Résumé tips

The résumé is a marketing tool. It should be targeted to the specific position and company/organization. The résumé may be used for various reasons (such as to provide your credentials for publications and presentations at workshops and conferences), but our focus is using the résumé in the job search.

The résumé's purpose is to inform the reader of your skills, achievements, and experiences that qualify you for the position. However, it has another purpose also: to persuade the employer to meet with you in an interview. 

Similar to a job application, the résumé should be honest and correct. Unlike an application, though, the résumé is not a legal document but instead is a marketing document.

Professionals have a wide range of opinions concerning content, organization, and design of résumés; and often these opinions vary by industry. A theatre résumé's content and design is different from an accounting résumé's content and design, for example.

However, résumés have many objective qualities that most people agree on. For example, most agree that the applicant's name and contact information should be at the top of the résumé, that headings should be used to identify the sections clearly, and that the text should be readable and correct. 

Following are some tips on appearance, organization, and content. For more details, please read our handout on résumés.

Appearance

Before we read a résumé's content, the first thing we notice is its appearance. A résumé with very little text gives the impression that the candidate lacks substance. On the other hand, if the document appears too text-heavy and has very little white space, the employer may find it too cumbersome to read.

Research shows that recruiters spend about six seconds on the first pass-through of a résumé; therefore, readers need to access the information quickly and easily. 

Length

You will hear different opinions concerning the length of résumés: some employers prefer one-page résumés, and some employers have no preference.

  • Unless you need a curriculum vitae, résumés are typically one to two pages. For many current students and recent graduates, one page usually is sufficient.
  • If you have more than five years of experience, you may need a two-page résumé. For two-page résumés, text should fill at least half of the second page. If only a few lines go to the second page, then edit the information to reduce to one page. If a second page is needed, include your name and page 2 at the top of the page.
  • If you are giving an employer a printout of a two-page résumé (such as at a career fair), do not staple the pages.

Printout quality

  • Print using white or ivory résumé paper (typically 100% cotton/linen) on the correct side of the paper with the watermark readable.
  • Ensure the reproduction is high quality: no smudging, no faint letters, no crooked printouts.
  • Print only on one side of the paper.

Layout

  • Avoid using a template. The résumé should be a unique document fitting the individual and tailored to the specific position/company. In addition to templates making the résumés look the same, they sometimes are difficult to reformat and restructure.
  • Ensure a good balance of white space and text: too much white space makes the résumé look "empty." Not enough white space makes it look crowded and can be difficult to read.
  • Avoid graphics, shading and decorative fonts. Exceptions to this may be in creative fields such as illustration or graphic design.

Typeface

  • Use 11-12 point professional font for body text. The point size for your name may be larger, since this acts as a "title" of the document.
  • Arial and Calibri are examples of sans serif fonts. Times New Roman is an easy-to-access serif font. Avoid decorative typefaces or unprofessional typefaces (such as Comic Sans or Papyrus).
  • Do not overuse emphasis (bold, italics, capitalization) and be consistent in its use.

Organization

  • Layout needs to be organized, consistent, readable and concise.
  • Use the "inverted pyramid" technique, listing the most important or relevant information near the top, then first and the less important information thereafter.
  • Within a section (Education or Experience, for example), organize the entries in reverse chronological order, beginning with the most recent experience.
  • Use bulleted lists is the descriptions of your experiences; bulleted lists are easier to read than paragraphs of text. Organize the items in the bulleted list from most important to least important.
  • Select a format that best showcases your skills and experiences: Chronological, Functional (Skills), or Combination (Hybrid).

Content

Every résumé should be a targeted résumé with the content tailored to the specific employer/position.

Relevant

  • All information needs to be relevant to the position to which you are applying.
  • Focus upon your experiences, qualifications, skills and attributes relevant to the position.
  • If you don't know the characteristics employers desire in candidates, research job listings and position descriptions on the web.
  • Use the terminology of your profession to describe your skills, achievements and responsibilities. Quantify your information as much as possible. For example, if you increased membership in an organization, how much was that increase?
  • Use action verbs to begin your descriptions. (Action verbs list)

Identifying information

  • At the top of the résumé put your full legal name, street address, city/state/zip code, phone number, and e-mail address. However, if you are posting your résumé online (such as in an online portfolio or in a LinkedIn profile), omit the street address.
  • If you have an online portfolio or a LinkedIn profile, you may include their URLs.
  • Your name should be in a slightly larger point size and in bold. You also could use all uppercase letters.

Objectives and qualifications summaries

  • Including an objective is optional. If you state an objective, it should be the first heading after your identification.
  • An alternative to an objective is a qualifications summary or skills statement. This enables you to profile no more than seven qualifications or skills relevant to the job to which you are applying.
  • A third option is a career statement. This profiles your attributes and career goals.

Education information

  • Under Education, include accurate degree title and major/minor, university name and location, graduation/expected graduation date (month/year), and GPA.
  • You should include overall and major GPAs, certifications, and other educational highlights relevant to your objective.

Experience information

  • If you have a variety of work experiences you wish to include, but some are more relevant than others, you may want to divide the experiences into two headings: Relevant Experience and Other Employment.
  • Headings for experience can be more descriptive if appropriate, such as Teaching Experience or Managerial Experience.
  • For each experience, include your job title, employer name and location (city and state), and dates of employment.
  • For the experiences that are relevant to your occupational interests, include a bullet list with items that clearly and concisely describe your accomplishments and skills. (See the action verbs list.)

Additional sections

  • Below are examples of additional sections you may wish to include.
    • Activities
    • Awards
    • Certifications
    • Community Service/Volunteer Experience
    • Computer Skills
    • Honors
    • Languages
    • Military Experience
    • Professional Organizations
    • Publications
    • Technical Skills

Attention to detail

  • PROOFREAD! Eliminate all typos, misspellings, and grammatical errors. 
  • Ask others to give you feedback on your résumé. Each semester the Career Center conducts Résumé Madness events, in which résumés are reviewed. Walk-in hours are available every spring and fall semester when classes are in session.