Résumé Writing Tips

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Résumé Examples

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What exactly is a résumé?
Your résumé is simply your written snapshot—a word picture of the unique combination of skills and qualities you offer an employer. Employers screen résumés in between 2.5 and 10 seconds, so your résumé should quickly capture the reader’s interest. There is an art to résumé writing. When learned, it can open doors to unlimited career opportunities. Since your résumé is your representative, make certain it is a good one by learning and applying the principles of first-class résumé writing.

What is its purpose?
Since résumés are screened in such a brief amount of time, it is imperative that it capture the reader’s interest and spark a desire to speak with you personally. It is as simple as that. Your résumé’s job is to land an interview! However, it must allow a prospective employer to quickly and accurately perceive who you are, what you do best, what you want to do in the future, and how you can benefit the company’s interests! The challenge is how this can be effectively accomplished in a concise manner. Remember that the most difficult résumé to write is your own, so take advantage of these guidelines and the many resources provided by your Tulane Career Center.

Remember to come in and visit for a résumé review with a career coach.
We offer FREE Résumé paper, in packs of ten (ivory & white), when you come visit our office.

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Extraordinary vs. Ordinary

What is the difference between an ordinary résumé and an extraordinary one?

  • You know who you are and effectively communicate it on paper.
    Ask yourself this question before ever beginning to write your résumé. What three characteristics which I offer an employer best describe who I am? In other words, ten people with the same degree in hand are all individuals with unique skill sets. Each has a multitude of life experiences and background which will benefit a prospective employer. Determine yours. Write them down. After a reader skims your résumé in 10 seconds, you want the first impression of you to be exactly those qualities, even without naming them. Look for ways to illustrate those qualities on your résumé.

    For example, if you have a strong work ethic, don’t waste space saying it. Instead, highlight the fact that you worked 50-60 hours per week during a summer internship and how you were an asset to the company. That word picture will speak loudly!
  • You write brief, vivid summaries of roles (jobs, projects, leadership, or personal accomplishments) in order to allow the reader to see you in action.
    Paint a brief word picture of the mission statement of the role you played. Let it be your first bullet point. This will allow the reader to see the broad purpose of your job or role. For example, your global summary statement might read something like:

    Oversaw all customer service operations of fast-paced, high-volume restaurant with 10 wait staff to significantly increase customer satisfaction.
  • Your bullets are accomplishments-based.
    You create from 2-3 bullets which are not necessarily job responsibilities, but accomplishments you made while on the job. It may be an award you received or money you saved the company. You may want to highlight a skill you developed, one which would benefit your prospective employer. Ask yourself--what stories of this particular job or experience would you like to share? Write an accomplishment tied to the story, and you will be prepared for the interview even before it begins.
  • Your résumé is strategically written with the job in mind.
    Tailor your résumé to the target position. Computers make it possible to alter the Objective statement with each application. You may use the exact job title, in fact, and be sure to include what you offer the employer. And if you have the skills needed for the target job, mention them in the Objective statement. For example: “Seeking the position of ____________ with XYZ Company, offering ________, _________, and ________. (fill the blanks with your skills) The rest of the résumé justifies that you have the skills mentioned in the objective statement.

    The visual center of the page is the middle third; therefore, your best qualifications should be found in that area. Given that your best experience is the most recent job, this is easy; however, should your best experience be embedded further in the résumé, there is an easy answer. Create a heading called “Relevant Experience” and bring that position to the top. Or if you seek a research position, begin with a heading called “Research Experience.” This will draw the reader’s eye to the area most pertinent to the employer’s needs, you can be sure.

    Even though you may have credentials for 10 bullets, your best qualifications may be overlooked simply because an employer will not take the time to read each minute detail. It is more effective to remove the bullets which do not address the specific needs of the employer as related to the job you seek. Your aim is to show the reader within 10 seconds that a call to you would be in the company’s best interest.

    Don’t worry. You may always provide additional information at the time of the interview, but your résumé will float to the top of the “interview” pile if it is strategically written with the employer’s specific needs in mind.
  • Your résumé is well organized and professional.
    Determine the headings which best describe you. See below for further discussion on possibilities. Make certain that your letterhead is clear and pleasing to the eye and contains all pertinent contact information, especially an email address and phone number. Decide on a format and be consistent. Keep clean margins. Place dates in the same location on the paper. Limit your use of bullets, no more than five at a time. Since the purpose of a bullet is to draw attention, it defeats the purpose if there are too many. In that regard, it becomes blurry and confusing. Do not use complete sentences. Do not use pronouns (I, my, you) or articles (a, an, the).

Résumé Length

For most students and recent graduates, a one-page résumé is preferred, especially if used for a career fair.

Common Pitfalls

What are common pitfalls in résumé writing?

  • Job-description focused
    Job descriptions are typically boring and impersonal. They tell little about the candidate as a person. Remember that your document is not a résumé of your jobs, it is a word picture of what you do best and the skills you gleaned in those jobs which are of value to the prospective employer. A detailed job description only tells what you were supposed to do and not what you actually accomplished or want to do in the future.

  • Wasted space
    If, in the upcoming interview, you actually want to talk about every item on your résumé, then you have used your space wisely. If not, your space is wasted and cannot work for you. Many interview questions will be gleaned from your résumé, so make certain that you indeed want to discuss every item and bullet included. If not, remove it immediately. Your résumé should only contain those things which bring out the best of who you are and where you excel. Obviously, these are the things you want to address in an interview. Let your résumé guide the upcoming interview.

  • Lack of strategic understanding of employer needs
    Imagine going to a doctor with a knee injury. Instead of explaining the injury and how to repair it, the doctor spends your entire appointment explaining his/her credentials and ability to solve a variety of your health needs. That may be fine and well, but you made the appointment because of a specific health need which needs immediate attention. You would likely seek another opinion or ask that the doctor address the issue at hand. The more the doctor can reassure you that your injury is in good and capable hands, the more confident you will be to choose that surgeon.

    The employer is very much like your patient with specific needs and a variety of constraints, namely time and money. The reader is looking for someone who can meet the perceived needs of the company as quickly as possible. The more your résumé shows that you understand the need and can meet the need, the quicker you will receive a phone call for an interview.

    This may mean that you have several versions of your résumé which highlight different dimensions of your talents and skills, depending on the needs of a specific employer. It will behoove you to take the time to target your résumé with that specific employer’s needs in mind.


Writing a Cover Letter

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While the résumé is a somewhat generic advertisement for yourself, the cover letter allows you to tailor your application to each job. Although the thrust of your various letters may remain the same, there is no reason to have a single, generic cover letter.


Effective cover letters are constructed with close attention to:

  • Purpose
  • Audience
  • Content
  • Format

Your cover letter and résumé usually provide all the information a prospective employer will use to decide whether you will reach the next phase in the application process: the interview.

While your goal is an interview and, ultimately, a job offer, the more immediate purpose of your cover letter in some cases may simply be to gain an attentive audience for your résumé.

A cover letter provides, in a very real sense, an opportunity to let your prospective employer hear your voice. It reflects your personality, your attention to detail, your communication skills, your enthusiasm, your intellect, and your specific interest in the company to which you are sending the letter.

Therefore, cover letters should be tailored to each company you are applying to. You should conduct enough research to know the interests, needs, values, and goals of each company, and your letters should reflect that knowledge.

A cover letter should be addressed to the specific company and the specific individual who will process your application. You can usually find this through research or simply by calling the company to find out who you should address your letter to.

The letter should name the position for which you are applying and also make specific references to the company. Indicate your knowledge of and interest in the work the company is currently doing, and your qualification for the position. You want the reader to know:

  • Why you want to work at that specific company
  • Why you fit with that company
  • How you qualify for the position to which you are applying

In addition to tailoring your application to a specific job with a specific company, the cover letter should also:

  • Highlight the most important and relevant accomplishments, skills, and experience listed in your résumé
  • Point to the resume in some way (as detailed in the enclosed résumé)
  • Request specific follow up, such as an interview

A cover letter should be in paragraph form (save bulleted lists for your résumé) with a conversational, though formal, tone. The first paragraph should be brief, perhaps two or three sentences, stating

  • What job you are applying for and how you learned about it
  • Any personal contacts you have in or with the company
  • Your general qualifications for the job.

The body of your letter should consist of one to three longer paragraphs in which you expand upon your qualifications for the position. Pick out the most relevant qualifications listed in your résumé and discuss them in detail, demonstrating how your background and experience qualify you for the job. Be as specific as possible, and refer the reader to your résumé for additional details.

The concluding paragraph of your letter should request an interview (or some other response, as appropriate). State where and when you can be reached, and express your willingness to come to an interview or supply further information.

Close by thanking your reader for his or her time and consideration.


Tulane University Career Center, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5107