Writers Workshop: Writer Resources
Writing Tips: Resumes
A resume is like an argument in which you are trying to persuade your reader to give you an interview. Your sources for this "paper" are your experiences and your knowledge of the job/company. As in any paper, though, your goal is not simply to summarize this information, but to organize and present it so that the reader will come to a certain conclusion -- that you are qualified for the job. You can guide the reader to this conclusion using your "thesis," or job objective, and your "topic sentence," or "headings."
The resume leads to the interview and will help the interviewer remember you after you've left. To be most effective, the resume must be focused on the specific job for which you are applying. Be concise and selective: include only the most relevant experiences and omit personal or sensitive information. Like an argument, your resume will benefit from a tone that is self-confident without resorting to clichés, gimmicks, or bragging. Stress your accomplishments and strengths honestly without exaggeration, using factual evidence drawn from your experiences to support your points. Do not use negative phrasing or an apologetic tone.
Research the type of job you want, identifying the skills and experiences necessary to perform it. Determine both the general goals and requirements of the job and the day-to-day tasks and responsibilities. If you have an actual job notice, study it carefully. Highlight the key terms/phrases used so that you can tailor your resume and cover letter to suit the employer's requirements. Brainstorm about your potential employer's needs, attitudes, and goals. Also research the company in general. If you can determine the company's philosophy or specialization, you will be able to explain in more detail how you are compatible with and can contribute to that company. The better you understand what an employer wants, the better you will be able to write a resume that lands you the job.
Jot down all your significant experiences: jobs (including assistantships), course projects, publications, internships, volunteer work, or extracurricular activities.
Analyze your experiences for transferable skills, especially the skills which most resemble those needed in your desired career. You will emphasize this similarity of skills in your resume and cover letter. Even apparently unrelated jobs or activities can be featured in the resume if you highlight the transferable skills you learned from them.
After you have decided which experiences are most relevant to your chosen career, write short descriptive phrases for each job or activity. Use action verbs and emphasize skills: "designed new techniques for. . ." rather than "was responsible for design plans."
Whenever possible, give specific evidence to illustrate your skills. For example, "Designed new techniques for water-processing, saving the company $50,000 over a two-year period" is more persuasive than "Implemented many money-saving procedures."
Let your draft sit for a while (a day or a few hours), then look at it critically; what would potential employers be most likely to notice first? What parts of your resume would attract them? Where would they be bored or confused? The answers to these questions might prompt you to rearrange sections of your resume so that the most important things come first, or to clarify and condense some job descriptions.
After a first revision, gather reactions from others. Choose people whose advice you can trust: people working in your desired career, professors in your field, and consultants at the WRITERS WORKSHOP are good bets.
Revise some more. When you've arrived at a draft you like, print off an error-free copy on a letter-quality printer and have it photocopied onto good paper. Clean and conservative is the look you want. Your final resume should be only one page. If it is longer, be suspicious of irrelevant (be sure you can answer the questions "so what?" for every item) or unnecessary (high school records, references) material. Also check for superfluous words; "bulletize" your points to eliminate pronouns and complete sentences. If your resume is two pages, make sure the most important information is presented on the first page.
NAME: Center and boldfaced.
ADDRESS: present and permanent (if different); include phone numbers.
JOB OBJECTIVE: should be different for each job for which you apply. The job objective summarizes your reason for submitting the resume (i.e., what position you want) and your qualifications; the rest of your resume should relate to and support your objective. It is perhaps the most difficult part of the resume to write because it should be specific enough to communicate your goals but general enough to encompass the broad functional designations used by organizations; if you get too specific, you can unnecessarily limit the positions for which the employer will consider you. However, the objective should not be left off because of its difficulty. It serves as an essential focal point or "thesis" for your resume. It provides the framework through which your resume will be reviewed and analyzed by potential employers. If your resume does not have an objective, it implies that you either do not know what you want to do or did not take the time or initiative to communicate your knowledge. If you omit an objective, you force the reader to make his or her own conclusions about your desires and qualifications -- conclusions that may not match your own. The difficulties you'll encounter in composing your job objective(s) will be balanced by the control you will gain over the interpretation of your resume and the positive impression you will leave as someone who has specific, well-considered goals and plans for the future.
EDUCATIONAL RECORD: beginning with the most recent, list all schools attended and degrees earned since high school. Specify graduation dates. If you are about to complete a degree, include an "expected date of graduation." Indicate major and areas of specializations. You may wish to include a "course highlights" or "major courses" section to demonstrate specific preparation. If you have a "B" average or better, list your grade point average. Or you may just include your major GPA if it is higher than the overall average. You may list distinctions such as the Dean's List or fellowships under this heading or save them for a separate "Awards and Honors" section. Spell out all the information in this section; do not abbreviate degrees, course titles, etc.
EMPLOYMENT HISTORY: list date, job title, organization for each job; do not disclose salary information. Usually this section is organized in reverse chronological order, that is, beginning with the most recent and working backwards; remember that you may include “unofficial" types of jobs in this section if they are relevant, such as volunteer work, working with a professor on a special project, long-term research, or leadership positions in organizations. Alternatively, these experiences could be placed under "Educational Record" if they are academic or "Special Skills" or "Activities" depending upon the type of organization you choose for your resume. You may want to list all your work experiences together (chronological style), or you might want to categorize your experiences according to the skills and abilities they illustrate (skills/functional style), or a combination of both (combination style). No matter which style you choose, make sure you include a brief description of your work in each position: tasks performed, skills gained, special responsibilities or projects, and promotions or achievements. If you've had many jobs, you may want to list only professional (that is, related to your career) employment, and list the rest under "Other" or omit them altogether. Part-time jobs gain greater significance if they paid for thirty percent or more of your education.
SPECIAL SKILLS: list skills relevant to your desired career that are not mentioned elsewhere on the resume. Expertise with specific software packages or fluency in foreign languages are examples of the kinds of skills that might be included in this section.
PROFESSIONAL AFFILIATIONS/PROFESSIONAL ACTIVITIES: list your membership in professional organizations (explain what the organization is if it is local or if its title is not self-explanatory). If you have taken an active role in these organizations, describe your involvement. Do not include personal interests or leisure activities unless they relate to your objective or have demonstrable relevance, which you will need to explain.
HONORS AND AWARDS: list any honors you have earned since high school. Include brief descriptions if necessary. If you have two or fewer honors, this section might be combined with the "Professional Affiliations" or under an "Honors and Activities" heading.
REFERENCES: do not include references on your resume unless they are specifically requested. State "References Available Upon Request" and take a typed, complete list of 2-4 references with you to any interview (name, title, organization, relationship, address, and telephone number).
Keep in mind the following criteria when composing your job objective statement.
- Your job objective sets the format of your resume. If your objective statement highlights your transferable skills (e.g.“Outstanding oral and written communication skills"), your resume should clearly delineate the activities/experiences where you have obtained those skills.
- Your career interests and qualifications put forth in the job objective should be defensible in your cover letter and in the interview.
- Your job objective should tell the employer what you can contribute to the organization, not what you want out of this job (e.g. avoid "Position that offers variety, rapid advancement, and opportunity for travel").
- Do not try to include more than one occupational field on a resume. If self-exploratory activities and exercises show that you have interests, skills, and work values that are consistent with several fields/occupations, then create several resumes (each with a different job objective).
- Be specific and focused. Avoid vague, generic phrases such as "challenging, responsible position" or "position dealing with people."
- Your job objective can be one (or two) sentence(s) in length.
- Use action-oriented words and phrases.
- Avoid the use of such first-person pronouns as "I" or ”me."
To obtain a _1_ position in _2_ for an _3-4_ which utilizes my _5_ and _5_.
- Type of position (Management Trainee, Sales Representative, Nurse, Credit Analyst).
- Type of field (Fine Arts, Operations, Public Administration, Finance, Health, Education).
- Type of organization (small vs. large; urban vs. rural; public vs. private; local vs. international).
- Type of industry (Communications, Investment Banking, Electronics).
- Functional Skills (public speaking, leadership, organization, research, supervisory, computer).
Sample Long Job Objective Statement
- To obtain a position in a management training program with emphasis on personal organization and staff development.
Sample Job Objective Problems
- Too general: To obtain a challenging position which offers me the opportunity for advancement.
- Too "me" oriented: To obtain an interesting and challenging position with a wide task variety that will allow me to travel and provide me with excellent managerial training so that I may one day become a senior partner.
The description of your work experience should demonstrate that you have experience and skills that qualify you for the job in question. Often, recent college graduates feel they don't have enough related experience to include in a resume. Don't underestimate yourself. In many cases, while a part-time job may not have been related specifically to your field, through it you probably developed skills that will serve you well in your future career. These skills, along with unpaid experience such as course work or volunteer service, can be included in your resume.
Using the list of action words, write descriptions of your experiences. In your resume, you will need to include a job title, as well as company name, city, state, and dates of employment. If your job did not have a title, select one that best conveys your responsibilities. Remember, you're aiming for an interview. Keep your achievements and experience related to your career objective.
Example: applying for human resources position
- Financial Aid Services Representative, University of Illinois Office of Student Financial Aid
- Fall 1992 - present
- Assisted students in locating available sources of financial aid.
- Instructed students in pursuing appropriate procedures for applying for loans, scholarships, and grants.
- Maintained close and cooperative working relationships with senior financial aid counselors.
Example: applying for clerical position
- Financial Aid Office, Assistant
- University of Illinois Office of Financial Aid, Fall 1992 - present
- Facilitated completion of numerous government and university documents regarding financial aid.
- Communicated consistently and effectively with a diverse range of students.
- Demonstrated excellent typing, phone, and written communication skills.
- Effectively resolved many crisis situations.
- Organized and conducted business meetings for groups of 75 members.
- Learned to work well under pressure and consistently meet strict deadlines.
- Gained poise and confidence while speaking to large groups.
- Developed phone skills, expediting customer grievances quickly and creatively.
- Successfully promoted dorm attendance and activities for 1000 dorm students.
- Participated in engineer studies to review electrostatic discharge safety.
- Typed, edited, and finalized legal documents and correspondence on the CPT word processor with speed and accuracy.
- Trained and supervised clerical staff.
- Developed marketing strategies for effective newspaper and media advertising.
- Successfully maintained inventory control.
For additional information about writing resumes, contact the Writers Workshop about our Resume and Cover Letter Workshops. The Career Center (715 S. Wright St., www.careercenter.illinois.edu) and the Graduate College Career Services Office (204 Coble Hall, 801 S. Wright St., www.grad.illinois.edu/careerservices) are also excellent resources for job-seekers.