How to Write a Resume
Purpose of Your Resume
Your resume is a document that outlines your experiences—professional, academic, extracurricular —and the skills you have acquired as a result.
Think of your resume as an advertisement for yourself. A strong resume should demonstrate your excellent written communication skills and make the reader want to interview you.
What if I don't have a lot of experience yet?
A resume is always a work in progress, and students who start early benefit from improving and refining the document over time. It is good to keep your resume updated regularly to reflect new experiences, ensuring that an up-to-date resume is available whenever necessary.
You never know when and where your resume will be needed.
There is no right and wrong when it comes to resume content and format. Each resume is as unique as the individual it represents. It is up to you to select the appropriate content that best highlights your skills for the employment you hope to acquire, and then effectively communicate your qualifications in a format that is clear and easy to read.
Tips for Writing Your Resume
Convey your overall competence with attention to details
- Proofread carefully to ensure correct spelling and grammar.
Follow best practices for verb tenses and pronoun use
- Keep verb tenses consistent throughout. Use present tense for current activities and employment.
- Use past tense for activities and employment not presently held.
- Avoid the use of first and third person pronouns, such as “I,” “he,” or “she.”
Use action verbs and concise statements to articulate your relevant experiences
- Phrases, rather than complete sentences, are generally most effective.
- Use a variety of action verbs to bring your skills and experiences to life.
- Avoid using each verb or adjective more than once.
Refrain from using slang, jargon, overused expressions, or anything that might confuse the reader
- Spell out all acronyms the first time they are used, followed by the acronym in parentheses. Thereafter, in the same document you may use the acronym alone.
- Industry-specific jargon should be used sparingly or in a context that the average person could understand. The person reading your resume may not be an expert in your field (they might be an HR manager, for example).
- Use professional language and tone
Print your resume on paper of good quality
- If bringing copies of your resume to a career fair, networking event, or interview, be sure they are of high quality.
- While it is not necessary to purchase special paper, if you choose to do so, use neutral colors such as white or cream.
- If you are including a cover letter, it should be printed on the same type of paper as your resume.
Get your resume reviewed
- Have your resume reviewed multiple times. This gives you varied insights and multiple perspectives. The Career Center provides opportunities to have your resume reviewed.
- Faculty, academic advisors, family, and friends can also provide good insight.
Formatting Your Resume
Distribute the content evenly on the page
- Take advantage of white space. Use it as a mechanism to appropriately convey emphasis and organization to your information and skills.
- Be consistent with alignment and appropriately use left, center, and right alignment.
- Make use of bold, underline, and italics to emphasize different aspects of your resume, such as headings and titles.
Avoid fancy fonts, flashy or unusual layouts, and images or graphics
- Special fonts, layouts, and images or graphics are often problematic for other people's computers. They may not render properly, might be rejected by Applicant Tracking System scanners, and may not be read correctly by accessibility software like screen readers. You don't know what's on the receiving end, so keep it simple!
- Don't include a headshot photo unless specifically requested in the job ad or expected by the industry.
- Pre-made templates are often the culprit for introducing unusual colors, fonts, graphics, and layouts. We usually recommend avoiding the templates that come with word processing or design software for this reason.
One-page, conventional resumes are typically most appropriate
- The length of your resume depends on your degree level, academic major, and number of relevant experiences you have conducted.
- Rather than being creative in the design and format of your resume, demonstrate your creativity in the content you choose and the way you describe it.
Not sure if you need a resume or a CV? Check out our Resume vs. CV guide.
Customizing Your Resume: Consider Your Audience and Reader
Know the Expectations for Each Application
- Investigate industry standards and each potential employer. Consider preferences for length, format, and content of your resume.
- Be sure to follow special instructions for supplemental application materials. Provide all documents requested, and determine if appropriate to send additional, e.g. reference list.
- If possible, save all of your documents in one PDF and attach them to your application.
Customize Every Time to Match Your Relevant Skills with Job Requirements
- A potential employer typically spends around 30 seconds initially reviewing a resume. Therefore, it is important to carefully select experiences that emphasize the skills most relevant to your desired position. As you make your choices, remember to stress quality over quantity.
- Review the job description and consider the responsibilities for each position you apply to. Consider the perspective of the potential employer, and what the organization would desire in the ideal candidate for the position. Make changes to your resume accordingly.
- Reflect upon your specific experiences that demonstrate the skills and credentials listed in the position announcement.
- Think about using words from the job posting, highlighting different relevant coursework, or using example projects or outcomes that more closely match that specific position's requirements or job duties. The changes you make may be small, but the impact could be huge!