What is a résumé?
A résumé is a short document that explains your skills and qualifications for a given position. It presents your education, work history and skills to a potential employer in a way that highlights what you have to offer and how your particular skillset matches the job you are applying for. The purpose of a résumé is solely to lead a potential employer to invite you for an interview. It is an “advertising” document, in which you present yourself and your abilities in the most positive light possible. The résumé is crucial, in that a potential employer’s first impression of you will be based on the information it contains and how it is presented. On average, it takes ten interviews to get one job offer, so your résumé must generate as many interview situations as possible (California State University, 2007; Purdue University, 2008).
Parts of a résumé
Personal Information: Your name, address, and telephone number. Include an e-mail address if you have one and you check it regularly. Do not use a “cute” or otherwise unprofessional e-mail address.
Career Objective: This is optional, but if you include it, it should be tailored to the position you are applying for, rather than broad and future-oriented. Focus on your skills that meet the qualifications for the position, not your wants.
Education: This is a list of schools you have attended (or are attending), complete with dates of attendance, degrees received, major and minor fields of study, and, if relevant, course work which highlights job skills. Education should be listed above Employment History only if you do not have significant experience in the field you have studied and/or you are attempting to enter a new field. If you do have experience (3+ years in your field) Education should be listed after Employment History. Internships can also be listed under the Education heading.
Employment History: This is a list of all of the positions you have held, with information such as the names of your employers, dates and locations of employment, job titles, and what you did there, particularly anything accomplished while employed. Be sure to describe your jobs in an active voice (say what you did), and try to avoid jargon and abbreviations that your potential employer may not understand.
Professional Activities: If you have any, list here any memberships to professional associations, conferences attended, etc. that show your dedication to the field you are entering or continuing in.
Skills and Accomplishments: Enter in this section (if you choose to include it) any skills, abilities, or accomplishments not listed in “Employment History” that you feel put you in a better light relative to the job you are applying for. This could include foreign languages spoken, or computer skills (California State University, 2007).
Take inventory of yourself
Now that you know what goes into a résumé, you need to know how to fill in these areas. In order to do that, you must first know all of this information about yourself.
Start with several pieces of blank paper. Title each with the following headings and then brainstorm.
Try to keep in mind what the employer will be thinking when looking at your résumé. This includes questions like “What makes this person stand out from the other applicants? Why would I want to speak with him/her?” In this light, you are just trying to set yourself apart from others who want the job as well, and as such you should try to make everything you come up with in your brainstorming as personalized and particular to you as possible. Remember, your résumé is your initial “sales pitch” to your potential employer, and anything that is different than the rest will work to your advantage. Try to keep focused on the big picture, and remember that you are trying to summarize everything an employer would want to know about you (State of Washington, n.d.).
Choose a format
There are four main types of résumé—chronological, functional, combination, and curriculum vita (CV).
You should choose the format that works best for what you have to offer or the one you are most comfortable with. Remember that you are trying to present yourself in the best light possible, so if you are weak in one area of the résumé, choose a format that minimizes this lack (State of Washington, n.d.).
What do readers expect in a résumé?
While your résumé is your own personal statement, you should not vary too much from what your potential readers expect from it. For example, your name is usually the largest item on the page, and is almost always found at the top. Headers are traditionally used to break up the document into its component sections. All information should be accurate, and your résumé should be free of all typos and grammatical errors. A reader should be able to quickly ascertain all relevant information without having to search for anything (Purdue University, 2008).
Writing style of your résumé
Your résumé should be written as clearly, directly, and concisely as possible. Avoid using paragraphs and long sentences; instead, try to construct lists of short, to-the-point statements without a lot of complex terms and flowery phrasing. Always use active words and phrases—never use the passive voice—and highlight your accomplishments. Use the most basic terminology you can; avoid being technical unless there is no way around it. Your résumé should be interesting to read and lively to look at, and the best way to achieve this is to cut out any unnecessary words and phrases and leave only what communicates your skills and experience and how they apply to the job you are seeking. You should try to use the same words and phrases you find in job announcements.
In general, unless you have extensive relevant work experience which warrants more space, your résumé should be limited to one page. To accomplish this, you will have to tailor it to the job you are applying for, downplaying and condensing parts of your experience that doesn’t apply directly to the job at hand. You should also eliminate all instances of wordiness and keep everything as short as possible. Some of this can be accomplished with the proper formatting (see below).
People skim résumés rather than read them. Therefore, all information should be presented as clearly as possible, with nothing extraneous that will get in the way when it is scanned for relevant content. (California State University, 2007)
Résumé formatting and design
Your résumé will be looked at for at most around 35 seconds before the reviewer decides to either put it in the “keep” pile or to discard it. Therefore, a layout that presents the relevant information in the proper place is extremely important. Ultimately, the design of the page is up to you, but you should keep in mind that employers have certain expectations as to where information should be located (see above), and so conforming to the conventional résumé layout is recommended. One thing you should keep in mind is that since readers typically read from left to right and top to bottom, whatever is in the upper-left portion of your résumé will automatically be emphasized, so whatever you choose to put there should be what you think is your strongest suit, whether that be education, work history, or something else.
It is also possible to add emphasis through the use of fonts and text decoration such as bold, italics, and underlining. However, it is easy to go overboard and turn your résumé into an unreadable mess. If you do decide to use more than one font, be consistent—for example, use one font for general text and another for headings. Additionally, use bold, italics, or underlining, but not more than one. Too much of these techniques will lead to a diffuse reading experience, and will have the opposite effect. (Purdue University, 2008)
Your résumé must be typed or typeset. If you are planning on making many copies, use a quality photocopier. Use a good quality, high-cotton-content paper.
It is imperative that your final résumé contain no typos and no spelling or grammatical errors. Read it over several times, and have someone with good English skills proofread it as well. (California State University, 2007)
The 20-second Test
Once you have a good draft of your résumé, perform the 20-second test on it. Give it to someone to read, and give them only 20 seconds to do so. Then, ask the person what he or she learned about you in that time. Did he or she find out what you were trying to communicate, or was something unclear? This will give you a good gauge as to whether you are coming across on your résumé they way you intended. (Purdue University, 2008)