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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 get an interview. Research has shown that it takes an average of ten (10) interviews to receive one (1) job offer, so your résumé needs to be persuasive and perfect. 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 three pages (some specific kinds of résumés can be longer). Résumés differ from letters and papers, and 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. 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 objective, education, work experience, and contact information.


The objective should be short and concise, but it must also be user-centered. User-centered objectives are tailored to the specific organization and position. User-centered objectives state the organization's name and the specific position title, and they briefly outline how the applicant will help the organization achieve its goals. An example:

Objective: Help ABC Aerospace achieve its mission of designing tomorrow's technology today by joining the Navigation Software Development Team as a programmer.

Creating a user-centered objective is important because you don't want to sound like you're using the organization selfishly to further your own career. An example:

Objective: Expand my skills in programming in the software development field

Notice how the second objective does not mention the specific organization or job, and it does not discuss how the applicant plans to help the company.


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
  • 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 potential employers may assume you left it off because it was low. However, if your GPA is lower than a 3.0, consider omitting it.

Work Experience

The section on work experience is usually broken down by company or position. For each, provide the following.

  • Name and address of the organization
  • Dates of employment
  • Position title
  • Responsibilities

You may also want to include skills learned if the job has little or nothing to do with the position for which you are applying. Try to connect your experience with your current job interest.

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, address, and phone number. Many people also include cell phone numbers, email addresses, and personal websites. It is in your best interest to make sure your potential employers can contact you.

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

Optional Sections

In addition to the basic sections, you may also want to include other optional sections to provide a more accurate idea of your skills, achievements, education, etc. These can include the following:

  • Computer skills
  • Honors and awards
  • Languages
  • Certifications
  • Volunteer experience
  • Hobbies and interests
  • Foreign travel
  • Professional memberships
  • Community service, etc.

If you believe there is information about you an employer needs to make an informed decision (and you cannot include it in a cover letter), you may create a section on your résumé to showcase that information. Although the résumé is a highly formatted document, it should reflect what you think will convince your potential employer to grant you an interview.

What are the expectations for résumé?

Readers have expectations about how a résumé should look. 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. Finally, your résumé should be free of grammatical and spelling errors. 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.

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: