37 Things to Never Include on Your Resume

Apr 17, 2020 | Job Search, Resumes

How to Avoid Self-Sabotage

“Seasoned executive with 44 years of experience.”

“Honers: Deans’ List 1 semester.”

 “Email: [email protected]

“Career Objective: To have your job in two years.”

“Expertise with MS-DOS, emailing, 286 processors and Lotus Symphony.”

 “2016-Present. Unemployed.”

“I am currently being treated for mental illness.”

We have seen it all when it comes to resumes. If we add up the cumulative experience of all the professionals here at Executive Career Partners in fields related to recruiting, marketing executive, managerial and other top professional talent, it totals hundreds of years. In that time we have seen hundreds of thousands of resumes. The samples above are not even the worst examples we’ve seen; bad writing, poor judgement and too much of the wrong kind of information are just the start. Some examples are not suitable for print in family publications.

The above samples have two things in common; they are from actual resumes that have passed across our desks, and they will likely cause the prospective candidates to be quickly filtered out of contention. They might seem like obviously misguided examples, but the reality is that even among middle-level and senior executives we often see similarly egregious statements.

Writing top-quality, high-impact resumes and marketing communications is a mix of art and science. There is no one size fits all, guaranteed-to-work for every field of endeavor, function or level. There are, however, some guidelines on what not to include that are close to universal. As with most things in the world, some of these guidelines are evolving as the job market changes, but most of them are pretty reliable.

Put simply, your goal is writing a resume that accentuates the positive without bragging or lying, while not telegraphing or broadcasting the negative. Anything that inhibits attracting the best kind of attention for yourself is something you should consider leaving out. Anything that draws negative attention should absolutely be avoided. While you need to be honest, you are under no obligation to reveal.

Before we jump into our list of what you ought never include on your resume, let’s briefly analyze what’s wrong with eight samples above.

“I was terminated due to poor performance.” 

While factually true, the writer of this one had no reason to share the information. This fact could only harm his appeal. Obviously, a conversation might arise where any of us would need to explain why we left a particular position. But there is zero benefit to advertising such a clear negative. See our other articles on managing liabilities.

“Seasoned executive with 44 years of experience.”

Again, this one is factually true, but provides less advantage than the writer hoped to reap. She saw the length of her tenure as proof of her skills and experience. A screener or hiring manager likely sees “old,” “out of date” or “gonna cost me more than a 39-year-old.”

“Honers: Deans’ List 1 semester.”

Let’s start with typos. Misspelling of “honors” and misplacement of the apostrophe in “Dean’s.” Let’s not stop there, however. A single semester of being on the dean’s list is not so compelling. Only if this candidate were a recent grad with little else to show, this simply is a waste of ink.

“Email: [email protected]” 

This one is all about professionalism. There is nothing wrong with being a biker chick, but this conveys an inappropriate image for a VP or director of marketing candidate. If she were applying to Harley Davidson, this might be okay, but elsewhere, not so much. The variants on poorly chosen email addresses are endless. Characters from anime, Harry Potter, professional wrestling, etc., etc. are no-nos. Okay for your personal email, but not suitable for job hunting.

“Career Objective: To have your job in two years.” 

Ambition can be appealing, but this statement sounds arrogant and threatening. Would you hire someone who wrote this on his resume? We recommend having no “career objective” sentence on resumes, with instead a broad-based yet reasonably specific positioning statement connected with a consistent branding message. “Accounting / Finance Professional” … “Consumer Goods VP / Director of e-Commerce” are the kinds of statements that can get past a screener.

 “Expertise with MS-DOS, emailing, 286 processors and Lotus Symphony.” 

You have just told the world that you are living in the past and haven’t kept up to date with current technology. You are also selling something that no one is buying.

“2016-Present. Unemployed.” 

Again, this happens to have been true and it certainly is a topic that this candidate will need to be able to talk around during an interview, but trumpeting this is a recipe for disaster.

“I am currently being treated for mental illness.” 

I received a resume from a woman that she had handwritten in pencil. This was far from the only inappropriate “fact” she shared, but it is the one that still stands out in my mind more than twenty years later.

Perhaps you are already latching on to the idea here that, if it doesn’t help to promote you, don’t share it!

These no-no’s fall into various categories: TMI (too much information), none of anyone’s business, and not relevant to your mission of landing a great new job variety. Others ought to be excluded because they could stimulate a screener, recruiter or hiring manager to exercise (even unconsciously) a bias that could hamper you.

37 Things That Don’t Belong on Your Resume

  1. The word “Resume.” They already know what they’re looking at. Adding the word resume is no more necessary than putting the word “book” on the dust jacket of a book.
  2. Lies, exaggerations, falsehoods, fibs, etc.
  3. Misspellings and grammatical errors.
  4. Bragging about you. Let the facts do the bragging for you.
  5. Excessive use of adjectives, especially those that are opinions rather than facts. “Closed the biggest deal in division history” is a fact – and is either true or false. “Closed the best deal in division history” is an opinion.
  6. Age. Keep in mind that without stating your age, you could be revealing or hinting at by other things you include. Consider also that often readers will assume the worst in the absence of other information to the contrary. So, including the year that you earned your college degree could enable people to guess at your age. Unless you are a recent graduate, that is likely to be a liability that you ought to avoid telegraphing. “Graduated from Harvard in 1979” tells the world that you are probably 60 years old. You are inviting age bias. Don’t do it. “AB in History from Harvard” is sufficient.
  7. Birthdate.
  8. Height.
  9. Weight.
  10. Race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.
  11. Social Security Number.
  12. Driver’s License Number.
  13. Home address. City and state should be sufficient.
  14. Photographic portrait of yourself. In certain EU countries and elsewhere this is either a standard by convention or might be required. Unless you live in one of those places, a portrait is unnecessary. HOWEVER, research from LinkedIn does claim that inclusion of portraits on LinkedIn profiles does tend to draw more attention. What’s appropriate for those LinkedIn photos? Simple: Head & shoulders, neutral background, business casual or nicer attire and a smile. So, save your photo for use on LinkedIn, and if you have one, a personal marketing website. If you don’t already have a personal website, you can learn more at the end of this article about ECP’s many services, among which is creating high-impact marketing websites for our clients.
  15. Political Affiliation. It’s okay to say that you volunteer, but your political views and party membership are not relevant UNLESS you are trying to get a job that is in politics.
  16. Personal Religious Affiliation. It is okay to reference that you volunteer with a religious organization, but it is unnecessary to note which denomination. Exception: if you are seeking employment with a religious organization.
  17. Salary or compensation history. In some cities and states, it is now illegal for employers to ask about your compensation history. For more information, see our articles on How Not To Talk Money 1 & 2.
  18. Salary or compensation goals. Stating these in your resume and/or letters forecloses your ability to negotiate later and might even cause you to be excluded from the interviewing process altogether.
  19. The date the resume was created.
  20. Personal opinions.
  21. Negative comments or statements about former employers. Facts that are widely known to the public at large are acceptable, but critical opinions are not. If, for example, you worked for Enron, it is well known that they went out of business and why. There is no need to comment on what happened and how you feel about it.
  22. Statements about your physical and/or mental health.
  23. Criminal record. If you have one, chances are it will be revealed if the employer conducts a background check, so be prepared to handle this during interviews. However, this is not something to advertise on your resume.
  24. References. There is no need to use the phrase “references available on request,” as everyone assumes this to be the case. There is no reason whatsoever to list any information about references on your resume. No names, etc. You should have this information handy for when you need it, BUT it doesn’t belong anywhere on your resume.
  25. Information about grammar school or high school. The sole exception is if you are a recent high school graduate.
  26. Grade point average. This information is only suitable if you are a recent graduate and then only if you have a relatively high GPA.
  27. Obsolete or insignificant skills. Mentioning expertise with technologies, systems and methodologies that have faded away makes you look like a dinosaur.
  28. Ancient work experience. Depending on your age, years of experience, etc. it is advisable not to go back to the beginning of time with your work history. As a rule of thumb we generally recommend providing details only from jobs going back only 10-15 years at most. You can list previous jobs – not necessarily all of them — in a brief paragraph labeled “earlier” or “previous.” Leave out positions from that “earlier” paragraph that lack relevance to your goals, or that doesn’t make a strong case for hiring you.
  29. Names of contacts and addresses of former employers. Your mission is to get attention for you. The location where you worked at any particular job is usually not all that relevant. Exceptions, however, are when your title and/or role were location-specific – for example, if you were “Chicago Regional Sales Manager.”
  30. Irrelevant hobbies. Social service, volunteer, charitable work and other similar activities are okay to include, but be brief. Hobbies that advance your candidacy because they are relevant to your goals are also acceptable. Hobbies that offset a potential liability might be worth mention (for example, if you have concerns about perceptions about your age being negative, mentioning that you run marathons can be an offset).
  31. Awards. If they are recent, relevant or significant, they can be included. If they are ancient, minor or irrelevant, consider leaving them out. If your only award was from years ago, mentioning might raise the question “why haven’t you won any awards since then?” Be judicious.
  32. A multitude of fonts, type sizes, colors, etc. Unless you are a graphic artist or creative director, this is not relevant and likely to be distracting. Keep it simple and readable.
  33. Jargon, acronyms and abbreviations. If you are in a highly technical field, some of these are unavoidable, but consider that your goal is not to confuse or bore your audience. If your resume looks like a bowl of alphabet soup, you are overdoing it. Try to define any abbreviation that is not readily recognized. Consider if the audience at the first phases of screening will know what you are talking about. If not, simplify. Wherever possible, plain English works best.
  34. Wordiness. Simple declarative sentences work best. Being verbose is not a winning style.
  35. Too much content. We recommend that everyone have a one-page resume because, at least at the screening phase of the hiring process, few people in your audience will read anything longer. You can’t fit your entire life story on a single page, so don’t even try it. Using tiny margins and microscopic type is no solution. Distill the most salient facts into the briefest statements possible to get the message across. We recommend having a second, longer resume for use in meeting with hiring managers and other decision makers. Hold this back as your weapon in reserve.
  36. Personal pronouns. In a one-page resume, it is possible to write without using any personal pronouns. Doing so saves spaces and makes for crisper, snappier language that is easier for a reader to digest in a hurry. At the screening phase, readers are always in a hurry. Make life easy for them. They might appreciate it. Replace “I spent two weeks selecting, assembling and training a team,” with “assembled and trained a team.” They’ll get the idea. If you choose to have a second, longer resume, you can use some personal pronouns, but don’t go overboard with I, my, me, etc. lest you seem like an egomaniac.
  37. Writing in the third person. This is just weird in a resume or letter. Don’t do it. For some very senior level clients, we prepare what we call executive biographies. Often in these, we’ll write in the third person because the document can be used by someone else to introduce you. Otherwise, the third person voice will make others wonder who the heck it is that you are writing about. After all, you wouldn’t speak about yourself in the third person during a conversation, would you?

The team at ECP has mastered the art of writing high quality and high-impact resumes. Think yours could use a rewrite? Contact ECP today to find out more, and GET HIRED FASTER!  

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