Resume Best Practices

Though not the sexiest topic for a professional social media blog, resumes are an essential aspect of professionalism—one that most people our age are consistently mystified by. There is so much conflicting advice about the proper way to write a resume, even within the University itself. There are some things that Career Services swears by that I, as a resume consultant at the Writing Center, think are just awful to include on a resume. It’s difficult to definitively identify the “do’s” and “don’ts” of resume-writing because the people reviewing those resumes vary so much themselves! Nevertheless, in this blog post, I’ll outline some of the common conflicting opinions on resume best practices and attempt to help you navigate them.


  1. Design. One popular piece of advice is to give your resume a unique design. This actually makes a lot of sense. Most people who review applications have to look through dozens of resumes and cover letters, many of which look like identical Word documents. In general, you should try anything that can set you apart from the horde of fellow millenials vying for the same position you are, and a unique (but still professional) looking resume can do just that.

    The flip side of that is that highly corporate businesses DO NOT appreciate creatively designed resumes. They really won’t even look at anything other than the generic Word document; something as minor as changing the margins could take you out of consideration for the position.

    My advice: It depends on what position you’re applying for. The more corporate the setting is you want to enter, the less creative you should be with your design. But for positions outside of the business world, an interesting resume is a fantastic way to stand out from the crowd.

  1. Objective, Skills, and Coursework. Remember earlier when I said I thought Career Services does something I hate with resumes? Well, this is it. All of their sample resumes include sections for “Objective,” “Skills,” and “Coursework.” And I understand why they do. Many of the people who frequent Career Services are underclassmen looking for their first real professional positions. They probably have very little to put on a resume, and need to take up space on the page while also somehow managing to sell themselves to employers despite their lack of experience.

    The reason I get so mad at Career Services over this is that they never specify that the samples they provide are made with freshmen in mind. Once you have actual professional experience, you need to get rid of them! Room on your resume runs out fast, and you need to fit as much about your professional experience and skills as possible on that single page. You can’t waste space on irrelevant information like your objective (which is always to get the job you’re applying for, so it’s completely redundant) or your applicable coursework (if they wanted to know that, they’d ask for your transcripts). Skills can be a valuable section, but should be reserved for things like language fluency or computer skills.

    My advice: For the love of god, only use them if you don’t have experience that you can use for your resume. The second you do, get that garbage off your resume.


  1. Sentences. Another common debate is whether you’re allowed to use full sentences on a resume, or if you should stick to bullet points. To be honest, I really don’t have a strong opinion one way or the other on this one. I do tend to prefer including a handful of bullet points about each entry on my resume as opposed to short paragraphs about each one. It allows you to include more information on the page, while creating some white space that makes your resume more aesthetically pleasing.
    Untitled2  vs. Untitled1

    But there are benefits to writing in complete sentences. For one thing, it takes up more space on the page, which—as in the case of the inexperienced freshman mentioned earlier—can be useful if you don’t have much to put on a resume and need to full up space. And the large blocks of text will require you to leave bigger spaces between each section to avoid looking cramped, which will also help with the space issue. In addition, crafting complete sentences for your resume will show off your writing skills to your potential employer. Now, many would say that it’s not a resume’s job to show off your writing skills (and I would tend to agree with them). Then again, you can never be too good a writer, right?

    My advice: As with the optional sections, it can be a good idea for people who don’t have much in the way of content for their resume, but in general I think bullets are a better tactic. Just remember to make sure you’re starting each bullet with active verbs and you’re using the same tense!

So those are my two cents on the topic of resume-writing. Feel free to argue with me in the comments, or add some of your own tricks for navigating the never-ending sea of resume advice.

 *All images in this article are licensed for free public use.


6 thoughts on “Resume Best Practices

  1. This was all really good advice! I definitely agree with you that certain resume advisors give the same generic advice to everyone and it is very frustrating. I have always thought the objective is a waste of space. Usually what it says is either a duplicate of the job posting or your cover letter, so why bother? I have learned that there are a few good situations for using it where it can clarify things or when it might be useful to be sure it is there even if it is a duplicate of info on your cover letter. You would be surprised how often people in HR skip over a cover letter or read it second. So in my experience here are good times to include it: if you are sending/giving a resume as an open inquiry, as in not in response to a specific job posting; if you are changing careers and your experience doesn’t match your job goal; if the business you are applying to prefers it (example: UPMC).


  2. I definitely know what you mean by saying that the Career Development office gives out some irrelevant advice, but I have gotten a lot of use out of them so I don’t want to say anything too bad about them. I think my main concern with resumes is what you mentioned about how creative to make them. I used to use a pretty plain Word document, but in one of my other classes we had to make a resume in InDesign. I really liked the way mine came out–it was much different than my old one but was still mostly professional-looking–but I still am wary to use it. And because I haven’t really used that version yet, I don’t know what to expect from employers. It makes me nervous that it isn’t exactly “traditional,” yet I still want to make myself stand out. It’s a tough balancing act, but I hope once I become more familiar with the working world I will understand better what employers are looking for.


  3. This is such a great post! I love how you start off with explaining how to make your resume stand out. I feel that Pitt does not do a great job of instilling this is students- but rather has everyone’s resume look the same. Here’s a link to another sample resume which I feel really stands out. This is a helpful post for those currently looking for jobs.


  4. I like the different sections you talked about and how you compared the standard advice with your opinions; it gave the typical “Resume Tips” article a fresh approach. I also dislike the “objective” section of a resume, and unless a company has multiple positions that are similar, I never include it (unless I have room, which is rare). I had a professor that suggested having one or two lines under your heading for “key skills.” I like this idea because you can list a few skills or adjectives (as qualities) in a series, and it’s more useful than having an objective in that spot. It gives the resume-reviewer a sense of what you think is important to note and how you know the exact qualities that job calls for. I have the “key skills” bold on my resume and then listed like the following:

    key skills: cool, dope, on fleek, 100


  5. I loved this post and found it extremely useful, especially considering that we just worked on our resumes in my internship class and I applied for quite a few internships for the summer using my revamped resume. I hadn’t really considered changing up the design/layout of the resume because I always assumed them to be plain, straight-forward, and professional, but I do agree that if you are applying for a job where creativity is a key factor, changing the design can be a bonus in your favor. I also just got rid of my objective because prior to coming to Pitt, I didn’t have much relevant experience on my resume– I am so thankful that chunk of nonsense is gone.


  6. This is very helpful especially since I am graduating in the fall and have not put out a resume in over 15 years! I am switching careers and definitely need a whole new design for my resume. The breakdown of how coursework, skills, and objective should be set up for specific types of occupations is useful to know. I really like Rebecca’s sample resume with a simple,concise, and colorful presentation. Thanks for making me aware of what is expected to be presented for a proper resume for specific types of companies.


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