A well-prepared resume and cover letter are essential to getting a job interview, as is a concise presentation of your abilities, accomplishments, and future capabilities. For a job search, your resume and cover letter must conform to basic, generally accepted standards, including only information that is relevant to an employer’s needs. In comparison, an academic or international resume is often a curriculum vitae (CV), a much longer and more detailed synopsis of your educational and professional history.
Resume Format and Appearance
Your resume should be organized chronologically with the most recent job experience information first. This format emphasizes job titles and organizations and describes in detail the accomplishments and responsibilities associated with each position.
There is no one correct resume layout to use, and you should avoid using templates. The best resume is one that clearly and effectively communicates your experience, skills, achievements, and future potential. Generally, your resume should be attractive and easy to read: use consistent font, spacing, and formatting with a balance of white space. A resume without white space can appear cluttered and chaotic, but a resume with too much white space gives the impression that you have run out of things to add or say. A balance of white space is reader friendly, as it allows the reader to maintain focus or take notes on the resume, if needed.
Resumes should be free of spelling, grammatical, and typographical errors. Be sure to have several people review your resume for errors and omissions.
A resume should be a single page. Employers generally expect one page per 10 years of related experience or degree earned. Graduate students or individuals with extensive full-time work experience may have two pages, but the second page must be full (i.e., no half or partial pages).
Several sections of information should be included on your resume:
- Contact information
- Technical skills
Optional sections or subsections include:
- Relevant projects or related coursework
- Student or volunteer activities/clubs/organizations
- Honors or awards
- Publications, presentations, or patents
- Language proficiencies
Do Not Include
Aside from contact information, personal and private information is usually excluded from resumes due to job discrimination policies designed to protect you. Therefore, information that should NOT be added to a resume includes:
- A photograph
- Marital status
- Residency status
- Date of birth
- Social security number
- National origin
- Salary expectations
- Reference list (reference lists are a separate document)
Follow this step-by-step guide to create a draft of your resume.
The heading can be set up in a variety of ways, but your name should be the largest text on your resume. Your contact information must be readable and consistent across all job-search documents (resume, cover letter, and reference list).
The heading should include your:
- Full name
- Telephone number
- Email address
- Address (optional)
- City, state, zip code (optional)
Optional information includes your portfolio website, your LinkedIn page, or your GitHub link. This information should be included ONLY if the site or profile is current, and it reflects your professional ambitions. Personal websites with non-professional content (e.g., Facebook) should not be referenced and should have restricted privacy settings.
Educational experiences should be listed near the top of your resume, and you should always list your most recent education first. High school information should not be included.
Education information should include:
- Full name of the school, college, or university
- City, state, or country
- Date of graduation (either past or anticipated)
- Degree (written in full)
- Major and cognate or specialization, and/or minor
- GPA, academic honors, and awards. Your cumulative GPA should be listed if it is above a 3.0. Your major GPA should be listed if it is significantly higher than the cumulative, but it should be specified as the major GPA so as not to mislead employers. If you include major GPA, cumulative must be listed as well.
In this section, include full-time work, summer jobs, internships, co-ops, campus/student jobs, research, and volunteer opportunities that are relevant to the position you are seeking or that highlight transferable skills. Experience information should include:
- Place of employment
- Title of position
- Location of company (city and state or country)
- Dates of employment, including month and year or season
- Responsibilities, qualifications, and accomplishments
Do not include reasons for leaving, salary history, exaggerations of responsibilities, names or phone numbers of supervisors, or jobs you plan to hold in the future.
The responsibilities and qualifications should allow readers of your resume to get an idea of what your work entailed and what you accomplished in that position. This information should be presented in bullet points, each beginning with a strong action verb written in the appropriate tense. Quantify and/or qualify when you can. They should also be written in third person (e.g., no personal pronouns such as me, my, our, etc.).
Achievement (or accomplishment) statements should be used to describe your experiences within your resume. Rather than just describing the tasks you completed, these statements allow you to highlight your particular skills, qualities and characteristics you have and would likely bring to your next organization.
To start thinking about achievements rather than job duties, ask yourself some of the following questions:
- What new skills or knowledge have you gained?
- Have you accomplished a project with a team?
- Have you managed or led a workshop, project, or initiative?
- What has been your biggest accomplishment?
- What did you accomplish that exceeded your expectations?
- What difference have you made in your role?
- What evidence do you have of your achievement?
- Did you prevent and/or remedy a problem?
- Did you create something new procedure, event, etc.?
- Have you dealt with difficult individuals?
- Have you increased participation, donations, revenue or productivity?
- What has improved due to your efforts?
- Have you received outstanding feedback on your work?
- What challenges have you overcome?
Once you have determined achievements to highlight, use the formula below to transform them into full statements.
Bullet points should be formatted as such: Action Verb + Skill/Duty + Accomplishment
- Action verb: “Developed…”
- Action verb + skill/duty: “Developed Company A’s first website using Java and HTML…”
- Action verb + skill/duty + accomplishment: “Developed Company A’s first website using Java and HTML, generating approximately 10,000 potential customer hits weekly.”
- Avoid using the same action verb or showcasing the same type of task more than once. This will ensure you give a full picture of your skills.
- Be sure to use present tense verbs for current roles and past tense verbs for past roles.
- Use numbers to accurately express the scope of the work you did
- Check that your statements highlight your unique contributions in a role. Focus less on doing and more on achieving.
Choosing Action Verbs
Use action words to begin bullet points that describe your experience and accomplishments.
Employers recruiting from the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering want to quickly see the technical skills in which you are proficient. Therefore, you should separate these skills into categories (e.g., languages, platforms, databases, etc.), list specific examples such as Python or Java, and include level of proficiency.
These skills can also include fluency in foreign languages, lab skills, or other areas of competence that are related to the job.
Languages: Java, Scheme, C/C++, Python, Visual Basic
Platforms: UNIX, Microsoft Windows, Mac OS, Linux
Databases: SQL, Microsoft Access, Oracle, FoxPro
Miscellaneous: Microsoft Excel, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe InDesign
Related Coursework or Projects
A related coursework or projects section is appropriate if the projects and research you have completed are indications of your knowledge and preparation for the job you are seeking. Related coursework can be included under the education section and should be limited to the titles of six to eight higher-level courses. For example, informatics undergrads can list and describe their capstone project in a few short phrases. Classes are often listed for those who have not had much work experience, and it should be considered optional and/or unnecessary if you have significant experience in your field.
Student Involvement, Leadership, or Volunteer Activities/Clubs/Organizations
Employers like to see that you are a well-rounded student with activities and interests outside of your academic coursework. These activities include professional, educational, or organizational involvement, as well as accompanying leadership positions. They are an indication of your leadership, team-oriented, and organizational skills.
Resume Do’s and Don’ts
- Use experience bullet points to focus on your accomplishments, using action verbs to clearly indicate the skills you’ve used and acquired.
- Be consistent with your use of punctuation, as well as font, style, and spacing.
- Quantify and describe outcomes and accomplishments (e.g., “Created marketing campaign that increased club membership by 25 percent”).
- List experiences in reverse chronological order. Bullet points for current experiences should be in the present tense (e.g., plan, design, analyze), and bullet points for past experiences should be in the past tense (e.g., planned, designed, analyzed).
- Use a related projects section to help employers understand your project experience—the world of work is all about projects. • Keep your resume brief enough to fit on one page. Grad students may go beyond on occasion.
- Include a technology skills section.
- Have others look over your resume for content and grammar.
- Be clear and concise—employers only look at resumes for an average of six seconds.
- When applying online, upload your resume as a PDF.
- Put anything besides the truth in your resume—embellishing or outright falsifying information will never benefit you.
- Use a resume template—they are very restrictive, and employers can spot them easily, giving the impression that you did not care enough to put more work into your resume.
- Include high school involvement. If you do not have enough activities now, get involved.
- Use the same verb repeatedly in multiple bullet points.
- Include personal pronouns (e.g., I, me, we).
- Include personal information, physical characteristics, or photographs on your resume.
- Include “References available upon request” on your resume. Employers will ask for references if they want them.
- Use tables or columns.