Guide to Resumé Writing

Download the Guide to Resumé Writing


Need to write a resumé?  This guide to resumé writing can help you as you begin this important task.

 A notebook of sample resumés and books on resumé writing are available at the Career Center.  We encourage you to spend time reviewing several different samples in order to gather ideas to help you design your own resumé.  Resumé review appointments are also available.  To schedule an appointment, call 207.581.1359 or stop by our office on the 3rd floor of the Memorial Union.

What Is A Resumé?

A resumé can play a central role in launching your career. It can make  the difference in getting  a competitive internship or landing that first job after college. A resumé is generally a one- or two-page summary of your skills, accomplishments, experiences, and education. When preparing a resumé, you are  trying  to capture a prospective employer’s interest  or attention. After all, the most important function of a resumé is to help  you to get an interview.  You don’t have  to be a skilled writer or honors student to write a great resumé. Just be prepared to write several drafts and follow the suggestions outlined in the following paragraphs. Keep in mind that the time it takes to write a good resumé is time well spent.


As you organize your resumé, be sure to present those items that are most relevant to the employer first.  Consider what he or she is looking for in a candidate and make it easy for the reader to notice those skills by following the tips below.

  1. Sell yourself:  Your resumé is a one-page advertisement for you. Employers are often eager to see internships, volunteering, school activities and other non-traditional work  on entry-level resumés. Most students  have much more to offer than they realize.
  2. Use active language:   Begin  phrases with verbs  to provide active, exciting descriptions of your experiences. Example:  Salesperson, Smith Shoe Store, Portland, Maine.  Assisted clients with selection of shoes, developed and promoted special marketing events,  trained new employees and monitored cash.
  3. Be consistent: Use the same pattern of spacing, order of information that is presented, boldface type  and underlining throughout the different sections of your resumé.
  4. Present information in reverse chronological order: List education and work experiences within each category by starting with the most recent item first.
  5. Check for grammar: Make a good first impression with a potential em- ployer by avoiding misspellings and poorly constructed sentences.
  6. Ensure that it is neat and visually appealing:  Choose high-quality paper in white, off-white or other conservative colors.

Resumé Content Areas

The following categories can be used  as guidelines to assist you in organizing a resumé. In constructing a rough draft, do not be concerned with length. Remember, categories may be omitted or added in later revisions. There are many different ways to organize a resumé. Be creative, but also be honest.  The following are descriptions of the basic categories of the standard resumé:

* Name, Address,  Telephone and Email: Present  yourself with the name you use in your personal and business life (nicknames should be avoided). If you have a campus address that does not apply during vacations or after graduation, you should include both a college and permanent address.  Use your parents’ home address, a post office box, or someone who will know  where to contact you at all times. Also include phone numbers with area codes and your email address. Because your resume may remain  on file after you graduate, make sure to use a permanent email address (such as Yahoo or Hotmail).

* Objective:  The objective is one of the most important parts of a resumé. It informs potential employers that you have a specific goal, conveys your work  preference(s), and serves  as a focal point from which to review your resumé. The objective should be brief, clearly stated,  and consistent with the accomplishments and skills  that are outlined in your resumé. If you are considering more than one professional goal, you should consider developing more than one resumé, each presenting a different objective. Consider the following examples:

  • A position as an elementary  school teacher allowing  me to provide children with an environment in which they can learn and grow.
  • An entry-level accounting position that will allow me to apply my skills and further develop my knowledge of this field.
  • A position in a laboratory setting requiring high motivation, organization and communication skills  and a strong work ethic.

* Education: This category is particularly important if you have not had a great deal of work experience. List your most recent educational experience first.  Include  your degree (A.S., B.S., B.A., etc.),  major, institution(s) attended, date of graduation, minors or concentrations and any special workshops, seminars, related coursework or senior projects.  Also include your G.P.A. if it is a 3.0 or higher (either overall G.P.A. or G.P.A. in major).

* Computer Skills:   If using computers is a necessary skill for the job you are seeking, be sure to include this section.
Software: Microsoft Office: Word, Access, Excel, PowerPoint.
Hardware: PC, Mac, UNIX.

* Activities, Honors and Leadership: Extracurricular experiences can be important to highlight on a resumé, particularly if you held a leadership position or served  on a special committee. If you list such activities, be sure to illustrate how your past responsibilities correspond to the skills that the current job requires.

Consider the talents that the following activities require:

  • Athletics: teamwork and time management skills
  • Performing or fine arts: communication skills, creativity, and the ability to meet deadlines
  • Volunteer work: leadership skills and the ability to work effectively with people (e.g., children, the elderly)

If you  are having trouble  describing your  accomplishments, think about  what  a best friend or family  member would say about  you. Don’t be ashamed to highlight your  honors  and accomplishments that you have worked hard to earn.

* Work Experience: Many students have limited paid work experiences but have been involved in volunteer, internship, practicum or student teaching experiences.  Remember, a potential employer is most interested in the skills and strengths that you could bring into a new job. In this section, be sure to include all significant work experiences in reverse chronological order.

Include the following details about each experience: the title of your position, name of the organization, location of work (town, state), and dates (e.g., Summer 2011; 2011-2012 academic year).

Describe your work responsibilities with an emphasis on achievements rather than past duties. Use action words to communicate your skills (see action word list on the next page). List the most important and related responsibilities first.  Be brief with the irrelevant experiences or omit them.

* Interests:  This is sometimes used  to evaluate your suitability to a geographic area or to understand your “personality type.” Include this section if you have available space. Include social or civic activities, health and fitness or sports activities, or hobbies that indicate how you spend your leisure time.

* References: Be sure to ask individuals if they would be willing to be a reference for you prior to mentioning their names to prospective employers. Names of individuals are not usually listed on the resumé (unless there is space  available at the end).   Prepare  a typed  list of three references to provide at the interview. This list should include each individual’s name, title, employer, address, business and home telephone numbers, and e-mail address.

Deciding How to Organize Your Resumé

Many students  distinguish paid  from unpaid work;  however, there is nothing wrong with listing various types of experience under one heading. For example, if you’re  applying for a position  as a Web designer, you may include both a paid  Web design internship and a significant design project you completed for a course  under  your “Work Experience” heading.

You may also include extracurricular activities and volunteer work under your experience heading, but be certain to distinguish between those that are and are not relevant to your job search. For example, if you’re a member of the film club, but only attend the free monthly movies,  you  should  confine  your  description to an “Activities” or “Interests” section.

Consider  dividing your experiences into “Related Experience” and “Other Experience,” or be more specific in your divisions. For example, if you have a significant number of relevant academic experiences, you may want to include a section titled “Related Academic Experience.” In this way, you can call more attention to your relevant skills by putting them in categories closer to the top of the resumé. Whatever mix of experience you have, be flexible and creative, and don’t be afraid to highlight your most impressive qualifications.

Making Your Resumé Unique

You may want to develop your own categories to highlight your special relevant experiences and skills.  Here are examples of additional categories that you might want to consider using:

Student Teaching Experience Related Experience
Technical Skills Related Courses
Qualifications Summary Internship Experience
Volunteer Activities Workshops & Conferences
Certificates Travel
Leadership Activities Accomplishments
Professional Affiliations Military Experience
Language Proficiencies Additional Information

In place  of “Related  Experience” you  might wish  to indicate your specific area of study or concentration in the category heading (e.g., Business Experience, Engineering Experience, Human Services Experience). You may also want to add that work was performed to earn a certain percent of college expenses. For example: Earned 75% of college expenses through the following part-time jobs.

Customize Your Resumé for Different Positions

Resumés should be tailored to the particular job you want, with specific information emphasized in order to grab an employer’s attention. As you are customizing your  resumé for different  positions, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Use the job description as a guide: The information listed in the bullet points under each job heading should highlight skills that are related to the requirements of the job for which you are applying. If the job description is vague, find out what skills the company is looking for or talk to someone in a comparable position at a similar company.
  •  Find appropriate keywords:  Nowadays, a computer is more likely to scan your resumé than a human. Many companies and recruiters are using  computer-based automated tracking systems  to quickly sort hundreds of resumés. Loading a resumé with relevant keywords increases an applicant’s chances of obtaining an interview. Keywords are generally nouns that use the “jargon” and acronyms related to a specific field.  For example: Java, records management, MBA.
  • Other tips for scannable resumés:  Keep in mind that words in special type  can change when  scanned with optical  character recognition software. Try to find out in advance if the company to which you are applying uses such software. If it does, print your resumé on white paper and do not italicize, underline, or boldface. Avoid ornate fonts and fonts in which the characters touch.  Standard serif and sans serif fonts in 11 to 12 point size work best. Use vertical and horizontal lines sparingly. Also, avoid graphics and shading.

Preparing Your Resumé to Send via E-Mail

To prepare an  email  resumé that will  help  you  to secure an interview, follow these steps:

  • Considering file format:  In general, you should  prepare your resume as a Word document or other rich text file. Such files are the default output from common word-processing software, and are preferred primarily due to their professional appearance and customizability (e.g., bullets, italics, formatting lines). Thus, .doc and .rtf files are ideal  if you will be printing  a hard copy of your resume to hand directly to an employer. However, there are instances in which you require a simply formatted resume for e-mail transmission – if this is the case, consider removing bullets, italics and special characters, and save your resume as a plain text (e.g., .txt) document. Finally, you may be asked to convert your resume to a PDF file. Look over your newly created PDF file carefully as errors in formatting often occur during  conversion. If you encounter problems converting .doc or .rtf files to PDF format, first convert your resume to plain text file, then create  a PDF from that file.
  •  Generally speaking,  do not submit a resumé as an attachment: Although it is easy  to attach your resume, many experts recommend including the text of the resume in the body of your e-mail instead  of using an attachment. Prospective employers often do not open attached resumes because they  can  be infected with  a virus.  If you  are applying for a job online  and the company offers the option  of uploading a hard copy of your resume with your application, then do so. Or, if an employer requests that you send a resume as an e-mail  attachment, they will probably specify which  formats are acceptable.
  •  Limit  each line in your resumé to 65 characters: Most e-mail programs wrap text around at 65 characters. That means  any line longer  than 65 characters is going to be cut off and dropped down to the next line.
  • Take your e-resumé out for a test-drive:  Email your resume to yourself, because you’d  much  rather  it be  you  who  catches technical problems and errors than a recruiter. Make sure the text looks right on the screen  and prints out correctly. It is good practice to send a copy of this email  message to a friend who is using a different email  program, before  transferring the text file to a prospective employer for the first time.
  •  Include a cover letter:  Cover letters that accompany e-resumés should be brief and concise. Be sure to indicate which position  you are applying for, what  your  qualifications are,  and  what  you  can contribute to the company. Insert your  cover  letter  above  the resume in the body of an e-mail.
  •  Subject of the email message:  Use the advertised job title as the subject of your email message, citing any relevant job numbers as noted in the job posting. This makes it easy  to route your  resume to the appropriate person.
  •  Make a backup:  Be sure to save a copy of your resume on a disk, a thumb drive,  and on your hard drive.  You also want to be sure to bring a paper copy of your resume with you to all interviews in case the employer has misplaced the copy  that you sent electronically.