Writing a Resume
What is a Resume?
A resume is a summary of your qualifications, education, and experience. It is a marketing tool to present your relevant strengths and skills to a potential employer. It must be concise, clearly written, and well organized. We recommend that you tailor your resume to the specific jobs for which you are applying, which means you must select and include only the experience that is most relevant to the position.
When sending an employer your resume for a particular position, you should send it with a cover letter that is also tailored to the specific job for which you are applying.
Begin by writing out everything from your current and previous experience that may be relevant for the position. Read the job description thoroughly, and make sure to include what the employer is asking for.
You may include education (including coursework, research papers, honors, awards, and special projects), computer skills, language skills, and current and previous employment, internship, and volunteer experience. When listing details on work, internship, and substantial volunteer experiences, you should try to highlight accomplishments instead of merely listing responsibilities.
As you write your resume, remember that employers are looking for people with transferable skills. Transferable skills are skills that can be 'transferred' or used in various settings. Examples of transferable skills include: analysis, critical thinking, research, investigation, problem-solving, interpersonal, oral and written communication, decision making, and the ability to work on a team. You may have developed these skills not only from paid work experience but also from volunteer experience, academic courses, and class projects.
To explore your own transferable skills, please take the skills survey below. You may wish to use the Transferable Skills Worksheet to place your transferable skills into context of the experiences through which they were obtained.
General Formatting and Style Conventions
- Use a standard and professional font such as Garamond, Times New Roman, Palatino Linotype, Cambria, Arial, or Helvetica.
- Use 9 to 12 point font. (Keep in mind that different fonts are easily readable at different sizes.)
- Use .75 to one-inch margins.
- Leave an adequate amount of white space between sections.
- Use all uppercase letters to indicate section headings; use bold letters to highlight subcategories or important key information such as job titles.
- Be consistent with formatting (e.g. if you use periods at the end of an experience bullet, use them throughout the entire document).
- Use present tense to describe current and ongoing experience (i.e. Assist physical therapists with direct patient care).
- Use past tense to describe past experience (i.e. Interpreted results of laboratory tests).
- For most new college graduates, a one-page resume is sufficient. By tailoring your resume towards a particular position, you can usually limit it to one page. If you are considering jobs in diverse fields, you may want to have more than one resume. If you have a graduate degree or a great deal of relevant experience, a two-page resume may be appropriate.
Organizing Your Resume
The information you include in your resume and the layout of your resume will depend on your skills and experience in relation to your career objective. Be sure to keep these general tips in mind:
- Be consistent in your organizational layout so that your resume is easy to visually scan. The reader should be able to quickly scan your resume and find the relevant information.
- Place the most important information in the top half of your resume.
- Place education before work experience unless you have a great deal of relevant work experience.
An Additional Note on Organizing Your Resume
A chronological resume presents the most recent information first within each section. A functional resume organizes information from many experiences around functional or skill area(s). A chronological/functional resume] is much like a chronological resume, except that you highlight experience that most relates to the position for which you are applying by listing it in reverse chronological order before listing additional, less relevant experience.
You should choose the format that best fits your individual needs, but in general, we recommend using a chronological or chronological/functional resume. Many employers find functional resumes difficult to follow because experience is described apart from where it was obtained. However, a functional resume might be appropriate if you are considering a move to a different field. Ask the University Career Center for advice if you are considering a functional resume.
Remember: Your resume and cover letter must be free from grammatical and spelling mistakes. It is very important to carefully edit and proof your documents to ensure that they are error-free. Before you prepare the final versions, have several people review them to proofread and suggest possible improvements. Each person will critique your resume from his or her viewpoint, so only incorporate those suggestions with which you feel most comfortable. We strongly encourage you to make an appointment to have your resume critiqued at the University Career Center.
At a minimum, your resume will include the following categories: name and contact information, education, and experience.
Name and Contact Information: Your name and contact information should always be the top of your resume. Include your first and last name, street address, city, state, zip, home or cell phone number, and a professionally appropriate e-mail address (i.e. your first and last name or some variation thereof).
Note: It is recommended that you open a Gmail account if you do not already have one. Although it is perfectly acceptable to use other email accounts (e.g. Hotmail, Yahoo, AOL) for personal exchanges, their use in a professional context might send the message that you are not technologically current.
Education: List your degree and major, name of institution granting the degree, city, and state. Do not list dates attended, but do indicate the year of graduation or the projected year of graduation if you have not yet graduated. You may also include GPA, academic honors/awards, relevant coursework, and projects such as your capstone in the Education section of your resume.
You should list your high school only if you are a freshman student who has recently graduated from high school. If you have more than one degree or certificate, list your most recent degree/certificate first. In general, list an associate's degree only if it is different from your PSU major and relevant to the position for which you are applying.
View Education Section Samples.
Experience: List all the experience (paid and unpaid) that is relevant to the position for which you are applying. You do not need to list all the jobs you've held. You should list jobs in reverse chronological order starting with your most recent job. However, you may wish to highlight the most important experiences by using two categories such as Relevant Experience (or Related Experience) followed by a section called Additional Experience.
Usually, you will list your job title first, followed by the organization's name, city, and state, and employment dates (both month and year). Next, you will provide additional insight into what you did and the skills you gained by highlighting relevant duties, responsibilities, and accomplishments. You may list the highlights as bullets or in a “paragraph” form, with a period after every phrase. Either way, the sentences should be incomplete, without a subject and begin with a powerful action verb.
Provide an accurate description of your responsibilities, but be sure to emphasize accomplishments and outcomes that most directly relate to the employer's needs. Use numbers and percentages to quantify your successes whenever possible. Finally, try to avoid listing too many duties. The employer does not need to know every detail of a job if it does not relate to the position for which you are applying.
You need to decide which, if any, of the following additional categories you will include on your resume. Imagine every inch of your resume as incredibly valuable advertising space. You do not want to litter your resume with information that does not relate to the position for which you are applying. When deciding to include each category, ask yourself:
1. Is this category applicable to me and my experience?
2. Is this category relevant to the position for which I am applying?
Objective: The job objective tells the employer the exact job title for which you are applying. We generally do not recommend including an objective unless you are applying to a large organization and there are many similar positions available. Pharmaceutical Sales Representative II; Admissions Fellow, Social Media; and Senior Staff Accountant are examples of specific job objectives. Do not use general objectives such as “Challenging and rewarding position in a growing firm where I can utilize my abilities.”
Qualifications/Strengths/Profile: Located at the top of the resume after your name and contact information, this is a three to five line, bulleted summary of your most pertinent experience, qualifications, and attributes that is customized for the position in which you are applying. This is comparable to your “elevator pitch,” a short summary of why you are the ideal candidate for the position. If you have difficulty with self-promotion, a good way to brainstorm for this section is to think about how your best friend would describe you and your greatest professional accomplishments.
Honors/Awards: List academic honors and other awards under the Education section or as a separate category. Information in this category could include affiliation with national academic honoraries and scholarships.
Projects: If you have class projects that directly relate to your career objective, include a discussion of these projects as part of the Education category or as a separate category. As in the Experience section, you may wish to include bulleted highlights of your accomplishments using action verbs.
Computer Skills*: List your computer skills either in a separate category or discuss them in the Experience section. If you are seeking a position which requires extensive computer knowledge, categorize within this section and list your programming languages, systems, and software knowledge separately.
Language Skills*: If you are fluent, proficient, or have a basic understanding of languages other than English, include this information on your resume. Also include your level of ability.
*Note: You may also choose to have a general Skills category that includes both computer and language skills.
Activities/Organizations: Your community or school organizational involvement may be relevant to the position. Depending on the relevance, you could simply list these activities or describe the activities with the same level of detail that you'd describe paid work experience.
Interests: Most Career Counselors now discourage including interests unless the interests are highly relevant to the position for which you are applying and have not been conveyed elsewhere in the resume. If you do choose to include them, be specific. For example, it is better to specifically list the sports you are interested in (e.g. squash, soccer, tennis) than to generically list that you have an interest in sports.
Once you have completely and thoroughly proofed your resume and a cover letter, you are ready to submit your application. Remember to always carefully follow the employer’s instructions, but if no preferences or requirements are indicated, use the following rules for submitting application materials.
If you are sending the cover letter as an attachment in an email or uploading onto a website, you should:
- Carefully consider the format. For resumes and cover letters, .pdf and .doc files are most common. Unless the employer indicates otherwise, we recommend that you choose .pdf files because the formatting is locked and the files will open despite software compatibility issues.
- Make sure all of the file names include your name and the position title. Use the following format: Last Name Position Title resume.pdf and Last Name Position Title cover letter.pdf (i.e. Smith Assistant Teacher resume.pdf and Smith Assistant Teacher cover letter.pdf)
- Write a short, but professional email to the recipient indicating the position that you are applying for and documents that you have attached. Reiterate your interest in the position and sign off with your first and last name followed by your contact information.
- Always double-check that all documents are attached before you send your email.
If sending a physical copy by mail, you should:
- Print with a laser-jet printer on high-quality, heavy paper purchased at a copy shop or office supply store. White, off-white, or ivory are acceptable paper colors, and the paper should be a standard 8 1/2 by 11 inch size.
- If your resume is more than one page, put your name and contact information on each page and indicate page number (e.g. page 1 of 2) at the bottom.
Make your resume "pop" with help from this CareerSpots video
The University Career Center offers monthly workshops that focus on writing effective resumes and cover letters. You can also schedule an appointment with a Career Counselor for individualized feedback on your resume.