Job Search Talk – Episode #4 – Resume Writing Guidelines

In this episode of Job Search Talk, Doug Levin reveals his list of standards and best practices for building an ATS-friendly and visually appealing Resume.

There are hundreds of ATS used by companies of all sizes, each is slightly different from the next. These systems use automation to screen high-ranking and low-ranking candidates. ATS works a bit like an email spam filter. It separates out those which appear less relevant or substantive. To that end, your Resume must contain appropriate keywords to achieve a high relevancy score. Also, your document should be in a format that is free of possible distortions that would make it harder for ATS to pull your information (such as graphs and tables).

When applying to jobs online, it’s important to write for both the human reader and ATS. Ultimately, a human reader will review your Resume and make a determination on whether to interview you. Each hiring manager has their own set of opinions and preferences. Therefore, it’s unlikely that you will ever be able to satisfy everyone.

The best course of action is subscribing to a set of guidelines and standards to follow – then, executing on that vision with a sense of confidence in your rhyme and reason. The following Resume Writing Guidelines are offered to provide guidance on how to handle nuances when it comes to preparing your Resume.

Resume Writing Guidelines

  • One-full page or two-full pages, do your very best to avoid half pages.
  • Aim for clean page breaks. Try to avoid carrying over a job description from page #1 to page #2.
  • Use one space after periods, not two spaces.
  • Use active language rather than passive language (avoid using: was, they, their, etc).
  • Avoid fluff words and phrases like “goal-oriented”, “strong work ethic”, and “attention to detail”.
  • Use a chronological format as the default layout; consider a functional or creative layout as applicable.
  • Include abbreviations (after name) for noteworthy designations (PhD, JD, PMP, CPA, etc). Don’t include for Masters degree (i.e. MBA, MA, etc).
  • Use oxford commas (milk, eggs, and toast = correct) – (milk, eggs and toast = incorrect).
  • Spell out commonly used terms in full i.e. “subject matter expert (SME)”, use acronym thereafter.
  • Avoid using company-specific language and internal terminology or unrecognizable acronyms.
  • Avoid leaving one or two words on a line by itself (poor use of space).
  • Never use first person (I, me, we, etc) in the Resume (do use first person in the cover letter).
  • Numbers (1-10) are spelled out (one, two, three). Larger numbers numerically (22, 120, etc).
  • Write current jobs in present tense. Write old jobs in past tense.

ATS Standards

  • Use a header on page #2, no header on page #1.
  • No tables or text boxes.
  • Use clearly defined section headings.
  • Don’t use wingdings and webdings for bullet points/symbols.
  • Use paragraph function for spacing in MS Word (avoid using ‘hard enter’).
  • Acceptable Sans Serif fonts – Arial, Calibri, Verdana,Tahoma, and Trebuchet MS.
  • Acceptable Serif fonts – Times New Roman, Cambria, Book Antiqua, Century, and Garamond.

Contact Information

  • Include only city, st, zip code on Resume (omit street address – privacy).
  • Include email, primary phone (pick one), LinkedIn URL (customize it), and personal website URL (if applicable).
  • Ensure email address and LinkedIn URL are hyperlinked within the document.
  • Avoid using your personal email address if it’s not a professional sounding email address.
  • Use lowercase for all email, website, and LinkedIn URLs on documents.

Career Profile

  • Try to use a specific job title in the header i.e.”Sr. Project Manager” when possible.
  • Or, use a broader term in the header i.e. “Leader in Project Management” if there’s some ambiguity.
  • Include an action statement below the header (use active language to describe the essence of the header).
  • Include a 4-8 line paragraph summary and use either implied third-person (i.e. Leverages 10+ years of experience).

Core Competencies

  • Identify 9-12 keywords (hard skills) aligned with the job focus and industry expertise.
  • Avoid using soft skill terms in the core competencies section, such as “people skills” and “detail oriented”.

Job Descriptions

  • Each job description will include paragraph content (2 lines minimum) and bullet points/highlights.
  • Include a one-line company description for each company / employer.
  • Make the distinction between high-level duties (paragraph) and achievements (bullet points).
  • Eight bullets maximum per job description. Too much is overkill.
  • Use “sub-bullet points” that are indented from the main bullet to add description as needed.


  • Include city, st, and dates of graduation (within last 15 years).
  • Omit GPA, honors, awards, student activities from older degrees.
  • Spell out the degree in full (Bachelor of Arts) instead of listing abbreviated version (BA).

Licenses / Certifications / Affiliations

  • Spell out the name of the certification in full (Project Management Professional = PMP).
  • Include the abbreviation for it as well (PMP).
  • Include the awarding body (Project Management Institute).
  • It should read like this: Project Management Professional (PMP) – Project Management Institute.
  • Includes dates where applicable.

Technical Skills

  • Breakdown technical skills by category when possible (hardware, software, languages, applications, etc).
  • List technical skills either in career profile (page #1) or below education (page #2) depending on relevancy.


  • List the languages spoken and level of fluency (beginner, intermediate, fluent, native).
  • No need to include English as a language on the documents (it’s assumed).

Additional Sections

  • Create additional sections as needed for community involvement, language skills, security clearances, and more.


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