Overview of Resume Writing
The resume as part of your job search
Creating an effective resume is one of the most important things you can do to have an effective job search. A resume is a marketing tool for you to use to sell yourself to a potential employer. It is not simply a record of your work history but an outline of all of those experiences (including course projects, volunteer experiences, and involvement) which convey to an employer your skills and abilities for a particular job.
Your resume can be used to:
- Apply for advertised jobs
- Send to employers you discover through research and networking
- Submit for on-campus recruiting opportunities
- Distribute while talking with recruiters at career fairs and employer information sessions
- Assist those who will provide you with a professional reference or recommendation by detailing your strengths.
Your resume need not include everything you have ever done, but rather what is particularly relevant to your desired career field. Making sure you include only the most relevant items can be a difficult task for many students. If your job search strategy is diverse and covers several careers or job types, you may wish to have several versions of your resume, with different levels of specificity in certain areas.
Maximizing your resume’s impact
Employers report that they spend less than a minute looking over a resume to determine if you are an appropriate candidate to interview, or that they use keyword search tools to identify if a resume is suited to the job description.
Therefore, to effectively communicate your qualifications, be concise and well organized in your writing and include key terms for your field or industry, so that the resume is easily readable, visually appealing, and has the greatest potential to be found in a search.
While there are several traditional ways to organize information and key components you must include, the design of a resume is flexible. Regardless of format or style, the resume should really be only one page in length for current students and recent graduates. (Alumni with advanced degrees or substantial work experience may lengthen their resumes to two pages.)
To keep your resume to one page, you may adjust font styles, sizes and margins to accommodate your information, but be careful that the resume does not become too packed and cluttered.
The ethics of resume writing
It is extremely important that you are 100% honest when presenting information on your resume and all other job search materials, as employers will confirm your history with transcript and reference checks, typically just before making an offer.
To receive a more thorough overview of the resume writing process, please attend one of the Resume Writing Workshops put on by the Center for Career Services throughout the year. You should also consider coming by our walk-in hours or scheduling a one-on-one appointment with one of our Career Coaches to review the resume writing process in more depth.
Preparing to Write Your Resume
Before writing your resume, it is important to review your educational and professional history. Make lists of all jobs held (paid, unpaid, and/or volunteer), schools attended (omit high school), clubs/student organizations joined, honors received, skills acquired, duties performed and any other additional information you think might be appropriate to include. These lists will form the foundation of your resume content, and will help you identify your accomplishments.
Keep in mind that unlike a job application given to you by an employer, your resume does not need to include every single thing that you have done. You will have to make choices about what to include or exclude. In addition, as you narrow down your job search options and identify the skills in demand for the industries you are targeting, you will want to be sure to specifically highlight those on your resume.
While there are many approaches you can take in presenting your experience, the two most common resume formats are the reverse chronological and functional.
- Reverse Chronological : Most frequently used. It lists the most recent experiences first and preceding experiences in reverse chronological order. This format has the advantages of being easier to read and more familiar to employers.
- Functional : Emphasizes skills and capabilities instead of the timeline of a person's experience. Employers' names and dates of employment are de-emphasized. One drawback of this format is that it gives the impression of trying to conceal something (usually a gap in employment or a lack of related experience).
Choose a format which allows the most impressive presentation of your employment history or create a combined resume format by incorporating both reverse chronological and functional elements.
Whatever format you choose, be sure to emphasize your key skills and accomplishments using action verbs. Avoid beginning descriptions with or including phrases such as "responsible for," "duties included," or "responsibilities included" as these are passive and do not indicate your contribution or skill demonstrated - only what you were assigned to do.
Whenever possible, try to quantify your achievements, as well as illustrate for your reader the nature and environment of your experience.
Be sure to include your name, email, address, and phone number. Contact information can be centered or in left or right corners. If appropriate, include both a current address and a permanent address along with your email address. Don’t forget to make your name stand out by using a large font and putting it in bold writing.
1234 Glebe Road, Apt B • Arlington,VA • 22207
703-555-5555 • email@example.com
Education (you may also include Honors, Awards and Activities in this section if desired)
The education section of your resume will focus on your academic history. Thus, the education section is very important for most current students and recent college graduates and should be emphasized by candidates with little work experience. Well-planned development of this area on your resume may answer a prospective employer's frequently asked questions regarding your academic program and performance, leadership/managerial capabilities, technical abilities, interests and general preparedness.
Your educational history should be listed in reverse chronological order, beginning with your most recent or current degree program(s). Include the name of your institution, degree(s) received, major(s)/concentration(s), and date of graduation (month and year). When listing dates, it is not necessary to list the years you attended the school, it is only necessary to list the date (month and year) you received (or will receive) your degree.
Marymount University • Arlington, VA May 2014
Bachelor of Arts in Communication, GPA: 3.8
Freshman and sophomores may list high school, summer programs or other institutions attended before starting their post-secondary education. Juniors and seniors should be very selective about what information they include from high school (if any).
Include your GPA if it is 3.00 or above. All GPAs should be listed with 2 decimal places to reflect the GPA listed on your transcript. Check the accuracy of your GPA every semester and do NOT round your GPA.
Commonly known honors (such as Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Theta Tau) need no explanation, but lesser or unknown awards can be explained briefly. Be sure to include additional scholarships, fellowships, grants, special awards and recognition.
Education, activities, honors and awards sections can be combined or separated, as you prefer. What is crucial is that all information be easy to find on the page. For both activities and honors, you may want to list entries as subheadings of the college or university where you did or received them. If you prefer to highlight them in a separate section be sure that the information is clearly organized and strong enough to stand on its own.
It is essential that you emphasize educational experiences which illustrate your ability to handle the position you are seeking. Employers look for the well-rounded candidate as demonstrated by involvement in extracurricular activities, leadership positions, internships, and research projects. Relevant honors courses might be stressed. You may also want to list the title of your thesis (if any), research interests, independent study, senior project, or relevant course work. Students in the health sciences will often include significant clinical rotations or practicums in this section, but they can also be presented in more detail in the Experience section.
If you transferred to Marymount from another college or university, it is only necessary to list the school from which you will receive your degree, unless there is a reason to include the other school (i.e., you were very involved in extracurricular activities and want to include them). If so, you may include length of time you attended the college/university, as well as relevant courses, honors and activities. If you are listing the school(s) from which you transferred, you may include your GPA from that school (or those schools) or just your Marymount GPA.
The work experience category may be titled "Experience," "Work Experience," "Professional Experience," or whatever best highlights your qualifications. No matter what you have done, whether it was working in retail sales, volunteering at a shelter, or performing military duty employers want to know that you have work experience.
Many students are hesitant to put down summer jobs, part-time employment, work-study positions, volunteer experiences, or a responsible college activity that may seem unrelated to their career objectives. This is a mistake! Employers realize that some college students do not have relevant or career-related work experience, but are still very interested to know that you have had responsibilities, been hired by other employers for positions, had diverse experiences and opportunities to demonstrate your skills.
In deciding which experiences to include, choose those which demonstrate your most relevant skills. A good way to determine what skills to highlight is to review job descriptions in your field that are of interest to you either now or later on in your career. Employers will indicate the skills and qualifications they are seeking, and those are the skills you should do your best to emphasize.
Your experience section need not be limited to paid experiences, but may also include volunteer or unpaid positions, independent research projects and community work.
When describing your experiences, ask yourself the question "What did I do?" to identify action verbs that will effectively describe your job responsibilities. You can also go through the action verb list and use the examples to spur your thinking. Using bullet points to organize your descriptions, be sure to stress what you learned and what transferrable skills you developed in completing your duties (instead of simply listing what you did). For example: "Obtained exposure to industrial human resource policies and effective management strategies while shadowing the Office Coordinator."
Descriptions do not have to be phrased in full sentences. Ask yourself the question "What does this information contribute to my candidacy?" to determine which aspects of your past are important enough to include on your resume. Employers want to know why you're different than other candidates applying for the same role, so consider what has made you stand out in past experiences and be sure to include those details. Did you save the company money? Identify a new strategy for accomplishing a project? How did you add value, regardless of your rank within an organization?
Hard Times Cafe • Washington, DC October 2010 – December 2011
- Provided customers with quality service while working in a fast-paced, high pressure environment
- Assisted with training of new staff members in company policies
- Exhibited exceptional time management skills by working 20 hours a week and taking a full course load
Identify your accomplishments, achievements and successes in each of your positions and as a whole. Did you chair a fund-raising drive which raised more money that any year in the past? Were you invited by the President of the University to join a campus-wide task force? Did you develop materials in your internship which have been adopted by the organization at which you worked? If so, be specific about these achievements on the resume and quantify when possible! Even if the job you held is not directly relevant, it is likely that you learned skills (i.e., organizational, interpersonal, time management, etc.) which are completely relevant to the position you seek.
Extracurricular Activities/Leadership Experience
Employers look for the well-rounded candidate as demonstrated by involvement in extracurricular activities, leadership positions, and research projects. In this section, be sure to list the name of the organization, the dates you were involved, your role in the organization and any leadership positions held. Any involvement as part of a committee can also be included.
Similar to the experience section, try to indicate accomplishments and your involvement as part of any club or activity. Try to also indicate your level of responsibility in leadership positions. Quantify your results or outcomes when possible.
If you have been involved in one or more activities for several years or have assumed greater levels of responsibility as part of an organization, highlight that information.
If you were very active in college and can write paragraphs about your extracurricular activities, you should concentrate on selecting only the most interesting or impressive ones to include.
Marymount Student Marketing Association • Arlington, VA May 2011 – April 2012
- Led open house event for over 100 students
- Recruited a number of companies to speak for meetings and events
- Developed a new fundraiser that generated $1,000 for organization
Research Interests and Publications (optional)
Students may wish to present their research, related publications and presentations in separate sections. A description of each, in reverse chronological order, is most appropriate. Try to keep everything as brief and succinct as possible.
You may want to mention your faculty advisor's name, if you think it would be helpful. Publications to which you contributed and are recognized should be listed in the appropriate bibliographic format for your field.
Community Service/Involvement (optional)
Employers are interested in knowing what you have done besides your work experiences, or how you have become involved as a "citizen." Such things as volunteer work with Big Brothers/Big Sisters, charity or youth organizations, alumni associations, etc. can help to make you stand out as exceptional.
Professional Memberships (optional)
Just as "community service" shows that you are a good public citizen, listing professional memberships shows that you are an active professional.
In every profession, there are associations that encourage members to interact with each other and keep up with current developments in the field. It is highly advisable that you join at least one professional association (many have student chapters with reduced fees) while a student and maintain membership as a professional.
If you have been active in any professional organization, (i.e., held leadership roles or participated in important committees) you might benefit by mentioning not only the organization but also your level of involvement on your resume.
You may want to include a section for skills or qualifications which enhance your prospects for employment. Technical and computer skills, special qualifications, foreign languages you can read or speak, and/or equipment that you can operate may be mentioned in this section. Be sure to clarify your level of proficiency.
Certifications can be listed as a separate category or included in your education section as a sub-heading. It must be clear to the reader in what state and field you are certified. When listing your licenses, you do not need to give your license numbers. It would be sufficient to say "Red Cross CPR Certified 2011." Before progressing too far in your job search, make certain you know what licenses and certifications are preferred or necessary to obtain employment in your field and location of choice. Begin this paper work early.
Do not include reference in the body of your resume.
Do not state “References Available Upon Request” at the bottom of your resume – employers assume that you will be willing to provide them this information at a later date.
Do prepare a separate list of references for distribution to employers. Include each reference’s name, title, company/university affiliation, address, email, and phone number. Also indicate the nature of your relationship and be sure to contact these individuals to tell them that you have listed them as a reference!