Writing a Résumé: A Very Brief Guide

Image Credit: Flazingo Photos, April 27, 2014

A résumé is a selective record of your background—your educational, military, and work experience, certifications, abilities, and so on. You send it, usually accompanied by an application letter, to potential employers when seeking job interviews.

Structure

Although résumé structure can vary, in most cases, you should include the following sections in the order indicated:

Header

Positioned at the top of the page. Here, state your name, mailing address, email, and phone number.

Summary (Optional)

Some people list their most important qualifications, skills, and work experience in a summary below the header. Actually, this section is most useful for people who have been in their careers for a while. It’s a good way to create one common spot on the résumé to list those key qualifications about yourself that may be spread throughout the résumé.

Education

In reverse chronological order, list the colleges that you’ve attended, including location (e.g., city and state), degree, area of study, and dates attended. Highlight accomplishments such as a strong GPA, academic awards, etc. Don’t include high school unless you haven’t attended college.

Sample education entry

Work Experience

In reverse chronological order, list your work experience, including company name, location, dates of employment, position(s), and responsibilities. Notice the use of present and past verb tenses in the examples below.

Sample work experience entries

Other Sections (Optional)

You should also consider including some other sections in your résumé.

If you have it, include it:

  • Military experience
  • Foreign language proficiency

Include only if relevant to the position for which you’re applying:

  • Volunteer experience
  • Organizations and affiliations
  • Licensing and certifications
  • Computer and technology skills
  • Awards and honors

References (Optional)

According to Mike Markel, “Although applicants in the past added a note stating ‘References available upon request’ at the end of their résumés, many applicants today do not do so because they think the comment is unnecessary: employers assume that applicants can provide a list of references—and that they would love to do so.”

Design

For a good overview of basic design principles, I recommend Robin Williams’ The Non-Designer’s Design Book or Joseph Moxley’s Writing Commons article “Principles of Design.”

Tips

  • Limit your résumé to one or two pages in length.
  • Use typography and other design elements (such as alignment and white space) to clearly contrast headings, subheadings, body text, lists, etc.
  • Be consistent in your design choices: don’t use different fonts for your “Education” and “Work Experience” headings, for instance.

An Example

The section on résumés in Matthew Butterick’s Practical Typography shares a revised résumé that serves as an excellent example of a well-designed document.

This very brief guide, authored by Erick Piller, uses some language adapted from the following Creative Commons-licensed sources: