5 Resume Myths Debunked & What to Do Instead

Rob Nightingale 03-08-2016

When you’re trying to land your dream job, sticking to the “rules” of resumes can hinder more than it helps. In fact, many of these rules can be ignored altogether.


Many of these resume myths have buried themselves so far into our understanding of the world that we’re terrified of deviating from them. We think that if our resume spills onto two pages, our application will be an instant write-off. We think that if we leave a work gap, we’re setting ourselves up for failure.

In reality, breaking these rules can often give us the edge we need to secure that all-important interview Supercharge Your Next Job Interview with These 11 Free Tools It takes skill to ace an interview. There are plenty of apps that will assist you with the task of supercharging your job interview skills. Let's look at each step of the interview process. Read More .

Myth #1: Everything’s About You

When we get down to basics, a resume is a sales pitch. You are trying to sell yourself to a potential employer.

One of the first rules of copywriting is to focus on the customer, and the benefits they will receive if they buy. A potential employer wants to know how you can help the company, much more than where you went on your gap year. This is the difference between telling and selling.



Telling: I worked as a data analyst with E-Corp for six years. I was in charge of a team of six, managing multiple projects.

Selling: As head data analyst, I managed a team of six. Between us we developed over 300 scripts in less than 4 years, which were directly responsible for saving the company over $4,000,000.

Telling people where you worked and what you did are important, sure. But it’s far more important to express what you achieved, and what transferable skills and potential benefits you can bring with you to your next role. In the example above, for instance, a potential employer would be excited at the prospect of having someone on his team who could save the company millions of dollars. This is the importance of including quantifiable results in your resume.

So, for everything you write in your resume, ask yourself “how can the potential employer see my experience as a potential benefit to them and their company?”. If they can’t, reword it so they can.


Myth #2: You Only Have 6 Seconds to Impress

A few years ago, jobs site The Ladders conducted a study that suggested we only have 6 seconds to impress with our resume, else your application will be launched into the trash can.


Luckily, it turns out we shouldn’t trust that 6-second statistic too much. According to stats released by CareerBuilder, only 17% of recruiters will look at your resume for less than 30 seconds. While 68% will look at your resume for two minutes or less. “Less than 2 minutes” obviously isn’t ideal for anyone who puts time into their resume. But its a hell of a lot better than 6 seconds, and means you can rest easy knowing that more of your resume will be considered than other people would have you believe.

In short, there are no rules here. Coming up with an average figure is useless, much as it was for Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour average The 10,000 Hour Rule Is Wrong: How to Really Master a Skill It's a myth that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. Find out how you can learn something without following the 10,000 hour rule. Read More . If the formatting of your resume looks terrible, it could be discarded in two seconds. But if you have a well-formatted resume How to Get Your Resume Past the Applicant Tracking System Nine out of every ten large companies now use a robotic Applicant Tracking System to screen your resume. We help you bypass their judgmental algorithms with simplification and keywords. Read More , specifically tailored to the kind of job you’re applying for, chances are it’ll be given much more than 6 seconds of attention.


Myth #3: A Resume Should Be One Page

A resume should say what it needs to say. No more, no less. It shouldn’t include fluff, or sections that are irrelevant. But that doesn’t mean it needs to fit neatly onto a single page of A4. In fact, unless you’re just out of school, or applying for an entry level position, fitting everything onto one page will be nearly impossible.


Luckily, this piece of advice comes from an age when resumes were printed, and flicking through stapled pieces of paper was a hassle. Now, pages can be scrolled with the swipe of a finger. Employers just want easy access to the information they’re looking for. So give it to them. To find out even more about this, read about how Ivy League Universities recommend you write your resume How To Write A Resume With The Help Of 8 Ivy School Guides Trying to build the perfect resume? Check out these free resume tips from some of the best schools that make up the Ivy League. Read More .

This means that your resume will most likely run to two-pages, sometimes even three. If it runs onto the last page by only a few lines, play around with the formatting, or trim down some wordy sentences (use the Hemingway App for this) to remove that page. But if your resume takes up a third or more of the last page, leave it as it is. Nobody’s going to punish you for it.


Myth #4: Work Gaps are BAD

Remember that the people deciding whether or not to interview you are people. Yes, you want to get past the company’s Applicant Tracking System How to Get Your Resume Past the Applicant Tracking System Nine out of every ten large companies now use a robotic Applicant Tracking System to screen your resume. We help you bypass their judgmental algorithms with simplification and keywords. Read More (if they use one). Applicant Tracking Systems are pretty good at looking for suggestions that someone will be a good candidate. But they are rarely relied on for finding reasons why someone would be a bad candidate. For that, (luckily) a human touch is needed.


This means that if you were out of work for 6 months looking after a sick child, that’s entirely understandable. If you went on a 4-month road-trip after you were laid off, good for you. These gaps in employment are part of life, and are something employers expect to see.

If you want to draw on the experiences you had during your periods of unemployment, as mentioned previously, make sure you phrase these in a way that sells you for the specific role. Explain why your stint as a volunteer will help you contribute more to the company. Explain that your 4-month down-time has left you hungrier for a challenge than you’ve ever been.

If you find yourself applying for a lot of jobs, use a browser extension like to keep track of all the roles you’ve applied for. You can go back to these and copy and paste relevant paragraphs (such as why you didn’t work between 2013–2014) into new applications to save you tons of time.

Myth #5: Word Documents are Better than PDF

If you want to stand out, Stunning PDF resumes 15 Free Creative Resume Templates for Photoshop and Illustrator A stunning application can be the first step in landing your dream job. We have compiled the best free professional resume templates for Photoshop and Illustrator. Some packages include cover letter and business card templates. Read More that scream out creativity could be what you need. But in the past many people have advised against submitting PDF resumes.

Their reasoning was that PDFs can be difficult for Applicant Tracking Systems to scan for keywords, so your resume could be discarded before it’s even been looked at.


But times have changed. Katharine Hansen, PhD wrote on career blog Quintessential that “more than a third (36.1 percent) of employer respondents in the 2010 Orange County Resume Survey said that when receiving resumes electronically, they prefer them as PDF files” (emphasis mine). This is probably because PDFs keep their formatting, no matter what screen you’re viewing them on. They’re just… a nicer experience.

Six years later, and file formats are an even smaller issue. It’s the content of the resume that’s important. Much more so than how it’s saved. If you want to save your resume as a PDF, go ahead. In the vast majority of cases, this will be be just fine.

That being said, always do your homework. Check on the careers page you found the position on to see if they prefer a certain file format. And if you’re working with an agency, it’s almost always best to use a Word document so they can more easily edit your resume on your behalf.

Landing Your Dream Job

By understanding which rules you’re allowed to break, you should find it much easier to stand out from the crowd. Don’t be afraid to submit a two or three-page resume. Don’t worry about your work gaps.

As long as you keep your resume looking nice, and filled with relevant information that sells you to a prospective employer, you’re doing things right. All you’ll have to worry about then, is overcoming your interview anxiety 3 Tips That'll Instantly Wipe Out Job Interview Anxiety The hardest part of getting any job is usually the job interview. These three tips will help you get through the process unscathed, and with a new job. Read More .

Which other resume myths need to be debunked? And which actually hold some water?

Image Credits: recruitment by Aniwhite via Shutterstock, Robot hand by saginbay via ShutterstockDrafting by Sebastien Wiertz (Fickr), Nerdy Programmer Via Shutterstock

Related topics: Job Searching, PDF, Resume.

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  1. The Truth
    August 4, 2016 at 2:00 pm

    I work at a dot com, and am highly involved in the hiring process, from choosing the candidates to interview, to conducting the actual interviews, to choosing the candidates that are chosen for our department.

    In our company, myth 3 is true, myth 4 is true.

    Sure, we accept ONLY online resumes, have all the keyword searches going on, etc, but actual people STILL print out the resumes when comparing potential candidates to interview. Any information on page 2 is almost always forgotten.

    On Myth 4, all other things being equal, seeing a work gap may push another candidate above you who has no gap. Additionally, it's going to take a few minutes out of the 1 hour interview we have set up on interview day to explain it.

    • Rob Nightingale
      August 21, 2016 at 4:23 pm

      Thanks for this insight!

  2. Athena Depper
    August 4, 2016 at 9:55 am

    In the legal field resumes should be a single page. If you have extensive work history it should be shortened to the most relevant and summarized for everything else. If you are an attorney with extensive publishing or other work then a CV not resume is what is needed. Also, I find most people do not realize that the legal field operates on old school rules. Formal resumes only. Creativity is not being sought.

    • Rob Nightingale
      August 21, 2016 at 4:22 pm

      Thanks for the pointers, Athena!

  3. Int Protocol
    August 4, 2016 at 4:57 am

    In my experience, everyone in the human resources department are idiots. If I have to find a job in my field, I will attempt to deal directly with the source. I've read enough of this foolishness about what should and should not be on a resume and how it should or should not look to realize it's all BS. The folks that REALLY understand your resume are the ones in your field of work, not some bitter hall-monitor sitting in the hallway all day asking everyone for their hall pass. If there is a gap in my resume, it is because I had to deal with the knowledge gap between some HR person's ears.

    • Rob Nightingale
      August 21, 2016 at 4:22 pm

      Have to say, I concur with a lot of what you say...

    • Anonymous
      August 21, 2016 at 5:11 pm

      You are right. However, you leave out 1 parameter: even if the "source", the one who is in your line of work, thinks you are the right person for the job, they will still have to run it by some other people, such as HR, the head of dept., the VP, .....
      And to convince those people too you have to submit a CV, and it better be a good one.

  4. Anonymous
    August 3, 2016 at 11:22 pm

    As someone who has read almost a thousand resumes, interviewed more than a hundred applicants, and recruited dozens of employees, I will tell you that work gaps are indeed bad. I've heard every sob story as to why people have gaps ranging from six months to ten years. Nope, not buying it. I have employed enough such people to know that the gaps are indicative of the person's work ethic, commitment to his/her job, and of underlying psychological problems that will definitely impact that person's ability to perform his/her function.

    Why gamble? I have yet to be fully satisfied hiring someone with a work gap of more than six months. If you choose to "smell the flowers" after being laid off, then by all means don't let gainful employment stop you. You'd be staring out the window all day anyway.

    • Rob Nightingale
      August 21, 2016 at 4:21 pm

      That's quite sad to hear. Most HR professionals I've spoken to agree that work gaps are nearly always understandable, and are often an unavoidable part of life.

    • Anonymous
      August 21, 2016 at 5:08 pm

      You say that you do not hire anyone with any gaps, whether the gap be 6 months or 10 years. So your statement "I have yet to be fully satisfied hiring someone with a work gap of more than six months" is in contradiction with that. It sounds to me as if you accept what you have been told by other recruiters who may have had a bad experience after hiring someone with a gap. And in fact, those recruiters probably went on to generalise that to ALL work gaps.
      You don't find your diamond by follow the prospector's pack.

  5. Anonymous
    August 3, 2016 at 5:23 pm

    The 2 or 3-page résumé: if or when you have had a number of jobs you are more likely to need the space of 2-3 pages. My advice is to put in a short summary (i.e. a résumé of a résumé :-) )at the top of the 1st page so the reader has a 1st impression of who is applying. You could equate that to the 6 second window to impress.

    Incidentally, I don't agree that the 6 second window can be ignored. Whether it is 6, 4 or 10 seconds, you do have a very short time span to capture someone's interest or lose it. Well, that top page summary better be excellent. The rest is detail if someone is really interested in you. If you don't put that summary in, it is highly unlikely that any reader will wade through all the details on those 2-3 pages to know who they are dealing with.

    PDF vs Word: it does not matter at all. Nowadays there is very good free PDF software on the market with OCR capabilities, so if someone wants as a Word doc when you have sent a PDF, no problem.

    1 other suggestion: to make for more interesting reading it is good to put in 1 or 2 smallish (but not too) photos or diagrams to help explain something specific you have been able to implement or achieve. Also, if you have a website, or have published material on various websites, provide a clickable link.

    • Rob Nightingale
      August 21, 2016 at 4:20 pm

      Thanks for sharing your views, Peter!