Texas Tech University

The Do's and Don'ts of Resume Writing

Lucy Greenberg

May 26, 2022


The University Career Center shares some tips and tricks on resume writing to help students get internships and jobs this summer.

Summer is the perfect time to gain on-the-job experience. Many students spend this time on internships or jobs that will put them ahead of the curve. One thing that's crucial to landing a job is a fabulous resume. However, many people early in their career struggle with what to include. 

Ashley Penner
Ashley Penner

To help guide the summer job search, Ashley Penner, associate director of student development at Texas Tech University's University Career Center, shares best practices for writing a resume. 

Why do people need a resume? 

Students and professionals need a resume because it's a fact sheet about themselves. It's a showcase of why that person is a competitive candidate for the position they're applying for. At its core, a resume needs to be brief and concise.

What content absolutely needs to be on a resume? 

At its core, a resume needs to be brief and concise, but there are four main sections you need to have. The first is your contact information. Make sure the hiring manager can easily reach you. Second, you need to highlight your educational experience. This is where you include your degrees or certificates, as well as relevant coursework. Third is your professional experience. For students, this may consist of part-time jobs during college, but that's still important to list. There may be relevant schoolwork to include here. If you haven't had much work experience, you can highlight coursework such as projects or presentations that would be applicable. Lastly, you want to include relevant skills. For highly technical work such as engineering or graphic design, this is where you include software you're proficient in. 

The National Association of Colleges and Employers conducts a survey each year to identify what employers look for in candidates. Communication skills and professionalism are usually high on that list, so those could be skills to include. However, a list of skills with no evidence to support them, might not be seen as credible. For example, if a student had a part-time job at a local restaurant, they could list “customer service” and explain how they developed that skill by managing up to 10 tables at a time. In doing so, they're giving specific context as to how they developed that skill.

Are there any buzzwords to avoid in your skills section? 

Your skills section is often a great way to customize your resume for a specific job posting. I wouldn't say there is any one word to avoid, but I would encourage students to customize this section for each unique job. Don't create a generic list and just use that every time. I would recommend creating a master resume that has everything you've ever done, but that should not be the resume that goes to each posting. You should be picking and choosing from that version to have a more filtered, targeted version for each position so you're highlighting the most relevant skills. 

What are the differences between a resume, cover letter and curriculum vitae (CV)? 

People commonly confuse a CV with a cover letter. CV actually stands for curriculum vitae, which has an academic slant. So, while it's also listing facts, it has more of a future focus. For example, in a resume, you wouldn't include research interests or classes you're interested in teaching. But in a CV, that's something commonly included. A CV is also more extensive. Some CVs are over 20 pages long because they're more expansive and have an academic focus. You only need to provide a CV if you're applying for a job in academia.

Your resume, however, is a fact sheet targeted toward the industry you're in. This should be one page of content, potentially two, if it's highly relevant experience or you have a master's or doctoral degree. 

Finally, a cover letter is a short letter the applicant writes to the hiring manger that is very specific to the job. This is an opportunity to relay any additional information that would make you a competitive candidate that may have not been included in your resume. 

It's important to have a resume that looks nice, but what's the balance to strike between style versus substance?

I always weigh substance more heavily than style. However, I acknowledge that can be industry-specific. For example, a graphic design student may need to use their resume as an extension of their creative identity.

What I try to warn students about, however, is that when you submit a resume online, it will go through an applicant tracking system (ATS) that scans the document for keywords. Companies use these systems to make the hiring managers' jobs easier. The system is designed to immediately weed out candidates who don't have certain keywords on their resume. This matters because most applicant tracking systems have trouble reading alternative layouts, infographics, colored fonts and pictures. Resume builders such as Canva or Adobe often encourage users to include pictures, but this might not always be the right call. 

So, if you're submitting your resume online, regardless of industry, make sure the style is as simple as possible. Simplicity can still be stylish. Then, leave the really creative resumes for instances when you're face-to-face, like a career fair or interview. 

On the flip side, is it OK to have a very plain resume?

Yes, absolutely. I would err on the side of going simplistic if in doubt. The one thing I would say is just not to leave everything uniform. Make sure there is something that hooks your reader's eye. That can be as subtle as italicizing job titles or bolding certain names. Just make sure you're highlighting important information and keeping the reader's eye interested. Sometimes I'll see a student resume that's very plain, but everything is bolded. And if everything's bolded, then nothing's bolded. 

There seems to be a new trend where people include their Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) or Enneagram personality type on their resume. What do you think about this? 

I think it's highly dependent on the situation. So, our office heavily promotes StrengthsQuest. We love for students to take this assessment to build their self-awareness. However, if I put “developer, harmony, communication and achiever” at the bottom of my resume, unless I know for sure that the company I'm applying to incorporates StrengthsQuest in their hiring practice, it's probably not going to mean anything to them. So, including the Enneagram or MBTI is a big risk because there is no way to know if the hiring manager will interpret it the way you intend for them to.

But personality types aren't the only add-ons to consider. You could also list relevant coursework, scholarships, honors and awards and other languages if you're bilingual or trilingual.  

Is there anything to consider if applying to a very niche industry?

The more traditional the industry, the more traditional your resume should be. For example, a banking job isn't one I would submit a colorful and creative resume to. Additionally, jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) probably call for more traditional resumes. If it's a more creative industry, those would probably be more acceptable, again, with caution about online application systems. 

The one industry that really has its own rules is the federal government. These applications will be more detailed and comprehensive than any other industry. The standards are high for federal positions in terms of the amount of documentation you're required to provide. So, if you're looking at a federal position, know that it will typically take longer to get hired and longer to be onboarded. 

Apart from resume advice, what other resources does the Career Center offer? And can students access it during the summer? 

Yes, we are open during the summer, every weekday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. We help students with documents including resumes, cover letters, personal statements and curriculum details. We also offer mock interviews and assessments to help develop self-awareness like the MBTI or Strengths Quest.

Additionally, we offer a Career Closet. Any student that needs professional clothing can access our closet of gently used and donated clothes that have been vetted by our office; students can get one free outfit per year. We also offer interview rooms. So, if a student needs a quiet spot for a job interview, they can reserve that through our office as well.

The last thing I'd mention is our online job board. This is a great place to find an internship or full-time job. Students can also find virtual micro internships here. These are remote opportunities that are project-based, thus the “micro.” It could be as few as 10 hours or as many as 80 hours, and they're all paid. Students can see up-front how much time the project is expected to take, and how much they would get paid for completing it. These can be a great exploration tool or a way to make extra money if the student is not in a place to have a full-time internship.