What Not to Include in Your Resume

Some things are inappropriate for a resume or simply better not to include. Here are some rules of thumb about what to avoid.

Personal Information

Do not include personal information such as your marital status, religion, race, etc. Employers are not allowed to ask questions about these things, and including them on your resume might cause you to be discriminated against, but you would never know for sure. The only exception is if you are applying for international jobs, in which case some of this information is considered standard. Consult a professional or a manual on international resumes to determine standard practices for the country in question. More and more, however, resumes are leaning toward a standard U.S. style approach.

Do not include a photograph with your resume or a URL for your personal website that tells visitors all about your hobbies, summer vacation, and your dog. The only people likely to use a photograph with their resumes are those in the entertainment business such as actors. Similarly, unless your website is a professional site that includes additional information not included on the resume, do not direct visitors to the site. (Employers may search your name online and find information about you anyway, so consider if you need to take steps to “clean up” your online image.)

Letters of Recommendation

Do not send these with your resume. Save them for later, such as following an interview, unless otherwise directed. Some job postings request that letters be included as part of the application process. In this instance, you need to determine if it is worth potentially having your references contacted early in the process. If it is a position that you are definitely interested in, providing the information can be worthwhile. Basically, consider how much you need and want to protect your sources of recommendation, as they may be contacted even if you are not yet being seriously considered.

Specific Salary

Generally, avoid including your current or desired salary. Oftentimes a job posting will request that you include such information. If possible, include a range, rather than a specific figure. (You never know if the starting rate is higher than what you imagine, and you risk a lower starting salary in that situation.) Similarly, do not list concrete salary figures on your resume. If you must address the salary question, aim to address the issue in your cover letter, where again you can note a range, and focus the letter on other information, such as what you bring to the position.

A Creation Date

Do not list a creation date on your resume, even if you are posting it online. Often, online resume databanks have a system that denotes when your resume was posted. Similarly, in Word, it can be helpful to go into the Properties and remove (or add) certain types of information, such as editing time, the document author, etc.

References

Do not list references on your resume. At the most, you may include "references available on request" or something similar for visual appeal, but even this is debatable. It is an outdated practice. It is assumed that you will provide references at the appropriate time if requested by the employer.

Avoid Buzzwords, Outdated Phrases, and Clichés

Some phrases are certainly overused, as are some descriptions. Almost everyone is a “team player,” for example, with “strong communication skills.”

Also note that several outdated phrases should be avoided. Multiple sources of research have noted that “multitasking” is an ineffective work practice, so avoid including that on the resume. Also watch for other outdated phrases, such as being an “out of the box” thinker, creating products or processes that are “user friendly,” and avoid kitschy descriptions, such as “domestic engineer.”

Avoid Anything that Can Work Against You

Have you been fired? Have you received unfavorable reviews? Is your GPA only a 2.0? Do not include anything in your resume that can automatically disqualify you from the running. The resume is not the place to explain why something went wrong in your past. It is the place to highlight your best-selling qualities. If you do have something unfavorable in your past, be prepared to talk about it (in the best possible light) at the interview, but do not shoot yourself in the foot by putting it on your resume.

All of the sample resumes and cover letters included in this guide are written by professional resume writers who are members of one or more professional resume writing organization, such as Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches, The National Resume Writers' Association; and Career Thought Leaders. Many of the writers hold one or more certifications in resume writing.