21 Common Resume Questions Answered for 2021

Feb 2, 2021 | Cover Letters, Resumes

A title graphic featuring two people asking questions, Let's Eat, Grandma's yellow pencil logo, and the article's title: 21 Common Resume Questions for 2021.

Feel like you’re playing 20 questions trying to figure out how to write a good resume? We’ll do you one better with answers to 21 common resume and cover letter questions from our professional standards.

By: Daniel Lorenzo | Marketing Director for Let’s Eat, Grandma

We’re all pretty darn glad that 2020’s over. 

But as we’ve seen so far, many challenges aren’t stopping just because the calendar’s changed. If you’re still unemployed due to the pandemic, you’re probably feeling this particularly hard.

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Let this new year be a chance to stand up in the face of discouragement and revitalize your job search. We’re so sorry that being unemployed has been so brutal this year, and we’d like to help. As a highly-ranked resume writing service, we can offer some proven answers to your questions to help you write an effective resume and cover letter.

Let’s celebrate 2021 by answering 21 of them!

Use the list on the left to jump to the section that you’re interested in. You’ll find a quick tip and a link to further info for each question.

Resume Content

1.) Do I really need a summary/objective?

Yes, you absolutely need a summary! And no, you absolutely should NOT have an objective statement! You’ll see these two sections referred to as synonyms, as though they’re interchangeable options. They’re not.

Recruiters can’t stand objective statements. Even the best of them are redundant, clichéd, and overall don’t provide value. Resumes are read very quickly, so they need to be focused on what you can do for the company, not what the company can do for you.

A well-written summary of qualifications, on the other hand, is an essential way to start off your resume. It hooks the recruiter in right from the start by describing your top qualifications and proving that you can do this particular role. It provides context for your work history and encourages them to read more. Read more on how to write a great summary here.

2.) Do I really need to tailor my resume to each job instead of sending in the same resume?

Yes, yes, yes, a hundred times yes. Tailoring your resume to the job description is vital. Not doing so might be the most common mistake that job seekers make with their resumes.

An image of a dart striking close to the bullseye on a dart board, illustrating the importance of writing a target resume as a resume trend for 2021. Photo by Engin Akyurt from Pexels.

To stand out from the crowd, your resume has to hit the target of the job posting. (Photo by Engin Akyurt from Pexels.)

Here’s the thing: the average corporate job posting receives 250 resumes. If you want to stand out among those, you have to show why you’re the best candidate for this job, not just any job. Your resume is not a book report, it’s a sales pitch. It has to show relevance to the particular job description at hand.

It’s not that hard and it’s worth it, we promise!

Learn our method for tailoring your resume to the job description in this blog.

3.) Can I list volunteer work on my resume?

Yes! Experience is experience whether it was paid or not. However, only list what experience is relevant to the job at hand. 

Volunteer work in the field you’re applying to can be a great way of showing that you do indeed have experience with the skills required, even if you haven’t held that job yet. (Looking at you, career changers and recent graduates!)

Beyond that, though, we don’t recommend listing miscellaneous volunteer work. Your resume needs to be as short as possible, so anything that’s not essential to the job should be cut (though it can certainly go on your LinkedIn profile).

Learn more about listing volunteer work on your resume here.

4.) I’m worried about this gap on my resume. What can I do to cover it?

Don’t be too worried! Good recruiters understand that career gaps happen, especially considering the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Honesty is the best policy, so rather than trying to completely hide your career gap, explain it directly.

Every gap is different, but in most cases, you can take steps to subtly de-emphasize it on your resume and use your cover letter to explain further. Read more on how to handle a career gap here.

(Note: We do not recommend using a functional resume as a career gap strategy.)

5.) Do I need my address on my resume?

Nope! This is an easy one. While you should include your city and state (and that of the job posting) on your resume for Applicant Tracking Systems, you don’t need your full address.

It’s not relevant info for hiring, and they won’t be using it to communicate with you. In some nightmare scenarios, we’ve even heard of employers searching applicant’s addresses to prioritize candidates from closer or more affluent zip codes!

Learn what kind of contact information should go in your header here.

6.) How long should my resume be? Is a two-page resume really okay?

A stock photo of two professionally dressed women discussing a document on a tablet. (Photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash.)

Your resume should be as long as the recruiter needs it to be — no longer. (Photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash.)

...maybe. Many recruiters are starting to say they’re okay with (or even prefer) two-page resumes for more experienced candidates. But remember, your resume needs to be as short as possible, so don’t aim for a second page if you don’t really need it.

We’re not fans of hard-and-fast rules on this because every job seeker and every job search is different. But here’s a rule of thumb: 

  • If you have under 5 years of experience since college, definitely keep your resume to one page.
  • If you have more than 10 years of experience, two pages is likely fine.
  • If you’re in the 5-10 years range, carefully consider this — make sure that you have only essential information before deciding you need that second page.

Read more on deciding on your resume length here.

(Note: Federal resumes and academic CV’s have different conventions for length.)

7.) Should I include hobbies on my resume?

Most likely not. Again, relevance is your top priority. In a super-fast scan, a recruiter won’t choose your resume over another just because you like snowboarding. Focus on showing that you meet the qualifications with results-based examples.

However, if you have a hobby that’s remarkably relevant to the job at hand, and/or you have a tangible accomplishment or organization to tie to it, it may be helpful. (For example: if you’re a fitness buff and have competed in several Crossfit competitions, that might be worth including on a resume for a Crossfit or other gym job.)

Err on the side of keeping hobbies off your resume, though. If you’re on the fence, mention it only on your LinkedIn. Read more on hobbies on your resume here.

8.) I’m concerned about age discrimination. How far back does my resume need to go? Is it okay to leave dates off?

Ageism is a valid concern and you should take steps to avoid it on your resume. That’s why it’s good news that your resume only needs to go back 10-15 years. If you have a big company name or otherwise impressive position you want to include that’s older than that, you can list it with different formatting and without dates. Read how to do that here.

And for more on defeating ageism, listen to this episode of our Career Warrior Podcast.

Resume Phrasing

9.) Are there words that recruiters love or hate on resumes?

An image of letter tiles spelling out Recruiters love seeing active verbs and strong adjectives on resumes. Every bullet should start with a unique active verb like “collaborated”, “analyzed,” or “spearheaded.”

You should also use unique adjectives to describe yourself like “articulate,” “persuasive,” or “meticulous,” rather than obvious ones like “hardworking” or “smart.” You should also vary your language and try not to repeat verbs or adjectives too often.

Recruiters hate seeing weak and clichéd words, like “team player”, “seasoned,” “determined,” or “tech-savvy.” Why? Because these don’t set you apart. Everyone can claim they’re a team player — but not everyone can prove it with tangible accomplishments in their bullets!

For a full list of adjectives to include and avoid, check out this blog.

10.) I’m having a hard time coming up with active verbs. How do you think of enough varied action words?

We feel you — varying your language can be tough, especially if you have a lot of bullet points! Try to use synonyms in order to avoid repeating the same active verbs at the beginning of each bullet. Our writers use a big (no… huge! no… enormous!) list of synonyms for active verbs that you can find here to get inspiration.

Resume Design

11.) What font and font size should I use?

Use a simple, easy to read font that’s standard across versions of Microsoft Word. Don’t worry about picking the “best” font or getting too unique — recruiters just want to be able to read it easily.

As for font size, 10pt – 12pt is the sweet spot for your body text (your header and section headings can be larger.) Don’t go any larger or smaller than this, but also check your specific font. Many fonts are wider or taller than others.

We have a list of guidelines for choosing a font (and some recommendations) in this blog.

12.) I’m not very skilled at formatting… is it okay to use a resume template? Do you have any you recommend?

That’s okay, formatting doesn’t have to be everyone’s strong suit!

A partial image of a poorly designed resume template, illustrating the importance of simple design as an underappreciated resume trend for 2021.

Templates that look like this are not effective — you need a simple design free of images.

Resume templates can be fine to use as a starting point, but be very careful when choosing one. Many templates out there, especially free ones, aren’t made with resume best practices in mind. Even if they look pretty, loads of them have design problems, ATS-compatibility issues, unnecessary sections, or little space for relevant experience.

Read more on how to spot and avoid a bad resume template here.

We also sell affordable, ATS-compliant templates designed by our professional writers. You can check those out here.

13.) How about one of those free resume builders? Do they really help?

We offer the same word of caution here. Don’t expect a builder to write your resume for you. Again, many are made without knowledge of resume best practices and may offer limited customization, which hinders your ability to tailor it to each job.

Learn more about the pros and cons of resume builders (and how to spot a bad one) here.

14.) But doesn’t my resume need to have a creative design to stand out?

If by “creative” you mean unconventional, artistic, or edgy, then no, you really don’t. We know you’ve seen plenty of examples of “modern, out-of-the-box” resume designs with infographics, columns, and tables. But the cold, hard truth is that most recruiters don’t care about that. They just want to easily find your basic qualifications and get on with their busy day, so a clean, traditional format is the way to go

To learn how to format your resume in a way that’s clean, simple, and yes, still attractive, check out the tips here.

A graphic of three icons of resumes with x's drawn over the space that includes a photo, illustrating that you should not have a photo on your resume in 2021.

You don’t need a photo on your resume in most countries.

15.) Should I include a photo on my resume?

No, hard no! Unless it’s conventional or asked for in your country, a photo on your resume is useless for getting you hired.

Best case scenario: the photo wastes precious space. Worst case? It becomes a discrimination trigger that gets your resume unfairly tossed.

Read more on why you don’t need a resume photo (and where it is conventional) here.

Applicant Tracking Systems

16.) I’ve heard a lot about those ATS scanning robots… are they really going to reject me before my resume gets seen by a human?!

In short, no — if your application gets rejected, it was probably by a human. There’s a heck of a lot of nuance about Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), and while you do need to include keywords and proper formatting to get recognized in the system, an ATS is only a system for filtering and organizing applications, not a rejection machine.

A stock photo of an old-fashioned toy robot (Photo by Rock'n Roll Monkey on Unsplash.)

This guy is not in charge of deciding if you’re hired.

An ATS is used by a human recruiter to organize and search through applications, so you do need to optimize your resume to make sure it comes up in their search results. How it’s used is up to each individual recruiter, but in most cases, it’s quite likely your resume will be read by a human.

The only time you’ll get “auto-rejected” by an ATS is if you incorrectly answer any of the pre-screening “knock-out” questions on the online application form, which are usually basic things like “Do you have a driver’s license? or Are you legally authorized to work in this country?”

…so you’ll know.

Read more on why you don’t need to freak out about ATS here.

17.) Okay, that’s a relief… so what should I do to make sure my resume is ATS-compliant?

It’s really not hard. To give your resume the best chances of being seen first in a recruiter’s ATS search results you need to do two things: naturally include keywords from the job description (without going overboard) and use proper formatting.

To learn how to find and naturally integrate keywords, check out this infographic.

To learn how to make sure your formatting is clean and compliant, check out this handy checklist.

The best part? These are things you should be doing for your resume anyway. Including keywords in a simply formatted resume makes it easier for recruiters to quickly read it too, which means they’ll like you more.

Cover Letters

18.) Do I really need to write a cover letter?!

Yes! If the job description calls for a cover letter, you don’t have an option — write it.

And even if it doesn’t, you should still take the time to write and submit one. You might have heard that “recruiters don’t read cover letters”, but hiring managers usually do, and they’re who your cover letter is meant for. Write a compelling cover letter that complements your resume, and you can convince them if they’re on the fence about your resume!

And any stats you’ve heard about how “most cover letters get skipped over?” That’s because most of them stink. Yours won’t.

Read what the data has to say about why you need a cover letter here. 

A stock photo of a laptop open to a word processor next to a cup of coffee and an open notebook with a pen, illustrating the importance of writing a cover letter in 2021.

Yes, you need a cover letter. Yes, it’s worth it. (Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash.)

19.) Do I need the company’s address on my cover letter?

No! This is an outdated practice that wastes space. Read up on why and what to do instead here. 

20.) To whom should I address my cover letter?

To the name of the actual person who will be reading it. Not “to whom it may concern.”

Learn how to find out who will be reading your cover letter (and how to take the best guess if you can’t) in this blog.

21.) What should I include in my cover letter?

Instead of restating what’s on your resume, your cover letter should supplement it with unique info about the company. Explain how your values align with theirs and use stories with context to show how you meet the qualifications for this particular job. 

Read up on how to write an effective cover letter here.

This is the year you’ll land a job! Follow our professional tips to improve your resume and cover letter, and you’ll start landing more interviews.

Ready for more job search help?

Sign up for a free Senior Writer Resume Critique to see what's holding you back from landing interviews. One of our top professional resume writers will give you personalized feedback on the top 3 items you can improve based on our expert practices!