs will affect your work.
7. Work Email Address
Don’t use an unprofessional email address like email@example.com, and don’t ever use your work email address for your job search. The recruiter might think you’re job hunting during work hours and assume that you do a lot of personal tasks while on the clock.
8. Personal Pictures
Don’t add a picture of yourself on the resume as this is only appropriate for models, actors, and performers. Including a picture of yourself makes your application prone to the same bias that could affect a recruiter’s judgement when they read personal details about you.
If the resume template you've downloaded includes a placeholder for a picture, simply delete it.
9. Adding Negative or Questionable Work Experience
Don’t ever include employers who fired you for poor performance, attendance issues, or personal matters.
If you were let go as part of a lay-off, that’s okay because companies understand things like this happen.
Information about how and why you were let go will surface once an employer does a background check on you, so there’s no sense including jobs you were terminated from. However, if you just didn’t get along with your previous boss but left the company in good standing, that's okay. Just put another colleague or supervisor as reference.
10. Salary Details
Wondering what not to put on a resume 2020? Your salary and compensation details are one example. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), some U.S. states like California now have laws that limit employers from asking this information.
Your salary history shouldn’t be included in your resume, unless you want other recruiters to filter you because you were too expensive— or worse, low ball you because your past salary is less than what they normally offer.
Only discuss your past salary upon receiving a job offer, or if the recruiter asks about your expected salary.
Check out these guides if you need help negotiating your salary:
- NegotiatingHow to Negotiate a Higher Salary After a New Job Offer (With Scripts)Charley Mendoza
- CareersHow to Negotiate Your Salary via Email (With Killer Tips + Examples)Charley Mendoza
12. Unnecessary Information About Previous Employers
There’s no need to include your previous employer’s exact address. You also don’t need to disclose the exact date you joined or left the company.
While this information isn’t exactly career-ending words you shouldn't use in a resume, it's a waste of space. A recruiter doesn’t need to know this information to gauge if you've got the skills they need.
Whatever you do, never disclose your reason for leaving a company because the recruiter might get the wrong impression about you. It’s better to leave this discussion for the interview.
13. Personal Hobbies and Interests
Skiing, cooking, knitting, which of these isn't suggested for writing a resume?
All of them.
Listing creative hobbies and interests in your resume is a gamble if they’re not directly related to your job. These interests could be good conversation starters, or they could offend the recruiter if they think it’s odd or against their personal beliefs.
If you've got enough skill, achievements, or work experience to easily fill a one-page resume then there’s no need to beef it up with hobbies or interests.
14. Skills or Experience You Lack
It may seem obvious, but I’ve seen resumes where the applicant admits to not having some of the skills needed for the job. This is a sure way to get your resume trashed.
Avoid bringing up subjects that paint you in a negative light. For instance, if you haven’t finished your bachelor’s degree, instead of writing “not yet graduated,” just list the year you expect to graduate. Changing the phrase isn’t equal to lying or omitting information because your graduation date will still be listed. You’re just putting a positive spin on it.
If the job calls for sales experience, but you don’t any formal employment in this capacity, think of ways where you sold something or convinced someone to buy in on your idea and write about it instead.
Now that you know what not to include in a resume work history, it's time you find out what's worth including on that section:
15. Skills or Experience Repeated in Multiple Work Entries
Candidates with multiple jobs in the same line of work shouldn’t repeatedly list the same skill on multiple times on their work history. It comes off as redundant.
It's as if you've got no other impressive accomplishments to offer.
If your last two jobs included financial analysis, don’t list this skill on both employment entries. Choose the job where you had an achievement or significant project that involved financial analysis instead. Use the bullet points in other work entries to talk about your other skills.
Never lie on your resume. You can get creative with your writing, but you should never stretch the truth to the point where you can’t back it up.
If you don’t speak multiple languages, don’t list it. If you had help with a product launch or presentation, you should say so instead of claiming it as your own. They say you should fake it ‘til you make it, but that advice doesn’t apply to lying on your resume.
A former Yahoo CEO got ousted and publicly humiliated a few years ago because he lied about having a computer degree on his resume, according to a CNN report. You don’t want to be that guy.
False claims on your resume could lead to termination, humiliation—or worse, a lawsuit.
If you get hired despite lying on your resume, and your employer discriminates against you later, you may find it hard to win a legal claim against them. The employer will just turn around and say that they wouldn’t have hired you if they knew about your fibs.
Employment lawyers call this after-acquired evidence, and it’s a common defense they use when trying to limit the damages companies pay in labor lawsuits.
Writing Mistakes and Words Not to Use in a Resume
Pay particular attention to how your resume is written.
16. Rewrite Sentences with Orphan Words
Orphan words refer to a word (or two) left on a line on their own. To save space, try revising the sentence or previous line to remove the orphan words.
17. Vague Phrases
Phrases that don’t give context or any explanation of what you’ve accomplished is a disservice to your qualifications.
Compare the following sentences:
“Led a sales team of 5”
“Recruited and trained a 5-man sales team that closed over $10 million in annual sales”
The two sentences could describe the same person, but the details included in the second example give a better context to the applicant’s job. It’s more impressive too.
The first phrase tells the recruiter that you led a team of five people. What did you lead them to though? What did the job entail? More importantly, what did that team accomplish?
Vague terms like “experienced” and “professional” are high on my list of words not to use in a resume. Replace them with better adjectives that describe the kind of work you do, or else a specific skill or accomplishment that could be tied to your work.
Writing that you’re an “experienced” accountant doesn’t add to your qualifications. But if you add words like “CPA,” or “QuickBooks,” that'll give the recruiter a better idea of your experience.
18. Typos and Grammar Mistakes
You could’ve gotten an interview, but the recruiter was turned off because of an incorrect verb tenses or you wrote “your” instead of “you’re.” The sad part is this is easily avoidable.
Always read your resume out loud before sending it, so you can spot typos and grammar errors before it costs you a job.
Below are some common grammar and spelling errors to check:
- Verb tenses: “teach” vs “taught”
- Subject-verb agreement: “You sell” vs “he/she sells”
- Hyphen use: e.g. “well-balanced” and “record-breaking”
- Incorrect apostrophe use: “its” vs “it’s”
19. High-falutin Words
Why write “utilize” when “use” means the same thing? Why write “synergized” when simpler, yet equally impressive power words like “collaborated” or “partnered” are sufficient?
Examples of Pompous Words Not to Use in a Resume:
Using big words on your resume don’t make you sound smart. It’s a waste of space and it’s proven by a Princeton study that documents using complex words are rated less effective compared to those with simpler words.
Now that you know the words you shouldn't use in a resume, check out this article on power words that you should use:
20. Clichés and Words You Shouldn't Use in a Resume
Recruiters read hundreds of resumes every day, so it makes sense that they also see a lot of the same words they start to become clichés. Words like “creative,” “specialize” “results-oriented” are so overused, they’re now considered clichés on resumes and LinkedIn profiles.
Replace these words with a different, not-so-overused synonym, or better yet, write about what makes you “creative” or “results-oriented” instead. Read this HubSpot article on how to replace common buzzwords found on LinkedIn profiles and resumes.
21. Disabilities and Personal Accommodations
In the U.S., differently-abled job seekers aren’t required to disclose their predicament, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It’s also illegal for employers to discriminate against them.
The ADA acts protects your right to get a job as long as you've got the skills and experience required for it.
All that said, it may be tactful to disclose this information if your condition may impact your performance or if you might need special accommodations at work.
Don’t disclose it on your resume though. Do it on the interview, preferably after you dazzle the interviewer with your skills and experience. This way, employers can make the necessary adjustments to help, but you’re not giving them a chance to discriminate against you before you even meet.
When asked about your condition and how it may affect your performance, an article on Maryland Online University about disability suggests, “Providing your own practical suggestions for job accommodations is a great way of showing your commitment and willingness to meet the requirements of the job.”
For instance, if you've got a hearing impairment, you may want to ask for a desk phone that vibrates instead of rings.
Check out the article from Maryville University for more suggestions on how to disclose disabilities, and different practical accommodations you can suggest depending on your condition.
Remove What Doesn’t Work
Is your resume done? Good.
Go over it again and see if it still contains any of the resume blunders listed above.
Once you’re done, give it another review, this time asking yourself, “Will this sentence/skill/qualification/ improve my chances of getting that job?” Remove or replace information that doesn’t pass that test.
If you're having a hard time deleting this information, remember that it's equally important to consider what not to include in a resume because that information can affect your application too.
Your Checklist: What Best Things to Put on Your Resume in 2020
So, let's recap. While it's important to think about what not to put on a resume, it's important to use these insights in crafting the best things to put on a resume.
Here's some best practices to keep in mind, when putting together your resume in 2020.
Present Your Work Professionally. There should be no long blocks of text, no content that's difficult to read. Your resume should not only sound good, it should look good too.
- Submit the Correct Format. Remember, if the application asks for a PDF, that's what you should give them. Make note of specifics like this, so you can deliver on them.
- Accurate Work History. Keep things professional and to the point. Don't make up titles or content, and make sure to list history that's appropriate for the position.
- Clear and Concise Writing. This means not only checking for things like typographical errors, but also making sure your writing is clear, to the point, and appropriate for the situation.
- Relevant, Targeted Content. Check your work and remove any unnecessary content or content that doesn't help meet your goals.
5 Professional Resume Design Trends for 2020
Let's look at some of the resume design trends that are popular in 2020. Whether you follow one (or more) of these trends should depend on your industry, your professional brand, and the needs of your resume. Remember to keep our checklist in mind.
Here's our list of trends for 2020:
1. Illustrate Your Skills With Infographics
Infographics can be an amazing way to visually communicate with your audience, and this is why they're so popular in resume design. Easily illustrate your strong points with imagery.
Remember, your resume should be about what you can do, not what you can't. Just because this is image based doesn't mean our resume best practices don't still apply.
2. Get Personal With a Profile Photo
It's quite popular for 2020 resume design to feature a profile photo of some kind. This can be a great way to add a personal touch to your resume.
Remember, this is your first impression, so your photo should suit the situation. If the position warrants a casual atmosphere, something fun or unconventional could work. Keep your resume's objectives and the nature of the position at the forefront of your choices.
3. Make Your Cover Letter and Resume Match
Your resume and cover letter are important, as they're often your very first impression. In 2020, it's increasingly popular to make your cover letter and resume match—and it's easy to see why.
Visual consistency makes for a professional presentation. Both should reflect your professional brand, making this a trend worth holding on to for a long time.
4. Use High Contrast With a Key Color
High contrast, especially in side bars, paired with key colors, are quite a trendy resume design concept in 2020. It's a stylish look with lots of potential. This could work well for many industries, making it a flexible and adaptable visual direction, too.
Think about your color choices in your resume. Color is very communicative, so think about what your color choices say about your professional brand.
5. Try Stylish Minimalism With Strong Hierarchy
There's something very classy and typically timeless about well executed minimalism—and we see that in resume design trends for 2020 too.
Sometimes, less is more. But that doesn't mean a minimal design isn't professionally crafted with a solid emphasis on design principles. Keep an eye out for visual hierarchy—things like well-organized type, clear margins, and established headlines.
More Professional Resume Template Resources
Looking for more professional resume resources? Check out these collections of professionally designed templates. There's so much to choose from! Pick one up today or sit back and enjoy the beautiful, design inspiration.
- Resumes35+ Best Professional Business Resume Templates (Company CVs 2021)Andrew Childress
- Resumes30 Best Visual CV Resume Templates for Artists & Creatives (in 2020)Brenda Barron
- InDesign Templates55 Best InDesign Resume Templates (Professional, Creative Design)Daisy Ein
Learn How to Create a Great Resume
Want to learn more about what to put on a resume? How about creating your own resume, from scratch? Get started with our Ultimate Guide on How to Create a Great Resume.
Then, if you're looking to dig even deeper, check out these free tutorials. They're packed with design tips, walk throughs, and even free downloads.
- Resumes10 Creative Resume Ideas to Stand Out Online in 2021Julia Melymbrose
- ResumesHow to Make a Photoshop Resume Template (Free Resume Download)Laura Keung
- ResumesHow to Make a Resume Template in InDesign (With Free Template Download)Grace Fussell
Create or Improve Your Resume Today
You've just learned over 20 things not to put on a resume. If you're creating or improving your resume, review this list before you finalize it.
Good luck on your job search!
Editors Note: This tutorial was originally published in May 2019. It's been comprehensively updated with special assistance from Daisy Ein.
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