five things to leave off your resume

Here five things job seekers should leave off their resumes:

1. An objective
I’ve never seen an objective that made a candidate more appealing, and often they’re downright horrible. They usually fall in one of three categories: (1) objectives that are all about what you want (“a position that allows me to develop my interest in international relations”), which is at odds with what this stage of the hiring process is all about (what the company wants), (2) objectives that aren’t tailored enough to the position or even have nothing to do with it (which makes it look like you’re blasting your resume out without enough of a focus), or (3) objectives that simply don’t add anything compelling (and therefore just waste space). The resume is about showing your experience, skills, and accomplishments. If you want to talk about how this particular position is the perfect next step in your career, use the cover letter for that.

2. Any mention of references, including a statement that “references are available upon request”
This goes unsaid; no one assumes that references could possibly not be available. You’re not causing any harm to have it on there, but it’s a waste of space that you could use for something else (including some refreshing white space). The exception to this is if you have a particularly impressive reference (such as a local politician, head of a Fortune 500 company, or someone personally acquainted with the person reviewing your resume).

3. Any mention of high school
I don’t care which high school you attended or how accomplished you were there. If you’re more than a few years past your high school graduation date, no mention of high school belongs on your resume. Move on!

4. Extra documentation
Unless the company has specifically asked for something other than a cover letter and resume, don’t send it. Candidates sometimes include writing samples, letters of recommendation, transcripts, even photos on occasion. Bring these sorts of extras (well, not photos) to your interview or wait to see if you’re asked for this sort of extra documentation, but don’t send it preemptively. In most cases, it won’t help you, and in some cases it can actually hurt — for instance, when a candidate attaches an unsolicited 20-page writing sample, it looks naive and makes me think he or she doesn’t understand the hiring process.

5. A third page
If you’re in your 20s, your resume should only be one page; there’s not enough experience to justify a second one. After that, two pages are fine, but you go over that limit at your own peril. Hiring managers may be only spending 20 or 30 seconds on your application initially, so extra pages either (a) are ignored or (b) dilute the impact of the others. Yes, you have much impressive experience, but the resume is for highlights. Cut that thing in half.

{ 12 comments… read them below }

  1. Rachel - Employment File*

    I HATE when I see resumes with “references available upon request.” I’d rather see white space.

    As far as “If you’re in your 20s, your resume should only be one page; there’s not enough experience to justify a second one” goes, I disagree. Some people in their twenties may have enough experience. I know I’ll be at 2 pages before I turn 30.

  2. pandrews*

    Love this post and agree with everything you say, including the suggested page limits. I totally respect when a candidate with 15 years of great experience can do a crisp one-pager for a resume – it show business savvy, communication skills, and consideration for the recruiter and hiring manager! ;-)

  3. Anonymous*

    I keep two versions available: a two-pager and a carefully condensed one-pager. I’m in my 40’s so I definitely have enough to fill most of the 2nd page, but there are times when the brevity of the one-pager is requested.

  4. Anonymous*

    When thinking about brevity, I consider the possible resume of someone like Bill Clinton. Is it 3 pages? I doubt it. What does it say under “President”? Oddly enough, the more impressive one’s experience, the less text needed. Stick to accomplishments and avoid a “job description” of your prev and current positions.

  5. Anonymous*

    What do you think about not adding a college if you did not finish your degree and transferred to another school? My counselor advised me not to add that to my resume if I did not finish the degree, but I just about finished my associates before I transferred. I already sent the resume, but I am still kind of questioning if I should have left it on my resume.

  6. Ask a Manager*

    If you finished the degree at a different school, I think it’s fine to just list the name of the school you graduated from. However, if you didn’t finish the degree, I would still list the name of the school attended (just without a graduation date, obviously).

  7. resume*

    A brief and clear career objective certainly give the idea of your future career prospect. Write down what you want to be in 5 years time, or at least tell the hiring manager what you expect from him in terms of preferable working area, work environment, scope of desired organization. This would help the resume screening process become easier. Here is an example of resume objective:
    “Like to obtain the position as a Key Account Manager where my skills and my knowledge can be utilized and developed. I will do my best to become a professional Key Account Manager whose skills will be most beneficial in meeting the need of the organization”

  8. Anonymous*

    Is it necessary to include every job on your resume for the previous years, at least to show you've been employed? Some jobs I've had recently haven't been the best. For example, I was a waitress for about a year. Not terribly related to the professional jobs to which I've been applying, but I feel it's important that any major times gaps are filled with something rather than nothing. Of course, I always try to use this experience as best I can, describing it as a position in which I learned great communication skills. So should I leave these experiences on my resume?

  9. Randy Z*

    “I’ve never seen an objective that made a candidate more appealing, and often they’re downright horrible.”

    I’d like your comments on this one…

    “Objective: Full-time, onsite, Jack of All Trades position focusing on graphic design and production, web programming, user interface design, and technical documentation authoring/editing.”

    ((It seems to me that if the objective gives the who, what, why, etc., then it does it’s job…like a summary statement. So instead of ditching it why not just have folks get good at it and instantly stand out?))

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s definitely more like a summary statement, and I’d actually just make it one! That way you (a) don’t have the dated feel that objectives often give and (b) don’t run into the problem of someone thinking, “Well, he’s looking for a position that focuses on A, B, C, and D, and this job revolves around only A and B.”

  10. Curious*

    I found this post while looking for tips on sprucing up my resume and I’m curious about #3, reference to high school. Although I’m American, I’ve lived abroad my entire life and went to a local high school in Saudi Arabia. I’ve always included this in my resume because it’s been an attention grabber and conversation starter in some cases and because I’ve thought of it as a differentiator.
    There’s no where else on the resume to really show my multicultural background (which I think is an asset I can bring to positions I’m interested in) but now I’m wondering if it really is a strength to share or not…

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