One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
Writing a résumé
Your résumé is a marketing tool. It conveys your professional identity, with the goal of helping you get a job. It does this by telling potential employers what you’ve done and what you can do for them. Think of your résumé as a living document; you’ll want to tailor it specifically to match each job you apply for.
Click on one of the below headings for more information:
- Use keywords that are specific to the job you want. Employers and recruiters often search online job banks for candidates; they’ll type in keywords to narrow down the field. To figure out what keywords to use, consult multiple postings for jobs you’re interested in. What words come up most frequently? Those are your key words; make sure they appear in your résumé. For example, if you’re looking for a job as a fundraiser, some relevant key words would be development, growth, campaigns, grants, gifts, and donors.
- Use action verbs to describe your responsibilities and achievements. The verbs you choose will vary depending on your field, but here are some good choices that apply to many different types of work: managed, achieved, trained, improved, created, developed, implemented, led. See Writing an impressive job application for more dynamic action verbs.
- Use short, bulleted phrases, and parallelism to keep your style clear and consistent. Write “Supervised team of three designers” instead of using the full sentence “I supervised a team of three designers.” Remember to keep verb forms parallel from entry to entry.
- Be concise. A student or entry-level résumé should fit on one page, unless that applicant is unusually accomplished. Experienced professionals may need two or more pages, but should make sure all content included is relevant to the position they are applying for.
- Use bold type, bullet points, and a standard font size and page margin to make your résumé easy to read. The exception to this is if you are saving your résumé as a text document; see more on this below.
Read more top tips for résumé writing.
- The chronological résumé lists all your experience in reverse chronological order, starting with your most recent position. This is the usual approach for people who are established and staying in a particular field, and who do not have significant gaps in their work history.
- The functional or skills-based résumé emphasizes transferable skills rather than the jobs you have held. This approach is best for people who are changing careers and those with noticeable gaps in their work history.
Once upon a time, a word-processed résumé made perfect sense, because you usually either mailed your résumé or handed it to someone. Today, however, you’ll often be emailing your résumé or uploading it to an online application system. The formatting you worked so hard on can mysteriously change when someone else prints your documents. Further, some online systems do not accept word-processed documents. And while a PDF version of your résumé will preserve your original formatting, some online systems don’t accept this type of file either.
For these instances, you may need to create a plain text document. Résumés prepared this way are not always pretty to look at, but it’s the only format accepted by many online systems.
- Text documents contain no bold, italics, bullets, or tabs, so once you’ve converted your résumé to this format, review it and make any changes you can to improve its appearance.
- If chunks of text are hard to read, try adding extra spaces.
- You could also use all capital letters for headings, and asterisks where you originally had bullets.
Here are the main categories to include in a résumé:
This includes your name, address, phone number, and email address.
- If you have a professional website, include the URL for that, too. But if your website is about a favorite hobby (collecting vintage records, for example, or snowboarding), do not include it in your résumé.
Objective and Summary
Your objective is your target job or career goal.
- To give it extra emphasis you can present this on its own line, or you can incorporate it into your summary, sometimes called a personal profile.
Your summary is where you introduce yourself to a potential employer, and where you establish your brand.
- Here, in three or four sentences, you’ll outline who you are, what skills and qualities you have, and why you would be an asset to the company.
For a chronological résumé, you’ll begin with your current job.
- Give the job title followed by your main responsibilities, key accomplishments, and skills, focusing on those that are most relevant for the job you’re applying for.
- Work backward through other jobs you’ve held, repeating what you did above. Include internships and volunteer work, if applicable.
- Treat any significant periods of unemployment in a positive way: highlight any volunteer work you did or new skills you learned while unemployed.
For a functional résumé, you begin with skills, not jobs.
- After highlighting your skills, such as “management” or “sales,” you have a section entitled Work History.
- There you simply list each company and job title on one line, from most recent to oldest.
This section includes the degree or degrees you have earned (or are about to earn).
- For each one, include the name and location of your school and the date you graduated, or expect to graduate.
Other Skills, Achievements, and Training
- List any relevant coursework or training you’ve completed (for example, to gain IT skills or knowledge of a foreign language).
- Include awards for professional achievements or honors and scholarships earned at school.
Give the names and contact information of people who would be willing to give you a reference.
- Ideally, one person should be from your current or most recent place of work.
- If you’re applying for your first job, consider using a teacher or a coach who knows you well enough to vouch for your character.
- Always confirm with these people that they are willing to serve as references before listing them.
Here are three examples of résumés:
- The first résumé (pdf) is for someone who has just started her career as an administrative assistant.
- The second résumé (pdf) is for a person who’s planning to change his career from teaching to social work, after having returned to college for a second degree.
- The third is a detailed CV (pdf) for a college assistant professor.
To view their corresponding application cover letters, visit Writing a cover letter.
Back to Applying for a job.
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