Writing a Resume

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Your resume and cover letter are usually the first two things a hiring manager will see when considering you for a position. Therefore, it's important to take the time to perfect your resume, and tailor it to the specific job you are applying for.

Below are some more tips and examples to get you started: 

Writing Your Resume

Showcase your skills.

Your resume is your opportunity to show off you skills, this includes hard skills (these are skills like mastery of specific software systems), soft skills (these are personality-driven skills like small talk and listening), and transferable skills (these are skills that you can take with you from one situation to another such as being able to analyze and interpret information). If you are having trouble listing your skills, see our Keywords and Skills page for suggestions.

Quantify and prove your skills whenever possible.

For example, don't simply say that you are a "team player," instead say something like, "Facilitated weekly meetings with fifteen staff members. Responsible for leading staff to collectively achieve monthly goals." Sounds a lot better, doesn’t it?

Use action statements and field-specific vocabulary to list your qualifications.

When listing your qualifications and previous experiences, be sure to start each statement with a verb or adjective. If possible, quantify each of these qualities and experiences. For example, if you are applying for a research position, don’t just say, “Worked in a neuroscience lab”, explain exactly what you did using field-specific language and strong action verbs. Here's that sentence again, "Conducted assays once a week to detect changes in gene expression in cell cultures”. This sounds way more impressive!

Include a succinct headline.

Instead of including a section for your objective statement on your resume, leave that section header out and include a headline. Notice the difference in the following two examples:

  • Objective: To become a pharmacist at a competitive research firm.
  • Headline: Dependable leader passionate about pharmaceutical research.

See our Resume Examples section for more examples of headlines. 

Include your customized LinkedIn URL.

A customized LinkedIn URL will allow employers to view additional information that doesn’t fit on your resume. Check out our Networking page for directions on how to do this. 

Formatting Your Resume

The most common resume questions we get are in regard to formatting. Here are some simple steps to make sure you create a clean, organized resume...

Avoid using a template.

Start from scratch by writing down your skills, experiences, and accomplishments. Always create a resume tailored specifically to the job for which you are applying.

  • Choose between a chronological resume or a functional resume. 

    • A chronological resume lists your work history in chronological order with your current/recent position listed first. Employers typically prefer a chronological resume because it's easier to review employment history.

    • A functional resume focuses on a person's skills and experiences. This type of resume is often used by people who are changing careers or who have gaps in their employment history. 

Use bullet points.

Listing your attributes make your resume easier to read and increases your chances of getting it through a scanning system. Your resume should read like a data sheet, not a narrative. Save the lengthier, narrative writing for your cover letter.

Keep your sentences succinct.

The ideal sentence should be between 13 and 17 words. Shorter sentences are fine too, but definitely avoid getting too wordy.

Never use photos or background images.

Background images or professional photos are are unnecessary and may even prevent your resume from being read. Save professional images for your LinkedIn profile.

Don’t go smaller than a size 10 font. 

Employers may have difficulty reading your resume if the font is too small. For headings, use size 14 or even 16. For your name, you can use up to size 22. 

Use bold and italics to visually vary your resume.

Using bold and italics can help organize your resume and make it easier to follow.

Use an appropriate font.

Arial, Times New Roman, Helvetica, Myriad, Garamond, Calibri, and Book Antique are all safe font choices. Fancy scripts, and Comic Sans are inappropriate choices.

Justify your text.

Formatting your text as justified will give you a clean edge that has a nice professional look.

Submit your resume as a PDF.

Different computers have different software programs, so you never know if your Word document will look the same on someone else's screen. If the formatting is all messed up, it could cost you the job. To avoid this simply go to File>Save As>Format>PDF. 

Editing Your Resume

Always have someone proofread your resume before submitting it. PREPs is a great resource for IUPUI Science students, as well as the University Writing Center and the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL).

While writing your resume, be aware of these formal writing tips:

Try to avoid ambiguous references.

When speaking with friends, it's common to overuse ambiguous words like "this", "these", "his", "it", "they", etc. These words have no meaning in themselves, but in conversation the meaning is usually clear from the context. In written text, however, the intended meaning is often not evident to the reader, because there are many possible interpretations of "it" and "this". Even if the item to which you refer is explicitly mentioned in your paper, ask yourself whether there is any chance that the reader might not know to which of several items you might be referring. E.g. for the word "he", were there two or three people being discussed? If so then state the actual name of each; "he" would be ambiguous.

Watch out for homonyms.

Spell checker is awesome, but it rarely catches homonyms. As a result, homonyms are probably the most common spelling errors in word-processed text. Even if you are lazy and let the spell check fix all of your other words, make certain that you know the differences between words like:
it'sits
theirthere, they're
whetherweather
totootwo
sitecitesight
wastewaist
wholehole
farefair
greatgrate
affecteffect
discretediscreet
forthfourth
pastpassed
rollrole
leadled
lielye
throughout, through out
seemseam
newknew
illicitelicit
complement, compliment
extentextend
obtainattain
pairpare
personalpersonnel
suitsuite
principalprinciple
bearbare

"But" and "however" are not interchangeable.

The words "but" and "however" have similar meanings, but they are not interchangeable. If you take a grammatically correct sentence containing "but" and replace it with "however", or vice versa, the result will almost always be incorrect, mainly because of comma punctuation. Here are correct examples of how to use but and however:
  • "I like oranges, but I do not like tangerines."
  • "I like oranges. However, I do not like tangerines."
  • "I like oranges; however, I do not like tangerines."
  • "I, however, do not like grapefruits."
  • "I like oranges however they have been prepared."

Use caution with capitalization.

Capitalization is appropriate only for specific, named, individual items or people. For example, capitalize school subjects only when you are referring to a specific course at a specific school: math is a general subject, but Math 301 is a particular course. Similarly: Department of Computer Sciences vs. a computer science department, the president vs. President Bush. When in doubt, use lower case.

The above Writing Guidelines were excerpts taken from Dr. James A. Bednar's article, Tips for Academic Writing and Other Formal Writing.