How important is a resume?

In the past, resumes and cover letters were the primary method to introduce yourself. Increasingly, they are merely a trigger within an employer’s Applicant Tracking System (ATS). These tools search through submitted resumes for keywords and related semantic context. It is daunting as a job candidate to submit your qualifications and not have much control. The hiring process is opaque and full of unknowns. However, the good news is that the hiring “funnel” is becoming wider than in the past; Meaning, more candidates are received into the first stage of the hiring process. Digital interviewing technology like AI-based video interviews make this possible. Candidates must still trigger the process with either a resume or a submission of their LinkedIn or Handshake profile. The tools below will help to improve them.

Types of Resumes

Chronological Resume​

Employers typically prefer this type of resume because they can easily scan which jobs you have held, when you held them, and what you accomplished there.

Chronological resumes benefit job seekers with a strong work history.

  1. Work History - Begin with your most recent position first and continue in reverse chronological order
  2. Key Accomplishments & Qualifications - Supplement each position listed to detail work you have done in the past and what you are capable of doing.
  3. Education - Include schools you attended with dates, degree(s) earned, major(s)/minor(s), and any honors or awards received. 
  4. Skills - List applicable skills such as computer skills, laboratory skills, languages spoken, etc.

Note: New graduates should list education before experience.

Example (PDF)

Functional Resume

Consider a functional resume if you’re a new graduate without much professional experience or if you have noticeable gaps in your work history.

A functional resume can benefit job seekers who are changing careers to a field very different from their previous experience.

Keep in mind that many recruiters and employers do not prefer functional resumes and they are not always accepted on online employer career pages and job sites.

  1. Skills - Highlight skills acquired instead of listing a complete work history
  2. Experience - Focus on a few key areas, listing responsibilities and accomplishments for each experience area
  3. Skill Clusters - Be specific to the position and provide lots of context

Example (PDF)

Combination Resume

Chronological Resume + Functional Resume = Combination Resume

  1. Skill Clusters - Be specific to the position and provide lots of context including accomplishments
  2. Work History - Begin with your most recent position first and continue in reverse chronological order
    • Job Title
    • Company Name & Location
    • Dates of Employment

Note: You do not need to list what you did at each job because that information is already included in your professional skills section.

Example (PDF)

Using Resume Templates

Optimal Resume provides the best choice for templates. Microsoft Word and Google Docs have several formats, but they are difficult to change and edit. There are many web-based services that offer attractive, clean designs, and you can download your document to a PDF. However, they typically require you to pay for a plan. A tool for developing the bullet points in your resume is Resume Assistant on MS Word within the Review tab. It offers suggested text for your work experiences. These can be good models. However, it’s best to develop these descriptions on your own. Employers search for plagiarism on resumes. Resumes are an iterative writing exercise. 

Using Resume Evaluation Sites

Several websites score a resume’s impact, keywords, and presentation. Their comments can help to improve first drafts. These are general evaluations, and sometimes the trade skills of occupations like Education or Nursing are not recognized in the score. They also don’t weave an individual’s strengths into the document to show coherency and transferability between jobs. For candidates who might be changing careers or moving from non-degreed jobs to their first professional job, this is an important factor to consider. A resume that is personalized with an individual’s strengths can sometimes make a difference.

Cover Letter

A cover letter accompanies your resume when applying for positions. It lets employers know why you are interested in the position and their organization.


  • Customize each cover letter to match your skills and experience to the position.
  • Adhere to application guidelines.
  • A well written, free of errors and grammatically correct cover letter is a must! Do not overuse the word “I.”
  • Be sure to lead with the correct verb tense. 
  • Read your letter out loud to ensure that your ideas flow and to catch any awkward sentences or overuse of words or phrases.
  • As a final check, have your letter reviewed.

Contact Information

Identify the name and title of the person to whom the letter should be addressed. If contact information cannot be obtained, address the letter to “Dear Hiring Manager.”


Cover letters are composed of three to four paragraphs and should not exceed one page in lengths.

Example (PDF)

Salary Requirements

If you are required to include salary requirements, always state your requirements in a range and that you want to learn more about the position by meeting with them. Form your response on the basis of your research, not your personal need, such as: “Based on the research I have done for this position, it seems the salary range is…”

If an employer asks you to include salary history, avoid answering. This question is illegal in an increasing number of states.