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Intro to Resume Writing
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!
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.
The two most frequently used formats are reverse chronological and functional. Choose the resume format that most effectively markets your skills and experiences.
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.
After you have written a draft of your resume, have someone give you feedback on it. Your program coordinator in the Office of Co-op & 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)
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:
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.
No social security number, supervisors, or salaries
Fewer details in descriptions
Creative, graphic, functional resumes are acceptable
Keywords are desirable
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.
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 - Ariel, 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.
Resume Samples by College (PDF)
Template and Format Examples
Curriculum Vitae Sample Links