If you’re applying for an internship or job, attending a networking event, or seeking a volunteer opportunity, chances are you’ll need a resume. What is a resume, and how can you go about creating one? This resource will walk you through the basics of creating, formatting, and tailoring your resume to help you make your best impression to employers.
What is a resume?
A resume is:
- a marketing document used to secure an interview
- a concise and industry-specific summary of your education, skills, and experiences
- an honest reflection of your accomplishments (it is unethical to mislead employers)
- a tool that evolves as you gain professional and academic experience
Your resume is often the first impression you make on employers, so be sure to read through and edit it carefully!
Wondering about the difference between a resume and a CV? In the U.S., the term “CV” is used to refer to a longer, more detailed document typically used for careers in academia. For guidance on resume and CV conventions in other countries, check out Going Global.
What should my resume look like?
A one-page resume is preferable for most fields. Two-page resumes are typically more appropriate for those with extensive work experience.
Your resume should be clearly organized and easy to scan.
Font size: 10–12 points, for legibility. You may vary the size to provide further emphasis.
Font style: Keep the style consistent throughout. Use bold, underlining, and italics for emphasis, but use them sparingly and consistently to avoid clutter.
Margins: 0.5–1 inch.
A resume can be structured in one of two general formats:
- Chronological resumes list experiences starting from most recent, going backward in time. This is the most common resume format. Use this format if your education and experience match your career objectives.
- Hybrid resumes split the experience section into functional categories based on experience.
Use this Resume Checklist to make sure you’re on the right track.
How do I get started?
Think about your experiences and accomplishments, both past and present. These may include
- work experience
- summer jobs
- volunteer work
- extracurricular activities
- student group leadership
- research experience
- academic and independent projects
identify your transferable skills and accomplishments
You’ve likely gained a variety of transferable skills through your experiences. Identify them by
- making a list of your characteristics and abilities
- taking a skills assessment
- meeting with a career counselor to explore your transferable skills
Examples of transferable skills include
- collecting and analyzing data
- solving problems
- persuading people
- navigating uncertainty
- paying close attention to details
- synthesizing information
- explaining complex concepts to a range of audiences
Identify the skills you developed and the accomplishments you had in each position.
Research will help you learn to show how your skills can be valuable to an employer. Do this by
- reading job descriptions to identify skills and qualifications essential to the position
- reviewing employer websites to learn about the company mission, workplace culture, and values
- conducting informational interviews in the industry to learn about desired skills and experience
This research will help you learn about key skills, industry-specific language, recruitment cycles, and developing trends relevant to the position.
Write and Revise
You may have more than one version of your resume if you are applying for different types of positions.
Tailor your resume by organizing this information into relevant sections. Each experience will include basic information about your job as well as bullet points that highlight your relevant skills and accomplishments.
Then, review your draft. Do your descriptions reflect what you have learned through your research? How can you rephrase to incorporate the language of your target jobs and industry?
Edit, edit, edit! Get feedback from a CCE counselor in Quick Questions or from a friend. Your resume should never contain typos.
What if I don’t have enough experience?
You probably have more experience than you think! Remember that you can list both experiences that were paid and those that were not. Employers are interested in skills and experiences you may have gained from academic, community, and volunteer projects. A leadership position in a club or volunteer organization can build a number of skills relevant to a variety of careers, as can class projects or research papers/projects.
What if I have many years of experience?
For experienced-level hires, employers are looking for candidates who can come in and start producing. Therefore, they seek candidates who have a track record of accomplishments. Wherever possible on your resume, quantify results, describe changes you have implemented, highlight areas where you were given or took on increased responsibilities.
As you gain more and more experience, everything you have done will no longer fit on your resume. While it is important to account for your time, you do not need to give an in-depth description of every job you have had nor do you need to continue to include all of your experience during college. If it is related, include it with an explanation; if not, you can start to cut down or eliminate older experiences. Standardly, your resume should be one page in length but if you have over ten years of experience it is okay to go to two pages as long as you keep the information to the most recent and/or relevant experiences to the position you are applying for.
What if I want to change careers?
As a career changer, one of your biggest challenges is convincing a potential employer to interview you based on your resume. Your research and ability to restate your background in new terms is critical. Pay particular attention to your transferable skills and be sure your resume reflects what you can do for the new industry (in this case, a hybrid resume may work best). The more knowledge and applicability you can show in your resume, the more likely you are to be viewed as someone ready to handle the new challenge.
What file format should I use when submitting my resume?
In most cases, you’ll submit your resume electronically—either by email or through a web-based application form.
Make sure you submit your resume in the format requested by the employer and that your resume looks the same when it reaches its destination. If you’re emailing your resume, send it as a PDF unless another format is requested, such as .doc or plain text. If you’re uploading your resume to a database, double check its formatting before finalizing your application.
Employers sometimes use electronic scanning systems called Applicant Tracking Systems to review resumes. See our Applicant Tracking Systems tipsheet for guidance on ensuring that your resume is not eliminated by electronic screening software.