Resume Writing Tips

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Courtesy of Harvard

University's Office of Career Services

Resume Writing Tips

What is a Resume?
Your resume or CV is a clear and concise summary of you past and current education, abilities, experiences, and responsibilities in work, service, extracurricular, and academic settings. Your future employer can only take less than half a minute to look at your resume. To make sure your employer can see you qualifications and accomplishments your resume must:

  • Highlight your career "milestones"
  • be well organized and easy to read
  • tailor made for the position

 12 Tips for writing your resume:

  1. Make a resume 1.0 that states everything - Write down everything that could be important for a future employer: education, study abroad, coursework, jobs, internships, activities, (language) skills, honors, community service projects etc. Use this 1.0 version to create 1.1 and up versions for different industries and types of positions and don't forget to update your 1.0 version regularly. Your resume is not a static document, but will change over time as your experience grows. 
  2. Do your homework!- Familiarize yourself with the industry, organization, and position in which you are interested. You cannot write an effective resume if you do not know the qualifications of the job you are seeking or have information about the specific company to which you are applying. Take the time to do the research - it'll pay off.
  3. Format - Most resumes have the following broad sections:
    a) education;
    b) work experience; and
    c) activities, skills, and interests.
  4. Chronological resumes - For chronological resumes, entries are always made in reverse chronological order within each section or subheading, with your most recent experience first. You cannot change this order simply to have your most impressive job appear at the top of the list. Rather, look into other formats to give prominence or focus to some particular experiences.
  5. Keep it short & sweet - Keep your resume on 1 page. It can be done. Just learn to consolidate and select those activities and experiences that are most important and most relevant to the potential employer and the job you are seeking. If there's a need for an expanded resume, for example if you apply for an academic fellowship, you an expand your resume to 2 pages.
  6. Focus on accomplishments - write about your skills or achievements instead of job routines and responsibilities - skills that helped to increase the sales of profits of an organization, improved the work process or you learned skills that are useful in other working environments etc.
  7. Be specific - It is important to detail you accomplishments. Always be specific and use numbers where possible. (Managed a $10,000 budget; recruited, trained, and supervised 25 volunteer tutors; practiced 4 hours a day with the soccer team.)
  8. Use incomplete phrases- Resumes are not written in prose ("I was a lab assistant and I performed experiments for . . ."). They are written as incomplete phrases ("Lab Assistant: Performed experiments.") Use the past or present tense (be consistent), using strong and clear action verbs, as opposed to weaker or ambiguous verbs that mask your real tasks.
  9. Necessary info - All work and educational entries in your resume must contain the following information:
    • your name, address, email address, telephone number
    • the name of the company or school; 
    • the dates of attendance or employment; 
    • the location of the company or school; 
    • your position; 
    • the "particulars" of your job (responsibilities & accomplishments) and schooling (concentration, selected courses, awards/scholarships).
  10. Appearance - Use 10-12 point font and 75-1 margins. Instead of using larger fonts for section titles, use bold, italic or capitals. If you are emailing, convert your resume to a PDF-file before attaching to preserve the format and name your file so that it clearly identifies the resume as yours. If you send a hard copy, print your resume on good quality, plain paper that matches your cover letter and envelope.
  11. Proof read your resume - Catch typos or awkward phrasing and let someone else check your spelling and grammar as well. Errors could ruin your success.
  12. Keep track of your resumes - Create a file that holds copies of your resume 1.0 and all the other versions and updates.

Types of Resumes
There is no universally accepted format for preparing a resume. In fact, there are quite a number of different formats. Some will serve your needs better than others, depending on the job or internship. Choose the resume style that best communicates to prospective employers your relevant experience, skills, and potential contribution.  

  • Chronological
    The first and most commonly used format, it describes your experiences in reverse chronological order. It is best suited if you have directly related work experience or are targeting positions in industries, such as banking and consulting, where a more traditional resume may be more acceptable.
  • Functional
    The second main format is the functional resume, which highlights your marketable skills by organizing your accomplishments by skill or career area. This format is very useful if you have limited related work experience.
  • Achievement
    The third most commonly used format is the accomplishment or achievement resume. This is used to highlight prior work or academic accomplishments in your background. It can be used as an alternative to a strict functional or chronological resume when your accomplishments are centered on a particular skill or experience category.

Courtesy of Harvard University's Office of Career Services

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