A résumé is an important document that represents you and the sum of your professional accomplishments on a single piece of paper. It outlines personal information about you as an individual — your career objectives, past experiences, and skills — in a relatively small space. As you design your résumé, it is crucial to remember that employers often look at résumés very quickly, giving only 10 to 15 seconds to each one. Therefore, the content and organization of your résumé must be dynamic and engaging enough to make a potential employer give your résumé a longer look — no small feat in today's competitive job market.
Here are some guidelines to help you craft an effective, eye-catching résumé that helps to get you in the door! Then, as they say, the rest is up to you.
- One-page résumés are best. If you have a lot of experience and skills, publications, and/or presentations, however, a two-page résumé may be more realistic.
- Use phrases instead of complete sentences, beginning with action verbs rather than pronouns: chaired, developed, designed, facilitated, reorganized, supervised, oversaw, streamlined, produced, etc.
- Describe situations, actions, and results in concrete terms. Leave subjective information, such as, "I consider myself to be a quick study," for your cover letter.
- Make sure you carefully proofread your résumé, and ask others to review it as well. Typographical errors or misspelled words can cost you an interview in a split second!
- The objective should be focused and clear. Before writing your résumé, be clear with yourself about your reasons for writing it, and what you hope to accomplish with it. Is it for a graduate school, career, or other opportunity? Make sure your objective makes the answer to these questions clear.
- You may want to make your objective relatively broad, but you want it to be specific enough that an employer understands what type of position you are seeking (i.e., "To obtain a satisfying position teaching history or social studies at the middle school level").
- This section includes degrees, majors, minors, graduation dates, information about
school(s) attended, certificates, awards, and academic honors.
- University and college experience should be listed in reverse chronological order. List graduate degrees first, undergraduate degrees second.
- For each position, describe skills and responsibilities using action verbs in the past tense, except for current position if applicable. Keep descriptions concise.
- Whenever possible, use concrete results and data to maximize your accomplishments (e.g., "Responsible for administering a $300,000 budget"; "Supervised a staff of 12").
- Don't try to cram too much information onto the page. Arrange words on the page as neatly and symmetrically as possible, and "chunk" sections to make the page more easily scannable by the reader.
- Use high quality, 20–25 lb. paper in a neutral color. Ivory, gray, and granite are safe colors; bright and fluorescent colors, while they may be eye-catching, can also be offensive. Laser print these rather than photocopying them.
- Don't give reasons for termination on your résumé; it will seem defensive and negative to a potential employer. If this issue comes up in the interview, deal with the question in as positive a light as you can.
- Don't list references directly on your résumé. An often-seen format is to write "References available upon request" at the bottom of the résumé. Be prepared to furnish four or more references when these are requested.
- Lastly, don't misrepresent yourself or your experiences. Doing so will invariably backfire on you in some way — either in the interview, or worse, on the job!
Remember that your résumé is always a work in progress. As you gain new skills and experiences, you will want to add them to your résumé on a fairly regular basis. Be sure to keep track of accomplishments and kudos. And don't be afraid to let your confidence in your accomplishments shine through. If you follow these guidelines, you'll be on the fast track in no time!