Resumes & Cover Letters

It’s okay to break these resume rules

Written by Eric Titner

Those of us who have spent any amount of time in the job market have undoubtedly devoted a great deal of blood, sweat, and tears to getting our resumes just right. We know the prize that’s at stake and the level of competition we’re likely facing in pursuit of our dream job, so putting in the extra time and effort to getting things just right is time well spent, and a worthwhile investment in our professional futures. And nothing sinks your chances of getting hired quite so quickly and absolutely as a poorly crafted resume.

Every job seeker carries the weight of their resume as they mold and shape it in pursuit of perfection—and although the perfect resume may never be an attainable goal, that certainly doesn’t stop us from trying. This includes carefully following all the well-worn rules of resume writing that we’ve convinced ourselves are set in unmovable stone. But the truth is, they aren’t, at least not anymore. The rules for job hunting have certainly changed over the past several years, so doesn’t it stand to reason that the rules for resume writing have changed as well?

Let’s be honest—the merging of technology and culture have changed nearly every aspect of how we live our lives and continues to tear down all the old rules and ways of doing things, and job hunting and resume writing are no exceptions. Those who are best at keeping up with the breakneck pace of change, and resisting getting mired down in stodgy old rules, are best positioned for success. On top of this, a little strategic rule breaking—when applied effectively—can really help you stand out from the crowd and grab the attention of the gatekeepers who stand between you and your next job.

Hopefully by now we’ve convinced you that it’s sometimes okay to occasionally break the old resume rules in pursuit of your next job. Let’s take a closer look at some specific rules that are now ok to break.

No storytelling

We’ve all heard before that a resume isn’t a venue for you to tell your life’s story. Rather, it should primarily be a tool to tell potential employers what value you offer. Not anymore! Today’s employers are interested in learning more about your personal brand—what makes you a unique individual as well as your specific value proposition. They want employees who’ll fit well in their culture and support their mission to promote their unique brand, and they want to know what makes you tick and what motivates you.

Your resume could—and should—be a holistic document that chronicles your passions, pursuits, and key professional decisions as well as your work achievements. When writing your resume, don’t shy away from telling your story—when weaved effectively into your professional journey, it’ll help you stand out from other potential candidates and make you seem like much more than a boring, bulleted list of job responsibilities.

Quantify everything

The old rules of resume writing often dictated that if an achievement can’t be mapped back to the bottom line numerically—we’re talking about things like revenue, percentage growth, and numbers of new customers here—then it isn’t something worth including on your resume. This is simply not true! Today’s savvy employers can appreciate and recognize the value of contributions that don’t always translate immediately to a company’s bottom line. Perhaps you came up with a helpful or intriguing new idea or work policy at your old job that you can’t tie specific numbers to. That’s okay. As long as it supports your personal brand and message and demonstrates your value as a potential employee, include it!

Keywords everywhere

Nothing puts hiring personnel to sleep faster than an endless pile of resumes that are all laden with the same overused keywords in an attempt to convince them that you’re “in the know” when it comes to the industry. A resume that’s nothing but keywords runs the risk of making you seem robotic and less like a human they’d like to work with. Sure, keywords are important and should be used strategically, but forcing them awkwardly into everything on your resume can make your document come off as boring and artificial. Don’t be afraid to have a resume that shows that you’re an actual person—and preferably one that they’d likely enjoy working with!

There you have it—a few of the old rules that you may want to consider leaving behind when crafting your resume. In the end, don’t forget that at some point in the job-searching process an actual person is going to be tasked with reading and evaluating your resume, and they’ll likely want to know what makes you you as much as what you potentially offer their company’s bottom line.

Want More Content Like This?

Get TheJobNetwork's Latest Career Advice &
Job Seeking Tips straight to your inbox

About the author

Eric Titner

Eric is a NYC-based editor and writer, with years of experience in career-focused content development across a wide range of industries.

[Free eBook Download]
[Free eBook Download]