Career Development Center

Why and How to Write a Résumé


Contrary to popular opinion, the purpose of a résumé is not to “sell yourself” to a prospective employer. Your best tool for that is you, and how you present yourself in an interview.

The true purpose of a résumé is to get an interview. It is a screening device and therefore needs to present you in such a way that you are screened in, not out.

An employer may only spend 10-30 seconds on your résumé in a first review. It is critically important that he or she be able to easily identify relevant information – otherwise, you may end up in the circular file.

How to avoid being recycled?

Target your résumé to the position you are applying for. Put yourself in the employer's shoes and ask yourself what type of skills and accomplishments you would want to see and then be sure to hit on those first.

Make it easy to read, and not so packed with information that one gets tired just looking at it. Be selective about what you include; you don't have much space so make every line count.

How much space DO you have?

This depends on your audience. If your résumé is for a position in higher education, it's okay to have a couple of pages. If your résumé is for business, however, it probably should be only one page.

Rule of thumb, you are allowed one page for every 10 years of experience. So, if you're coming in entry level, one page should do it. Even if you have a great deal of experience, your most important information should be on the first page in case the reader is fading out by page two. Think quality not quantity.

If you keep your information targeted and concise, one page frequently gets the job done. As long as you include your most relevant information with specific accomplishments, your résumé should provide enough substance to withstand a second and longer perusal by the employer. This should interest him or her enough to invite you for an interview.

How do you target a résumé?

A résumé that is targeted highlights the information that is most relevant for a particular position. What educational background, skills, experience (volunteer, internship, paid), research, and community involvement do you have that relates to this type of work? That's the information you focus on. Try not to bury it in a lot of unrelated duties that the employer won't care about.

Put your most relevant and powerful experience first. Is it your education or your work experience or technical skills? Your least relevant information goes last. If it's irrelevant, leave it off.

Look at the description of the position for which you are applying if you have one, or look at the Dictionary of Occupational Titles for a description of that type of work. This will give you information about what you should highlight.

For example, if the job requires the ability to supervise hospital volunteers, you'll want to hit on your experience supervising others. Even if your supervisory experience was in a different context like food service or cashiering, it has relevance to this position. However, describing unrelated duties performed in this unrelated work will be very tedious to the employer, so be selective. Your whole life doesn't have to be on this page, just the strengths and experiences from which this position will draw.

If you are looking for two different kinds of jobs you will need to write two separate targeted résumés as the type of information you'll want to highlight will be different. Some of the details you omit on one résumé may be particularly useful for the other.

Brainstorm before writing

The easiest way to write a résumé is to first brainstorm on all of your experiences, whether they seem relevant or not. Get all of your information down on a résumé information worksheet. Include skills, accomplishments, educational background, affiliations, volunteer work, internships, jobs, etc. Sift through the information with an eye to a particular position/field then figure out the format and categories that will work best for you.