Resume Tips and Common Questions

  • What kind of resume should I use? What should it look like?

  • Should I put things I did in high school on my resume?

  • What if I don’t have anything to put on my resume?

  • Do I need an objective statement?

  • Is a portfolio better than a resume?

  • Does a resume have to be one page?

  • If I email my resume, do I need a cover letter?

  • Should I customize my resume for each employer?

  • How can I highlight my education?

  • Should I list all my classes on my resume?

  • Does volunteer work go on a resume?

What kind of resume should I use? What should it look like?

There are many different kinds of resumes, each of which is suited to different types of positions. A chronological resume lists your work history in reverse chronological order. This format is preferred among employers, and is the traditional resume format. A functional resume highlights skill areas, but is not popular with employers. We don’t recommend you use it for science and mathematics jobs. The combination resume combines both the functional and chronological formats, and is a useful hybrid of the two styles. This format works well for new graduates, since you can highlight skills and bring them to the attention of a reader.

Should I put things I did in high school on my resume?

Generally not, unless it was spectacular. Employers want to know what you can do when you are on your own–achievements from high school might just stem from your parents making you work. You don’t need to put your high school degree on your resume—if you are in college, it is assumed that you graduated from high school.

What if I don’t have anything to put on my resume?

You do have lots of things to put on your resume!  For example, if you were a server at a restaurant—you probably learned many great skills:

  • Coming to work on time
  • Time management between school and work
  • Working in a team
  • Communication
  • Good customer service

All work experience is good experience.  Think in terms of skills, in addition to the daily tasks that you carried out.Washing dishes might not seem glamorous, but a restaurant can’t function without someone in that job.

If you haven’t had any paid employment while in school, what extracurricular or volunteer activities have you been involved in? In what ways have you demonstrated leadership or teamwork? Include non-paid work, volunteer work, part-time and temporary positions, internships, odd jobs, and miscellaneous informal services you may have provided to your academic department or a favored professor—IF IT IS RELEVANT to the job or internship you are applying to.

Also use your classroom experience. What analytical techniques have you mastered? Expand on these points and list them as “Technical Skills” on your resume.

Do I need an objective statement on my resume?

An objective statement is used to let an employer know what specific job or internship you are targeting. It may appear on the top of your resume, or it may be incorporated into a well-written and effective cover letter. So, where your objective statement goes is optional—but it needs to appear somewhere.

Is a portfolio better than a resume? When?

Yes and No. A portfolio is a documentation of your accomplishments representing growth in your skills and understanding of those skills over time. The portfolio not only documents your results, but also HOW you got there and WHAT you learned in the process. In the sciences, a personal portfolio can be used as documentation of your skills and abilities during an interview or as a networking aid.

Don’t mail a multi-page portfolio as an application to anyone unless specifically invited to do so. One exception is if you are asked to submit a writing sample—here you might want to send a few good examples from your portfolio. Always send copies—not the originals.

Does a resume have to be one page and no longer?

Generally, for new Bachelor’s level undergraduates, resumes should be only one page long. If you can’t fit everything in, then carefully consider if everything is relevant to the position you are applying for. Prune out anything you did in high school as well.

Recruiters view very long resumes from students as a failure to edit. Remember that in the world of work you may be asked to provide research summaries or business briefs to coworkers. The ability to identify items of key interest and weed out extraneous details is of value to employers.

There are two exceptions to the “one-page-rule.” The first is an electronic resume—since that resume goes directly into a computer database, its ability to be scanned by a computer is more important than its attractiveness to a human reader. The inclusion of keywords is critical, and it’s ok if the resume is long.

The second exception is an academic curriculum vita, or a CV. Details about an individual’s research career are included in this style, which can run to over 10 pages. Don’t send a CV unless the position announcement asks for one!!

If I email my resume or submit it electronically, do I need a cover letter?

YES. A cover letter must always accompany your resume and/or application to an employer. When emailing your resume, you may choose to incorporate your cover letter into the email document. If you choose to attach and send the cover letter to be printed, be sure to include a brief introduction in the actual email document as well. Put a specific subject line and a brief message within your email document, to let the recipient know the attached files aren’t viruses. Career Advisors are happy to critique both resumes and cover letters on content and style.

Should I customize my resume for each employer?

YES. Put the information in order of what will be of most interest to an employer. You may want to use a summary statement or skills statement in place of an objective. A resume that looks like a form will not attract company interest. Employers want to know you are genuinely interested in them—not just in getting any job that will pay the bills. You will also miss the chance to make your resume stand out by its use of relevant terms and customization.

How can I highlight my education?

For most new graduates, their degree should be at or near the top of their resume. It’s important that you write out MSU, since several other universities have the same initials. Make sure that you emphasize what degree you earned, so it gets attention. The date of graduation is more important than how long you have been at MSU. Just put your expected graduation date, if you haven’t finished yet.

If you have coursework that is relevant to the position you are applying for, use the heading “coursework.” This will let you describe the contents of courses without worrying about the actual names.

Should I list all my classes on my resume?

Like most things concerning resumes, there are no specific rules. The majority of employers don’t want to see all the coursework you completed—especially if you include your polka classes. You can include specific lab techniques without mentioning classes, as mentioned above.

Some employers will ask for a list of your courses. This is often best done on a separate sheet from your resume. Do not just list the course number—that has no meaning outside the MSU community. You must state the course title.

Does volunteer work go on a resume?

YES. Relevant “work” experience is in no way limited to paid employment. Include non-paid work, volunteer work, part-time and temporary positions, internships, unstructured work, self-employment, odd jobs, and miscellaneous informal services you may have provided to your academic department or a favored professor—IF IT IS RELEVANT to the position you are applying for.