Career Services

LitClass 3

Resume & Other Correspondence

What is a Resume?

A resume is a written communication that highlights your education, experience, and qualifications to produce results for a particular employer. Its sole purpose is to assist you in obtaining a personal interview!

Most people hate the thought of writing a resume, so they put it off until the last minute. When they finally do sit down to write it, they often become convinced that their background and skills are inadequate. They can't imagine how any of their work experience or education pertains to the career they are planning. These feelings and concerns are common--here's how to deal with them.

Keep your purpose in mind. Your resume is a sales tool that introduces you to the employer in your absence. It is:

Samples of Good Resumes (PDF Files)

Functional Format:

Chronological Format:

Quick Guide to Resume Writing

Who gets the job is not always the one who can do the job best, BUT who knows best how to get the job. Hence, each detail of this process should have meticulous attention since people are often screened OUT on the basis of a poor letter and resume.

People don't read resumes, they skim them. So think of a resume more as a piece of advertising than a comprehensive data sheet. Use margins and good spacing, which makes it easily skimmed.

Don't use a lot of dates or numbers. That makes it hard to skim. Place dates at the END or to the SIDE when describing experiences.

Rarely abbreviate. Especially college degrees and organizations. It is also helpful to give a concise, functional explanation of professional and student societies.

Use action verbs. Don't use the verb "to be." Instead of "I did...I was...I am..." use verbs like "initiated, created, developed, supervised, managed, instructed, counseled, negotiated, maintained,..." etc. (see a small action verb list on page 6 of this publication).

Emphasize skills, especially those which transfer from one situation to another. The fact that you coordinated an event for a student organization leads one to suspect that you could coordinate other things as well.

Don't use negative words. Don't apologize for lack of work experience or weaknesses. This is not the place to hang out dirty laundry. Be positive, capitalize on strengths, and leave out the negative or neutral words.

Resumes should be one or two pages in length. Never more. Anything longer is an autobiography, not a resume. Don't overwhelm employers with information.

Expound on relevant experiences, condense jobs or experiences that are not directly related. This means SLANTING your resume to the type of job you are seeking. Hence, you will need more than one resume if applying for different types of jobs. EXAMPLE: If you are applying for a Child Care Counselor job, devote more space to your experience as Camp Counselor. But if you're applying for a job as a Management Trainee, condense that and emphasize organizational and supervisory abilities.

Expect a phone call if they are interested. Most employers call to set up an interview. Seldom will they write. Hence, make sure they have a phone number. Will you or someone else be available to answer your telephone? If not, consider an answering machine, but avoid using "humorous" pre-recorded messages.

Resume Formats

A variety of formats may be used in resume preparation. Two of the more common formats, the Chronological and Functional are briefly described below. Each has certain advantages and disadvantages. The format you choose will depend upon your specific circumstances and background. One may also choose to combine the two approaches in an attempt to get the best of both worlds.

Chronological Format: The chronological format is the most frequently used probably because it is the easiest to prepare. Simply stated, the chronological resume presents your work experience and personal history in reverse time sequence. Titles and organizations are emphasized with duties and accomplishments described. Its main advantage is that it is easy to follow. It is best used when your career direction is clear and the job target is in line with your education and work experience.

Functional Format: The functional resume focuses on skills and abilities that can be applied in a variety of situations. It should be organized in a manner that supports your work objective. It de-emphasizes chronological job description listings and emphasizes qualifications by organizing skills into categories such as "management", "counseling", and "technical." Its main advantage is that it is flexible. It is best used by candidates who lack direct job related experience or for those whose education is so general that they must find a way of bridging the gap between it and the job requirements. It is also useful if one has a significant amount of experience and desires to group skills into categories and thus cut down on overlap in the resume.

Combination: This format allows you to creatively combine elements of both the chronological and functional resume formats. Be sure to use subheadings which are the most appropriate for you and your skills and experiences.

Resume Components

Resumes are normally written in outline form. The top third of the resume has the most attraction power, just as any other printed material. Therefore, position the strong areas at the top. Virtually all resumes include the following sections (others may be included as necessary).

Contact Information: At the top of the resume identify yourself by name, address, and telephone number. If you will be moving from your present address in a short time include a permanent address and telephone number.

Career Objective: Regardless of which resume format you use, it is advisable to include a job or career objective. Your objective should concisely state the type of position you are seeking. Its purpose is two-fold: First, it serves as the focal point around which the supporting data on your resume centers; Secondly, and most important to a prospective employer, it informs him/her of what you want to do. If you don't include a career objective on your resume, you must state it in your cover letter.

Hints in Writing a Career Objective:

  • a career objective should tell an employer what you want to do and what you can do.
  • there should be congruency between your background/experience and what you want to do.
  • avoid vague general cliches such as: opportunity for advancement; challenging position; and a progressive company.
  • do not include statements for self gratification (i.e. "so I might become a better person").
  • specify skills, abilities, or techniques you would like to utilize on the job.

Some believe the Career Objective is the most important entry on your resume. The rest of the material in your resume should support your objective with evidence that you are qualified for the position desired.

Example Career Objectives:

  • Entry level position in sales with the opportunity to advance into management.
  • Entry level Programmer position allowing utilization of computer and business background.
  • Position as Staff Nurse with a private health care facility.
  • Direct care position using my Psychology degree and counseling skills.
  • Management Trainee position enabling me to apply my skills and knowledge of organizational development and personnel administration.
  • Seeking Secondary English Teaching assignment (grades 7-12) with long term objective for some administrative responsibility in curriculum development.

Education: This category does not need to be excessively detailed. Degree(s) earned, date(s) earned, institution(s) from which obtained, major(s), and grade point average if above 3.0 on a 4.0 scale are basic. Academic honors and specialized coursework or projects which are directly related and important to one's career may be listed as well.

Work Experience: Prospective employers will read this section closely with a central thought in mind: "How do this person's experiences, abilities, and accomplishments relate to my company's employment needs?" Your work experiences should highlight what you have done and what you can offer the employer. Before committing work experience to the printed page, you may find it helpful to first outline this information according to:

  1. position held
  2. name and location of organization
  3. dates of employment
  4. responsibilities
  5. achievements and/or significant contributions
  6. demonstrated abilities and skills

The manner in which you describe your work experience will differ depending on the resume format you choose to use. If you utilize the chronological format, your work experience should be listed in reverse order, most recent first. Employing the functional format requires that the responsibilities and duties be described under the functional skill areas you have designated (i.e. management, communication, program planning, etc.).

The following sample list of action oriented or descriptive words may be helpful in describing your past work experiences and skills:

  • Administered
  • Advised
  • Analyzed
  • Assisted
  • Communicated
  • Completed
  • Conducted
  • Coordinated
  • Counseled
  • Demonstrated
  • Developed
  • Diagnosed
  • Directed
  • Edited
  • Ensured
  • Established
  • Evaluated
  • Expanded
  • Financed
  • Handled
  • Implemented
  • Improved
  • Initiated
  • Installed
  • Instructed
  • Interpreted
  • Maintained
  • Managed
  • Modified
  • Observed
  • Ordered
  • Organized
  • Participated
  • Performed
  • Planned
  • Prepared
  • Presented
  • Processed
  • Produced
  • Promoted
  • Researched
  • Revised
  • Studied
  • Supervised
  • Trained
  • Tutored
  • Updated
  • Wrote

Additional Headings: Additional headings should be included if, and only if, they offer substantive evidence of your qualifications for the job you are pursuing. There is nothing sacred about the titles of these additional headings. The rule of thumb is that they should be descriptive.

One very typical piece of additional information employers may want is References. At the Career Services Office we highly recommend that you include a separate sheet of stationery listing 3-6 references so when requested, they are immediately available.

Nine Mistakes and Ten "Musts"

Nine Mistakes:

  1. The resume is tooooo long.
  2. Failure to send a cover letter along with the resume if distributing it via the mail.
  3. The resume is poorly typed and sloppy--a sloppy resume indicates a sloppy employee.
  4. The resume is disorganized.
  5. The resume is either overwritten or too sparse.
  6. The resume tries too hard--too fancy.
  7. The resume contains careless mistakes.
  8. The resume is not oriented for results.
  9. The resume included inappropriate information i.e. marital status, age, race.

Ten "Musts":

  1. Have a clear job target before writing your resume.
  2. Take inventory of your most important qualities, capabilities, strengths, accomplishments, and skills and work them into the resume.
  3. Select the resume format that suits you best.
  4. Stress your contributions, not just the duties involved, in describing what you have done.
  5. To keep the reader's attention, eliminate extraneous information. Have someone edit and review your draft.
  6. Begin sentences/fragments with action words; avoid long-winded sentences.
  7. Draft your resume first, then refine and polish it.
  8. Read your resume again to confirm that you have presented your most relevant qualifications for the position(s) you want.
  9. After you have a good first draft, have it critiqued and proofread for grammar, punctuation, spelling and clarity by two people whose judgment you trust.
  10. Make it attractive, but use a clear, easy to read typeface.

Resume Layout, Appearance, and Printing

Your resume has approximately 10 to 20 seconds to make a favorable impression on the employer. Therefore, it should be as aesthetically pleasing as possible. The finished copy of your resume should conform to the following considerations:

  • Use 8 1/2 x 11 white, off-white, or light gray stationary of good quality (20#, 25% cotton)
  • Use perfect grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Have several people proofread for errors.
  • Limit your resume to a maximum of two pages, one page is preferable.
  • Omit all personal pronouns i.e. I, me. Avoid wordiness; use phrases, not complete sentences; and be concise.
  • Strive for readability. Generous spacing and separation of the components through CAPITALIZING, underlining, italicizing, bolding, etc. will help you achieve this effect
  • Have a camera ready resume printed on a laser printer.
  • Go to any professional copy center to have the camera ready resume duplicated in bulk.

Here are examples of a Scan-able Resume and a Web Resume.

Corresponding Effectively with Employers

When mounting an employment campaign, job seekers must take advantage of all available methods of locating and obtaining work. This process includes networking, cold calling, and letter writing. The first two often come a little more naturally. Unfortunately the letter writing campaign is often forgotten or, worse, poorly executed. Effectively corresponding with an employer before, during, and after an interview is extremely important.

Often the benefits of an effective cover letter are overlooked during a job search. Many times students will mistakenly send resumes to a variety of companies without attaching a cover letter. Recognizing that on any given day an employer may receive resumes from hundreds of prospective candidates; the possibility of catching an employer's eye increases by including an effective cover letter.

A cover letter should be an introduction to a prospective employer; outline your interest in the position; highlight your interest in the organization; and enumerate the skills you have that make you a strong candidate for an interview. In addition, the letter should be brief, but provide enough information to entice the recruiter to read the enclosed resume. There are two types of cover letters, a letter of inquiry and a letter of application.

A letter of inquiry is useful when a candidate is interested in a particular company. There may or may not be any current openings. The letter of inquiry informs the employer of the interest in their organization and gives the candidate an opportunity to ask for more information about future or unadvertised positions.

A letter of application is simply an application for a specific position posted in the Office of Career Services, the newspaper, or other job vacancy resources.

When corresponding with an employer, accuracy is most important. Try to direct letters to a specific person within the organization. Verification of a recruiter's name and title can be easily achieved by a simple telephone call to the employer's personnel office, or by using one of the directories often available in libraries.

The other type of correspondence applicants should be prepared to write is the thank you letter. It is very important to write a thank you letter to the person or persons who interviewed you. This is not only common courtesy, but it also provides one last opportunity to communicate your interest and qualifications for the position.

Acceptance Letter

Letter Declining Position

Formatting Your Letter

When you are job hunting, the form of a good business letter is as important as the content.

  1. Use high quality bond paper with your address at the top. Be sure that the paper is identical to that of your resume if enclosed, and also that of the accompanying envelope.
  2. Type neatly. Mistakes and misspellings must be perfectly corrected.
  3. Always address a letter to a specific person. Use the individual's full name, including middle initial and title. Greet the individual as Mr., Ms., Dr., Professor, etc...
  4. Keep sentences relatively short.
  5. Keep your letter brief, never more than one page.
  6. Keep a copy of each letter as a convenient record of both what you said and your contact's full name, title, and address. It will also remind you of when your follow-up call is expected.