We asked pro résumé coaches to name one thing they wish everyone knew

Résumés: Nobody likes writing them.

But unless you’re, say, a cranberry-bog harvester or a deep-sea fisherman, chances are you’re going to need one.

The art of writing the perfect résumé is a mysterious one. There are countless small variables to consider. And opinions on what you should and shouldn’t put on a résumé vary drastically. Should you include your date of college graduation? Some would say absolutely. Others would say that’s a rookie mistake.

So where is a hapless job seeker to turn for solid advice on what makes a great CV? To the experts, of course. In an effort to dispel the shroud of mystery, and anxiety, that shrouds crafting a résumé for many people, we tapped a group of professional career coaches and résumé writers for the one thing they wish job applicants knew about résumés.

Here’s their best advice.


“Make sure your résumé doesn’t read like a job description.”

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A strong résumé should answer the “So what?” question.
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Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images

While you need to make it clear what you do at your current job and did at your past jobs, a résumé shouldn’t read like a laundry list of duties, Timothy Lo, cofounder of the business consulting firm Your Next Jump, told Business Insider.

“It’s very common for résumés to read like a list of the person’s tasks, day-to-day activities, roles and responsibilities, how many people they manage, and the size or type of budget they manage,” Lo said.

“While there is definitely a place for all of that information – you have to establish context after all – what tends to differentiate a candidate from the pool, and what we find what most employers are really looking for, is answering the ‘so what?’ question. So you do all of these things. That’s great, but so what?

“What were the outcomes? What were the results? Those things you did, what did they lead to? You don’t want your résumé to just talk about what you do or did, but rather, you want to emphasize how well you do it. You want to show that no matter what you do, you’re going to be really good at it.”


“I wish people knew how off-putting small mistakes are.”

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Grammar and spelling errors on a résumé can be a red flag for recruiters.
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Gary Cameron/Reuters

Spell-check is your friend, according to Paden Simmons, senior vice president of Nigel Frank International, a leading Microsoft recruitment firm.

“Spelling and grammar errors are, largely speaking, avoidable, and simply point towards a careless attitude that always leaves doubts about your desire to land the job,” Simmons said.

“Similarly, any dates that don’t match, or contradict other parts of your résumé, will either raise alarm bells that they’re untrue or that you’ve rushed your application, which isn’t a great trait to be revealing at this stage of the hiring process. That’s not to say you can’t overcome them, but they create such an unnecessary stumbling block at a time when you most want to be making a good impression.”


“A résumé needs to be clearly focused.”

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A weak résumé is one that is overly vague.
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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A big mistake that many job seekers make is being too vague, according to Martin Yate, of Knock Em Dead, a résumé and career-coaching service.

“It should be based on what the customer wants to buy, reflecting what you bring to the table with each requirement,” Yate said. “Not doing this is why résumés sink to the bottom of résumé databases, never to be seen again.”


You shouldn’t include “too much styling.”

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Don’t go overboard with stylistic choices on a résumé.
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John Moore/Getty Images

Sometimes less is more, founder of New York branding and consulting firm Point Road Group Alyssa Gelbard told Business Insider.

“Résumés are reviewed very quickly, so while you want to make things clear and easy to read with certain formatting enhancements, you also don’t want to include too much styling, which becomes visually distracting,” Gelbard said. “An overly formatted résumé – one with liberal use of boxes, borders, shading, font styles, colors, et cetera – is challenging to read because it’s busy and the reader’s eye doesn’t know where to go. As a result, key details and messaging can get lost, which impacts the impression you make on a potential employer or key contact.”


“You’d be surprised at how many candidates forget the basics.”

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Double-checking spelling and formatting on a résumé is vital.
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Ann Johansson/Getty Images

Sometimes candidates can get so wrapped up in the details that they neglect the most basic information, according to Anthony Fletcher, founder of Chicago-based executive search firm My Future Consulting.

“For example, listing significant accomplishments and dates of employment,” Fletcher said. “And simply ensuring everything is spelled correctly – I’ve even seen résumés where candidates have misspelled their own names!”


“Keep it clean.”

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Clean formatting on a resume can go a long way.
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Getty Images

“A lot of résumés are cluttered, full of paragraphs, the formatting is inconsistent,” said Stephanie Dennis, career coach and host of the podcast “Career Talk.”

“When a résumé is cluttered and messy, it’s hard to consume the information on it quickly. We are looking at each résumé for seconds, so for the best chance to move forward, the résumé needs to … easily and quickly determine if there is a potential fit.”


“I wish everyone knew that recruiters are also humans.”

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Recruiters often read hundreds of applications a day.
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Rick Wilking/Reuters

Sure, sending a résumé into one of those online portals can feel extremely impersonal. But Tom Gerencer, career and workplace expert at Zety, said applicants should remember that a very human HR professional is on the other end of that portal.

And those humans aren’t so keen on your buzzwords.

“Often over the sixth cup of coffee, (recruiters) go through hundreds of applications coming from ‘go-getters’ and ‘best of breed achievers.’ Job seekers should keep in mind that the popular résumé buzzwords got worn out and don’t impress the recruiters anymore,” Gerencer said. “They look for words that convey specific information. They’re not interested in what type of ‘ninja’ you are, they look at what you’ve achieved and if it’s measurable.”

“So providing specific information without bragging and imitating hundreds of other applications will definitely score a candidate extra points, while being refreshing and pleasant to read.”


“You can get creative with your résumé.”

“When I first started out, I thought that all résumés had to look standard in order to be taken seriously. Over time, I’ve learned that it’s okay, and in some industries, expected for you to get creative,” Kayla Kelly, executive marketer at workforce management firm Paypro, told Business Insider.

“Employers are receiving so many résumés for each posting that standing out, in a good way, can certainly help you get a callback. Think about different formats, adding shapes or colors.”

She does, however, align with Gelbard on one point:

“You just want to be sure that it still looks professional and clean.”


“It’s all about persuasion.”

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A résumé shouldn’t be boastful.
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Chris Hondros/Getty

Make yourself invaluable. But do it smoothly.

“Your résumé shouldn’t be a bragging post for your accomplishments, it should be the long-awaited solution to the hiring manager’s vacancy,” Olivia Jaras, founder of Salary Coaching for Women, told Business Insider.


“Share some of your interests.”

While of course you shouldn’t divulge a love for an activity like weekend binge drinking, including a section for hobbies on a résumé can make you more attractive as a candidate, according to Sean Sessel, founder and director of the The Oculus Institute.

“When your résumé actually does get to a human being, this section will allow them to relate to you and imagine themselves working with you, which is what really matters at the end of the day,” Sessel said.