What is a Resume? | Resume Content | Types of Resumes |
Resume Writing Guidelines | Printable Resume Handout
What is a Resume?
A resume serves as a brief summary of your qualifications and experiences as they relate to the type of job you are seeking—it is used when you apply for jobs, internships, or graduate and professional schools. The primary purpose of a resume is to secure an interview, giving you the opportunity to sell your strengths and abilities to prospective employers in person.
Your resume provides prospective employers with their first impression of you—it is an advertisement about you. Your resume is your chief marketing tool in the job search process. Therefore, your resume should be well-organized and highlight your background by emphasizing your skills and qualifications.
Your resume helps prospective employers evaluate what you have to offer them and informs them of the type of job you are seeking, and the skills, accomplishments, and educational background you have to offer.
If you have several career interests and you are applying for several positions that are unrelated, you may want to develop multiple resumes with different job objectives.
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The key to writing a strong resume is to highlight the areas of your background that best demonstrate your skills and abilities as they relate to the position or opportunity for which you are applying. There is no such thing as a "standard" resume format—the categories you include on your resume depend on the information you wish to emphasize.
Your name, mailing address, telephone number, and email address should always top your resume. If you are still in school while you are sending resumes to potential employers, include both your permanent contact information as well as your college address and phone number.
The objective sets the tone for your resume and informs the employer of the position you are seeking. It may include a job title, a description of activities and skills you wish to perform, the type of organization you wish to join, a special interest you have in a particular field, or your short and long-term goals. A job objective indicates to the employer (or graduate program) that you have some direction; however, you may omit this information from your resume if you are unsure about the type of work you are seeking or you are applying for a variety of positions within the company. In this case, state your objectives in a cover letter rather than your resume.
To obtain a challenging entry-level position as a programmer or analyst that will utilize and enhance my knowledge of the information systems field.
To aquire a financial trainee position with a dynamic banking organization that will utilize my analytical skills, language skills, and multinational experiences.
Seeking a position in a foreign relations or intelligence field that will utilize my knowledge and background in political science and Russian language and culture.
Include all colleges and universities you have attended in reverse chronological order (your most recent school listed first). Do not include your high school unless you are applying for a part-time job or internship and want to supplement your college experiences with high school activities. Include the name and location of your college, type and date of degree earned, and major and minor. You should include your cumulative GPA and/or your major GPA if they serve as assets.
James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia
Bachelor of Arts, May 2007
Major: International Affairs, Minor: Political Science
Honors Program, Cumulative GPA: 3.7, Major GPA: 3.8
It may be appropriate to describe relevant course projects or research you have completed if it is related to your job target. Listing of college coursework on your resume may be helpful if you apply for a position that is unrelated to your major or the coursework is unique/specialized in the career field. For example, if you apply for a technical writing position, but you majored in biology, it would be advantageous to list your writing courses to highlight your skills. In many cases, it is recommended that you omit major-related coursework from your resume.
Summarize your experiences by highlighting those that best reveal your skills and abilities and are related to the type of job you are seeking. You should include the title of your position, the name of the organization, location (city and state), and the dates you worked at the organization. You can include paid work experiences, volunteer work, internships, and student organization involvement. If you have several experiences that are directly related to the type of job you are seeking, you may list them under a separate category called "Related Experiences." Remember to be brief and use strong action verbs in the past tense to indicate your responsibilities and accomplishments.
This section highlights college and professional organizations and clubs in which you participated. Include the name of the organization, any offices you held, and the dates you were a member. Include a brief description of your activities if these would be relevant to the position for which you are applying.
Provide information about any honors you received such as scholarships, Dean's List, President's List, and memberships in honor societies. Include dates. If you have less than three honor entries list them under the education section.
Before listing someone as a reference on your resume, you must always seek his or her permission so that the person is aware that he or she might be contacted. Think of faculty and employers who know you and your work well and will give you a positive recommendation. You need only state on your resume, "References will be available upon request." However, some people prefer to list their references on a separate sheet and either attach it to the resume and/or bring it with them to the interview. In this case, include names, titles, addresses, and phone numbers for each reference. Be sure to include your name and address on your reference sheet.
Information about special skills that are relevant to your job objective can enhance your resume, such as computer skills and language skills. You can include this information as a separate category or as part of other entries on your resume.
Unlike in the past, personal data such as race, sex, height, and marital status is no longer required on your resume-it is illegal in some states for employers to request this information and, more importantly, it has nothing to do with your skills and qualifications. Some people do provide this data on their resume when applying for positions where the information is pertinent, such as flight attendant.
Be creative and don't feel you have to limit the content of your resume to the categories listed above. If you have special information that supports your application, create a place for it.
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Types of Resumes
There are four basic resume formats: chronological, functional, and combination, and scannable. The type of format you use depends on your particular background and the type of work you are seeking.
Chronological Resume Format
A chronological resume emphasizes your work and experiences and organizes your information around dates. Chronological resumes are easy to follow because they highlight career growth and the names of employers. You should use the chronological format when your work or activity experience is strong and relevant to your job objective, when previous job titles are impressive and job history shows growth, and when you want to emphasize your accomplishments. Disadvantages of this format—your skills may not be highlighted and gaps in your career path may be more visible. List jobs or experiences in reverse chronological order with your most recent position listed first.
Functional Resume Format
A functional resume organizes information under functional headings that highlight your major areas of accomplishment or strength. Experiences and skills are organized to support your job objective and are not bound by employment dates. Titles and work history are de-emphasized. You may draw upon all sources of experience (employment, volunteer work, college activities, and coursework) to describe your skills.
Since the functional resume emphasizes capabilities and skills, it can be useful when you want to enter a different career field or illustrate your transferable skills. Although the functional resume takes more time and thought to prepare, it may be more effective than the chronological format if your work experiences have been limited or you wish to focus on special skills and abilities. See the "Functional Headings" page of this packet for sample headings.
Combination Resume Format
The combination resume includes aspects of both the chronological and functional formats. Work history and skills or accomplishments are emphasized equally. This format allows you to include a section about prior work experiences and a section on your functional and transferable skills.
The purpose of a scannable resume is to match employers' needs with applicants who fulfill those needs quickly and effectively. Scannable resumes allow employers to search a database of resumes using keywords, buzzwords, or descriptors to find matches or "hits." A scannable resume maximizes the computer's ability to read the applicant's resume and obtain hits. You may use any standard format—chronological, fuctional, or combination—but the content and format guidelines for a scannable resume are slightly different than for a printed resume.
It is a good idea to have two versions of your resume: a scannable version and a printed version to take with you to the interview.
Want to see a few resume samples? Check out our Resume Writing Handout.
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General Resume Writing Guidelines
Be brief. A one-page resume is adequate. Use two pages only if you have had extensive relevant experience. Use action verbs to describe your accomplishments.
Emphasize your successes, skills, leadership abilities, and qualifications. State all information positively and relate your skills and background to the job you are seeking.
Give specific examples of your accomplishments. Quantify when possible to strengthen the impact of your message (e.g.: "supervised 12 employees," "managed a $2,000 budget").
Format and verb tense should be consistent.
Proofread for misspelled words or grammatical errors.
Be consistent with font style and size.
Use CAPITAL LETTERS, bold print, or italics to highlight parts of your resume.
Use simple graphics such as lines to create a border. If you are a graphic or interior design major, you may want to use your resume to display your design skills or logo.
Create a well-organized and visually appealing resume—appearance is just as important as content.
Print your resume on a white or ivory paper.
Use matching paper for your cover letter, especially when using a paper color other than white.
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