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Writing a Resume

Your resume is a summary of your qualifications that relate to the position for which you are applying. It serves as an advertisement of what you have to offer and creates a prospective employer’s first impression of you.

The resume should be concise, yet provide sufficient information to present effectively your qualifications and to interest the employer enough to invite you for an interview. Define your experience and education in professional terms appropriate to the level and quality of your experience. Every word in your resume must provide evidence that you are a qualified candidate for the position you are seeking.

Your resume is you! It presents an image of you to the employer. Consider what image you want to project. A resume is a personal statement and should reflect your style, and, as such, will differ from any other person’s resume.


A well-constructed resume requires that background work be done before you begin writing. You cannot properly bring your credentials to the attention of prospective employers without this preparation. Begin by taking a personal inventory. Examine and define your skills, interests, accomplishments and experiences. You must also know the range of positions for which you are qualified, and the interest you have in this kind of employment. You need to identify employers for whom you would like to work and the qualifications required for entry-level positions in those organizations.

Personal Inventory

Prepare a resume that presents your skills, experiences and accomplishments to an employer. Begin by listing your career-related skills. These skills might include:

  • Communication
  • Management
  • Technical
  • Sales
  • Problem-solving
  • Creative
  • Speaking
  • Interpersonal/
  • Human Relations
  • Organizational
  • Numerical ability
  • Mechanical ability
  • Research
  • Writing
  • Analytical
  • Data/Information

Identify courses and other experiences that are related to the career field you would like to enter.

Until you have taken a personal inventory of skills, it will be difficult to effectively present a well-constructed resume. When you have completed your inventory, evaluated your personal characteristics as realistically as possible, and established your career objective, you are ready to begin writing your resume.

However, if you still feel unsure of how your background can relate to a career, attend a Resume Writing Workshop offered by the Career Planning & Placement Center or make an appointment with a Counselor for a skills assessment.

Gathering Career Information

After you have completed your personal inventory and have developed your career goals, you will then want to research these career areas and those employers that are active in them. For each potential position you need to know the qualifications, duties, and skills required for the job, and any special talents or personal characteristics sought by the employer.

Writing Your Resume

An effective resume incorporates action words, action phrases and action statements which communicate "accomplishment-oriented" information. A good resume conveys a sense of participation and involvement. Here are some action words you can use in your resume:

A resume should be lively and secure the attention of the reader. Use short phrases, be direct and not too technical. Check through job announcements and use some of the same words and terms in your resume that are used in the field of employment you hope to enter.

Organizing Your Resume

Identification — Your name, address and telephone number head the resume. It is centered at the top of the page or placed to one side. Do not use headings such as "name," "telephone," "resume." This information is self-evident and the headings are unnecessary.

Career Objective — If you state a career objective, it should be brief, concise and address the current job only, not future career plans. This category should be used only when your job objective is clear or definite. You may state your job objective in the cover letter rather than in your resume. If so, your resume can be more general and versatile.

Education — Your educational history should be placed near or at the top of the page if it is your most important qualification. Under this heading include the names of schools, dates attended, degrees and dates received, and major and minor fields of study. Internships or practicum experiences can also be included here. Limit the number of schools listed to three. More than that number will suggest that you were school hopping, and the employer may infer that you will go job hopping as well. You may also list relevant course work to give the employer a clearer sense of your job-related skills.

Work Experience — This area can be titled "Work Experience," "Employment," "Employment History" or "Professional Experience." This category can include volunteer, intern or practicum experiences. You may include names of employers, dates, job titles and functions or experiences and accomplishments. Include part-time jobs held during your college years. In describing your work experience use positive words which will show your strengths. Leave out negative or neutral words. Descriptive job titles provide employers with information about what you did.

Professional Activities and Other Interests — This category can include such unrelated data as club and professional memberships, awards, honors, hobbies, internships, volunteer experience and community service. Such a catchall category can be used when there is not enough information in any one single area to warrant a separate heading.

Personal Data — Personal data includes date of birth, marital status, health, references to children, height or weight, etc. This is generally extraneous information and not essential to your resume. You may, however, want to include this type of information, if you believe it relates favorably to selection criteria for the position.

Skills and Accomplishments — These categories will be relevant to "combination" and "functional" resumes. You may describe your skills and accomplishments under such headings as "art experience," "supervisory experience," "management experience," or "counseling skills." Emphasize skills, especially those that are transferable.

Style, Organization and Layout

There is no single prescribed resume format. You must expect to write and edit several drafts of your resume. A good resume requires attention to style, organization and layout. Remember that the purpose of your resume is positive, effective communication. It must be well organized, attractive and easy to read.

The writing style should be direct and concise. Do not use indirect statements or flowery language. A resume that is too wordy or too long will not be read. Use short statements that say just what you want the employer to know about your background. A one-page resume is strongly recommended unless you have extensive, related work experience. Include only information that is directly related to the position you are seeking. Avoid including personal information that could trigger a negative response to your application.

Expound on your relevant experiences. Condense jobs or experiences that are not directly related. In other words slant your resume to the type of job you are seeking. You may need more than one resume if you’re applying for different types of jobs. The more you fine-tune your resume to a specific job or career area, the more qualified you will appear.

Your resume should be well organized. Consider the best arrangement of your topics and headings as they relate to the job for which you are applying. Rank order your resume components as they relate to the job, and place the most important items first. In this way you can highlight your strongest qualifications.

People don't read resumes, they skim them. Think of your resume as a piece of advertising rather than a comprehensive data sheet.

Remember, looks are important. Design an attractive layout. Typeface size, spacing, margins, headings and the relationship of empty space to text can all work to your advantage or disadvantage. An attractive resume format will catch the employer's attention and receive a more careful reading. You can stretch or shrink the content to fill the page but avoid long, bulky paragraphs.

Your resume must be typed or typeset. If you are making multiple copies use a good reproduction method such as photo-offset or a quality photo copier. The resume is best typed on an electric office typewriter with clean keys. A carbon ribbon will assure good reproduction.

It is imperative that no typographical errors, punctuation errors, misspellings, smudges, blotches, or any other imperfections appear on your resume. You must have a perfect copy.

Select good quality paper with high cotton content both for the original and the copies. You may want to purchase matching paper and envelopes for cover letters and other correspondence.

Sample of Resume Objectives

The objective is the "topic sentence" of your resume. Some disciplines require objectives; others discourage their use. If you have a question, contact an advisor in the CP&PC. The following samples are intended to serve only as guides.


A position as an assistant account executive in the Client Services Department of a worldwide advertising agency.


A position in a bank management training program leading to the position of lending officer.


A position with the Bank of America's loan office.


Entry-level position as a regional planner with city or county government involving environmental impact writing, general plan, recreation and transportation.

Career position as an environmental specialist with consulting firm involving wildlife habitat and population studies, surveys and analysis.

Graphic Design

A position as a graphic designer in an advertising department. Specifically interested in information design, packaging, exhibits and audiovisual presentations.

Human Resources

A position as a human resources assistant utilizing my knowledge of affirmative action policies in the human resources department of a technical organization.

Management Consulting

An entry-level position as a junior consultant with XYZ Company.

Public Relations

A position in public relations that requires photography, copywriting and publications skills.


A pharmaceutical sales position with alpha company.


A sales representative position with pharmaceutical company.

Social Work

An administrative position involving program planning in a family counseling center.


A laboratory research position with Healthtech Corporation.


A summer internship in the field of turbulence research and mechanical design.

A career position utilizing both electrical and management skills.

Software engineering position developing systems software or graphics application.

Technical Writing

A position as a technical writer which involves preparing journal articles and editing technical literature.

Examples of poor objectives:

An entry-level position in business. (Too vague.)

A position which would utilize my creative and intellectual abilities. (Doesn’t everyone want that?)

A management training position with a bank or large retail organization. (Shows lack of career focus.)

Scannable Resumes

Some large organizations are using a system called electronic applicant tracking. A resume is scanned into the computer as an image. OCR (optical character recognition) software creates a text file which is "read" by artificial intelligence to extract key information.

Preparing a resume to be scanned requires standard fonts and crisp dark type plus listing many skills and facts to match available positions, e.g. Lotus 1-2-3. Use common headings such as Employment.

Select white 81/2 x 11-inch paper printed on one side only. Do not fold or staple. Avoid vertical and horizontal lines, bullets, graphics, boxes, italics, underlining, shadows and reverses (white letters on black background).

Your name should be at the top of each page on a separate line. It can be up to 32 points in size. List each phone number on its own line. Date ranges should be on the same line.

Standard typefaces such as Courier, Futura, Helvetica, New Century Schoolbook, Optima, Palatino, Times or Univers work best. Use a font size of 10 to 14 points (except Times 10 point).

Use a laser printer, typewritten or high quality photocopy. Avoid dot matrix printers. To ensure a better quality FAX, set the FAX to "fine mode."

Some Resume Writing Rules

  • Keep sentences and paragraphs short (no paragraphs with more than four lines).
  • Use indented and "bulleted" statements rather than complete sentences where appropriate.
  • Use simple words rather than complex terms that say the same thing.
  • Use quantities, amounts, dollar values where they enhance the description of what you did.
  • Put the strongest statements or qualifications at the top.
  • Have someone with good English skills check your spelling, grammar and punctuation.
  • Avoid the use of "I."
  • Do not include hobbies, avocational, or social interests unless they are clearly related to your qualifications.
  • Avoid personal evaluations.

Don’ts in Resume Writing

  • Don't use gimmicks.
  • Don't use pictures.
  • Don't highlight personal problems.
  • Don't include salary information.
  • Don't state religion, national origin, or political affiliations.

On the following pages, you will find some sample resumes which illustrate various approaches to resume preparation.

Cover Letters

An effective cover letter is just as important as an effective resume. The cover letter accompanies the resume—it is the piece of paper that the prospective employer sees first.

The individual receiving the resume needs to know why it has been sent. The cover letter provides this information and calls the employer’s attention to your special interest in the position or highlights aspects of your background and experience that are particularly relevant to the employer’s needs. The cover letter is an opportunity to:

  1. Direct the resume to a specific person.
  2. Provide additional information about yourself as it might relate to the specific position for which you are applying.
  3. Describe briefly what you know about the job and employer.
  4. Indicate what follow-up action will be taken on your part.

Although the resume may be printed, the cover letter should always be individually typed on paper similar to that of the resume. It should be no more than one page and written in a business letter format. Never use personal stationery. Following the general rules below will help in developing an effective cover letter:

  1. Make your letters warm and personal; avoid stereotyped phrases.
  2. Use plain, good quality stationery.
  3. Typing is always preferable to handwriting.
  4. Keep copies of all correspondence for follow-up purposes.
  5. State, in positive terms, your qualifications and the type of follow-up action you plan to take.

Follow-Up Letters

Follow-up letters are an appropriate way to maintain contact with the interviewer. These letters should be brief and should express your appreciation for the interview and confirm your interest in the company.

The following guidelines may help you to develop a thank-you letter:

  1. Send a thank-you letter for every contact.
  2. Use the typewriter if further action is expected; otherwise you may write a personal note by hand.
  3. Keep it fresh; write it on the same day as the interview if possible.
  4. Be personal, specific and genuine in your thanks.
  5. Review some of the conversation you had with the interviewer to show you were listening with interest.
  6. Correct any significant misunderstanding you may have realized after the interview.
  7. Confirm the interviewer’s or your follow-up action (if any).

Other letters, covering a variety of purposes, should be discussed with a counselor. Whenever you are in doubt about the purpose or wording of a letter, make a first draft and show it to your counselor at CP&PC.

Some of this material was reprinted with permission from the University of California, Davis, Placement Manual.