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Resume Writing




Resumes are the norm in the United States, and there are many guidelines for writing resumes. However, our students often come from places where CV's are the norm. Thus the first thing we need to do is look at a few of the differences between resumes and CV's:


  • One of the main differences is that CVs can be quite long. Resumes, on the other hand, are generally 1-2 pages (this is further discussed below).


  • CVs offer complete information about academic achievements, awards, presentations, publications, etc. Internationally, they are used when applying for all kinds of jobs. In this country, a CV can be used for certain job applications -- usually when applying for academic or research positions where the employer wants to see all of a candidate's publications. Resumes, on the other hand, contain more selective information about a person's experience, skills, and achievements, and are used for most job applications.


  • There are also some formatting differences between CVs and resumes. For example, CVs usually present educational background before jobs. Resumes do the reverse.


Click here to read more about CVs versus resumes




Next, let's talk more about what makes a resume effective. Resumes are a marketing tool. Thus, as with interviewing, which we covered last month, you're selling yourself to a prospective employer. 


An effective resume should:


  • Be relevant to the job for which you're applying. That requires studying the job posting, knowing what the employer wants, and making sure your resume addresses what the employer wants.


  • Be powerful, but honest. Don't lie to make yourself sound better.


  • Be clear, precise, concise, and organized. Our English language learners might wonder about the difference between "concise" and "precise". "Concise" means using as few words as possible to express an idea; "precise" means using exactly the right words to describe an idea.


  • Use language that creates a clear picture of your achievements and strengths. You want to choose language that's confident, but not arrogant. As with interviewing, the goal is to come across as a person with whom colleagues would enjoy working.


  • Be well-formatted and easy to read. Something that's sloppy or has too much information can be difficult for people to read and understand.


  • Be consistent about formatting. An example of "consistent formatting" is what I’m doing in this "Effective Resumes" section. For every point that's being made, there’s a bullet point. If I had used a bullet point for some, but asterisks (**) for others, that would NOT have been consistent formatting. In the section below on "Typical Components of a Resume", there's one example of inconsistent formatting. Can you find it?  [Answer is after "Quick Tips" below.]


  • Be ERROR-FREE!!! This is very important.




There are different ways to structure resumes, but generally, resumes include:


  • Your name and contact information. Phone number and email are important to include. Your address is optional, though for many jobs, showing that you live in the area where the job is located is helpful.


  • Your career objective or professional summary. This is usually a brief statement that relates to the job for which you're applying.


  • A list of your qualifications / hard and soft skills (we talked about hard and soft skills in the article about Interviewing Skills). It's often preferable to list these qualifications using bullet points (perhaps a minimum of 4 skills and a maximum of about 8). Be concise and precise. Use keywords as appropriate (see Quick Tip #3 below). Some advisors feel that this section is optional, but many recommend including it as a way to briefly & powerfully highlight your abilities.


4. Your work history. For each job, this usually includes job title; the company and company location; dates of employment; and your tasks / responsibilities. You want to be concise, professional, and use language that shows your achievements. If possible, choose some responsibilities where you had "measurable results". A measurable result is something you can express with a number. For example: "As a result of the ads I created, hotel occupancy went up by 35%."  35% is a "measurable result".


  • Often, work history is listed in what is called "reverse chronological order". That means your most recent job is listed first and the oldest job is at the bottom of the list. You may not need to list jobs that are unrelated to the job you're seeking. NOTE: Some employers will ask you to explain "gaps" in your work history, so be prepared to talk about that. Gaps are periods when you haven't listed a job or any other activity to account for the time.


  • Your educational background. This includes the title of the degrees or certificates; the year you achieved each of those milestones; the name of the schools where you studied; and the city/state and/or country of those schools.


QUICK TIP #1  RESUME TEMPLATE AND VERSIONS: It's important to have 1 or more resume templates(sample documents) that are preserved in your documents folder and that are easily revisable for every job to which you apply.  When you apply for a job, the resume you send needs to be specific to that job.  With a good template, this is very easy, because most sections of the resume will stay the same, while some sections will need relatively minor revisions. See Tip #2!


QUICK TIP #2  USING "SAVE AS” TO ACCUMULATE A HISTORY OF YOUR RESUMES: Each time you apply for a job, you can take a suitable resume template and use the “save as” function in order to create a new version of that template while preserving the original.  This new version is what you’ll revise.  When you use “save as” to create a new document, you will be prompted to give that document a title.  In this case, choose a unique title relating to the job for which you’re applying.  That way, when you upload the resume to the prospective employer, the name of the file will relate to the job you’re seeking.  Also note that having your history of resumes can be extremely very helpful.


QUICK TIP #3  KEYWORDS:  Look for significant words in the job posting that describe the experience and skills that the employer is seeking. We call those words "keywords". Use some of those words in your resume. Keep in mind that many larger companies use computer software that scans resumes to look for keywords. Resumes that don't include enough of those words may not get reviewed by an actual person. AND, even if your resume is reviewed by a person rather than a software program, that person is also likely to look for keywords. Click here to learn more.


QUICK TIP #4  LENGTH OF RESUMES: There's a lot of advice about the appropriate length of resumes. In the US, there's general agreement that resumes should be 1 to 2 pages. For someone who is just out of school and/or who doesn't have a long work history, a 1-page resume is usually fine. For people who have a longer work history, a 2-page resume is more appropriate. Some people have a very rich professional history that requires more than 2 pages. In those instances, 3 pages should be sufficient. Finally, people applying for certain academic and research positions may need to include a list of their presentations and publications. In those cases, a CV is better.  Click here for an article with ideas about the length of resumes.


QUICK TIP #5  OMITTING DATES: We shall cover this briefly. As stated, it's common to enter the dates of your jobs and degrees/certificates. However, for older job applicants with long work histories, this can sometimes be problematic. Though age discrimination is illegal, it can be real, and your goal is to get an interview so that a prospective employer can meet and hopefully be impressed by you.  A few suggestions if you feel you need to omit dates: 1. Leave dates off of ALL degrees and certifications; 2. List dates for your most "recent" jobs (the prior 10 -15 years); 3. Have an "Other Experience" section where you briefly list older jobs that relate to the job you're seeking. Put the job titles, company names, and key responsibilities, but NO DATES; 4. OR, here's a completely different option! You can use a "functional resume". We haven't covered that here, but there's a lot of information online. If interested, do searches for "functional resumes" or "omitting dates from a resume".




Answer: The inconsistent formatting under "Typical Components of a Resume" was using the number 4 (rather than a bullet point) before "Your Work History"




If you want to take a more in-depth look into resumes, the following links have a lot of information:  


Learn More about Resume Writing

Learn More about Presenting Work History on a Resume

How to Write a Great Resume


And here's a site that offers resume samples (you can also do an Internet search for "excellent resume examples"):


Some Resume Samples

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