A résumé is one tool used in the job search. A résumé highlights your relevant skills, qualifications, experience, accomplishments, and knowledge for prospective employers.
The goal of your résumé is to get you invited to an interview. It seems counter-intuitive, but it’s not all about you! It is about showing prospective employers, organizations, and graduate schools how well you meet their needs. Résumés exist to generate interviews.
Within the first 10 seconds of reviewing your résumé, a prospective employer will determine into which pile, the “YES,” “NO,” or “MAYBE” pile your résumé will land.
As you begin to develop your résumé, review your qualifications for the type of position you are seeking. Consider:
- What is unique about your preparation and background in terms of both your formal and informal experiences and the skills you have acquired?
- Emphasize the facets of your experience and preparation that qualify you for the type of position you are seeking.
- Summarize your experiences while including specific information that distinguishes your résumé from the others.
- For each position, list your specific accomplishments using bullets.
For a short video on résumé development, visit Résumé Writing 101.
Formatting Your Résumé
Though there are different ways to format your résumé, always make sure it is readable and your important information is easy to find. Your formatting should be consistent throughout your document.
Résumés are typically 1 page. Some industries are accepting of 2 page résumés. If you are further along in your career or have a graduate degree, it is typically acceptable to have a 2 page résumé. If you choose to have a second page of relevant information, add your name and page number in a header or footer on the second page.
Avoid résumé templates. They can be difficult to personalize and often do not effectively maximize the space available to you.
For general formatting, your job titles and bullet points should be aligned to the left side of the page as they are most important and dates should be on the right side of the page.
The font you choose should be the same throughout your résumé. You can choose either a serif or sans serif font, but make it a font that is traditional and easy to read. For example, Times New Roman, Ariel, Garamond, Cambria, Georgia, and Calibri are all standard choices.
For the main text of your résumé, the font size should be between 10-12. You want your headings and your name to stand out, so you can increase the font size for those.
Use bolding, italicizing, and underlining to highlight important information. For example, you could bold all your job titles and italicize the location. Be careful of overusing bolding, italicizing, or underlining and/or using them inconsistently on your résumé.
Standard margins for résumé are one inch, but you can decrease the margins as a way to increase word space. However, margins set at .5 and below make the text look stretched out and it is unlikely an employer will want to read the additional information. Be selective about what you include on your résumé and have consistent margins on each side of your document.
Colors and Design Elements
For most résumés, avoid the use of graphics and colors. Some industries/employers are more conservative and do not look favorably upon those elements. Additionally, they may be challenging for the employer to read, especially if they use an applicant tracking system. Let your experience make you stand out.
If you are in a creative field, there may be an expectation to have a more creatively designed résumé that shows off your design skills and style. For those instances, be mindful of typical résumé guidelines and that your résumé may be viewed online and in print.
Suggested Résumé Sections
The heading section of your résumé provides your name and contact information including your name, address, phone number and email address. It may also include a link to your LinkedIn.com page, professional website, and/or portfolio. Make sure that your voicemail message and email address are both professional.
It is optional to list your address. If you choose to include your address, only include one. If you are seeking a job out of state and have a local address in that state, it may be best to list it instead of your Madison address.
TIP: The heading section of your résumé can be used as the heading on your cover letter and on your list of references.
The objective section contains a brief statement of the position you hope to secure. If you will be submitting a cover letter or application essay(s) with your résumé, it is unlikely that you will need to include an objective statement. Objectives are ideal for career fairs and networking situations. If used, they must be as concise and tailored as possible.
Your career objective should inform the potential employer of:
- The Position that you would like to apply for
- The Industry that you would like to work in and/or
- The Skills which you would have to offer or would like them to focus on
They can also cover functional areas of interest and/or specific job title (sales, research, copy-writing…) or the type of organization you seek (social service agency, financial institution…)
- Position as an academic advisor supporting underrepresented students in STEM programs
- Internship in adapted fitness to gain experience in helping clients achieve their fitness goals
- Obtain High School Physical Education Teacher position to encourage student development and healthy habits. Interest in coaching basketball and volleyball.
- A Spanish teaching position with opportunity to inspire global awareness in students.
- A graphic design position from concept to design focused on product promotion
The education section contains a list of your degrees in reverse chronological order (most recent first to the oldest). For each degree, include the name of the degree and major (e.g. Bachelor of Science in Rehabilitation Psychology), certificates, the university’s full name, city, and state, graduation date, and GPA.
Do not list the name of your high school and only list transfer institutions if you received a degree from them or are referencing experiences you had while attending them.
If your GPA is 3.0 or above, you probably will want to include it. Make sure you include “/4.0” so the employer will know the scale. You can list just cumulative or cumulative and major if your major GPA is higher.
You may also wish to list relevant coursework, honors and academic awards, and study abroad in this section.
Specific Related, Relevant Experience
This section of your résumé contains a list of positions you have held that support your objective, in reverse chronological order. These positions may include paid employment as well as leadership, organizational, and volunteer experiences that helped you develop skill sets and apply knowledge. For each position, list the title, the name of the organization, the dates that you were employed, and the location of the organization.
For each position, you should also list your specific accomplishments using bullets. When appropriate, quantify things. For example, “Initiated new purchasing process that saves $10,000 per year”, or “Hired, trained, and supervised 10 data input technicians.” Each bullet statement should begin with a strong action verb and should attempt to answer the questions: How did you do X? Why did you do Y? What was the outcome?
To make your résumé really stand out, consider grouping similar experiences under employer-targeted section headings such as: “Teaching Experience”, “Leadership Experience”, “Clinical Experience, “Research Experience,” etc. If you do this, list each experience in reverse chronological order within its section.
The skills section might include language(s), software, research techniques, art techniques, etc. Each of these could be a section by itself if the skill/experience is a major component of qualifying for the job.
Other Special Sections
You might want to highlight professional certifications/licensure or professional and organizational affiliations.
Things Not To Include On Your Résumé
- Personal pronouns (I, me, my).
- Height, weight, age, date/place of birth, marital status, sex, race, photos, or social security number (some of these may be expected on résumés for jobs outside the US – check standards by country to be sure before you add them).
- Abbreviations and jargon – If in doubt, spell it out! Never assume the recipient will know what it means.
- Salary, supervisor’s contact information, or reasons for leaving previous jobs (these items often go on an application).
- References as these should go on a separate page. The words “References available upon request” are not necessary.
- Interests and hobbies (unless directly relevant to the position in some way).
Writing Bullet Point Statements
Perhaps the most critical components of a résumé are your bullet point statements. These statements describe your skills and accomplishments and provide the potential employer with a glimpse of what you would be like as a member of their team. Carefully craft these statements to present the most relevant skills to the position you seek.
Show How You Performed
- Describe how you completed the tasks and skills you developed. Don’t begin a bullet point statement with “Responsible for” or “Duties performed”; these do not convey what you actually did to accomplish these tasks.
- Think of your bullet point statements similar to newspaper headlines. A well-written headline encourages you to read the entire article. You want to use words or terms that “hype” your statement and give it the “pop” or excitement that is needed to capture attention, while at the same time always being truthful.
- Quantify your end result. If possible, use % or $ amounts, increased scores, and other context numbers.
Since these statements need to be brief, construct them using one of the following formulas.
- strong action verb + description of the activity or skill + end result or accomplishment
- strong action verb + description of the activity or skill + reason or purpose
Make Statements Clear and Concise
- As with your entire résumé, grammar is extremely important.
- Eliminate personal pronouns (I, me, my, etc.).
- Re-word statements to get point across with as few words as possible.
- Ask yourself “So what?” or “What does this mean?” If you can answer these questions with the information shared in the statement, you are finished. If those questions are not answered, you need to refine your statement.
The following table demonstrates original & revised bullet point statements:
Before After Responsible for campers Coordinated activities and fieldtrips for 30 children ages 6 – 12 to improve camp morale Operated cash register Provided prompt and friendly service to patrons averaging $1000 in daily sales Met sales goals Achieved highest annual sales in department, totaling $25,000 gross compared to $19,000 average Responsible for programming Organized 4 monthly educational and social programs for 40 residential students with a 50% participation rate Got students to join organization Persuaded students, through in-class presentations, to join campus organization, resulting in 7 new members
Always Tailor Your Résumé
It’s important to carefully review your résumé each time you submit it and alter/update your content in order to tailor the items you highlight to the needs of the prospective employer. Remove information irrelevant to different jobs/employers and organize entries so that the most important sections for that job are listed first. You can also re-order your bullet points or select bullet points that will highlight the most relevant accomplishments. This will not take long and can have a lot of impact!