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Home > Blog: Resumes > 10 Old-School Resume Rules That Don't Apply Today

10 Old-School Resume Rules That Don't Apply Today

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Last week I wrote a guest blog post talking about how older job seekers might need to think like 13-year-olds to succeed in job interviews today. But over the past couple days, I started thinking about all the ways we should NOT repeat behaviors from times gone by.

Specifically, we need to ditch at least 10 of the old-school resume and cover letter rules that were popular back in the '80s, '90s and even early 2000’s.

Here's a fun little retrospective of 10 outdated resume and/or cover letter guidelines from past decades, and the new rules that have replaced them:

1. Old School: Never abbreviate anything on a resume or cover letter

New Rule: Abbreviating is fine, as long as it's understandable
This is the age of texting and Twitter, where everything is abbreviated, condensed, and minimized. It's fine to write St. instead of Street. However, acronyms should still be spelled out the first time they're mentioned. Example: Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP)

2. Old School: Keep your resume and cover letters very formal

New Rule: Keep them professional, but not stuffy
Everything is more casual these days, from our work clothing to our career documents. Don't cross the line into unprofessional, but keep in mind that readability, clarity, brevity, and authenticity are much more important than outdated propriety and formality.

3. Old School: Create one perfect resume and one cover letter that covers all bases

New Rule: Create a master resume and cover letter, but customize them for each job
You don't need a major rewrite for every employer; just make sure your keywords match the employer's job description, and maybe adjust the order of your skills listing for emphasis. Make it easy for the reader to see the parallels between your qualifications and their needs.

4. Old School: Start the cover letter with "Dear Sir or Madam, Enclosed please find …"

New Rule: Use the hiring manager's name, and skip the blah-blah language
If the hiring person's name's not listed in the job description, do some research on the Web. Find the name and use it, if at all possible. Then, give your first sentence some meaning and impact.  Also avoid these other cover letter screw-ups.

5. Old School: On the resume, list every single thing you've ever done for work

New Rule: Leave out any details that aren't relevant to your desired position
Write your resume and cover letter as a marketing pitch to sell the value you'll bring to your next employer. Don't make it a memorial to what you did every day at your old jobs.

6. Old School: List your job responsibilities for each job under a heading such as "Duties Included:"

New Rule: Skip space-eaters like that – they're already understood
You'll waste a lot of resume real estate if you write "Duties Included:" on a separate line after every job. Just summarize your main accomplishments and qualifications in bullet points, and start each with an action verb in past tense (e.g., Led, Managed, Streamlined, etc.)

7. Old School: On your resume, indicate your reason for leaving each job

New Rule: Prepare an answer in your mind, but don't volunteer it
The resume and cover letter are not the place for this, especially if the reason for leaving was involuntary. However, do plan and practice a response for your interviews, and make it a brief, factual statement. (No whining.)

8. Old School: Include your age and your hobbies in your resume or cover letter

New Rule: Stay focused on your qualifications for the job
Ix-nay on the age, and unless your hobbies are directly related to your desired position, leave them out, too. For example, let's say you play in a co-ed basketball league. It's relevant if you want to be a high school athletic director, but not if you're seeking a violinist position in the symphony.

9. Old School: If you're married, say so on the resume (also, children – how many? how old?) 

New Rule: I repeat … stay focused on your qualifications for the job
The more irrelevant personal detail you provide, the more the hiring manager's personal biases can come into play. For instance, in their minds, they might think Newly married? = Might need time off for family leave soon; Children? = Probably has daycare concerns.

10. Old School: At the end of the resume, say: "References Available Upon Request"

New Rule: Leave it off, they know you'll provide them if asked
This is another archaic waste of space. When you're a job seeker, it literally goes without saying that you'll provide the prospective employer with whatever reasonable materials they request.

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