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Staring at a blank Word document and willing it to magically transform into a killer résumé can give anyone anxiety—no matter how much experience you do or don’t have.

“[I struggle with] making my limited experiences sound valuable (i.e., identifying my skills and presenting them in a way that exemplifies my ability to learn/be trained/do the job well).”
—Emily, fourth-year undergraduate, Portland State University, Oregon

Think of it this way: Sitting down to make or update your résumé is a chance to show off all your hard work and think really specifically about your career goals. With the right tips, building your résumé can actually be enjoyable (and, failing that, it’s at least useful).

To fix up your résumé, follow these tips and check out our sample résumé below.

1. First, make the list

  • Make a detailed list of all your professional, educational, and extracurricular experiences. This exercise will help you remember everything you have done.
  • Save this list. It might be useful if you need to fill out a form for your complete work history.
  • Pick out the best stuff: everything that’s relevant to your intended career.

Now you’re ready to start making this look fancy.

2. What to spotlight

Make this info very easy to find. This is what people who look at résumés focus on:

  • Your name
  • Your education, with dates
  • Your current job, with dates
  • Your previous jobs, with dates

3. What to include

  • Specific accomplishments, quantified wherever possible.
  • “Your resume is a personal marketing document that showcases your most relevant skills and accomplishments” says Amanda Johnson, Career Advisor at Ashford University. “Your resume should not include your entire life’s story.”
  • Remember, there are other ways (including cover letters and interviews) to present what isn’t on your résumé.

4. What to avoid

  • These are the seven most overused buzzwords, according to the career networking site LinkedIn: energetic, passionate, tenacious, value-add, expert, ninja, guru.
  • Terms like “references available upon request” are implied. Delete them to save space.
  • Typos. No self-respecting résumé can recover from a typo. Find a detail-oriented friend, print your résumés, and proofread them bottom to top. Then do it again with someone else.

5. Keep it simple and easy to scan

  • Use bulleted lists instead of paragraph descriptions. “The résumé needs to be easy to read, with clearly marked section headings and bullet points,” says Dr. Scism.
  • Use an easily readable font.
  • Always send your résumé as a PDF to ensure your formatting stays pristine no matter where it’s downloaded.
  • “Research shows employers spend only 6 seconds reviewing a resume initially” says Rebecca Davis, Career and Alumni Services Manager at Ashford University. “Therefore, it is important to ensure your resume is clear, concise, and tailored to each position you apply for.”
  • Avoid shading. “It can come out as too saturated and illegible on some printers,” Isenhour explains.
  • Don’t include a photo, your date of birth, or your race—it’s illegal for an employer to make hiring decisions based on age or race.

Here’s a sample résumé that gets it right

Include a summary

stack of resumes on pink background

When an employer reviews your résumé, within the first few seconds they should have a clear understanding of the type of position you are targeting. The best and most modern way to accomplish this is by writing a summary section. This is sometimes called a career objective statement.

The summary section should include:

  • The type of work you’re seeking
  • The specific job or field
  • The skills you’re contributing
  • The value of those skills to the company

“Avoid using vague objective statements since they do not communicate to the employer exactly what you want. Employers are looking for why you’re a fit for their position specifically, so it is important to tailor your summary section to each position that you apply for.”– Amanda Johnson, Career Advisor at Ashford University

“Remember, employers time is limited. By creating a Summary section, we make it easy for an employer to see not only what position you are looking for, but also telling them in 5-8 bullets in your Summary the strongest qualifications/skills you have for this position. Think of it as summarizing for the employer this is the position I am interested in, and this is why I’m qualified for it” -Rebecca Davis, Career and Alumni Services Manager at Ashford University

A résumé is a marketing document. If a piece of data you’re including is not relevant to the type of work you’re seeking, there’s no harm in leaving it off.

This is especially true of volunteer work, training you have completed, or other activities. If you keep it in, find a way that does not dilute the focus of your résumé.

…But not too selective

Don’t leave out relevant experience, accomplishments, and credentials just to make your résumé shorter.

But do keep it to one page—two if you feel you absolutely need it. Ideally, one page is all it should take to communicate to an employer that you know what skills they’re looking for and can bring them to the position.

Demonstrate your commitment to your career goals

Include on your résumé:

  • Courses that are relevant to the work you are targeting
  • Relevant projects and extracurricular activities
  • Memberships of relevant professional organizations (to enhance your credibility)

Pay attention to dates. If you are still working on your degree, say: “Graduation anticipated 2020” (or whatever year).

Layout essentials

  • Add space between sections
  • Use bullet points
  • Use different size fonts:
    • 14–16pt for headings
    • 12pt for primary text
    • 10–11pt for bullet points
  • Consider elements like horizontal lines, columns, or other design elements. But make sure it looks professional, not cluttered. Before you send it anywhere, print a black-and-white copy to make sure everything is legible.



Demonstrate your positive traits in action

Use examples from your work history or your education.

For example: “Reorganized the office at Leaps & Bounds Rabbit Rescue, creating a filing system that saved two hours daily.”

Focus on your accomplishments

Show how your employer benefited from your work. For some positions, this can be challenging, but you should still make an effort. On what factors was your performance assessed? How did you know you were doing a good job? What did you improve?

For example, don’t just write, “Helped with clerical tasks.” Instead: “Assisted with clerical tasks, saving teachers four hours daily and enabling them to spend more time with students.”

Bulleted accomplishment statements are more user-friendly than paragraphs.

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Article sources

Michelle Dumas, founder, Distinctive Career Services, Boston, Massachusetts.

Paul Goodrick, career advisor, The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education, Ryerson University, Toronto, Ontario.

Nicole Isenhour, executive career consultant, Point Road Group, New York City.

Kara Renaud, resource coordinator and faculty liaison, career services, Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario.

Darby Scism, PhD, executive director, career center, Indiana State University, Terra Haute.

Black, J. (2018, February 20). Most overused buzzwords 2018. LinkedIn. Retrieved from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/most-overused-buzzwords-2018-jennifer-black-/

Fisher, A. (2011, June 3). Top 5 mistakes on executive resumes. Fortune. Retrieved from http://fortune.com/2011/06/03/top-5-mistakes-on-executive-resumes/?section=money_topstories

Gordon, W. (2011, March 5). Top 10 ways to rock your resume. Lifehacker. Retrieved from http://lifehacker.com/5777317/top-10-ways-to-rock-your-resume

Keeping an eye on recruiter behavior. (2012). The Ladders. Retrieved from http://cdn.theladders.net/static/images/basicSite/pdfs/TheLadders-EyeTracking-StudyC2.pdf

Sharma, M. (2010, December 14). Top 10 profile buzzwords. LinkedIn. Retrieved from http://blog.linkedin.com/2010/12/14/2010-top10-profile-buzzwords/