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

  • Unless you need a curriculum vitae, résumés are typically one to two pages. For most current students and recent graduates, one page usually is sufficient. If more than one page, text should fill at least half of the second page. If not, 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 design.
  • Use 11-12 point professional font for body text. Arial and Calibri are a couple of examples of sans serif fonts. Times New Roman is a easy-to-access serif font. Avoid decorative typefaces or unprofessional typefaces (such as Comic Sans or Papyrus). The points size for your name may be slightly larger, since this acts as a "title" of the document.
  • Do not overuse emphasis (bold, italics, capitalization) and be consistent in its use.
  • Templates should be avoided to ensure a unique document fitting individual specifications.
  • PROOFREAD! Eliminate all typos, misspellings and grammatical errors.

Organization

  • Layout needs to be organized, consistent, readable and concise.
  • Use of bulleted lists is easier to read than paragraphs of text.
  • Use the "inverted pyramid" technique, listing the most important or relevant information near the top, then first and the less important information thereafter.
  • Select a format that best showcases you: Chronological, Functional, Combination.
    • Chronological Format: This style presents education and work experience in a reverse chronological order, beginning with the most recent experience. This format is most common since it is the easiest to create and many employers prefer it for its clarity and straightforwardness. It works well for the more conservative career fields. (Sample of chronological résumé)
    • Functional Format: This style organizes experience into functions or skills. Focusing upon accomplishments, it stresses skills and de-emphasizes when or where they took place. This format works best for career changers, for people with diverse but unrelated experience or for individuals who have gaps in their employment history. (Sample of functional résumé)
    • Combination Format: This style uses functional or skill heading within a chronological format to showcase skills or to position an important work experience before other work experiences. The combination format is especially conducive for tailoring to the specific position. (Sample of combination résumé)

Content

  • 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.
  • Use action verbs to begin your descriptions. (Action verbs list)
  • At the top of the résumé put your full legal name, street address, phone number and e-mail address.
  • Your name should be in a slightly larger point size.
  • Don't forget zip codes and area codes.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 Business Experience.
  • Headings for experience can be more descriptive if appropriate, such as Teaching Experience or Managerial experience.
  • For each work experience, include your job title, employer name and location (city and state), dates of employment, and work achievements.
  • Below is a list of additional sections you may wish to include.
    • Activities
    • Awards
    • Certifications
    • Community Service
    • Computer Skills
    • Honors
    • Languages
    • Military Experience
    • Professional Organizations
    • Publications
    • Technical Skills
    • Volunteer Service