Got Hired? The Do’s and Don’ts of Resumes, Cover Letters and Interviews

Whether you’re a month, a semester or a year into classes, you probably have your eyes set on one goal: landing your dream job. Afterall, having a career you’ll love was probably a main motivator to attend your higher education institution with TN Promise. While your dream job might seem far off on the horizon, internships and part-time jobs aren’t.

No matter what kind of job you’re currently hunting for, there will be three key components to the application process: the resume, the cover letter and the interview. As intimidating as these application steps may seem, following the guidelines below will help you remember the essentials, avoid major faux pas and hopefully get you a little bit closer to working in the field you’ve always imagined (or maybe just some extra cash).

  1. The Resume

No two resumes are alike- unless you’re using an online template. Resumes can be tricky because every employer has different preferences for page length and aesthetics, but there are a few resume tips almost all can agree on.


  • Keep the format simple and easy-to-read with a consistent, professional font.
  • Include your name, address and phone number at the top.
  • List your work experience from the most recent to the least recent jobs.
  • Use clear, strong language, and begin job descriptions with verbs rather than “I”.            Ex: “Managed international accounts,” not “I managed international accounts”
  • Highlight skills from previous jobs that are relevant to the job position you’re applying for.


  • Do NOT include personal information including: age, religion, political views or relationship status.
  • Do NOT add a photo of yourself to your resume.
  • Do NOT give lengthy descriptions of past job responsibilities- stick to bullet points and short, action-packed details.
  • Do NOT included previous wages you’ve made, or what you expect to make if you’re hired at the company you’re applying to.

If this is your first time making a resume, check your school’s career services website for more resume tips, or resume templates. Even though resume templates aren’t always suggested, they’re a helpful place to start.

  1. The Cover Letter

You’ve probably never had to write a cover letter before, but you know they’re important and you have no idea why. Sound about right? Don’t worry, most of us begin job hunting with little to no clue of a cover letter’s purpose. Unlike your resume, the cover letter is your chance to include longer descriptions about why you’re specifically qualified for the job you’re applying for. Here’s how, and how not, to brag about yourself in a cover letter.


  • Research the company, the position you want and the name of the person hiring you before you start your cover letter.
  • Address your letter to the person hiring, or your potential boss.
  • Use business-letter format
  • Begin your letter by stating what you hope to bring to the company if you’re hired.
  • Show enthusiasm by discussing why you love the company or their products- just be wary of going overboard.
  • Keep the length less than a page.


  • Do NOT use the same cover letter for multiple jobs- change the content to show you understand the specific job you’re applying for and the company.
  • Do NOT forget to proofread! A silly mistake could land your cover letter right in the trash.
  • Do NOT try to be funny or cute. Be yourself, but remember what the purpose of the letter is and remain professional. You can save the jokes for water cooler conversations after you get hired.
  • Do NOT make it lengthy or complicated to read.
  1. The Interview

Just thinking the word “interview” causes an instant case of sweaty palms and debilitating dry mouth for a lot of people, especially students. This process is new, daunting and sometimes a little painful; but there is hope! Remember, the more interviews you go through the better you’ll become, so don’t be overly critical of yourself after the first one. Keep these do’s and don’ts in the back of your mind and you’ll hear the words “You’re hired!” in no time.


  • Review the research you did on the company for your cover letter. Have an idea of their goals and what they’re looking for in this position.
  • Prepare questions you plan on asking the employer at the end of the interview. The questions can range from what the environment at the company is like to what an average day on the job would entail. Asking anything is better than nothing because it proves you’re genuinely interested in the position.
  • Dress professionally! If you really want the job, you’ll dress like someone who deserves it. You can review proper business attire in last week’s “Navigating the Career Fair” blog.
  • Be friendly, polite and SMILE. Forget about your nerves and rolling stomach for two seconds and act like there’s no place else you’d rather be. After a few minutes of pretending to be calm and collected, you actually will be.
  • Send a thank-you card after the interview, even if you did not get the job. You might not have had a stellar interview, but following up with a considerate thank-you note will put you back on the hiring company’s radar.


  • Do NOT be late! Being late for a job interview means you can say goodbye to ever having a chance at that company.
  • Do NOT talk too much. We can all be guilty of nervous rambling sometimes, but proving you’re an amicable listener is a virtue your employer will appreciate.
  • Do NOT forget copies of your resume and cover letter- it’s always a good idea to have back-up.
  • Do NOT lie about your skillsets. If an employer asks if you can do something you can’t, simply respond by saying you would be more than happy and eager to learn that skill. Pretending to be someone you’re not will not impress anyone and hurt the company’s impression of you later.
  • Do NOT ask how much the position pays until you’ve been offered the job.
  • Do NOT be too discouraged if you’re not hired immediately after the interview, or at all. There will always be another job, another opportunity and another interview.

By now you might be thinking that job hunting is one of the most tedious, complicated tasks you’ll ever have to do- and you’re not wrong. Properly applying to a job takes time and practice, just like anything else. As a tnAchieves student, you have the determination and tools to be successful, and we know in the end you will be. These tips and tricks to landing your next job, or dream job, are only meant to make the path to success a little less bumpy along the way.

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