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Resume Writing and CVs

A resume is a synopsis of what you have to offer an employer for a particular job. Its purpose is to organize the relevant facts about you in a written presentation, which will serve as your personal advertisement. Your resume must indicate WHO you are, WHAT kind of work you can do, and HOW you are qualified. It must sell as well as tell!


  1. Before You Start
  2. Planning Your Resume
  3. Resume Formats
    1. Functional Format
    2. Reverse Chronological Format
  4. Resume Review
  5. Contents of a Resume
    1. Action Verbs
  6. Resumes for Federal Jobs
  7. Resumes and Technology
    1. Emailing Your Resume
    2. Scannable Resume
  8. Writing a CV or Curriculum Vitae

Before You Start

Your resume should be well-planned, distinctive, and professional in appearance. Good format and well-written text improves readership. Each statement needs to be accurate and not overly inflated. Avoid either revealing potentially negative information unnecessarily, or selling short your accomplishments. Consistency in date, punctuation, indentation, style and tense is very important. If a second page is needed, repeat your name at the top. Refer to sample resumes (links on right side), as a springboard to developing your own resume. Resumes are different from a curriculum vitae, or CV (which is much more extensive) and in the U.S. is most often used when applying for jobs in higher education or research.

Planning Your Resume

Before you can write a persuasive resume, you need to follow these steps:

  • Ask: what is the employer looking for in a potential candidate?
  • Ask: what skills/qualities can you offer an employer?
  • Review want ads and articles in newspapers and professional journals to become familiar with current trends, issues, and jargon in your field.
  • Analyze your past experiences (courses, special projects, paid employment, community involvement, clubs, and student organizations) to determine in what ways you have demonstrated desired qualifications.
  • Don't automatically discount minor or unrelated jobs. Employers are interested in the total person, so consider all aspects of your background as possible strengths. Ask yourself what you learned from these experiences, what qualities were necessary for good performance, and how these might be applicable to your objective.
  • Formal education and previous experience related to your field are your most significant qualifications. Don't underestimate the skills you have acquired from your courses and projects, you do have related experience from your classes, labs, and projects.

Resume Formats

The two most frequently used formats are reverse chronological and functional. Choose the resume format that most effectively markets your skills and experiences.

Functional Format

This format goes beyond simply outlining experience and education. It is appropriate for a more seasoned individual. The focus is on "transferable skills." The key element of this resume is the section on skills. The skill clusters chosen should support the stated job objective. Group your work accomplishments, responsibilities, and duties according to functional skill areas such as "Computer Skills", "Technical Skills", "Project Planning Skills", "Managerial Skills", "Sales", "Communication". Choose your skill headings according to your job objective and briefly describe, using action statements, the work you did in each of the broad categories you identify. Work history and job titles take a subordinate position in this format. In fact, you may draw upon volunteer positions, education and other life experiences for many of the skills you wish to note.

Reverse Chronological Format

This format typifies 80% of all resumes. It is most appropriate for the typical student or new graduate. Education and job history are described in descending order, with the most recent events first. It tends to emphasize job titles and organizations.

Resume Review

After you have written a draft of your resume, have someone give you feedback on it. Your career services coordinator in the Office Career Services is available to look over your resume with you.

Contents of a Resume

  • Identifying Information - your name, address, telephone number and e-mail address. Usually both local and permanent data should be indicated. Consider including your personal URL (if appropriate).
  • Job Objective - a brief statement indicating the type of opportunity by title and/or function. Make sure your objective fits the type of job you want.
  • Educational Background - list of colleges and universities attended, dates, degrees, diplomas, and certificates with emphasis on highest-level achieved and special training pertinent to your job objective. List your major(s) and any concentration. You may also include your GPA and any academic honors received at each school. Don't include high school information.
  • Experience or Work History - indicate dates of employment, name of employer, city and state, title of each position. Describe your major duties and responsibilities and relate any notable achievements (e.g. promotion) and/or skills developed. Use action words to attract attention to your skills and accomplishments (refer to the action verb list in this handout). You may want to have one section for related work experience and a separate section for other experience. Employment relevant to your stated job objective should be elaborated on; that which is unrelated, including part-time, should be mentioned briefly.
  • Skills Section - a list of specific skills and abilities most useful in your career field. For example, computer, technical, laboratory, foreign languages.
  • Activities or Interests - at least a brief mention of extracurricular activities, professional memberships and affiliations, community activities, or hobbies. Be sure to mention any offices held.
  • Optional Categories - Military record, licenses/certifications, publications, major projects (e.g. research), other experiences (e.g. volunteer, travel)

Action Verbs

Start sentences with action verbs, not "duties included" or "I was responsible for". Verbs should be in the past tense for a job that is over and present tense for a current job. The following list of action words should be used to accentuate tasks, functions and achievements when describing work and other experiences:

Counseled Created

Resumes for Federal Jobs

What are the differences between a federal and a private industry resume? More information can be found on our Federal Job Search page.

Private Industry
1-2 pages
No social security number, supervisors, or salaries
Fewer details in descriptions
Creative, graphic, functional resumes are acceptable
Keywords are desirable

Federal Government
3-5 pages is acceptable
supervisor’s names, salaries
More details for work descriptions to demonstrate your qualifications for a job
Chronological, traditional format
Keywords are needed

Resumes and Technology

Emailing Your Resume

Employers are requesting, sometimes requiring, that resumes be sent by e-mail. Follow these guidelines for an effective e-mail version of your resume:

  • Prepare several different file format versions of your resume. For example, a text version comes in handy when you need to paste your resume into text fields provided by job sites. Word document and Adobe PDF format resumes are most widely used and readily accessible by employers. Employers may request that resumes be submitted in a certain file format for e-mail purposes.
  • Do try to keep file size small; 500 KB is a good size to aim for.
  • Don't include your resume as an attachment only. Instead, include your resume as part of your email message, perhaps separated by something like the following: [begin resume] and [end resume] and indicate that it is attached to the e-mail as a Word or PDF document.
  • Don't use boldface, underlining, or bullets in your resume when it is included as part of the email text. You can use asterisks (*) or plus signs (+) instead of bullets and do consider using CAPITAL letters as a highlighting technique.
  • As a test, before e-mailing it to employers, be sure the format transfers as desired.
  • You can mail an original resume to the employer as a follow up to your e-mail.
  • Always include a cover letter as part of your e-mail message text. Follow the same guidelines for cover letter development as you would if you were mailing a cover letter to an employer by regular mail.

Scannable Resume

Many large companies use scanning technologies as a productivity aid in human resources. Resume images are entered into a system using an optical scanner, thereby building a database of applicant information. The employer then accesses candidates by searching this database for those with desired qualifications. You may choose to develop a separate version of your resume in scannable format.

These systems search by using "key words" (particularly nouns) or phrases. So, in order for your resume to have appeal to those in your chosen field, explicitly and extensively use the jargon of that field! Caution: when including acronyms alone be sure they are widely recognized; otherwise spell the words out.

Tips for Designing your Resume

  • Standard Serif and Sans Serif fonts work best - Arial, Times New Roman, Helvetica, Futura, Palatino. Avoid ornate fonts. You can use two different fonts - one for headings and one for the rest of your text.
  • Font size is also important; sizes between 9 - 10 pt. work best.
  • Italics and underlining. Use bold for emphasis.
  • Use vertical or horizontal lines sparingly, leave at least a quarter of an inch of space around the line.
  • Avoid shading, shadowing, and boxes.
  • Do not compress or expand the space between letters or lines. Do not double space within sections.
  • The resume you submit should be printed with a laser printer on white or light-colored paper.
  • Position your name at the top of the page on its own line; use standard address format and place each phone number on its own line.
  • Do not fold or staple the resume – if mailing your resume.

Writing a CV or Curriculum Vitae

What Is A Curriculum Vitae? Also called a CV or vita, the curriculum vitae is, as its name suggests, an overview of your life's accomplishments, most specifically those that are relevant to the academic realm. In the United States, the curriculum vitae is used almost exclusively when one is pursuing an academic job. The curriculum vitae is a living document, which will reflect the developments in a scholar/teacher's career, and thus should be updated frequently. (Other countries prefer the C.V. to a resume for a job search - do your research). 

How Is A CV Different From A Rresume? The most noticeable difference between most CVs and most resumes is the length. Entry level resumes are usually limited to a page. CVs, however, often run to three or more pages. (Remember, however, that length is not the determinant of a successful CV. You should try to present all the relevant information that you possibly can, but you should also try to present it in as concise a manner as possible.) A more subtle but equally important distinction is that whereas the goal of a resume is to construct a professional identity, the goal of a CV is quite specifically to construct a scholarly identity. Thus, your CV will need to reflect very specifically your abilities as a teacher, researcher, and publishing scholar within your discipline. 

What Should be Included? Your CV should include your name and contact information, an overview of your education, your academic and related employment (especially teaching, editorial, or administrative experience), your research projects (including conference papers and publications), and your departmental and community service. You should also include a reference list, either as part of your CV, or on a separate page. Also, if you have a dossier containing confidential references available, you should mention that on your CV as well.

What comes first depends both on your background and on the job for which you are applying. Typically, the first item on a CV for a job candidate directly out of grad school will start with the candidate's education listed in reverse chronological order. Frequently the title and even a brief description of the dissertation will be included in this portion. After that, you will want to determine both what the jobs that you are interested in require and where your strengths lie. When determining what comes after your educational credentials, remember that the earlier in your document a particular block of information comes, the more emphasis you will be placing on that block of information. Thus, the most important information should come first. If you are applying at a research university, research projects, conference presentations, and especially publications become very important.

If you are applying to a liberal arts college or community college that strongly emphasizes teaching, then showing your teaching background is of paramount importance. In any case, you will want to be sure that the information that will be most helpful in determining your qualifications for the job for which you are employing comes before information that will be less helpful. 

Standard Format? One of the most important things to remember when working on your curriculum vitae is that there is not one standard format. There are different emphases in each discipline, and a good CV is one that emphasizes the points that are considered to be most important in your discipline and conforms to standard conventions within your discipline.

So how can you find out what these conventions are? A good place to start is to find as many examples as possible of CVs by people in your discipline who have recently been on the job market. You can find these by asking other grad students and junior faculty in your department if you can have a look at their CV's, and you can also make use of the Internet to find CV samples in your discipline. 
One caveat to remember regarding examples, however, is that they should never be used as models to be followed in every detail. Instead, they should be used as sources of strategies for how to present your own information most effectively. The most effective formatting for you will likely be distinguishable from the most effective formatting for someone else because your experiences and strengths will be different, and you will thus benefit from formatting adapted specifically to your situation.
How Should I Construct My Work Description Entries?
Short, brief phrases are acceptable in a resume - you do not need to use complete well-constructed sentences. In fact, it is better if you don't because then you can present your information as clearly and concisely as possible. For example, instead of writing, "I taught composition for four years, during which time I planned classes and activities, graded papers, and constructed exams. I also met with students regularly for conferences," you might write, "Composition Instructor (2010-2014). Planned course activities. Graded alassignments. Held regular conferences with students." By using incomplete sentences here, you cut out unnecessary words and allow your reader to see quickly what you have been doing. 
Consistency if very important. Generally, you will want to keep the structure of your phrases and/or sentences consistent throughout your document. Thus, if you use verb phrases in one portion of your CV to describe your duties, try to use them throughout your CV. Particularly within entries, make sure that the structure of your phrases is the same so that your reader can understand what you are communicating easily.
One distinction between the work description sections of resumes and CVs is that bullets are very commonly used in resumes and tend to appear somewhat less frequently in CVs. Whether or not you use bullets to separate lines in your CV should depend on how the bullets will affect the appearance of your CV If you have a number of descriptive statements about your work that all run to about a line in length, bullets can be a good way of separating them. If, however, you have a lot of very short phrases, breaking them up into bulleted lists can leave a lot of white space that could be used more efficiently. Remember that the principles guiding any decision you make should be conciseness and ease of readability.