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12 Tips for Writing a Resume

Applying for any job can be overwhelming, and writing a resume for the first time can sound like a chore. But, with a little practice and some tips on what to avoid, your can stand out from the rest of the applicants. Nancy Kaler, Senior Lecturer at NDSU, provides the following tips for first time resume writers.

12 Tips for Writing a Resume1. The most common mistake in reviewing students’ resumes is not highlighting their skills. The resume is full of information, but not explaining they did the job/tasks well. Perspective employers need to know that the applicants have skills needed for the job they are applying for.   Many of these skills are functional or also called transferrable skills: organized, motivated, problem-solving skills, adaptable, flexible.

2. Students can make their resumes stand out by NOT using a template. Every resume should be different. If a perspective employer has two identical resumes, who gets the interview?  Probably neither. Using bold, italics, different size fonts can make a resume stand out. Make the resume look attractive and professional. White paper is best for resumes, not card stock, and not bright colors or lots of graphics throughout the resume. Your resume might be scanned or photocopied for others to review. Make sure it looks good for these manipulations. Have someone else proofread the resume (and letter of application).  Any resume/cover letter with typos will be thrown out.

3. High school should not be on a resume (unless you want to show where you grew up and it is not your current address). Resumes should start with college. Every once in a while, this rule can be broken. For example, you found your career path through a high school class/activity/job.

4. Non-academic information can be on a resume. Perspective employers want to know who you are outside of academics. Listing campus involvement, and jobs also show that you are a well-rounded person, have good time management skills, and organizational skills. Belonging to a student organization related to the major also shows commitment to the career path.

5. Some employers can make a decision as to who gets an interview in 15 seconds or less. Resumes need to be a quick, factual read. One page is most acceptable --- rule of thumb is 1 page for every 10 years of experience. However, some busy college students may have a 2-page resume. 

6. Job applications should be submitted in the manner the advertisements require. If its online, do not drop off at their office. If it says “no phone calls”, don’t call and ask questions.   Not following directions in the application process shows you won’t follow directions at the job. It is a good idea to follow up with perspective employers if you have not heard within a week of the job posting closure. An email or phone call “where are you in the process of hiring _________ position?”  Or “do you have all the required application papers from me?”

7. You do not need to list every job you’ve ever had on a resume. College students can tailor their jobs to highlight the skills that can be applied to the job they are applying. Again, high school jobs do not need to be listed on resumes. 

8. GPAs do not need to be on a resume or cover letter. If a perspective employer wants that information, they will request an official transcript. However, do highlight Dean’s List or honor societies, etc on the resume.  

9. Resumes have changed over the years, primarily with technology. The application process (resume/cover letter) are now usually sent electronically as a pdf.   Resumes need to be very skill based and related directly to the position being applied to --- no more generic resumes (the same resume) sent to lots of perspective employers. Those are the biggest changes in the last ten years.

10. References should not be listed on the resume. References are listed on a separate page with contact information that matches the resume and letter of application. Always get permission from your references before listing their contact information. And make sure these are positive references --- too many references today are negative --- don’t hire this person. But you didn’t ask if it was going to be a positive or negative reference. Just a reference. References should be people who can speak to your work skill: supervisors, co-workers, professors, advisors.

11. The cover letter or letter of application introduces the resume. Do not repeat your resume in the cover letter. This is where you can discuss skills that don’t appear on your resume or examples of a skill you use. Do homework on the company and note this in the letter. Explain how you match with the open position. List the skill(s) the position needs and how you have that skill(s). You can be eliminated by not showing you have the skills required of the job they are filling. Common mistakes on these letters are typos (immediately thrown out) or not showing you are a match for the job.

12. NDSU has an excellent Career and Advising Center. Utilize their services. They can assist with cover letters, resume and interviewing. 


Nancy Kaler, M.S., Senior Lecturer, Human Development and Family Science

Ericka Martin, Intern, Human Development and Family Science Extension

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