The first "reader" of many resumes is a computer programmed to scan the document for key words and qualifications. This reality makes it crucial that you tailor your resume to individual positions, clearly present the qualifications you have that match those requested by the employer, use the lingo of the field and integrate the language of the posting. If your resume makes it through the computer software, a human resource staff member will typically do an initial screening of your resume. Employers generally spend about 30 seconds screening a resume, which means your document has to be written and formatted to make it more "skimmable". Keep in mind these important points as you write yours:
- This is a marketing document, not a biography.
- The overall appearance is important. Avoid templates, as they are difficult to tailor and update and often don't work well with online application software. Avoid headers and embedded boxes for the same reason.
- Be brief, clear, neat, and honest.
- Your resume should be well organized and easy to follow. Category divisions should be clearly distinguished so readers can easily find information they are seeking.
- The resume should be tailored to the opportunity you are seeking.
- Use key words of the field and specific language of the job posting to increase your odds of making it through the computer scanning. These are needed when people are scanning your resume, too.
- Minimize abbreviations to only those that are well known, e.g., states.
- Make sure all relevant education, experience and skills are clearly highlighted. Avoid overload of unrelated jobs or information.
- List items in categories in reverse chronological order (i.e., most recent degree or job first).
- Be focused; employers do not want to make career decisions for you.
- Emphasize experiences and skills that will distinguish you from other candidates.
- Remember your resume is a formal, professional document and a work sample.
- Assume that spelling mistakes, grammar errors, or typos will take you out of the running for an employment position.
- Know that a one-page or two-page resume is acceptable for most employers.
- Unless instructed otherwise by the employer or applying on software that doesn't accommodate a letter, send a cover letter with your resume.
Typical Resume Categories
Resumes organize information by categories. The following are categories often included in resumes. These are typical headings but not the only ones you can include. Use them as guidelines in developing your first draft.
Always include your name, local and permanent addresses and phone numbers, and your email address. Make yourself optimally accessible by telephone since this is how employers will typically contact you. Some candidates include their LinkedIn address in their contact information. Be sure your email address (and your phone answering message) are appropriate for job search.
Professional/Career Objective: (Optional and tailored to specific position)
Make a concise, positive statement about your employment goals. Either indicate the specific position you want or the general type of opportunity you seek and key skills you offer.
Professional Profile or Summary of Qualifications (Optional)
This is an overview of the four or five qualities and experiences that market you best for a specific opportunity with a specific organization. Think of this section as similar to the blurb on a book jacket, which many individuals read to determine if they will purchase or check-out the book to read it in full.
- Focus on the four or five qualifications that most explicitly qualify you for this position.
- Include key words of the field and specific requirements outlined in the job posting.
- Remember it is okay to highlight accomplishments or qualifications which will be presented in greater detail in the body of your resume.
- Try to include the unique qualifications that may distinguish you from other candidates--your brand.
- Name of college, city and state.
- Degree and major, date of graduation (month and year); indicate "anticipated graduation" if you have not yet graduated.
- Minor and/or area of concentration.
- GPA, if 3.0 or higher. This could be overall GPA, Major GPA or both (specify if it is not your cumulative GPA).
- Academic honors or awards may be listed in this category.
- Relevant course work - list of related courses can be included for all majors during internship search; for other majors lists can be incorporated during job search if the types of courses may not be inferred from name of the major or minor.
- Other colleges (same format) - list if you received a degree.
- Accomplishments - e.g., financed 75 percent of education through…
- Do not include high school information unless there is a compellling reason it will help your marketing campaign.
- Name of organization,city and state, dates (most recent first).
- Describe the key activities involved in your internship in verb phrases (i.e., "Facilitated support group of children, ages 6-8" or "Screened applications and interviewed 50-plus candidates for entry level employment positions.").
- Emphasize skills and knowledge associated with your field.
- Explain what skills you learned or enhanced during this experience.
- Include job or volunteer title, name of organizaiton, city and state, and dates of your experience (most recent first).
- Consider a career-relatedexperience category if some of your work and volunteer experience is directly related to your field.
- Describe position in a way that clearly highlights relevant skills. This can be in brief paragraph format or with concise bulleted statements.
- Do NOT use personal pronouns.
- Use power verbs, action verbs, and qualifying adverbs. If you are currently working at a position, use present-tense verbs; if it is a past position, use past-tense verbs.
- Quantify when possible - use numbers (i.e., % increase in sales, # of dollars raised in fundraiser, # of patients served, etc.).
- Describe your experience as it relates to the position or field of interest.
Campus and Community Involvement
- List volunteer and co-curricular activities you have been involved in, especially those related to your field of study or the opportunity you are seeking.
Other Possible Categories
Any of these can become a separate category if your background warrants:
- Honors, Awards, Scholarships, Fellowships
- Special Skills
- Professional Development Activities
- Supervised Practice
- Professional Affiliations
- Technical Skills
- Other Employment
- Core Competencies
- Licenses, certificates currently held (e.g., First Aid, etc.)
- Research Experience
- Military Experience
References can be handled in a variety of ways. Currently, the preferred method is listing your references' names, job titles, addresses (work), and phone numbers on a separate document that has your name on it. Make sure that each of your three to five references has agreed in advance to write reference letters or answer phone calls concerning your candidacy. Professional references should be individuals who can describe your knowledge base, skill level, work habits, or workplace behaviors. Some positions (e.g., Homeland Security positions) specifically request personal or character references, as well as professional references. Personal references are usually people who know you well and have known you for some time. These references should be individuals who can describe your honesty, integrity, and personal qualities.