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Graduate Students' Resume Writing Guide

What Is a Resume?

A resume is a concise overview of an individual's background which highlights the experience and skills most relevant to a career field. Background information includes education, work experience, skills, volunteer work, and leadership. A resume is easily confused with a curriculum vitae (CV). A CV is a longer (2-4 pages) overview of an individual’s educational and academic background highlighting research, teaching, publication, and presentations. CV's are required for academic positions, fellowships, and grants.

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The Purpose of a Resume

  • Motivate the employer to interview you.
  • Provide a concise summary of your experience/background RELEVANT to the job for which you are applying.
  • Provide a medium for marketing/highlighting your relevant competencies and accomplishments.

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How to Start a Resume

You want to create an image of yourself as an active, vital participant in the work place. You are convincing the employer not only of your potential contributions to the job, but also your ability to adapt to a different environment.

  • Use action verbs to begin your descriptions. Examples:
    • Developed sales and marketing strategies.
    • Collected, measured, and evaluated chemical properties of soils.
    • Coordinated committee meetings.
  • Eliminate non-essential phrases.
    • Phrases like "responsibilities included" are passive. Use active phrases.
    • Example: Designed, prepared, and taught laboratory exercises to 30 students
  • Use quantitative and qualitative information.
    • Increased sales by 10%.
    • Wrote 3 research papers, presented 5 papers at national meetings, and led 10 seminars.
  • Describe achievements, skills gained, and responsibilities.
    • Example: Received award for excellence for design and implementation of an innovative computer program.
    • Developed financial management skills through processing of daily transactions.
    • Managed budget of $3,000.

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Resume Content and Organization

Resume content and organization can vary from field to field. Listed below are the most common categories. Note that information such as age, weight, race, salary requirements, and marital are not included in a resume. Information on citizenship is not required. If you are a US citizen or permanent alien, however, it is a good idea to include this information. Resumes have two basic styles: Reverse Chronological and Functional or Skills Format. The Reverse Chronological is the most common format because it is clear and easy to read. The Functional/Skills resume emphasizes skills areas.

Common Resume Categories

  • Applicant Information
  • Professional Objective (optional)
  • Qualifications (optional)
  • Education
  • Honors and Awards
  • Work Experience
  • Leadership and Volunteer Work
  • Skills

Other categories could include Professional Memberships, Publications, and Presentations.

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Reverse Chronological Format

The following are specific examples of each of the standard sections of a reverse chronological resume.

Applicant Information

Include your full name, full address(es), telephone number(s), and e-mail address. When including your e-mail address, consider this communication with an employer to be professional. It is advised to avoid "nick names" or "cute" automatic responses. This also goes for phone messages.

If you are between addresses or will be away for an extended period of time during your job search, consider presenting current and permanent addresses.

Professional Objective

While an objective on your resume is optional, it is one way to demonstrate focus (your focus can also be articulated on your cover letter). Be aware of being too narrow or too general. The objective may include some combination of the position of interest; industry/organization being sought; skills; and functions being sought.

Qualifications Profile

This is an optional category. It can follow or replace an objective. A well-written "Qualifications" section can draw the employer's attention to your strengths. It should highlight your skills for the position for which you are applying.

Education

In reverse-chronological order, list all of your degrees from college onward with the name of the institution and date they were awarded. List the date you expect to receive the degree for the program in which you are currently enrolled. You may also list, if relevant, courses, the name of your advisor, and your thesis title.

Awards and Honors

This category can be combined with the "Education" section or be given a separate section depending on how many awards you have received. If an award is not well-known it should be briefly explained.

Work Experience

Employers want to see, in chronological order, accomplishments, performance potential, progressions, promotions, transferable skills, technical knowledge, and level of responsibility.

Experience can include paid and volunteer work. Include your job title, place of employment, accurate dates of employment, and a description of the duties (in order of importance to the employer) which demonstrate your major selling points. Use action verbs to describe your work.

Leadership/Skills/Activities

Employers are looking for your ability to work as a team member, as well as leadership potential, initiative, and follow-through. Consider graduate school and professional activities, highlighting leadership positions. Lead with your strengths.

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Functional Format

This format organizes your experience by skill groups or areas of expertise. It is particularly useful when you have a number of experiences which are quite relevant to the job for which you are applying and can be logically grouped together. Headings might include "Research Experience," "International Experience," "Communication Skills," or "Technical Skills". If you have more than one group of experiences to highlight, either list your most impressive or goal-related function first, or use the order of importance listed by the employer in an ad or position description. Each of the skill groups you highlight should be qualified with concrete descriptions of experiences and skills which you utilize. Your employment history sections would then itemize job titles, employer names and addresses, and dates of employment.

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Presentation and Layout

  • The resume should be one page (two pages if you include publications).
  • Highlight items by underline, italics, capitals, bold, or indentation.
  • Vary fonts (be careful not to over-do by making resume look too busy or cute).
  • Allow white space. Be consistent in form. Balanced margins and adequate space make for easier reading.
  • Watch verb tenses. Do not use “I”.
  • Use a font size that is easy to read, i.e., 10-14 point.
  • PROOFREAD several times.

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Computer-Scanned Resume

A growing number of companies are using computers to process the high volume of resumes they receive. You may want to have both a conventional resume and a computer-scannable resume.

  • Use key words relevant to the field or position.
  • Use a font size of 10-14 points.
  • Use light colored (preferably white), standard size 8 1/2" X 11" paper printed on one side.
  • Avoid italic text script and underlined passages. Capitalized words and boldface are okay.
  • Avoid graphics and shading. Don't compress spaces between letters.
  • Avoid horizontal and vertical lines because they confuse the computer.
  • Avoid staples and folds.
  • Your name should be on the first readable line on each page.

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E-mail Resume

Many employers will list their e-mail address as an option to send resumes through e-mail. An e-mail resume should not be sent as an attachment, but as a plain document sent through e-mail without bold, larger print, or anything beyond the simplest features. When sending a resume by e-mail, a short cover letter should accompany the resume.

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Last Updated: 10/18/10