4 Elements that Make Great Resumes – and 10 Resume Dos and Don’ts with Examples

4 Elements of Great Resumes

A resume is a selling document. And like all marketing material, it needs to be sharp, catchy and very quick in doing its job.

Recruiters spend only 6 seconds scanning a resume. Really?

Five years ago, an extensive eye-tracking study established this norm and I could not find many recruiters contesting this – not those on the web and not those I spoke to. Articles on resumes in Forbes and Time corroborated the study.

Six seconds? Really? To me, it still seems harsh. Some analysis of this frequently-quoted study reports hiring managers saying that at senior levels and for resumes they really like, they may spend more than 2 minutes looking at a resume!

I think back about the recruitment drive at Stoodnt in April and, well, I did spend about 45 seconds on the first few resumes. After number 10, my scanning efficiency increased (read 30 seconds or less per resume). But the time I reached Resume No 103, I must have been clocking under 15 seconds. I’m sure some were glossed over in 5…

It’s more time than I would give to a roadside hoarding (imagine how catchy that has to be!) but much less than I would give to a product brochure!

Make the Seconds Count: Top 10 Dos and Donts

Setting aside the argument on exactly how many seconds, lets focus on what I can do to my resume to make the seconds count. And here is my 4R mantra for getting it right with some simple Dos and Don’ts:

Readability and format


Don’t cram a lot into narrow margins. A page with text stretching from edge-to-edge has the same effect on a recruiter that a textbook with small print has on you –
you need to brace yourself for it!
Do use a lot of white space. Standard MS Word margins at 1.25” may be too much but less than .75” will be too crammed. Stay in that range and you should be fine. Leave at least a line between sections. A 3 to 6 pt spacing between bullets is also good.


Don’t use serriff fonts like Times New Roman, Cambria, Bookman, Garamond etc. Serriff fonts are for leisurely or recreational reading. Do Use sans serriff fonts like Myriad Pro (my latest favourite), Trebuchet MS, Helvetica, Calibri or Arial ()


Don’t reduce the point size to save space or increase it too much to fill up space! Do keep the point size at 10-12 pt. This will also depend on the particular font you use.


Don’t mark important words in the middle of a sentence as bold. Do maintain a standard format highliting names of companies, colleges, designations or leadership positions in bold.

Rule of One: One Page, One liners


Don’t have a page 2 Unless you have spent over 10 years
in your industry and led multi-functional teams, a two-page resume is wasteful of space as well as your time. Not your recruiter’s time, but yours, because the recruiter will likely
just skip Page 2 entirely. Is there info you don’t want your recruiter to read? Fine. Put that on page 2.
Do remove or reposition low-impact sections like “personal info” (age, address, email can go in the header – what else is there), hobbies (unless you scaled the Everest, keep it for the interview), basic computer skills (MS Word, Powerpoint etc – it’s a given in todays world) to fit into one page


Don’t have any points in two lines Two lines are less motivating to read and the recruiter is likely to actually just
the first five words of a 2 line sentence whereas a powerful
one line is more likely to be read fully
Do remove adjectives, articles and stylistic phrases to shorten sentences to one line. An example has been worked out here

Real data on professional achievements that anyone can understand


Don’t describe your responsibilities in your previous job.
Its wastes space and is usually too long to fit into one line.
Mostly recruiters would know what your previous position entailed i.e. what you were supposed to do.
Do describe your real achievements instead,  using numbers and if relevant, names. An example has been worked out for you.


Don’t use technical jargon that a layperson may not get quickly. A human resource professional is less likely to labour
to understand technical terminology.
Do keep the language simple,  accessible and impressive not just to your would-be line manager but also Human Resources professionals.


Don’t miss real achievements even if these are not strictly professional. Especially for early-stage resumes, your work in your college placement cell or community may also showcase leadership that you may not have had a chance to show at work. Do share actual data and numbers of players you may have trained in a sport, schools you may have taught at, community members you may have led in a cleanliness drive or weeks you may have trekked.

Right-Left Bias

And finally, since English is read from left to right, a 15 second scan would mean a quick look down the left half of a page. This bias towards the left half of the page is true of screen viewing as well.


Don’t start sentences with common and low-impact phrases like “responsibilities included”, “as part of a team”, “conducted extensive research” etc. Do put the best stuff – real data on achievements (refer point 3 above), names of organisations, awards and rankings to fall on the left half of the page.


About the author: Richa leads Stoodnt in India. An IIM Ahmedabad and St Stephens College alumnus, Richa has been working with students and working professional in Career Guidance and WorkLife Skills Training for over a decade now. Richa is the author or The Ultimate Guide to 21st Century Careers published by Hachette India in 2017.

Richa’s blogs: Top 5 Skills to KickStart your Data Analytics Career and How to Build Them

Top 10 Gaming Careers and How to Get There

Should I Quit or Should I Stay: Top 5 indicators to check when deciding whether to switch or stay

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