Ask the Experts: How to Create a Standout Resume

Joe Duke from Texas Tech's Career Center discusses how to land the dream job after graduation.

Joe Duke with student

It's a Catch-22. You just graduated from college and are faced with the big question: how do I get a job without the proper job experience? Too often recent graduates face this dilemma.

Joe Duke, senior associate director at Texas Tech University's Career Center, has been advising Texas Tech students for 12 years. He says even without several years of work experience, recent graduates can land their dream job with a solid resume that highlights their strengths.

How have resumes evolved over time? Are recent graduates leaning toward a more traditional resume or more modern style?

It all depends on what industry applicants are targeting. For example, if you're a recent interior design, graphic design, agriculture communications or architecture graduate, you can be very creative in the design of your resume, depending on the culture you're applying to.

There are two sides to the business world. Some firms are conservative and would like a standard, business-type of resume with information in bullets highlighting your education, performance and experience. There also are more progressive companies more accepting of a creative resume.

A standard, blank resume you would send out to every employer in the country would not be an acceptable resume. Each resume needs to be tailored to the company to which an applicant is applying.

What is the difference between traditional and modern resumes?

Modern resumes today include a LinkedIn profile, QR codes linking to more information or a website. Traditional resumes don't include things of that nature.

How far should an applicant go back for job history?

Joe Duke

Joe Duke

My take on that is all work history is important. If you are a recent graduate, you might want to put in the last five or six years of your employment history. There are a few students who might go back more than 10 years.

If you listed that you were a lifeguard, a dog walker or even a worker in the fast food industry, as long as you have real work experience or internship experience, I think employers are interested in that.

For example, if you worked in the food service industry for two years while you were a student here at Texas Tech, an employer will know that you can handle difficult situations, work in a fast-paced environment and can multi-task. These experiences will say a lot about you.

Should applicants include social media accounts on resumes, even if it isn't a job in a communications-related field?

Social media is in the present and future and is a way to disseminate information to a large population. Yes, I think social media is very important, but how it's portrayed on a resume is important as well. If an employer seeks out your social media accounts, an applicant needs to make sure it looks professional without inappropriate content. An employer can rule out an applicant by social media content.

How important are personal interests and hobbies on a resume?

I think they are important, because they show another facet of the individual. If I were to put it on a resume, I would title it “involvement” toward the bottom of the resume and provide the information professionally. This section can be used as a springboard to break the ice in an interview.

What is something applicants should not do or include on a resume?

For recent graduates, the main thing is not to send an untailored resume from a template to a number of organizations. If an applicant personalizes the resume as a whole and the information included, it shows employers the applicant put the effort into tailoring the resume for that job. A resume is a living document that is a reflection of you; personalize it and present yourself as a strong competitor for the job you are applying for.

Should a cover letter always be included, and how can an applicant make a strong presence with a cover letter?

A cover letter can be included, but there is no guarantee it will be read.

The cover letter needs to be straight to the point without fluff. A strong foundation for a cover letter is three paragraphs.

Joe Duke with student
  • The first one introduces yourself and gives information about how you learned about the job and how you are interested and qualified for the position.
  • The second paragraph is more reflective on your research about the company. Going back to tailoring your resume as a whole, your cover letter should glean the company's mission and its major projects. By doing this, it shows you have done your due diligence and homework about the company and shows great interest in the job you are applying for.
  • The third paragraph is a very important paragraph. It ties in your strengths, talents, interests and abilities with the employer and makes a statement on how you think the employer would benefit from your association with one another.
  • A cover letter should include a closing statement on how you can be reached, and a signature to follow.

If an applicant is chosen for an interview, should he/she always send a thank you note?

Yes, it is really important to send a thank you note, especially through the mail. People like getting snail mail today. When that thank you note lands on someone's desk, it is very much appreciated. A nice note shows you're thankful for their time and the opportunity to be interviewed. It is always a kind and gracious thing to do.

Another thing recent graduates should take note of is thanking your references. Once you have your sparkling resume ready to go, you should have a number of references with their contact information and their preferred way to be contacted. Once it is all ready to go, send your references a completed copy of your resume and a thank you note showing how appreciative you are about them being your reference. This is a great networking opportunity.

Other tips to consider:

  • An objective statement is good to include on a resume. The type of job you are applying for determines whether it should be general or specific. Be careful with your wording, though. If an objective statement is too specific, it may rule you out as an applicant.
  • For recent graduates, use relevant coursework and experiences to market yourself for the position you are applying for. This will show you have studied and have knowledge of the field you are going into.
  • Recent graduates should keep a file of their memberships in organizations and volunteer opportunities. By including your membership on a resume, it shows involvement and leadership.
  • Languages, licenses and certifications are good things to include as well.
  • Be sure to submit your resume the way the employer prefers. If it is through the internet, make sure your resume is a PDF document, since Word documents can change format.

For more resume advice, visit the Career Center's website or make an appointment with a Career Center adviser.

The Career Center provides professional services for all Texas Tech students, recent graduates and alumni. Services include professional resume and interview development, assessment services, career development and career advising.

University Career Center

Career Center

The University Career Center promotes each student's success by providing career development, career exploration, and job search opportunities to undergraduate, graduate, international, distance students and alumni.

Opportunities include:

  • career assessments,
  • resume and cover letter critiques,
  • mock interviews,
  • personal statement critiques,
  • faculty document critiques,
  • salary negotiation assistance,
  • career events.

The Career Center staff is available to assist in identifying your marketable skills and career development needs.

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