Creating a Resume

A resume is:

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  • A marketing tool written to capture the reader’s attention that highlights your skills, experience, qualifications, knowledge, and accomplishments.
  • For the purpose of being invited for an interview. Resumes open doors to interviews and interviews open doors to jobs.
  • A screening device which has 20-30 seconds to impress an employer who may discard those with slight errors.
  • A tailored document matching your skills and background with the needs, concerns, and expectations of an organization. Resumes are not one-size fits all documents.


Resources at CALS Career Services


Basic Principles

  • Type of Resume – Chronological versus Functional: Current students and recent graduates often use the chronological resume which demonstrates continuous and upward growth in education and experience. Education and experience are listed in reverse chronological order with the most recent first (versus the functional resume that is organized by skill sets).
  • Length: Is it true that a resume is only supposed to be one page? Depending on your relevant experience, you may not be able to fit everything on one page. You can use a second page, however, if you do, make your resume at least a page and a half or two full pages.
  • Conciseness: How much do I need to share? You don’t need to display EVERYTHING you’ve done because you’ll run the risk of losing the employer’s attention. Make sure every word counts. Ask yourself the questions: “Can I relate this to the job I’m applying for?” and “Is my reader interested in this?”
  • Positioning: How should I arrange all this information? Positioning information is the critical element in capturing the reader’s interest. Place your most important information near to the top to attract the reader’s attention. But also keep in mind you want to position the information where it makes the most sense for YOU and YOUR particular skills and experiences. Prioritize the sentences – most relevant/important first and less relevant/important last.
  • Style and Design: Can I do something creative to make my resume standout? There is no steadfast rule. Whatever you do just make sure your resume is professional. Look at examples from your friends or on the internet.


How to Begin

  • If you are starting with a first draft, begin by making a general list of EVERYTHING you could include in a resume including past jobs, volunteer service, co-curricular activities, honors, scholarships, etc.
  • Know the scope of the position and the skills for which the company is looking – consider your audience!!!
  • Ask yourself the following: a) What benefits will a prospective employer receive from employing you? b) What skills or value do you bring that will enhance and contribute to the organization? c) How are you better than other candidates for the job? What are your accomplishments?


Design & Grammar Tips

Although readers are primarily interested in the content of your resume, they can also discern things about you from the appearance of your resume such as how detail-oriented you are.

What to use or things to keep in mind
Lettering Readable typeface (i.e. Times New Roman, Helvetica, or Ariel). Do not use more than two fonts.
Size 10-12 point (depending on the typeface)
Emphasis A tasteful amount of bold, italics, or all caps. Especially used for headings. Consistency is key!
Margins Approximately 1”
Spacing Don’t cram too much information in too little space. It’s good to leave some white space.
Bullets Use them to call attention to a list of items. But don’t go bullet crazy and use them for every line.
  • Use past tense when referring to experiences in the past. Use present tense when describing current activities.
  • Eliminate first person pronouns (I, we), articles (the, a, an), and “being” verbs (am, is, are, was, were).
  • Watch out for abbreviations that don’t make sense to anyone but you – write them out.
  • Avoid long paragraphs. Would YOU want to read them?
  • Avoid words that repeat themselves throughout the resume especially action verbs. Use your thesaurus!


What (typically) to Leave Out

  • Date of birth
  • Marital status
  • Reasons for leaving past job
  • Salary information
  • Label of “Resume”
  • Graphics and photos
  • Interests and hobbies – unless relevant to your field (ex. Gardening for landscape architecture)
  • Pre-college information unless you are a first year or second year student
  • Be conscious when listing social, political, religious organizations. Employers will notice.


Resume Breakdown

  1. Contact Information

    • Name
      Mailing Address (School and/or Permanent)
      Telephone Number

    For Example:

    • Bucky B. Badger
      1440 Monroe Street
      Madison, WI 53711
      (608) 262-1866

  2. Objective
    Optional, yet highly recommended. An objective is only one or two sentences long. Make sure to focus on the employer’s needs. Note the position you are seeking as well as the key skills that make you desirable.Example: Seeking an internship in the dairy industry where I can utilize my strong knowledge of the dairy and agricultural fields as well as my communication and organizational skills.

  3. Education

    • University or college name
    • Degree name (write out B.S. – “Bachelor of Science”)
    • Graduation Date awarded or anticipated


    • Cumulative GPA. Guideline – anything above a 3.0 can be reported. Consider calculating your major GPA.
    • Relevant coursework. Highly recommended for students without any relevant professional experience. Put in column format, most relevant to the job, and don’t use course numbers.

    For Example:

    • University of Wisconsin-Madison
      Bachelor of Science
      Major: Food Science; Business Concentration
      Anticipated Graduation Date: May 20xx
      Cumulative GPA: 3.25/4.0; Dean’s List
    • Relevant Coursework:
      Food Analysis – Food Quality Control
      Biochemistry – Food Microbiology

  4. Experience
    The MOST important section!!! Focus your time and energy on this section above all! Describe your present and previous positions in reverse chronological order (most recent first) and do not simply describe what you did. Strike a balance between job description, skills, and accomplishments, quantify them (use numbers) when applicable, especially with your accomplishments. Focus on outcomes when possible. Go beyond stating what was required and demonstrate how you made a difference. Also, show progression and promotion within an organization. Don’t forget that nonpaying work and volunteer experience also “counts”. Always begin sentences with a variety of strong action verbs (avoid “responsible for” and “duties include”). Focus on transferable skills (ie. skills from one experience that will pertain to another experience) and self-management skills (e.g., interpersonal, organizational skills). Finally, if you have both related and unrelated experience, consider having two experience sections. For example, one labeled “Professional Experience” or “Relevant Experience” and the other labeled “Work Experience”.


    • Name of organization
    • Location of organization (City, State)
    • Specific job title. Avoid general titles even though your employer uses a particular name (e.g. student worker or intern). Think of a title that is more descriptive or ask the assistance of your employer/supervisor. For example, instead of “Intern”, consider a more specific title such as “Product Development Intern”.
    • Dates of employment
    • Job description. 3-5 phrases including significant accomplishments, skills, and knowledge gained. Don’t forget to give specific examples.


Additional Information

Consider using the following headings typically found in resumes. These categories are typically a simple inventory of your affiliations, honors, skills, etc. presented in the order of importance and relevance to the job. Avoid one item per category unless its really important. Try to place it in an appropriate category or be creative and combine similar categories. Mention all important offices held. List dates to the right margin especially if you have been active with an organization for an extended period of time. Provide a short phrase descriptor for organizations in which the name does not provide clear idea of organization’s purpose or your responsibilities. After the “Education” and “Experience” section, this part of the resume is specific to YOU to give the employer the best possible impression of you as it relates to the employment opportunity. You can also create headings to fit the skills you want to highlight.

  • Leadership Experience
  • Academic Honors and Awards
  • Community Service
  • Computer Skills
  • Co-curricular Activities
  • Foreign Languages
  • Laboratory Skills
  • Publications and Presentations
  • Certifications and Licenses
  • Professional Affiliations
  • International Experience



You can choose to add a simple line – “References available upon request”. Select three references (ex. your advisor, a professor, employer, supervisor, etc.). Include the following information about your references: their relation to you, complete address, phone number, and email address. When requested, give the employer your references on a separate sheet of paper.

Final Check

  • Proofread and spell check! Make sure to avoid all errors, stains, abbreviations, technical jargon, and slang.
  • Tape your resume or different versions of your resume on a wall to decide which one looks the best or what changes need to be made for a visually appealing resume.
  • Let your final version sit overnight.
  • Ask others such as your advisors, professors, friends, and family to check for revisions.


Now that you’re done, what next?

  • When mailing your resume, always include a cover letter to explain why you’re sending the resume.
  • Print on one side.
  • Use high quality white or off-white resume paper and quality ink (laser print).
  • If you are emailing your resume, send a copy to yourself or a friend to make sure your file opens properly.
  • Remember your resume is a work in progress – continue revising and adding to it.

Resume Book