Summer Career Series: Resume Writing
Updated: Sep 20, 2020
Welcome back to our summer series! This week, we’re covering resumes.
Why are resumes important?
Resumes capture your professional journey in a single document and are the key document that potential employers look at. Resumes reflect your educational background, your work history, and any skills that are applicable in a job. Having a polished resume that offers a succinct snapshot of your experiences and accomplishments will set you apart from many candidates.
Here is a great resource for example resumes.
How to write a resume from scratch
What do you need to know before you write a resume?
Some key things to keep in mind while working on your resume include the following:
Your resume shouldn’t be longer than 1 page. Recruiters have limited time to look at hundreds of resumes, and 1 page is much more easily digestible than multiple pages.
Choose a professional and easy-to-read font. Many choose to use Times New Roman, but Helvetica and Arial are also appropriate choices. Shy away from Calibri - default fonts indicate a lack of effort to a recruiter.
Font sizes should also be between 10 to 12 points, as these are small enough for you to include all of the information that you need but large enough to be legible.
Make sure to be consistent with your usage of fonts by using the same size of font and the same spacing and font size to differentiate between sections.
Keeping 1-inch margins is good practice, but they can be as small as 0.5 margins. Legibility is key.
There are two ways to list your experience on your resume. The first way is to have your experience listed chronologically by start date, and the other is to list in order of importance. This depends directly on the position that you are applying to, but there will be more detail on this later.
Divide your sections clearly. Using horizontal lines to denote different sections is a good practice, and you can also make the section headers a larger size font than the rest of the body.
What experience do you have?
The first step to writing a resume is breaking down your experience into the following sections:
Education: List your current school, your major(s) and minor(s), the month and year that you graduate, your overall and in-major GPA, any coursework that may be applicable to a job, and any honors or distinctions you have received.
Professional experience: Internships, part-time or full-time jobs, and research experience should all go here. Keep in mind that if you’re in college, your experiences in college are the most relevant, so try to avoid listing high school experiences unless you are a freshman. Note that you can split your professional and research experience into different sections if research experience is important for the profession you choose.
Extracurricular or volunteer activities: Any organization that you’re a part of is fair game, but organizations in which you have leadership experience make for a stronger resume. Also, avoid listing too many extracurricular activities—keeping it to 3 extracurricular activities is a good rule of thumb.
Skills: Hard skills like coding languages or other technical skills are best practice, but listing soft skills like public speaking and interpersonal communication is also valuable if the role calls for it.. Here’s a good list of soft skills you can list on your resume.
Languages: If you have proficiency in any language other English (or the appropriate official language of the country you are applying to a job in), you can include them on your resume. Make sure that if asked by a potential employer that you can demonstrate your proficiency level.
Interests: You are a person after all! You can list things that you do outside of work for fun, like activities or even TV shows, as long as you can speak to them and they are work-appropriate. Try not to be generic here - including a unique interest may help employers remember you better.
How do you set up each section?
At the top, start with your contact information. Your name should be at the top in a larger font size than the rest of the resume. At a quick glance, your recruiter should know whose resume it is. Your name can be centered or centered-left, but there is no hard and fast rule; remember, legibility is key. Underneath or to the side of your name (depending on how you orient your name), include your email address and your LinkedIn profile link if you have one (remember to remove the hyperlink). You can include your phone number, but do not include your home address on your resume for privacy purposes.
Your next section should be your education. Make sure to mark the section clearly, and start by writing out the full name of your school, followed by B.A. or B.S (or any other appropriate marker of the degree you will be receiving) in your major(s). Include any minors as well. Other information you should list would be your graduation date (example: either as Anticipated June 2021 or June 2020) and your overall GPA (your in-major GPA is nice to include but not necessary). Finally, you should include the coursework mentioned above and any academic distinctions (honor rolls, Deans’ list, academic honor societies all count). You can include high school information as a freshman or sophomore in college, in which case you would list the name of your school, the year you graduated, any honors (ie. Top 10% of the class, valedictorian), your GPA, and your standardized test scores if required by potential employers.
From there, start by organizing your professional experience into the order that makes the most sense to you. For each experience, list the organization (or professor, if you’re writing about research), your position, and the time period that you were there. Optionally, you can include a one-line description of the organization. Under each experience, summarize your work. Focus on impact-driven bullet points, and aim for 3 to 5 bullet points under each experience. A good approach to writing a bullet point is by choosing an action word (here’s a good resource for action words for your resume) and following the XYZ method. The XYZ method looks like this: “Performed X task by Y Method to achieve Z results”. As long as you mention the task, the method, and the results, the order you use is up to you, but best practice is to make your bullet points highly action-oriented (namely by mentioning the result of your action first). Lastly, focus on numbers; you want to quantify your impact to make potential employers more easily understand what exactly you did. Here’s an example of a strong bullet point:
Increased customer engagement by 5% by standardizing cold-email outreach process
The task here is increasing customer engagement, the method is standardizing the process, and the quantitative impact is the increase by 5%.
If there isn’t an identifiable impact or your work isn’t results-oriented, you can stick to speaking more to the tasks you performed and the methods you used. Demonstrating that you learned and can apply a skill is also valuable to potential employers.
Follow the same format for extracurricular or volunteer activities, but a good practice for naming this section would be “Leadership Activities”. Make sure to only include activities that are either relevant to the position you are applying for or that directly reflect leadership experience.
The last section on your resume should be “Additional Information” or “Skills, Languages, and Interests”. Use the information you listed above, ensuring that you have proficiency levels listed for all skills and languages and that your interests are work-appropriate. You can also include non-academic awards or programs in this section.
Exporting your resume? There is some debate between Word and PDF format, but we argue that PDFs are better. They appear more professional and they cannot be edited by anyone but you.
One practice that we cannot stress enough is to adjust your resume for each job that you apply to. This does not mean you have to start from scratch for each job, but you should create a version for each job. Include words in the job listing in your resume by modifying your experience bullet points, but avoid stretching the truth. Aim to include as many as reasonably fit in your resume. Also, as mentioned earlier, you can list your experience in order of importance to the position you’re applying for. Here’s an example:
You’re applying for a software engineering job. You currently hold a job as a cashier at a grocery store and you previously interned at a startup as a software engineer. The job description looks for “developer experience in Python”. Your resume should list your internship experience first, and you should include the words “Python” and “develop” in the resume you send to this job.
Other best practices include making sure that you are able to speak to everything you include on your resume. A good assumption to make is that your employer will question you on everything on your resume, so it’s best to know the order of your resume, the details of your listed experience, and enough information to demonstrate the skills, languages, and interests you listed.
Lastly, your resume has to be visually appealing. Ensure that it is clear to read by double-checking spacing, grammar, margins, punctuation, and the legibility of your font. You can have friends or peers take a look at your resume to see what stands out, and if what stands out is not what you consider to be important, you can adjust your resume accordingly.
Overall, your resume is a reflection of you, and you always want to put your best foot forward. We hope that these tips will help you feel confident in your resume!