You’ve written hundreds of pages of papers, reports, and analyses over your academic career. But now you’re facing the hardest writing assignment of all, the one-page resume.
Many new college graduates get writer’s block when it comes to how to make a resume. If you’re a new college graduate, resumes are likely a mystery that hits you on the spectrum from either “frightens you to death” or “bores you to tears.”
In reality, writing a resume is not as difficult as many make it out to be. That said, resumes are vital tools that are a critical piece of most job searches.
Below we’ll tackle the various components of an effective resume. This includes the reasons why resumes deserve a significant amount of attention on the part of undergraduates early in your college career, well before graduation.
Before we jump in, let’s look at what’s included in this article:
Table of Contents
- RESUME BASICS
- RESUME FORMATS
- RESUME WRITING TIPS
What Is a Resume?
You likely heard about resumes well before entering college. But by the time graduation came around, you probably still didn’t have a thorough understanding of what a resume is and what it is not.
Who has the time to think about something that’s way in the future when you have a calculus exam and a 20-page analysis of Don Quixote due tomorrow? You’re not alone.
So what is a resume? What is its purpose?
Resumes are marketing devices that you use to quickly summarize you work history and skill sets.
Your resume shows a reader, such as a hiring manager or employer, that you’re qualified for a posted job. Or, at the very least, that you’ve got skill sets indicating you’re capable and able to quickly adapt to the position requirements and the work environment.
Whether on paper or in some kind of digital format (e.g., LinkedIn), a resume serves as a way for you to market your skills to employers.
Why Do You Need a Resume?
Ever heard of an “elevator pitch?”
It refers to a quick speech that businesses practice to promote a product to a buyer in about 20 to 30 seconds Or approximately the length of most elevator rides. A resume is essentially an elevator pitch for getting jobs.
You need a resume to quickly show specific skill sets, accomplishments, and education you’ve attained which suggest you would excel at a specific job.
Like an elevator pitch, a resume needs to capture a hiring manager’s attention quickly and convince the hiring manager to read the entire resume. A resume alone will rarely get you the job, but a great resume gets you noticed and potentially invited for an interview.
Hiring managers are gatekeepers who control which job applicants are considered for interviews. You have their attention for about 10 to 30 seconds. If they fail to find your qualifications in that time, they move on to the next applicant’s resume.
It may not be fair, but that’s the reality job seekers face. Hiring managers have a limited time in any given day. Plus they have other responsibilities beyond reading resumes.
Resumes: The Key to Interviews
Remember: A resume won’t generally get you a job offer. But it does help or hurt your chances of getting an interview. And interviews are usually the main way that hiring managers determine who gets a job offer.
Let’s take an insider’s tour of the hiring process.
Most companies have set hiring guidelines which include:
- The human resources department posts an ad indicating a job opening is available. This often includes a requirement to post an ad in local newspapers and in national and/or international news outlets and to leave the ad up for a set period of time (four to eight weeks, for example).
- A committee of staff is assembled to consider applicants by reviewing resumes and cover letters submitted by applicants. The people on the committee are usually the ones most likely to work with the person ultimately hired.
- The committee narrows the field to three to five candidates who, based on their submitted resumes (and cover letters), appear qualified for the job. Sometimes hiring managers will interview more than five applicants, but that’s not often.
- After the interviews, the company performs a background check on the top candidate(s). If the background checks turn up no red flags, they make a job offer.
These procedures drains hiring managers and committee members of time and energy. Given the time crunch involved, hiring managers and committee members try to get through resumes as quickly as possible to get to the interview stage.
How much time do you think a hiring manager can spare to read over any given resume?
Count on a hiring manager spending less than 10 seconds reading your resume.
To complicate things, hiring managers don’t have time to read through social media pages. In fact, many businesses enforce policies that forbid hiring managers and committee members from considering anything other than the resume and cover letter submitted by an applicant.
Hence, the resume becomes the key to getting to the interview stage, and your resume needs to grab a reader’s attention quickly!
What Makes a Resume Stand Out?
By now you get the picture:
Your resume needs to quickly capture and hold the attention of the hiring manager or committee. You basically need readers to want to take the time to read over your resume for more than the usual 10 to 30 seconds.
The question is: How? Here’s the key:
Target your resume for the job you’re applying to!
That’s how you stand out from a crowd of applicants for a position! Targeting a resume means that you customize it to include keywords from the job ad. Reword each section to show how your experiences and accomplishments make you a great candidate.
Here’s an example:
Let’s say you apply for a job that seeks applicants with expertise in “editing using Chicago Style.”
Where to start customizing?
Well, first you should make certain to highlight your experience in the past editing manuscripts utilizing Chicago-style editing procedures. Maybe you worked on the school newspaper or used Chicago style for writing papers in school.
Highlight accomplishments you attained while using the Chicago style.
I revamped editing procedures specifically to utilize Chicago style in all school yearbook editing processes. That’s how you stand out!
Hiring managers are looking for such keywords/buzzwords when scanning resumes. If you don’t incorporate the right keywords into the top half of your resume, a hiring manager is less than likely to read the entire thing.
What is a CV?
Before we jump into resume formatting, let’s take a quick detour into another device that you may have heard about: The CV. CV simply stands for “Curriculum Vitae.”
It’s a comprehensive summary of an individual’s professional history, or what you can think of as a “resume on steroids.” The CV is a document that lists all relevant work experience and all the intricacies of each job listed.
Additionally, such documents include details like:
- Articles published in peer-reviewed journals
- Works of art produced
- Songs written/performed
- Continuing education completed
- Patents received
- Computer programs created
- Museum exhibitions
- Photos published
- Conferences where you presented
Seasoned professionals with more than fifteen years of experience often have a CV in the range of five to seven pages.
However, most professionals will not need to develop a CV. You can simply utilize a one- to two-page resume.
CVs may be the better choice if you are thinking about going into particular fields, including:
- Academics/higher education professionals
- Medical doctors
- Non-profit managers
Admittedly, a resume will generally still suffice for job seekers in even these listed professions. If you ever have any questions as to whether a CV is right for you, college professors are the most frequent CV users and are a great resource here.
Our “CV vs. Resume Dilemma” article goes into even more detail about the differences between CVs and resumes.
What Types of Resumes Can You Choose From?
Let’s now return to resumes by looking at the different resume types.
There are lots of different types of resumes out there, but we’re going to simplify things for you by narrowing down the field to three main types:
- Chronological resumes
- Functional resumes
- Combination resumes
A chronological resume lists jobs in reverse-chronological order and provides details about a job seeker’s accomplishments and duties from those jobs.
These resumes provide good detail about your job history. But many consider them rather boring.
Additionally, a straightforward chronological resume often doesn’t have a section highlighting an individual’s skill sets. And those skills are crucial to getting noticed.
Who uses this type of resume?
Typically individuals who have a decent or great amount of experience related to their field.
So if you’re a recent college graduate, your resume may likely have little relevant experience other than maybe an internship, which makes this format difficult to pull off.
A functional resume provides a listing of skills that the job seeker possesses and little more than the name of the companies and the job titles the job seeker had at each job. Sometimes, a functional resume includes dates when the job seeker worked at each job.
What are the benefits of this resume type?
It helps highlight your relevant skills for the job for which you’re applying.
For a recent college graduate with little experience, this format option can help draw a potential employer to skill sets and relevant coursework completed. This can effectively land a new college graduate in the group of job applicants receiving job interviews.
Given the weaknesses of both chronological and functional formats, we recommend the third type of resume format:
A combination resume is a well-balanced mixture of the chronological and functional formats. It adds flair to the chronological design while also filling in all the details a functional resume sometimes lacks.
Most resumes are in a combination format, so we’ll focus on this format going forward.
Read through our collection of resume samples to learn more about the different types of resumes.
How to Make a Resume: Overall Format
What are the most important sections that you should always include on a resume?
In all honesty, there are no set rules. Even worse, individuals on the same hiring committee may have different views of what should and should not be included on a resume. At times, this lack of agreement can be frustrating.
That said, here are sections we strongly recommend for your resume:
Start with your name at the very top of the first page of your resume.
In rare cases you might see a person’s address and contact information at the top. That’s also acceptable. But if you use this approach, be sure to boldface your name and use a font size significantly larger than that of the rest of your resume (usually 20- to 24-pt font size).
If your resume goes beyond one page (rare for new college graduates), add your name and page numbers in a footer for the document (e.g. “O’Donnell ǀ 1”).
While some resume writers may suggest repeating a person’s name and contact information on top of every page, that can be awkward and distracting.
Your address and contact information should come after your name.
Provide only one phone number, preferably a cell phone you have on your person at all times. Hiring managers get frustrated when having to choose between two or three numbers listed. For email, list one email that you check daily!
Important note for new college graduates:
Don’t use your college-assigned email address. Particularly those addresses constructed as in the following sample: firstname.lastname@example.org. These email addresses are often awkward and easy for hiring managers to mistype. Instead, generate an email address (such as with Gmail) using your initials and a number (e.g. Smith54321@email.com).
What about your LinkedIn page and/or online portfolio? We’re seeing an increase in the number of new graduates who, instead of their home address, use their LinkedIn page link. That’s perfectly acceptable.
If you’re a new college graduate, you may not have enough experience with which to build a solid LinkedIn page. In such cases, stick with your physical address.
For artists (painters, photographers, etc.), including a link to your online portfolio is also appropriate whether you use Carbonmade, DROPR, Behance or some other online archive.
For those with blogs or other websites related to the job you’re applying to, including those is an option as well.
Email and Phone Etiquette
Here are some basic resume etiquette rules:
- Your email address should have an appropriate username. Instead of some foul, goofy, or otherwise unprofessional username, simply use your last name and a number. Hisroyalhotness@email.com is most certainly not acceptable. Such an email address could get your resume tossed without further consideration.
- For your phone’s voicemail message, don’t add music or some tricky, childish message. Instead, simply state your name and that you will return calls as soon as possible.
Email and Phone Etiquette 2
Please reread the last section.
Inappropriate emails and voicemail messages could get your resume tossed.
Or even worse, such childishness could get you barred from consideration from future job openings at the respective company.
List your degrees and any certificates or certifications that are relevant to the job to which you’re applying.
For the record, once you’ve started college, you can drop your high school diploma since getting into college requires a high school diploma or a GED.
Listing your high school diploma in such instances is a waste of space unless you received a unique certification through your high school that helps your candidacy for the job. And that’s rare.
Also: List degrees with most advanced degree first. Include degree completed and year you attained the degree. If you’re still in college, list your “anticipated” graduation date, e.g. “May 2020 (Anticipated).” If you received a master’s or doctorate degree, it’s acceptable to list the respective initials after your last name in the heading, e.g. “O’Donnell, M.A.”
As for placement, “Education” usually follows the job seeker’s name and contact information. This is especially important if the job requires a specific degree. For entry-level customer service jobs, you can instead list education at the end of the resume. “How to List Education on Your Resume” details more specific examples for entry level job seekers and recent graduates.
Summary of Qualifications
We recommend including a “Summary of Qualifications” section.
Instead of a simple listing of one-word skills as you may see on many resumes, use sentences of accomplishments that link your experience and skills to the job sought.
For example, if you’re applying for a paralegal job that requires experience in Excel and legal coding software, a great qualification to list would be:
Adept in use of Excel and multiple legal coding/billing software packages.
Such a listing would quickly let a hiring manager know you possess specific skills for which the law firm is looking.
As for location on the resume, place the summary of qualifications after education. Or after your name and contact information if your education comes at the end of the resume.
This section is where you list any jobs you previously held and currently work at.
In addition to listing duties you performed at each job, it’s critical to list accomplishments you attained while employed there.
Here are some examples:
- Achieved a record in monthly sales
- Secured new customers from a region previously untapped
- Built a new website for a company that quickly gathered a 50% increase in site visitation over the previous website
- Created a new filing system that provided staff with 24/7 access to client records and company forms
- Designed a training program for new hires in an instance where no official training program existed
“The Importance of Resume Action Verbs” will help you understand which types of accomplishments that hiring managers love to see from job applicants.
What’s the takeaway here?
Make an effort to stand out and achieve accomplishments every year at every job you hold!
As for duties in those jobs, list those that link with the job you’re applying to. For this section, list jobs in reverse chronological order.
Or, if an earlier job provides your best qualifications and training for the job you’re applying to, consider two separate experience sections: “relevant experience” and “additional experience.”
Quick Notes About Listing Dates
A number of hiring managers are hyper-critical of job seekers who fail to list the month and year they began and ended jobs.
Here’s a good rule of thumb:
- If you worked at a job for over three years, list just years (e.g. 2013-2017).
- Otherwise, list both the month and year (e.g. May 2013 – April 2015).
Plenty of people are touting the listing of volunteer experience on resumes as a way to stand out to hiring managers.
If you have volunteer experience that provided you skill sets and/or experience relevant to the job you’re applying for, we agree that listing such experience is beneficial.
If your volunteer experience is completely irrelevant with regards to your professional life and responsibilities, it’s still perfectly acceptable to list volunteerism. Some employers are impressed by job seekers with a history of giving back.
That said, many employers, hiring managers and search committee members couldn’t care less about volunteerism. Their only concern is that a job applicant has relevant “professional” experience.
With this in mind, if you need to open up room on your resume for listing accomplishments, trimming from the volunteer experience section is worth considering.
When is the inclusion of a volunteer experience section of most benefit?
- When you’re a new graduate with little professional experience, and you need to fill in space on a resume.
- When your volunteer experiences provided skills and training relevant to the job to which you’re applying.
- When you’re applying to a company that promotes community service.
Most jobs require experience using technology.
Whether it’s Microsoft Excel to create databases or an advanced software package that is essential to a particular field, technology is unavoidable.
Consequently, we recommend a section listing all software packages and operating systems you’re proficient with (PC or Mac). It’s especially important to highlight your skill level with programming expertise listed as required for the job.
What if your resume is packed and you have no room for a separate “technology” section? Make certain you add your technical skills in the qualifications section.
Resume Sections for Advanced Professionals
As your career progresses, consider other resume categories for inclusion.
Instead of a “Summary of Qualifications” section, use a Professional Summary that summarizes the major skills and accomplishments usually covered by the former. Such a professional biography, usually three to five sentences in length, often reflects an advanced level of professionalism and proficiency within the field.
Here’s an example for a marketing executive:
Marketing and sales executive with over 15 years’ experience providing award-winning leadership for established and start-up companies. Expertise in healthcare management, pharmaceutical sales, and software industries. Proficiency in initiating and administering marketing assessments and CRM methodologies to immediately address customer concerns to increase company’s customer base and retention. Adept at navigating intricacies of healthcare industry & physician politics.
This example highlights the individual’s expertise within leadership, marketing, and sales. For advanced positions, C-Level especially, such miniature biographies appear more polished than a bulleted list of skills and accomplishments.
Whether it’s to highlight technological proficiencies or industry certifications, a Core Competencies section, in concert with a professional summary, can help a reader quickly gauge if the applicant’s resume is worth a full read.
Here’s an example to coincide with the professional summary presented in the last section:
Branding Campaigns | Marketing Management | Advertising Campaigns
As a new graduate, listing relevant coursework completed can be added to this section. For a business major, for instance, include titles from courses you’ve completed such as Financial Accounting, Economic Statistics, and Public Relations.
Resume: One Page or Two?
This is one of the most commonly asked resume questions.
How long should a resume be? Must it be just one page?
The short answer: No. The longer answer: Your resume can be two pages in length if you have sufficient experience and accomplishments to warrant a second page.
This means that in most cases, a new college graduate should stick with one page. If you have a question as to whether you should use a second page, contact your college’s career center and ask for feedback.
That said, there is another “page limit-related” issue: If you’re going onto a second page, make certain you can use a whole second page.
Many search committee members do consider a one-and-a-half-page resume as unorganized. The thinking for some is that using only part of a second page means a job seeker wasn’t organized enough to word his experience into a one-page document.
Given this, it’s best to prepare for those few sticklers looking for one or two full pages.
Years ago, resume font preferences were pretty straightforward:
Times Roman 12-pt font. Period. Almost every basic resume template used that specific font. If you used something else, your resume would be suspect.
Today there certainly are a number of acceptable font styles and sizes which job seekers can use when they create a resume.
When it comes to fonts, here’s the most important rule: Whatever font you use, your font choice needs to be readable! Cursive style fonts are pretty to the eyes, but they’re often difficult to read and understand.
Instead, use a font style that makes it easy for a reader to identify a letter. Also make sure that none of its letters, capitalized or not, looks like another letter or a number (e.g. the “S” looks like a “5” or the “L” looks like an “I”).
Also, use only one font style throughout your resume. Check out these common resume font styles if you need some examples:
- Times Roman
As for font size, use Times Roman 12-pt font as a guide. Anything similar in size is generally acceptable, such as Calibri 11-pt font. If a hiring manager needs to squint to read your resume, she is not likely going to spend much time on it.
A final point for fonts:
Use bold typeface to highlight skills or accomplishments that link well with the job to which you’re applying. No, this does not mean to highlight something in every paragraph!
However, highlighting a few things in this manner could catch a hiring manager’s eye and get your resume a closer inspection.
When you’re ready to print, use resume weight paper that is either white or off-white. Using dark gray paper with purple ink is not considered professional.
See the sample resumes for an idea of designs that are generally used.
Resume Objectives: Should You or Shouldn’t You?
It’s not hard to find a basic resume template with a job objective included.
Likewise, many basic resume templates don’t include an objective. Understandably, new graduates are uncertain as to whether or not objectives are needed or useful.
So, should you include a job objective on your resume? In most cases, you shouldn’t.
First of all, space is limited on a resume, especially if you’re aiming for a one-page document. Again that’s especially true of new college graduates.
Employers already understand your objective, ultimately, is to get the job to which you applied. The space an objective takes up is better served listing additional accomplishments from your work history.
Secondly, most resume objectives are useless as they simply include a lot of fluff.
Something like, “I am seeking a job which will help me grow professionally” or “Seeking opportunity for greater experience in my field” really isn’t clear. Most hiring managers reading an objective like that will just sigh in frustration. Vague objectives don’t help your cause!
If you feel you absolutely must include a resume objective, make certain it is specific to the position sought and what skills of yours link to it.
The following objects are good ones to use as examples:
- To obtain a teller position at the Buffalo Bank.
- To serve as a customer service manager at the Buffalo Bank, utilizing my skills in customer relations and accounts management to increase customer retention and revenue.
Do those objectives seem boring? They may, but they clarify what position you’re applying for. And in the case of the second example, indicate the skills the applicant brings to the table.
Now: For new college graduates, who have little experience and are struggling to fill one page with information, adding an objective can help fill in space. Just remember that the objective should be specific.
Here’s another common question:
Is it acceptable to write “References Available Upon Request”?
Yes. But doing so serves little purpose other than to use up valuable space on your resume!
It’s better to skip this section and simply include a separate list of three to five professional references. For recent college graduates, managers from your part-time jobs, professors, internship advisors and teachers are acceptable references.
Your list of references should include the same heading as your resume and include each reference’s name, title, employer, and contact information.
Some argue you should only include a list of references if asked for it. But in most instances it’s okay to send a list of references along.
In the event that you’re struggling to fill a page with skills and experience (for example, your resume is one and a half pages), adding two or three references on the actual resume to fill out the page is totally acceptable.
Follow the aforementioned guidelines, and we believe any new college graduate (or accomplished professional) will be well on their way to creating a great resume.
If you have the money, it may be worth it to hire a professional to write your resume (and/or help you learn how to make a resume so you don’t have to pay for the service again).
If you choose this route, make certain the resume writer is a certified resume writer or certified career coach (both these certifications require completion of tests and submissions of resumes for evaluation before the writer receives certification).
Also, ask the resume writers for references and samples before hiring anyone. It would also benefit you to see if past clients posted reviews of the writer’s resume skills.
Top 10 General Resume Tips
- List relevant experience and accomplishments. As you attain more degree-related experience, drop earlier jobs (unrelated to your major/career path) that you had simply to help pay the bills such as part time jobs at fast food restaurants or cashiers and/or sales associates at chain retail stores.
- Tailor each resume for each job applied to. Don’t rely on a general resume you send to every job. Such resumes stand out in a bad way. Input keywords from the job ad you’re applying to into your resume. Hiring managers are looking for such keywords to weed out unqualified candidates quickly.
- Update your resume regularly. You should reevaluate your resume every six months. Input any new accomplishments or jobs in addition to new skills you have acquired.
- Make certain your resume and LinkedIn page match. If you have a LinkedIn page, make certain it matches your resume. Any discrepancies between the two could lead to a hiring manager thinking you are lying.
- Do a Google search of yourself. Check and see what comes up whether it’s an article about you or something you posted on a website. If anything inappropriate comes up, try and get it deleted before you start sending out resumes.
- Delete inappropriate posts on social media. Check your Facebook, Twitter, and other social media accounts and delete any inappropriate posts/pictures. Then, post appropriate posts (discussions about your job accomplishments or achievements in your education or profession) every day for a couple of weeks. This will help bury those childish things most people post on a regular basis.
- Place restrictions on your social media sites. It would be ridiculous to suggest that you never use social media. That said, there is nothing wrong with limiting who can see your material. Contact a social media outlet’s tech support to find out how to put in blocks if you need help. Just remember, if one of your friends shares something from your page, it can still get out there.
- Make certain to research a company’s short- and long-term goals and adapt your resume to highlight skills you have tied to those goals. Knowing the company’s goals and adapting your resume to reflect your accomplishments that align with those goals is a great way to stand out to a hiring manager.
- Have someone—preferably someone in your line of work—proofread your resume. It doesn’t matter if you’re an English major who served as managing editor for the college paper. Every writer needs to have someone else proofread her writing. Why? Because we as writers tend to overlook things in our own writing.
- Email a copy of your resume to yourself before submitting it anywhere. Doing this can help you determine if any formatting you used gets messed up over the Internet.
Looking for more resume writing tips. We’ve written an entire article dedicated just to “Resume Tips For Recent Grads and Job Seekers“.
Top 5 Resume Mistakes
- Not updating your contact information. Your resume may be very impressive and quickly gather a hiring manager’s attention. Yet, it will be hard to contact you if your listed email and phone number are ones you no longer use.
- Using paper and ink that is considered unprofessional. Blue, pink, or purple paper with some unique ink color will likely lead to your resume getting shredded.
- Using an email address that is unprofessional. Not only is MrAwesome@email.com highly inappropriate, it will likely get your resume sent to the junk mail folder if sent via email.
- Not being at all qualified for the job you apply for. If you know you’re not even remotely qualified for the job you apply to, not only will your resume be rejected, but you may also possibly be barred from consideration for any future job posting at the company. Hiring managers have a long memory and do not appreciate their time being wasted.
- If you decide to hire someone to write your resume, make certain that the person is qualified and possess certification as a resume writer or a career coach. Yes, there are some without certifications who write great resumes, but many of those are horrible resume writers. Ask them for samples, references, and proof of certification.