A resume is a promotional piece. It is a calling card to introduce you, with
your unique combination of skills and experience, to a potential employer.
Accompanied by a cover letter, its purpose is to get you an interview. Resume
writing is not an exact science. There is no "right way" to create a resume.
Suggestions that appear in our resume guides are general guidelines, not a
blueprint. Since the resume is a marketing device, it should SELL YOU. Examples
have been selected to emphasize basic resume structures.
On this page you will find information about:
The Format: Distinguishing Yourself
Although there is no correct way to write a resume, there are strategies to
promote your abilities and to grab the reader’s attention. Formatting your
resume can be the most creative aspect of resume writing. Although there are
popular standard formats, your format will depend upon your target audience and
the manner in which you want to present yourself.
Effective resumes have these qualities:
- Typically one page
- Easy to scan
- Clear and forceful wording
- Stress placed on achievements
- Laser-quality printing
The most popular formats are Reverse Chronological and a combination of a
Functional and Chronological.
This format lists work experience in a reverse chronology (begin with most
recent and significant). Experiences should be listed by importance rather than
time sequence. Keep information clutter-free, allowing the reader to scan the
Use bold or underline print judiciously. Using varied print too often defeats
the purpose of highlighting items and becomes worthless.
Functional formats concentrate on the functional or transferable skills you have
acquired through academics, activities, and work experiences. These are often
grouped under headings such as Communication Skills, Leadership Abilities,
Research, Writing Skills, etc.
Writing your resume involves thinking aloud. Start with the categories listed
below, and write everything you think of that relates to the heading. Don't edit
things out at this point. Whatever comes to mind, let it spill out on paper.
The Resume Heading
Every resume should highlight your name and address. Typically, a college
student will include both home and college addresses and phone numbers. Be sure
that the phone number you use will be answered. It doesn't help you to list your
college resident phone that seldom gets answered or where messages won't be
taken. Listing one address and phone number can save resume space and is
aesthetically more pleasing. Do what's right for you.
The Job Objective (optional)
The problem with most job objectives is that they are broad in nature and say
very little; or, they are so specific that they narrow the effective range of
the resume. For most students, the cover letter will serve as the vehicle to get
across "why you are writing and what you want." Nevertheless, if you include an
objective, describe what you want to do and what you are able to do which adds
to your marketability.
Here are some examples of job objectives:
- To serve as an Assistant Curator within an art museum. Prior internship
experience in museum work has equipped me to assist in art exhibit installation,
publicity, cataloging and research.
- An internship which allows for use of my strong research and problem-solving
skills within a biochemical research lab. Familiar with various laboratory
procedures and possess strong attention to detail.
- Past involvement in campus activities and new student advising leads me to seek
a position as an admissions officer in a liberal arts college. Capable of
promoting the college to prospective students and their parents, organizing
orientation programs, and assessing prospective student applications.
Since you have spent the last 12-16 years or more in formal education, this
usually appears as the first section of an undergraduate resume. However, if you
have had significant experience (work, volunteer, college activities, etc.) you
may want to list EXPERIENCE as your first section.
Keep in mind the following points when formatting this section:
- Start with your most recent educational experience: Indiana State University.
List your major and graduation date. Bold the Indiana State University name or
the name of your major (whichever you want to emphasize).
- Whether to include your GPA or not depends on how you feel about it. If it is
above a 3.0, include it. The GPA can be represented through your MAJOR GPA or
your JR/SR GPA. The point is, if your cumulative GPA is on the low side, you
don't want to give employers a reason to discount your job candidacy based on
this one factor. Employers may never get beyond the GPA to see the rest of your
- Foreign Study and Exchange Programs: List these experiences and mention a
fluency, proficiency, or familiarity with a foreign language.
- Coursework: Don't laundry-list every course you've had. Rather, be judicious and
highlight those courses that will catch an employer's attention. You may want to
highlight courses that complement your major or that add somehow to your
"marketability." List course names, not numbers, as course numbers have no
meaning to a recruiter.
- Honors and Awards: These can be either placed under the Education section or
highlighted by themselves in a separate category. Remember a resume is not an
autobiography. Select only those awards or honors that represent a composite
picture of your strengths.
Be sure to check out the visual examples of resumes and other documents.
Students use different titles - Work Experience, Employment, etc. - to highlight
this section of their resume. As stated throughout this handout, there is no one
way to format a resume. However, we suggest you use the heading Experience or
Career-Related Experience to caption this section. Experience is a better title
than Work Experience or Employment since it can encompass a wider range of
activities. Journalism-Related Experience or any other specified type of
experience can also be used if targeting specific work.
Since most employers "skim" resumes rather than "read" resumes, you want to
control the eye of the reader. This is done by good use of space and by
highlighting information relevant to your candidacy.
Commonly asked questions regarding this section of the resume include:
- Can I include paid and unpaid experiences together?
Certainly. The responsibilities you held and the skills demonstrated through
campus activities, volunteer experiences, etc., are all transferable and worth
- Do my experiences need to be listed with the most recent experience first?
No. It's better to list experiences by order of importance. If an employer is
skimming a resume, you want him/her to see the most relevant experiences first.
- How far back should I go in listing jobs?
You need to be judicious in what you put in the resume and what you leave out.
Since this is not an autobiography, focus on only those experiences and jobs
which are relevant to your objective. If you are a freshman or sophomore, high
school jobs and activities will dominate this section. As you progress through
college, more recent jobs and experiences will take their place.
- What about all the odd jobs I had (workstudy, jobs during breaks, etc.)?
You don't want to discount experiences but neither do you want to elaborate on
wait staff jobs, etc. You can summarize these experiences in a statement or two
to get across the idea that you have an ingrained work ethic, helped finance
your education, etc.
Activities and Interests
Many employers look at three key areas of your resume: academic performance,
work-related experiences, and involvement in activities. Membership in college
organizations is fine. Leadership positions or in-depth involvement within these
organizations is even better. The activities you list give the reader a look
into who you are and how you spend your time. Employers often "latch on" to
items in this section as ice-breakers in interviews and to find common
interests. Include information that complements the other parts of your resume
and which adds personal dimension.
Do not include:
- A personal section giving birth date, marital status, height, weight, health,
etc. By law, employers cannot discriminate on the basis of sex, race, or marital
- Tag line "References available upon request": If employers are seriously
interested in hiring you and want references, they will let you know. However,
be sure to have people in mind who can serve as references should you be asked.
It has been our experience that few employers request references for entry-level
positions. It is not necessary to maintain a reference file with our office for
the purpose of a job search.
You may want to include:
- Tag lines such as Portfolio Available Upon Request or Writing Samples Available
Upon Request if you seek positions that require unique skills or experiences.
Resume Writing Tips
- Use bold or underline separately, not together
- Notice spelling of commonly misspelled words i.e., liaison
- Avoid using more than two fonts in your document
- Use simple, everyday language
- Keep sentences short; begin with varied action verbs
- Be honest; don't exaggerate
- Don't list references on resume (if needed, use additional page for names)
- Use high-quality bond paper
- Keep margins and spacing clean and inviting to the eye
- Proofread and have other people read it as well: read backwards to catch
The Lingo of Employers - Skills and Results
Employers assess your resume (and cover letter) to determine if you have "the
right stuff" and to judge whether you can deliver results. Sell yourself to
employers by showing demonstrated skills and by adding details which show your
achievements. Begin sentences with "action verbs," and be specific when showing
the extent to which you added value to an endeavor.
Look at the following samples:
- Skill used =
My Problem Solving or Strategist Ability
Simple Statement =
Organized rush activities for fraternity.
Powerhouse Entry =
Developed new rush strategies; doubled number of prospective members
- Characteristic =
I am Community Service Oriented
Simple Statement =
Worked for Terre Haute's Lighthouse Mission.
Powerhouse Entry =
Devoted over 100 hours to providing food for low-income individuals within Terre
Preparing the Scannable Resume
Some employers are now using computer programs to sort through large numbers of
applicants to find desirable employees. These resumes are scanned into a
database; key word searches are then conducted to identify applicants who have
the desired traits.
These electronic tracking systems can extract skills from many styles of
resumes. The most difficult resumes to read are those with poor copy quality,
blue or gray paper, or unusual formats such as a newspaper layout, complex
fonts, graphics, or lines.
When possible, you can ask the contact person for the position whether or not a
scannable resume is recommended. When this is not possible, you can either
include a scannable resume along with your regular resume, or make sure that
your resume is scannable.
Tips for Scannability
- Use white paper and do not fold or staple
- Use laser printed original; avoid photocopies
- Use standard typefaces such as Helvetica, Futura, Times, Palatino
- Use font sizes of 10 to 12
- Use boldface and/or all capital letters for section headings as long as letters
- Avoid fancy styles such as italics, underline, shadows and reverses
- Fax only when necessary. When faxing, fax in "fine" mode if possible
Your resume should be action-oriented in order to catch the reader’s attention.
Listed below are a few ideas to help you begin writing action-oriented
statements to further describe work, leadership, or volunteer experience.
Helping and Counseling Skills