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Introduction to and Expectations for Résumés

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Media File: Introduction to and Expectations for Résumés

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What is a résumé?

A résumé is a brief document that summarizes your education, employment history, and experiences that are relevant to your qualifications for a particular job for which you are applying. The purpose of a résumé (along with your cover letter) is to concisely share relevant experiences and skills with a specific audience in order to obtain a role to which you are applying. This audience might include a potential employer, a graduate program admissions committee and, a committee for a scholarship or fellowship, among others. Given this, your résumé must be user-centered and persuasive.

What should it look like?

A general résumé should be a brief summary of your experience, so it should be as concise as possible—no shorter than one full page and no more than two pages (some specific kinds of résumés can be longer). Résumés differ from letters and papers in that they are written in a concise style using bullet lists rather than long sentences and paragraphs. A résumé is designed to be skimmed quickly. You should look at as many résumé examples as possible before writing your own. You can check our samples to see several different formats.

Though you may maintain a general résumé, you should tailor your résumés to fit the needs and expectations of each company and job position. To help tailor your résumé, collect as much information as possible on the organization and its mission/goals. Then collect information on the people who may read your résumé: human resources, decision makers, potential boss, etc. Finally, collect information on the job position and its requirements. When you know about the company, the audience, and the position, you can match your training and experience to their needs and expectations. Some people even choose to bold key words and phrases to draw the eye and emphasize words they feel the audience may be most interested in. This could be a software program or a soft skill, among others. However, don’t bold too many words, or it doesn’t become that emphasis and can be overwhelming. Please see the Audience Analysis page for details on collecting information on readers.

What should it include?

There are several sections that almost every résumé must have, including education, relevant experience, and contact information. Outside of these primary sections, though, the specific format and content of your résumé can be very flexible. The most important consideration when deciding on the format and content of your resume will be your intended audience.

What are the expectations for a résumé?

Readers have expectations about how a résumé should look. This allows for quick scanning, as many times your audience has seen many resumes.  For instance, your name typically appears at the top of the résumé and is usually the largest item. In addition, headers usually categorize the various sections of the text. Also, readers expect the information in your résumé to be accurate and correct. While it can be tempting to add the experience you think they want to see, it’s most important to be honest and explain how these experiences provided you with transferable skills.  Finally, your résumé should meet audience expectations for grammar and spelling and authentically express your understanding of your relevant experiences, keeping clarity and readability in mind. . Know that your résumé should be easy to read quickly and contain all necessary and pertinent information. The persuasive quality of your résumé depends on its usability.  You can make choices outside of the genre expectations, but know that this is a risk. If you want to be more creative, you may find that some audiences respond positively to your approach, while others do not.

Recommended Sections

CONTACT INFORMATION

The contact information section is where you detail how potential employers can get in touch with you. Make sure all information is accurate and current. You should, at minimum, include your name, email address, and phone number. Many people also include a personal website and/or a LinkedIn profile. It is in your best interest to make sure your potential employers can contact you, so just be sure to provide contact information through which you can be most easily contacted. Physical addresses are less and less included for a variety of reasons including communication now takes place digitally and it can create unnecessary socioeconomic or cultural assumptions. 

Please see the Résumé Section pages for more specific information about each of these sections.

EDUCATION

In the education section, state the highest degree you have earned and provide the following details.

  • Institution where the degree was granted
  • Date of graduation (If you haven’t graduated yet, it is common to put “Expected,” “Expected Graduation,” or “Graduating” before the date)
  • Level of degree (B.A., M.A., etc.) and field (Electrical Engineering), any minors(English), and your GPA. You are not required to state your GPA, but it can provide your audience with a quantifiable assessment of your performance in college. Especially for current students, a strong GPA can go a long way for internship applications, research assistantships, and other entry-level roles. However, if you feel that your GPA doesn't accurately reflect your accomplishments in college overall, then consider omitting it. It is not a necessary component of every résumé, and tends to become less relevant over time.
  • You may also choose to include accomplishments directly tied to your educational experience such as Dean’s List, study abroad, prestigious scholarships, prestigious honor societies, or any Greek honorifics. 

RELEVANT EXPERIENCE

There are multiple ways to frame one’s “experience,” and the appropriate frame for you might vary based on how far along you are in your professional career. If you are a senior in high school, a freshman in college, or a young professional at the very start of your career, you may find yourself with a limited amount of “work” experience, and this is okay. Depending on the role to which you are applying, volunteer experience, unpaid internships, research, and paid work can all serve as equivalent experience if they are all relevant to your desired field. If you find yourself with ample volunteer experience but little paid employment experience, for instance, you might consider framing all of your relevant experience under one single section head (e.g. “RELEVANT EXPERIENCE”) rather than dividing these different kinds of experiences into separate sections (e.g. “WORK EXPERIENCE” and “VOLUNTEER EXPERIENCE”).

On the other hand, if you’re further along in your college or professional career and have a great variety of experiences to pull from, you might consider using more descriptive section headers. For example, if you have worked in a number of academic research roles and industry roles, you might consider highlighting this breadth of experience by including both “RESEARCH EXPERIENCE” and “INDUSTRY EXPERIENCE” sections. Other kinds of experience for which you might create a separate section include LEADERSHIP EXPERIENCE and PROJECTS, depending on your background. These more descriptive section headers may also vary according to your intended audience, so it’s always a good idea to read through the description of the role first to see what kinds of experience are valued most.

For formatting, the  experience sections are usually broken down by organization or position. For each, provide the following:

  • Name of the organization or project
  • Location (example: Spokane, WA)
  • Date range
  • Position title (examples: Intern, Research Assistant, Sales Associate)
  • Responsibilities

Each role you apply to might require you to frame your experience in slightly different ways by emphasizing different skills, knowledge, or accomplishments you gained through your past roles. Even for past roles that may not seem directly related to your desired role,  you may want to emphasize transferable skills that you developed through the experience. In general, it is essential to keep your desired audience in mind as you develop your résumé, which may require you to create multiple versions through the application process if you apply to multiple roles at different organizations.

PUBLICATIONS & PRESENTATIONS

For a Curriculum Vitae (CV), publications and presentations are often seen as a premium because of their relative value within academia. Even beyond the CV, though, these products are desirable because they represent original work you have produced (or contributed to) and disseminated to a broader audience. The specific placement of these accomplishments within your résumé might vary depending on your intended audience. However, if you have published work, conference presentations, and/or other similar products that you have presented to an audience outside of the classroom or workplace, consider showcasing them with a specific section.

Optional Sections

In addition to the recommended sections, you may also want to include other relevant sections to provide a more accurate representation of your skills, knowledge, achievements, and credentials. These might include the following:

  • Software Skills
  • Soft Skills
  • Honors, scholarships, and/or awards
  • Languages (with proficiency level)
  • Certifications and licenses
  • Volunteer and/or service experience
  • Study abroad
  • Professional memberships
  • Trainings
  • Research Experiences
  • Extracurricular activities

Objectives, Summaries, and Areas of Interests

Many summaries like to have a brief section below the header, before education, experience, and other pertinent sections. This can provide the reader with an even more parred-down section, encouraging them to read on. These are most effecitvely used when customized to the job. However, they are not necessary and do not necesarily make a document more successful. These sections come in three unique forms: Objectives, Summaries, and Area of Interest. 

Objectives have been around for quite some time and may be becoming less common. Thi is a brief statement that discuss who you are, what you offer, and what your goals are. It should be one to three sentences and give the employer an idea of your motivation. 

Summaries are short descriptions that highlight your most valuable skills and experiences. Instead of focusing on long-term goals and motivations, this highlights the most relevant experiences, qualities, and skills to showcase your strongest assets immediately. It is similarly one to three sentences. 

Area of Interests are most often used in higher-level positions and highlight specific areas within a field that you are most interested and/or experienced in. This emphasizes your specializations and unique takes on broader disciplines. This is sometimes written in prose form like the previous two, or sometimes written as a list, often formatted with semicolons between interest area titles. 

If you believe there is unique information about you that your audience needs to make an informed decision, you may create a section on your résumé to showcase that information. That being said, it’s important to keep in mind the other documents that you might be submitting for a role, like cover letters, transcripts, statements of purpose, etc. All of these documents, along with your résumé, work in conversation with one another to give a more comprehensive representation of you and your work. So, if you can’t find the space to put specific information in your résumé that is important to you, think through how you might represent it in those other documents. 

While the résumé is a highly formatted document, it should reflect what you think will convince your audience that you are well-suited for the role.

Accessibility Considerations

Make any imbedded links descriptive
  • Use sans serif fonts that are easy to read and place them on a white or cream paper/ background. Do not use a font size smaller than 11 point. 
  • Provide digital copies so that they can be read aloud by software
  • If you have any images, tables or graphs (these are extremely uncommon), make sure you have an alternative text that explains these for visually impaired readers. 
  • You may consider submitting both a typical and large-print version

Tips & Advice

After creating a draft of your résumé, keep the following in mind as you work through the revision process:

  • Verb use: Use strong, descriptive action verbs. Make sure to use past tense verbs for past roles, and present tense verbs for ongoing roles.
  • Subordination: make sure the organization and formatting of similar information is consistent and logical across each section. For example, if you decide at the start that you want to list organizations/employers in bold and position titles/roles in italics, make sure to stick with that convention throughout each section. Your font styles should clearly convey the logical relationship between each piece of information within a section, so using these styles consistently is key.
  • Spacing: Try your best to create a sense of spacing between each section. This will facilitate readability and allow your audience to easily locate the major components of your résumé quickly and easily.
  • Concision: as a general rule of thumb, try your best to keep bulleted information to a single line, and make sure to only write one sentence per bullet point. See the Purdue CCO's "Writing the Resume" resource for a helpful, concise model for developing strong bullet points.

Job seekers at Purdue University may find value in the Purdue career Wiki here.

Go to the OWL homepage and select Professional, Technical, and Job Search Writing to find other cover letter and résumé resources.

For more information about how to develop a résumé, visit these OWL resources: