Writing an Effective Resume

Although there is no single 'right' way to write a resume, there are many useful guidelines. A resume should be a unique presentation of your impressive and relevant skills and experiences, not a copy of a friend's with the details changed. The following guide will give you guidelines for making your resume effective.

Step 1: Brainstorm: Write down everything you can think of about yourself. Go for quantity to start with. Do not stop to consider whether or not you should have the item on your resume.

Step 2: Categorize: Look for themes in your background. Divide your information into categories based on these themes. Some possible categories you may want to use:

  • Education (e.g. Institutions & degrees & areas of certification &/or endorsement, Study abroad)
  • Experience (e.g. Teaching Experience, Related or Additional Experience)
  • Activities (e.g. Collegiate, School, &/or Community Volunteer Work)
  • Professional Activities (e.g. Professional Memberships or Affiliations)
  • Related or Special Coursework
  • International Experience or Travel
  • Special Skills (e.g. Language Fluency, Technical/Computer Skills, CPR/lifesaving)
  • Think of categories that represent the major divisions of your experience
  • Don't hesitate to make up a category title that works for you

Step 3: Prioritize: Decide which categories and entries are the most important and relevant to the employer. You may need to omit items in the interest of space. These priorities will help you determine what stays and what goes.

Step 4: Arrange Categories: Lead with your strength! Based on what you know the employer most values, put your strongest categories first. Don't bury your most important information somewhere at the bottom of the page.

Step 5: Write Entries: Use brief, concise language and lots of action verbs to describe your experiences. Do not use first person pronouns. Quantify your experience whenever possible. For example, if you handled or raised money, how much? If you worked during school semesters, how many hours per week? Focus on results (e.g. How you improved an organization or system of doing things, how you increased participation in an activity, how you introduced a new idea or project at work or in an activity).

Step 6: Arrange Entries within Categories: Generally your entries should be arranged in reverse chronological order, start with most recent within each category.

Step 7: Create the Document

Format and Appearance

Begin your resume by listing your complete contact information (address, phone number, and e-mail—if you use it) for both your school or local address and your permanent address, if applicable.

  • Use various graphic emphasis (ALL CAPS, bold, underline, or italics) to organize your content visually. You should be able to signal to the reader the items you consider most important using these methods.
  • Be consistent! For example, it really does not matter if you use commas, semicolons or periods in between phrases, or whether you put your dates at the beginning or end, but do it consistently.
  • Use white space wisely. Try not to have too much or too little white space. With too much white space (margins too wide or too much space between categories) it looks as though you don't have enough experience. Too little white space (margins too small or no spaces in between entries) makes your resume difficult to read.
  • Indents/Margins—Use indents sparingly and consider changing the default margin from 1.25' to something smaller - possibly as small as .5'. Stick to one or two consistent indents/bulleting of information for a smooth organized appearance.

Resume Production

The most professional appearance can be achieved by word processing your resume and printing via a laser printer (as opposed to an ink jet printer where the ink can run if it gets wet). Use high quality (25-50% cotton) resume paper to distribute by hand or via snail mail; White is preferred, but gray or buff are also acceptable. Make sure the 'watermark' is upright and facing you when holding the paper up to the light.

Resume Critiques

The most important step in the resume writing process is the final step; having your resume critiqued. It is critical that someone other than you look it over for typographical errors or other mistakes which you may have missed. Resume critiques are available with Hilary Kerner (either by appointment or via walk-ins during the academic year) or in University Career Services (via walk-ins during the school year).

Additional Sources of Help

A free copy of the UVA Hoos Career Guide, that includes resume samples, guidelines for resume writing, a list of action verbs for use in writing your resume entries is available from Hilary Kerner (come to walk-ins, arrange an appointment or email [email protected] to request a copy). Both CareerShift and the Hoos Career Guide are excellent ways to get ideas for format and appearance.