In order to write a great resume, it is important to understand what a resume is supposed
to accomplish in the job search (or internship search) process. The resume is simply
written communication between the two parties involved - the candidate/applicant and
the person doing the hiring or initial screening of candidates. That is why there
is no one resume format - an outline that you can follow - because the parties involved
are often very different. What is communicated about an applicant for teaching, management,
public relations, theatre or music performance, graphic design, and scientific or
technical positions varies because employers in those fields are looking for very
different kinds of information. That is why you often get conflicting advice about
how to write your resume. Evaluate that advice within the context of the two parties
involved in your communication. The more you know about the types of positions you
are seeking and the required as well as preferred characteristics of candidates for
those positions, the more effective you can be in writing your resume.
In spite of these important differences, however, there are some general guidelines
common to all resumes:
Brief and Concise
A one-page resume is preferred by many types of employers, especially those in business
and industry. Education candidates, however will often have a two page resume. The
resume should not be more than two pages, with post-master's candidates being the
exception to this general rule. In trying to communicate as much as possible with
as few words as possible, provide specific examples instead of broad, general terms.
Easy to Read at a Glance
Studies tell us that resumes are often skimmed in as few as 20 or 30 seconds in order
to separate the ones that will be looked at more closely from the ones that will not
be considered. You want yours to be in the first pile, of course. Try to use some
of the following techniques to guide the reader's eye quickly down the page:
Phrases vs. Sentences
Although our normal style of written communication is to write complete sentences
and group them into paragraphs, complete sentences are not used on resumes. When describing
your experiences, use phrases beginning with "action words" (past or present tense
verbs). See Career Guide R6, Action Verbs.
Lists vs. Paragraphs
For optimum skimming by the reader, these phrases should be listed one to a line,
using a bullet or other visual marker to indicate the beginning of each phrase.
Because most resume readers skim from top to bottom, it makes sense to organize your
information from most important to least important, putting your most important sections
first. An experienced candidate, therefore, may put an experience section first; while
an entry-level candidate may put an education section first. This is true regardless
of resume style, unless you use the chronological style (See Career Guide R4, Resume Styles).
Use of blank space
The way you use blank space, in your margins, between sections, and within sections,
will affect what the reader sees as he/she skims the page. The more blank space that
surrounds a word or group of words, the more visible they are. That is why section
headings are often placed by themselves along the left margin.
Judicious use of highlighting techniques, such as boldfacing, using all capital letters,
underlining and italics can call the attention of the reader to key words or sections.
Consistent layout patterns
Within each section, place the same type of information consistently in the same position.
This establishes a visual pattern that the reader quickly recognizes, and makes it
easy to locate certain information. For example, always placing the job title first
(or the name of the organization) in an experience section, placing the dates in the
same location (after the job title, after the name of the organization, or in the
left margin for a chronological style) provides a consistent pattern.
The visual message you want your resume to communicate is, "I am a competent professional."
That means that it should look attractive on the page (even margins, consistent spacing).
We recommend that you use a word processing program rather than a wizard or template
to create your document. If you are seeking a position that requires good design
skills, make sure your resume demonstrates those skills. Use good quality bond paper
with a sharp, clear, easy-to-read font. Print your final copies on a laser or quality
ink jet printer. Colored or shaded paper is sometimes acceptable. Consider how conservative
the organization/career field is when you select your paper.
Of course you don't want mistakes on your resume. They could communicate that you
are not very careful about how you do your work. Carefully proofread your resume drafts.
Be sure the resume is representative of your very best work.
For information about resume content and styles, refer to Career Guide R3,
Resumes: What to Include
and Career Guide R4,