Resume Basics and Overview

resume basics and overview

You’ve written papers, taken tests, gone to office hours, and done your extracurriculars. You feel pretty prepared for life after college, but then there’s that one thing: the resume. You probably already know what is a resume and some resume basics, but it’s daunting to sit down and write your own.

But it doesn’t have to be!

As a new graduate, you’re probably much more excited about being done with 8:30 am lecture halls and online discussion boards, and your career advisors have probably terrified you with their intensity over resumes and cover letters. What if it didn’t have to be so hard?

In this article, we’re going to look at the basic components of a successful resume, why we use them, and ways to make yours stand out so that your job search will be as smooth as possible.

What is a Resume?

You’ve probably used a resume at some point already. Did you have to assemble a list of your high school honors and extracurriculars before college? Maybe you had a campus job and they asked about your previous volunteer work or other experiences.

Wait, that’s a resume? Yes, it is!

A resume is an organized summary of your work experience, education, and relevant skills that are used to market yourself to potential employers. In other words, it’s the front line that allows you to show a prospective employer that you have the qualifications they’re looking for (or that your existing qualifications demonstrate an ability to learn the other skills they need). You’re essentially introducing yourself to a hiring manager in a way that you hope will get them to consider you for a job at their company. If you look at successful resume samples, you’ll see that they’re clearly showing why a candidate would excel at a particular job.

Think of it as one part history, one part marketing – and both elements are crucial to building a successful resume!

CV or not CV, That is the Question

Before we dive into how to make your resume amazing, let’s talk about a related term you’ll probably encounter: a “CV.” CV is short for “curriculum vitae.” Although some employers may use it as a synonym for “resume,” in most cases it’s a more formal and/or in-depth document. We have a separate article that dives into the exact differences between a resume and CV.

Like a resume, a CV includes your work history and a description of responsibilities and accomplishments. However, it also is likely to include other details, such as academic publications and presentations, creations such as works of art or inventions, patents owned, and similar achievements that may or may not be linked directly to a job.

These probably sound extra intimidating, especially if you don’t have all of those things! Not to worry – most job opportunities don’t call for a full CV; they’re typically found among academics, doctors, scientists, artists of all stripes, and those in the non-profit field. Even those fields often will just ask for a typical resume.


Imagine you’re a hiring manager, tasked with finding the best candidates for open positions. You’re going to get a LOT of applications… so how would you go about narrowing the field? Wouldn’t it be helpful if you could quickly get a summary of each applicant’s relevant experience and knowledge? That’s a resume.

Hiring professionals use resumes to quickly screen applicants. It’s true, a resume can’t possibly contain all the information they need to hire you – but it contains enough information for them to know if they’re even interested. Sound harsh? It is, a little. But it’s also the reality of job seeking, so we want you to be prepared!

In general, the point of a resume is to give enough information to demonstrate you might be a good candidate and to get you an interview.

Using your Resume to get Interviews

A resume won’t get you a job on its own, but it’s the key to getting an interview, which is where the real decision-making happens! You want your resume to stand out and grab the attention of the people making hiring decisions so that you can have the chance to prove how great you are for the job in an interview.

Why is it so important to quickly grab the reader’s attention? This is one of the resume basics that can’t be overstated because hiring committees have a lot of resumes to get through and very little time. That’s the time you have to make a strong first impression. You can deal with details in your interview, but you need a strong, standout resume to get you to the interview stage.

Stand Out From the Crowd

Whenever you apply for a job, you’re one of many, many total strangers that the company must evaluate. So how do you make your resume the one that gets attention? There’s one simple strategy that can put you right there at the top:

Tailor your resume to the specific job opportunity!

This doesn’t necessarily mean to completely overhaul your resume for each application, but rather to tweak it to emphasize the achievements and responsibilities that most correspond to the job you want. A useful technique for this is to look at the keywords in the job posting and try to include them in the descriptions of your experience.

Whether they’re screened first by a computer system or a human manager, a resume without the keywords is definitely less likely to get you through to the next round. Pay close attention to the job posting, and make sure your resume shows how you’d shine in that position!

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