How to write a resume that works

What info should you actually include in your resume?

During graduation season I'm reminded of the difficulty most college students have finding their first job. Most stressful for many students is the resume writing process. In my experience as a corporate recruiter, I’ve learned that most spend the bulk of their time trying to make their resumes appear unique by selecting extravagant card stock or looking through hundreds of resume books searching for that perfect template with fancy fonts, photos, and graphics. The truth is, hiring managers aren’t interested in a fancy-looking resume, but rather a resume that is well laid-out, easy-to-follow, and full of content.

The information hiring managers are most interested in

  • Education: Include the full name of your college or university, type of degree, date graduated, and GPA, if over 3.0. Consider what made your education experience unique or noteworthy. For example, if you worked in order to pay for 50% or more of your education, add that. If you studied abroad, definitely add that in this section, too.
  • Relevant coursework: Your resume should highlight specific classes you completed that directly impact or relate to the position you are applying for. For instance, if you’ve taken a course in business writing, list it in this section. This is an important skill to many executives.
  • Honors/awards: These include academic groups and other honors you have received in college. These kinds of awards indicate your ambition to perform with excellence.
  • Activities: Hiring managers are drawn to college graduates who participated in campus organizations and held leadership roles while in college.
  • Work experience: When building a resume, make sure to list your experience in reverse chronological order, starting with your most current position and moving backward. Format the material so it’s easy to read, and include all pertinent facts, dates, and titles. Use action verbs to describe your job responsibilities and include key accomplishments.
  • Internships: List dates, the company, and your responsibilities.
  • Computer skills: List all software that you are familiar with.
  • Languages: In our global economy, speaking other languages is an important asset, so be sure to include that information.
  • Personal: This is the section where you should include your volunteer experience and interests relative to the position you are applying for, not hobbies. For example, Big Brother/Big Sister volunteer, work at a homeless shelter, etc.
  • References: Have a separate document for your references instead of including them at the bottom of your resume. Your references should be people who have been your supervisors, professors, and academic advisors—people who have assessed your work. When asked to provide your references, be sure to contact your references to make them aware of the position you’re applying for, the company, and the name of the person who may be contacting them.

When you’re finished with the final draft of your resume, proofread it! Typos on a resume are a sign of sloppiness. Hiring managers tend to toss these resumes into the trash the moment that they see the typo. And don’t rely solely on a computer’s spellchecker, which tends to miss some errors (e.g., there vs. their, its vs. it’s). Proofread it very carefully and even consider having a friend or two proofread it, too. They may pick up some errors that you missed.

6 things to avoid when building a resume

1. First person: Do not use the word "I"—"I did this," "I did that." Most hiring managers are turned off by resumes that are full of I’s. To describe your responsibilities, use bullet points. Start each line with an action verb, like these:

  • "Managed a 10-person team" 
  • "Developed and launched…"
  • "Raised $1 million in fundraising drive"

2. Humor: Do not try to be funny. I received a resume in which the person listed their e-mail address as "godsgift08@....... com." Are you kidding me? Another offered the potentially offensive address of “” If you don’t have a professional sounding e-mail address, create one for your job search!

3. Fluff: Avoid fluffy words. I’ve read thousands of resumes in my 29 years as a recruiter, and one of my pet-peeves is fluff adjectives and other words that look like they’ve been pulled out of the thesaurus. You’re not fooling anyone. All that really matters in a resume is clarity and content.

4. Summary of qualifications: Some feel a summary section at the top of the resume enhances their skills and experience. It’s actually unnecessary and takes up valuable space. Serious hiring managers will read your resume top to bottom. Don’t worry about summarizing.

5. Objective: I once read a resume from a college graduate with this objective: “To be challenged and continue to grow as a salesperson achieving results while seamlessly representing a company of integrity and quality products.” I didn’t buy it! If you have to put an objective, try this one: “To get a full-time job in the next 30 days.” Now that rings true!

6. Lies or exaggerations: Do not lie in your resume. Do not exaggerate—not even a little bit. I can’t emphasize this enough. An untrue statement on a resume will come back to haunt you. When it’s discovered, any job offer on the table will probably be rescinded.

Write your best resume!

As you begin to write your resume, keep in mind that a seasoned recruiter, human resources manager, or hiring manager will decide within 10-15 seconds of opening a resume if it is worth reading in its entirety. So, it needs to be inviting, crisp, and easy-to-read. Follow these guidelines and your resume will get noticed!

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