Resumes & Cover Letters

Resume FAQs

Here are some common questions about résumés, with responses. Also check out our general FAQ section here.

Posting Résumés on Job Boards

Submitting Résumés Online for Posted Jobs

Résumé Formats

Résumé Content

Posting Résumés on Job Boards

Where should I post my résumé?

As you probably know, there are dozens of job boards and websites where you are invited to post your résumé. Here are the basic types:

  1. College recruiting sites (such as UMass Lowell’s CareerLINK system)
  2. The big job boards (Monster, CareerBuilder, etc.)
  3. Regional or geographically based websites easily found via Google (such as http://massachusetts-job.com/ , http://www.nhjobs.com/ , etc.)
  4. Industry-specific job boards or so-called “niche sites” again found via Google (such as http://www.environmentaljobs.com/ ), and
  5. Company-specific job boards (including government boards like http://www.usajobs.gov )

Where (or whether) you post your résumé on any of these sites depends on your job search strategy. Try to focus on quality versus quantity. Some students feel like they want to cover all their bases, so they post their résumé everywhere they can. The problem with this strategy is that the résumé you make public isn’t at all targeted to any particular company or industry, so it’s hard to make it a really persuasive document. This strategy may also result in “junk” replies about jobs or opportunities you have no interest in. It also means you have to keep track of several résumés, and keep them all updated.

The value of using college recruiting systems like CareerLINK is that recruiters are targeting college students with their postings on these sites. Whether you decide to upload a résumé or not depends on whether the employers who post jobs in the system require that you upload a résumé to be eligible to apply. You may choose to simply use the site to seek opportunities and apply when you find a job of interest.

Posting your résumé on regional sites may be helpful if you are searching for jobs in a specific geographic area. Or, rather than post a “generic” résumé, you may decide to regularly browse the jobs posted there and apply with a targeted résumé when the right job is advertised.

Industry-specific boards are helpful if you’ve narrowed your search to a particular discipline. These boards also often provide industry-specific news and information that can be useful during a job search.

If you’ve identified some companies on a “short list” of potential employers, you’ll definitely want to keep a close eye on their job sites. Again, whether you post a résumé on a company site depends on your strategy. You may want to hold off on posting a résumé until you find an opening for which you can tailor your résumé, and then use the customized résumé to apply.

What should I do if a job board won’t let me present my résumé the way I want it?

Some organizations and job boards make job seekers complete a résumé form instead of simply letting them upload a document. This process helps the organization standardize their applicant data to make it simpler to search out qualified candidates. As you review the résumé form, note which fields are optional and decide whether completing them would limit your opportunities. You may choose to leave some fields blank (such as salary or references) or choose “no preference” in drop-down menus when it makes sense to do so. Complete skills fields with detailed information and key words, especially relating to computer skills. If given the option, give your résumé an appropriate title highlighting your key skills (such as “Bilingual Customer Service Professional,” for example).

I’m worried about privacy. How open should I be with my contact and employment information when I post my résumé on job boards?

It is important to protect your résumé and personal information from those who want to use it for profit or to prevent your current employer from seeing that you’re “in the market.” Some strategies:

Print and read privacy policies of any online job site which asks you to provide information via the internet. If the site doesn’t have a privacy policy, you have no legal assurance that your personal information is secure.

Post résumés with a “disposable” email address that you can cancel if you start getting a lot of junk mail.

Don’t provide your phone number, street address, or complete name, or information about your references. Do not list any personal information such as social security number, race, gender, account numbers, mother’s maiden name, etc.

Many job sites and résumé databases let you mask your contact information when you post a résumé. This feature allows you to control who can contact you.

Look for sites that keep your résumé for a limited time only. Find out if you can delete the résumé after you’ve posted it, because you don’t want your document languishing online forever.

Consider replacing personal details (such as address, phone number, etc.) with your dedicated job-search email address.

You may wish to conceal your current employer’s name by describing the organization in general terms.

Many sites have blocking features that you can use to prevent your current employer from stumbling onto your résumé.

Keep good records about where you’ve posted your résumé and go back and delete it when you’ve finished your job search.

How often should I update my résumé on job boards?

Depending on the site or the recruiter using it, freshly updated résumés may get more attention than “stale” ones, so it makes sense to revisit and revise your résumé regularly. Some people recommend as often as daily, but you probably have more productive things to do (such as networking). To ensure you’re up to date, review and update anything you’ve posted online at least once or twice a month.

When I posted my résumé online, I started getting junk emails about jobs I’d never consider. What should I do?

Think again about where you’ve posted your résumé. Maybe a big job board isn’t the best way to go. Consider more niche sites, or only post your résumé on company sites where you’d want to work. Or post your résumé on a job board like eRecruiting, where it’s not visible to an employer until you send it to them.

Submitting Résumés Online for Posted Jobs

When a recruiter at a job fair tells me to go to the company website and apply online, is that for real, or is it a brush-off?

It’s not a brush-off. It’s just a fact of life in the technology age. Recruiters can easily get buried in paper as they travel from job fair to job fair. Companies have moved to the online application process as they’ve gotten overwhelmed with applicants. If you’ve connected with a real person at a job fair, however, capitalize on that face-to-face contact to increase the chances you’ll get an invitation to interview. After the fair, send a thank-you note to the recruiter with a copy of your résumé and mention that you’ve also applied online.

When I submit my résumé online to a company, I feel like it disappears into a black hole. What can I do to improve my chances of getting the attention I think I deserve?

Everyone agrees that it’s frustrating when you get no response from an online application. The best strategy is to find some inside connection to the company and follow-up through that person. If your initial contact about a job comes at a career fair, try to get the recruiter’s contact information and contact that person after the fair. If you haven’t yet met someone from the company of interest, do some exploring on LinkedIn to see if any of your first, second, or third-degree connections work there. (You will probably want to consider joining the Career & Co-op Center's Alumni-Student Career Connections LinkedIn group, too.) And keep asking people you know for ideas and introductions. A good personal connection is extremely valuable in “getting your foot in the door.”

More ways to avoid the "black hole"

  1. Apply only to jobs for which you are qualified. Don't send résumés to the same recruiter over and over again. If recruiters think you’re a good match for an opening, they’ll get back to you.
  2. Tailor your résumé. Use the job description to tailor your résumé to the specific requirements of the job. Never lie, but do make it easy for the recruiter to see your experience and skills in light of his/her need. Put relevant experience near the top of the document.
  3. Use keywords. The automated applicant tracking systems used by large employers seek out keywords and phrases to rank how well you fit the job in question. So use keywords as much as possible where it makes sense in your résumé. Some systems rank keywords higher if they appear higher on the résumé, because it might indicate more recent experience in key areas.
  4. Avoid graphics, photos, text boxes, color, odd fonts, headers and footers. Keep it simple. Most automated systems convert résumés to plain text and formatting complexity can thwart the process.

What happens to my résumé when I submit it online anyway?

Automated applicant tracking systems are intended to streamline the hiring process, to document applications (particularly important for companies with federal contracts), and to more effectively screen qualified candidates. Usually, the résumé goes to someone within human resources. People in this role who have experience with the field for which they are recruiting will have a better idea of what they’re looking for. But if one person has to screen résumés for too many departments, he or she will usually rely solely on keywords and may miss things (and may disregard good candidates).

Why even bother with a paper résumé if all employers are moving to online applications?

Whenever you talk to anyone in person about employment (in an interview, networking opportunities, career fairs, etc.) you’ll need a nicely printed résumé. Also, a lot of employers are moving toward phone screening interviews, during which you’d want to have a clearly laid-out résumé to refer to. You’ll also want to share a copy of your résumé with people serving as your references. And, yes, occasionally, you’ll need to mail a résumé out via US Mail, or at least attach it to an email message as a Microsoft Word document to apply for a job!

Résumé Formats

Is it true that a résumé can only be one page long?

Most college students or new grads should be able to summarize their experience and skills in a single page. Keep in mind that most recruiters will spend only 10-15 seconds on your résumé, so it’s quite likely that if you have a second page, it won’t get read. What’s important should be on page one.

What’s the best font to use when producing a résumé?

Ariel, Times, and Helvetica are all good fonts – they’re easy to read, most people have them loaded into their computers/printers, and they’re easy to digest by scanners. Stick to an 11-12 point font size.

Where can I see samples of well-formatted résumés?

The Career & Co-op Center has printed samples that students can have. Also, on the Career & Co-op Center's website, we have Word documents that can be used to build your own résumé.

How can I make my résumé stand out?

The best way to make your résumé catch the attention of a hiring manager or recruiter is to tailor it to the needs of the job. Tailoring requires that you carefully review the job description or posting and highlight your corresponding accomplishments, skills, experience, and knowledge in an easy-to-digest format on the résumé. A few tips: Put a summary near the top of the résumé with carefully chosen key words and phrases, put your most relevant experience for each job in a “Related Experience” section above an “Additional Experience” section to highlight your most relevant experience, and format the document so it’s clear and consistent to make for easy reading.

When would I need a “text only” version of my résumé?

In addition to a résumé developed in MS Word that uses bullets, underlining, and boldface type, having a plain text version without special characters, columns, tables, or font variants will be useful if you need to copy and paste it into a web form. Large companies may require you to submit your résumé via a web form. By having a version in text-only format, you can easily paste it into a web form and quickly determine whether it will be easily read.

Résumé Content

Do I have to develop different résumés to use when applying for different jobs?

By all means, do so. If you tailor each résumé to the job of interest, you’ll be much more likely to be called for an interview. Just be careful to keep track of which résumé you send to which organization!

What can I do to make the content of my résumé really catch the interest of the hiring company?

Tailor the résumé to the job. Review the job posting carefully and build as many of the posting’s terms (keywords) as you can into the résumé. Review the order of the material you’ve put in your résumé. Can the bullets be reordered to bring more relevant experience to the top of the list? Can computer skills be reordered to list the most requested software first? Does your objective “fit” with the job and organization? Is the document consistently and clearly organized? Is it easy to read?

What are “keywords” and “action verbs” and how should I use them in my résumé?

Keywords, as the name suggests, are terms that are important to a particular job. Keywords vary by discipline, by company, and by job, so it’s important to research what sort of terms are “key” to a particular opportunity. One critical source of information is the job description or posting. Another source is postings of other jobs that are similar to the one you’re seeking. You can even go to the Bureau of Labor Statistics for insight (see http://online.onetcenter.org/ to look up specific occupations’ descriptors). Use keywords to describe your experience, skills, and knowledge. Put them in your objective, or in a qualification or skills summary at the top of your résumé, and fit them into the bulleted descriptions of your past jobs. There may also be opportunities to put them into lists of activities and honors.

Action verbs are words that show action. After each bullet on your résumé, start the text with an action verb (e.g., “Coordinated,” Wrote,” Tutored,” Organized,” “Initiated”) which gives the reader a quick view into your experiences and lets you succinctly describe what you’ve accomplished in past positions. If you’re describing your work in a current job, your action verbs would be present tense.

How far back should I go when describing work experience?

You may need to consider several issues when deciding how far back to go into your employment history. If you have only a few jobs to describe, you will want to include them all. If you’ve had many, many short-term jobs (sometimes the case with students who work during summer and school breaks) the decision often comes down to “How relevant is this work to the job I’m currently seeking?” and “How much can I realistically expect a recruiter to read?” Keep in mind that the most important information should be on the first page of a résumé – and page two may never get read. Perhaps you had a relevant job or internship sometime in the past, but have had less-relevant positions more recently; this is an opportunity to list your older “Relevant Experience” in a separate section nearer the top of the résumé where it may get more attention. It may be a good idea to see a career counselor for some objective feedback if you’re having trouble deciding how to present your experience.

Should I present my experience in a chronological sequence, or in a functional format, or what?

Most recruiters appreciate the clarity of a chronological résumé. And most college students or new graduates would be best served by using a modified chronological approach that allows them to separate relevant experience (such as co-ops and internships and related part-time work) from “survival jobs.” The idea is to pull your relevant experience together in reverse chronological order in a section near the top of your résumé, so it’s easy to read. Functional formats allow candidates to present their background in sections based on skills or functional areas, which can be useful for people who are changing careers. If you’re unsure which format is best, seek the guidance of a career counselor.

Should I include volunteer work and unpaid experiences?

If your volunteer and unpaid experiences are relevant to the job you’re hoping to get, yes! Many volunteer positions provide leadership experience, which is certainly relevant to nearly all jobs.

Should I include my GPA?

The rule of thumb is to include your major and/or your cumulative GPA if it’s at least a 3.0/4.0.

Should I include my high school information?

If you attended a highly prestigious school or a school in which you completed a highly relevant vocational program, it might be worth noting, but most people can leave high school information off their résumé once they are college sophomores. By this time, you’ll want to start putting more relevant information in that valuable space.

Should I include my references?

While it’s important to line up people to serve as positive references for you when you begin the job search, you should not put your references’ information on your résumé. You’ll need to have this information ready if and when an employer requests it, but don’t take up valuable space on the résumé with this information. Create a separate document, topped with your name and contact information as it appears on your résumé, add a heading that says “References,” and list the name of each reference, his/her connection to you, and his/her phone number and/or email address.

What information do I need to include about my past jobs? What can I leave out?

The experience section is really the “meat and potatoes” of the résumé, so it’s important to cover your past jobs to some extent. The key is to make it as easy as possible for a potential employer to see the relevance of your experience to the new company. So, read job postings carefully and see if you can tailor your résumé more closely to the job of interest. That may mean developing new versions of your résumé every time – more work, but well worth the effort.

College students sometimes worry that they’ve had so many short-term job experiences that they can’t fit them on a one-page document. It’s important to realize that every job has value in molding your abilities to deal with people, solve problems, manage and organize work, and develop other “transferable” skills. However, if many of your past jobs are “repeat jobs” – for example, waiting tables at four different but similar-style restaurants – you may want to save space and consolidate them by listing only the company names and locations, with one set of bullets describing your accomplishments and skills developed at those four jobs.

Questions often arise also about whether to include very short-term jobs (e.g., shorter than a month or so). If you have very little other experience, anything will help. However, if you have other job experiences that provide a potential employer a complete picture of your qualifications, you may be able to leave a short-term job out. When in doubt, it’s always a good idea to consult with a career counselor.

Whatever positions you list on your résumé, list the employer’s name, city, and state (or country), and the month and year you started and left that work. Leave out the street address, zip code, and supervisor’s name.

Do I have to include dates of my college degrees and my college locations?

It’s always correct to include the locations (city and state or country) of the schools you attended. Rather than listing the duration of your college coursework, list the month and year of graduation or anticipated graduation. If you’re worried that your age may negatively impact your chances of landing an interview, you may choose to leave the date of your degrees off the résumé. If you’re having difficulty deciding whether to include your degree years, it’s probably a good idea to talk with a career counselor about the options.

What are some common mistakes people make on their résumés and how can I avoid them?

  1. Too long.
    Fix: Eliminate material that is less relevant to the job at hand. Seek the assistance of a career counselor for guidance, if needed.
  2. Too vague.
    Fix: Customize your résumé every time you send it. At the very least, revise your objective and key skills sections to address the job of interest. Use the job description or posting as your guide.
  3. Duty driven vs. accomplishment driven:
    Fix: Highlight where you made a difference, improved situations, or set yourself apart from everyone else.
  4. Typos.
    Fix: Don’t rely on spellcheckers alone! Read the résumé out loud. Read it backwards, word by word. Get a second and third reader to review your document with a fine-tooth comb.
  5. Key skills are buried.
    Fix: Put a Skills Summary near the top of the résumé. Include computer skills, if they’re important to the job
  6. Format is hard to read.
    Fix: Use bullets to allow the reader to quickly digest important information about you. Don’t use paragraphs, which take longer to read.
  7. Template use.
    Fix: Recruiters can easily spot a template, and to them it can signal laziness or lack or imagination. Better to use a blank page and develop your own, in a consistent format using bulleted text and a minimum of “glitz.”
  8. References on the résumé.
    Fix: Save valuable space by taking references off your résumé and building a separate References document headed by the same contact information that’s on the top of your résumé. If employers want references, they’ll ask for them. Don’t provide them until asked.
  9. Résumé format gets scrambled when sent electronically.
    Fix: Experiment by emailing your résumé to several friends and ask them how it appears at their end. Don’t use design elements that don’t translate well. Avoid columns, tables, and uncommon fonts. For pasting into web forms, develop a text-only version that communicates clearly without relying on formatting (e.g., use hyphens or asterisks to denote bullets, use CAPITAL LETTERS for headings instead of boldface or italics, etc.).
  10. Doesn’t include a job’s keywords.
    Fix: Build keywords into your résumé, especially in a Key Skills or Profile section near the top where you can put them in some context, for example, “Experienced at using negotiation skills to improve collections.” Find keywords by reading job postings for positions you’re interested in. Words that appear over and over are good bets.

Should I include personal details on my résumé (such as birth date and marital status)?

No, with a couple of exceptions: 1. Some people note on their résumé the fact that they’re legally eligible for United States employment. They might note this if they’re concerned that an employer may assume they’re not eligible (for example, if they went to school in a different country). 2. Some people who wish to work at a US defense contractor or the US government may want to note on their résumé the fact that they are US citizens, which may be a requirement for consideration.