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Produce a basic resume

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Your resume is one of the most important documents you will ever produce, and it’s one you will need to modify many times over the course of your career. You can get a lot of advice online about how to produce a good resume, and much of it is worthwhile. The problem is that you will often find conflicting advice about what to include and how to format the information. If you look at other sources for advice, please be sure to notice who the intended audience is for that advice. The way your resume will look ten years from now is quite different from what an employer is going to expect from a new college graduate.

One important factor that is sometimes a controversial issue is length. Typically, a recent college graduate who has not held a full-time position relevant to his or her career goals will be expected to produce a resume not exceeding one page—and some organizations may actually insist that you limit your resume to a single page. However, many students have completed multiple internships or co-ops or they may have held relevant jobs prior to graduation. My advice is to use two pages if you really have a lot of relevant information, but also to produce a one-page version for those situations where the employer will not accept anything longer than that. Violating a page limit is a good way to get your submission tossed out. Employers want candidates who can follow their application instructions.

Another important fact to keep in mind is that the first person who reads your resume may spend less than 30 seconds with it—a recent survey indicated that many initial reviewers spend about six seconds scanning resumes. So it’s very important that the most important information is easily accessible and obvious.

A special note about OCR (optical character recognition) scanning

When resumes are sent in hard copy, they are often scanned using software that converts the symbols on the typed page to an electronic image. If the employer plans to use OCR scanning, they will usually mention that in the job announcement. In those instances, there are some crucial adjustments that you must make if you want to ensure that your resume will not be rejected by the software. Note that many of these alterations are NOT appropriate for your electronic resume or for a paper resume that will be read by a human, so you may want to keep regular and OCR-ready versions of your basic resume on hand. For the OCR-ready version:

  • Use an 11 or 12 point sans serif font (Arial and Helvetica are the most common).
  • Avoid underlining, italics, and bold. If you want to add emphasis, use all caps.
  • Don’t include any horizontal or vertical lines (rules).
  • Don’t use bullets of any kind.
  • Keep the lines short.
  • Don’t use color or shading.
  • Be sure to put your name on the top line.
  • If you have more than one telephone number, put each number on a separate line.

Suggestions about format for your basic resume

  • Do not use a template suggested to you by your software program. Many templates force you to use inappropriate fonts, include distracting horizontal lines, or organize your information illogically.
  • Keep your format simple. You can see some models for resumes below.
  • Minimize the number of indentations. Align like items (e.g., headings or lists) under one another throughout. It’s okay to center your name and contact information, but nothing else should be centered.
  • Use standard fonts, e.g., Times New Roman, Cambria, Arial, Helvetica. This is particularly important if you send your resume electronically. It is okay to use one font for headings and a different font for body text, but do not use more than two fonts.
  • Use bold or italics to add emphasis to the most important information. That is, the information most relevant to the specific position you are applying for.
  • Keep the resume to one page unless you have an extraordinary amount of relevant experience (or the application instructions specify a one-page resume).
  • Print your resume on good quality white or off-white paper. Do not use colored paper.
  • If you are in a field that values creativity, you may want to produce two versions: a traditional version that will photocopy or scan well (black ink on white or off-white paper, no bold or italics, no lines or bullets) and a more creative version that can use color, either in the type or the paper. Use your judgment about which version to submit. When in doubt, ask. If you do produce two versions, be sure you remember to keep the content consistent, updating both with any new information.

Suggestions about content

  • Do not include information from high school unless it is very relevant. For example, if you want to be a journalist and you were the editor of your high school newspaper, put it on your resume. If you want to be a baseball coach, and you played baseball in high school, include it.
  • Include your name and contact information at the top. Contact information means mailing address, email address, and telephone number(s). You can also include a personal website and other online profiles if they are relevant to your career goals. Do not put your name in a font that is significantly larger than the rest of the information on the page. Do not put your contact information in a font that is significantly smaller than the rest of the information on the page.
  • Do not include references or the words “References available upon request.” If they ask for references, obviously you will provide them.

Suggestions about organization

Organize your information logically, with the most important information first. You will want to include the following sections, most likely in the order listed below. However, use your judgment to arrange the sections according to the requirements of each job description. For example, if the job description focuses more heavily on specific skills than on a particular degree, put your skills section before education. If the job description emphasizes experience, move that toward the top third of the page.

  • Objective: Focus on the specific skills that you offer, not what you want. Avoid trite words and phrases such as challenging, progressive, team player, and results-oriented. The objective represents a bit of controversy within the field. Some specialists say that they won’t look at a resume if it doesn’t have an objective; others claim that they won’t look at it if it does! There’s no single rule of thumb that will help you here, so you will have to decide for yourself which way to go. You may want to check with a career counselor who specializes in your field to see if there is a prevailing opinion.
  • Education: Since you have just graduated from college, your education is crucial. Include the name of your school, the name of your degree(s), any minor(s) you have completed, your GPA (but only if it is above 3.0), the year you earned (or will earn) your degree(s), and any relevant coursework. Use titles for your courses, not school-specific course numbers. If you do not have much relevant work experience, make Relevant Coursework a separate section after education and list details about what you accomplished or produced in those courses.
  • Work Experience: Include the name of your employer, the city and state where the employer is (or was) located, the beginning and end dates of your employment, and your job title. List the positions in reverse chronological order (most recent first). Include any internships or co-ops. If the job was relevant to the job for which you are applying, include a bulleted list of your accomplishments. Start each bulleted item with an action verb. If you are still working at that job, all the verbs should be in the present tense (for example, design, write, produce, create, distribute, build, complete, teach). If the job was in the past, the verbs should be in the past tense (for example, designed, wrote, produced, created, distributed, built, completed, taught). If the job was not relevant to the job for which you are applying (e.g., waitress, camp counselor, retail clerk, nanny), do not list your accomplishments unless you did something extraordinary.
  • Skills: Include computer programs, foreign language skills, and communication skills, with some indication of your proficiency (e.g., familiar with, proficient in, expert at). If possible, try to match your skills to the requirements of the job. For example, if the job description says that the company is looking for someone familiar with a particular operating system (e.g., Linux) or program (e.g., Excel), and if you are familiar with that, then be sure to list it first in your skills section. You can also list any certifications you may have earned.
  • Honors and Awards: Include scholarships, academic achievement awards (e.g., Dean’s List, but also add how many terms you were on the Dean’s List), and any other significant awards you have earned.
  • Activities: In surveys of employers, they often list extracurricular activities as important to their hiring process. List any on-campus activities, clubs and fraternities, or volunteer work that you have been involved in during your campus years. If you took a leadership role (e.g., you were an officer or chaired a special event), include information about that role.
  • Hobbies and Interests: If you have room, it doesn’t hurt to let an employer know a bit more about you as an individual. A friend of mine thinks she got her first job because she included mountain biking on her resume and, in her job interview, she and the employer spent most of their time talking about mountain biking. Of course, she also had the appropriate degree, two internships, and a great GPA.

Suggestions for reviewing your resume

  • Use the checklist below as you review your resume to ensure that is as good as you can make it.
  • Ask someone to review your resume who knows the best way to present your skills and experiences for this type of position. You might ask a career counselor at your school, a friend or alumnus who works in that industry, or one of your professors.
  • Make sure there are no typographical errors. Keep in mind that the first person who reads your resume is trying to pare down the list of possible candidates for the job, so he or she is looking for any excuse to discard your resume! Don’t let a minor error, which signals a lack of conscientiousness and care, be the reason your name is taken out of consideration.

Resume checklist

My resume
  • has a clean, attractive appearance
  • follows a standard resume format (but not a template)
  • provides contact information at the top
  • is organized by logical sections
  • matches the job I am applying for
  • has even indentations (all elements are aligned)
  • uses bold or italics to emphasize the most important elements
  • has a sufficient margin (at least one half inch) on all sides
  • has no misspelled words
  • has no grammatical or punctuation errors
  • does not include information from high school unless directly relevant
  • does not list or offer references
  • is organized logically for the job description
  • uses conventional headings
My objective
  • is positioned as the first element under my name and contact information
  • focuses on what I offer the organization
  • matches at least some of the requirements listed on the job description
  • is concise
My education section
  • provides the name of my school
  • lists my degree(s) including any minor(s)
  • gives my (anticipated) graduation date
  • lists any relevant course work
My work experience section
  • is listed in reverse chronological order (most recent first)
  • uses bulleted lists to describe tasks and accomplishments
  • begins each bulleted item with an action verb is the appropriate tense
  • uses specific language to describe my experience
  • does not focus on irrelevant jobs
My skills section
  • lists specific skills, including computer and language skills
  • provides indications of my level of proficiency in each area
  • includes any certifications

Model resumes

Sample 1
Sample 2