Resume & Cover Letter Guidelines

Based on years of experience with recruiters, Career Services recommends the following guidelines for resumes and cover letters.

If you have questions or would like to review your resume with Career Services, contact Nell Madigan at



  • Keep resume to one page, listing experience, education and leadership in reverse chronological order.
  • Use one color and font throughout the document. To differentiate titles and headers, use different type treatments, but keep these to a minimum. Serif fonts are easier to read than sans-serif fonts in resumes. (Experiment with Times New Roman, Georgia, Garamond or Bookman Old Style. Font size will vary depending on font and size of your margin.)
  • Keep indents and tabs to a minimum so your resume will better translate to document readers that employers use for online submissions.
  • Start each bullet with an action verb such as accomplished, reviewed, initiated. Bullet points are not complete sentences, so periods are not needed. If you do choose to use them, be consistent throughout the document.
  • Include your GPA. It’s not required, but recruiters often ask for it and will assume it’s not stellar if not included. It is fine to use your cumulative or major GPA’s as you wish, but be clear about what the number represents.
  • Talk about the results of your actions rather than listing tasks. Use numbers, dollar amounts and concrete examples to illustrate specific accomplishments.
  • Write out numbers ten and under. Use numerals only for larger numbers.
  • Highlight skills that would transfer to a position in HR– recruiting, training, using Excel or other software to analyze statistics, handling confidential data, solving problems, managing programs, speaking another language.
  • Emphasize your leadership skills. Show how you took initiative or influenced others through work experience or extracurricular activities – events you’ve planned, money you’ve raised, or teammates you’ve motivated.
  • If you are an international student, include your work-authorization status to reduce confusion with prospective employers.
  • Ask several people to proofread your document. Be aware that Microsoft Word spellcheck does not recognize words in all caps.
  • Study our samples. “Sample 1” is a good example of a student with no “real” work experience highlighting leadership and campus roles. Note that “Sample 2” has multiple positions with the same organization, and combines into one entry for ease of reading.


  • Don’t include content that dates as far back as high school.
  • Don’t include an “objective” – instead, consider a summary of qualifications or personal profile. Write in third person and highlight accomplishments that set you apart, for example:
    Personable and motivated entry-level human resources professional with experience in both union and nonunion environments. Skilled in project design and implementation. Efficient presentation and communication skills acquired through student leadership positions.
  • Don’t use a huge amount of space for your degrees and honors. Combine where possible. If both degrees are from Illinois, combine as our samples above do. If you have a number of honors, include that under the appropriate degree. It’s more important to show accomplishments than lists of accolades.
  • Don’t use acronyms for terms your reader may not know. If you worked at the ARC, spell out Activities and Recreation Center.
  • Don’t use abbreviations or characters such as “etc.” and “&.” Spell the word instead.
  • Don’t list basic software/technology skills such as Microsoft Office – it is assumed you have these skills.

Cover Letter

In many cases, you will have the opportunity to submit a cover letter when applying for a position.

  • Write a separate cover letter for each employer, addressing its specific needs, culture, and the position for which you are applying.
  • Don’t use the cover letter as an opportunity to rehash your resume. Highlight your specific competitive advantages relative to what you have learned about the company through your research.
  • Don’t start each paragraph with the “I.”
  • Address the letter to a specific person, not “To Whom it May Concern” or “Human Resources Department.” Research or network to find the appropriate contact when possible.
  • If sending a hard copy, match font styles and paper type to your resume.
  • Edit carefully for grammar and punctuation.
  • This letter is a direct reflection of you and your skills, attitude, personality and ability. Make it action-oriented and enthusiastic.