Tips to writing successful resumes

By James VandeBerg

The prospect of finding a job or internship is stressful enough for most students. “What do I actually want to do?” is the perennial question, and answers can be hard to come by. Adding to the pressure is the need to create a cover letter and resume that convinces employers to call back. You’re on your own for deciding what career to pursue, but with these tips, putting together the materials to get that job can be a little easier.

The prospect of finding a job or internship is stressful enough for most students. “What do I actually want to do?” is the perennial question, and answers can be hard to come by. Adding to the pressure is the need to create a cover letter and resume that convinces employers to call back. You’re on your own for deciding what career to pursue, but with these tips, putting together the materials to get that job can be a little easier.

Successful resumes are error-free, action-oriented and specific, said Keri Pipkins, assistant director of the University’s Career Center.

“(Employers) only look at resumes for about 30 seconds, so you have to make the most important parts stand out,” she said. Educational achievements should always be at the top, followed by activities and involvement relevant to the position. Multiple resumes, with highlighted activities altered, are a good idea for students applying in several fields, Pipkins said. She recommends students read their own resume carefully, as something that appears buried will go even more unnoticed by a potential employer.

It is especially important that resumes are neat and organized. Employers should be able to find relevant information quickly and packaged attractively, making design and layout an important consideration.

Formatting a resume can be the most difficult part of the process, but Pipkins advises students to avoid pre-made templates available on many word processors.

“Career counselors are against templates … everyone ends up with resumes that look the same,” she said.

Pipkins recommends using Optimal Resume, a free program available on the Career Center’s Web site. After users type in the text of their resume, the program gives multiple formatting options, allowing a degree of customization.

Another key player in the job hunt is the cover letter, which is ordinarily submitted along with a resume.

“(Cover letters) are your chance to showcase yourself and make employers want to read your resume,” Pipkins said.

Here, applicants should tell potential employers why they want a specific position. Cover letters must be tailored for each position. Sending a generic cover letter is worse than not sending one at all, she added.

“You need to look at a job description to write a good cover letter … it’s important to address the specific job,” Pipkins said. Applicants should also remember to tell employers what they can bring to their organization.

“Tell the employer what you can do for them, not what they can help you do,” Pipkins said.

Where to get help on resumes

The Career Center offers a variety of programs to help students polish their resumes and cover letters. Several workshops are offered each semester, teaching the basics of writing quality cover letters and resumes. In addition, the Center offers resume and cover letter critiques at various locations.

RESUMES ONLY:

  • Career Center Resource Center

    715 S. Wright St.

    Monday – Friday 2 p.m. – 4:15 p.m.

  • Undergraduate Library Career Cluster

    Monday & Tuesday 7 – 9 p.m.

    Wednesday 10 a.m. – noon

    Thursday 3 – 6 p.m.

    Sunday 2 – 9 p.m.

  • African American Cultural Program Career Corner

    708 S. Mathews St.

    Wednesday 3 – 4 p.m.

  • Asian American Cultural Program Career Corner

    1210 W. Nevada St.

    Tuesday noon – 1 p.m.

  • Irwin Academic Services

    402 E. Armory Ave.

    Monday 7 – 8 p.m.

  • Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Career Corner

    Illini Union Room 323

    Tuesday 3 – 4 p.m.

  • La Casa Cultural Latina Career Corner

    1203 W. Nevada

    Monday 3 – 4 p.m.

  • DRES Career Corner

    1207 S. Oak St.

    Tuesday 3 – 4 p.m.

  • OMSA East Career Corner

    701 S. Gregory Suite I

    Monday 6 – 7 p.m.

  • Student Senate Career Corner

    Student Center/RSO Complex

    253 Illini Union

    Wednesday 7 – 8 p.m.

COVER LETTERS ONLY:

  • Career Center Resource Center

    715 S. Wright St.

    Monday – Friday 11 a.m. – 4:45 p.m.

You shouldn’t:

  • Include an objective statement on a resume
  • Leave too much white space
  • Include a GPA if it is too low
  • Include irrelevant hobbies
  • Misspell words
  • Begin cover letter with where you saw the ad
  • Embellish or exaggerate

You should:

  • Use action verbs and short sentences
  • Be honest
  • List specific accomplishments
  • Proofread
  • Highlight what you can do for the company
  • Include a cover letter to engage the reader
  • Make your name stand out on your resume