March 21, 2021

Helping You Choose The Right Career!

What is a Resume? | Career Thoughts

7 min read

What is a Resume?

The resume represents an individual’s professional life on paper and should be designed to create a positive image in the mind of employers.

The resume is a brief, written summary of job seekers’ qualifications and accomplishments and is intended to demonstrate that person’s potential for a particular position.

The purpose of the resume is to secure an interview for a given position, and it must be written in an attractive and professional manner.

The content of the resume should directly focus on experience and skills that can be applied in the employer’s work setting (i.e. the resume should be written so the employer knows exactly what the candidate is capable of in the organization).

The resume is an individual’s own creation and should be used to advertise one’s best qualities in light of the specific kinds of positions being sought.

The resume is made up of components that highlight an individual’s education and work experience. Generally included in the resume are the career objective, education, experience, activities/awards, etc.

These categories are included on most resumes, but additional or more appropriate categories should be utilized as needed (e.g., the student who has had several internship experiences may want an entire portion of the resume labeled “Professional Internships”).

Personal identification on the top of the resume should be as complete as possible and may include permanent home address and phone number, current campus address, phone number and email.

Resume writers can highlight their name by using a font that is larger than that used for the rest of the resume page.

Career or Job Objective

The first entry on the resume after the identifying information should be the objective. This may very likely be the most difficult part of the resume.

Many students graduating from college are ready and willing to explore a variety of positions and quite often adopt a “don’t want to limit myself” attitude toward their job search.

Reasonable as this may seem, this attitude usually results in a vague, generalized career objective that really doesn’t tell the employer much about the student’s career desires.

Students are reluctant to commit themselves to specific career areas while the employer is anxious to match openings with students’ career goals. If the employer cannot determine the career goal by reading the objective on the resume, there is a good chance that the employer won’t spend the time trying to guess where the candidate will fit.

To quote an employer who regularly recruits college students, “If my openings match a student’s career objective, an interview becomes much more likely. If the objective is too general, it gets discarded. I don’t have the time to do career counseling for every student who sends me a resume.”

The student must develop a career objective that is specific to the type of job being sought. Identifying a specific position within a specific industry is ideal (e.g., a sales representative in the consumer goods industry).

In short, the employer wants to know what kind of job within the company is of interest to the applicant. If the career objective fails to identify this, the writer hasn’t been specific enough.

Many students choose to write several objectives and have several resumes targeted at specific types of positions. This approach is much more favorable than a general objective or no career objective at all.

Education Section

The education section should follow the career objective. In this category, identify all college or university degrees. Listing your high school is usually not necessary.

Also in this section include major and minor areas of study, and the month and year the degree was received or will be received. Any achievements that are directly related to academic performance can also be listed in this section (e.g., graduated cum laude, finished in top 10% of class, etc.)

Grade point average should also be included in this category, but is not mandatory. Many students include GPA in major courses, particularly if it is higher than their cumulative average.

Including a subcategory of significant course work is another option, particularly for those students who don’t have any related work experience. Identifying all relevant education is quite important, especially for the beginning professional.

Work Experience

Work experience is generally listed after the education section for entry-level job applicants; however, later in a person’s professional life, the experience becomes more significant and is usually listed first, prior to the education. This category is very important as it is probably the second qualification the employer looks for.

In other words, besides having a degree, what other kinds of relevant experiences does a person have? Effectively describing these relevant experiences is crucial to developing a successful resume.

The work experience section lists the most recent position first and works backwards. This is referred to as a chronological resume and is the most common format.

Each entry in this section should include position title, an organization’s name and location, beginning and ending dates of employment (month and year is normally sufficient), and a summary of responsibilities and accomplishments.

Identifying what was learned in a job and what skills a candidate has developed gives each potential employer a clearer picture of what a candidate can contribute to the organization. The accomplishment section of a resume is really the substance of a resume.

Try to write good accomplishment statements by emphasizing results (e.g., increased sales by 5% in first year, secured 10 new customers). Think of S.T.A.R. – what was the Situation, the Task, the Approach and Result.

The best predictor of an employee’s success in a new position is successful performance in previous jobs. Keep this in mind when describing past work experiences.

Another resume format, called a “functional skills” resume, identifies skills gained in various positions and de-emphasizes dates and job titles. This kind of resume is often used by career changers, Arts & Science students, and others whose education and/or work experience does not directly train them for the career they are seeking.

Entries in the experience section of the resume can include volunteer positions, internships, co-op experience, summer, and part-time jobs.

Students who have had a variety of professional experiences along with a number of unrelated part-time jobs may want to develop appropriate categories in the experience section entitled “Professional Experience” and “Other Work Experience”.

This eliminates the problem of listing a waiter job between two professional internships. Including high school jobs is usually not recommended.

Activities and Awards

This area highlights some of the extracurricular activities. Listing the names of student organizations and a particular affiliation is sufficient; however, it is advantageous to list offices held and/or projects accomplished, if possible.

This section can be used to highlight any awards or other achievements earned during college (e.g., academic scholarships, honorary memberships, etc.). Make sure the name of this section accurately reflects the items that are included. Also, spell out the full names of organizations and make sure the club or activity is understandable.

Remember your resume is written for the employer’s benefit!

It is normal to rewrite a resume many times, so expect to revise it.

Getting a resume critiqued by several people is important. The layout and quality of the resume appearance is critical. Students want employers to think of them as professionals so the resume should reflect that image.

Quality bond paper and laser printing are very important. Use white paper or off-white paper because resumes are frequently faxed, scanned and copied.

A resume very often will be the only thing that represents an individual’s qualities in the initial screening for a position, and that initial impression should bring out the very best in a candidate.


The references are the last thing to address on the resume. This is usually handled by making a brief statement about references being made available upon request.

Names and addresses of references can be included on a separate page but quite often are not used until later stages of the selection process.

Always secure the approval of a potential reference before listing their name or giving it verbally to an employer. Never assume that someone will give a good recommendation.

Three references are standard, usually made up of two supervisors and a coworker.

Other Categories

Other special sections, which may be appropriate for some candidates, include the following:

Special Skills: This usually includes areas of competence or special knowledge that are particularly applicable to a specific employer such as computer skills, languages, etc.

Clinical Experience/Practicums: This usually is used by health care candidates such as Nursing, Medical Technology, Speech Pathology, etc. where field experiences are required as part of the curriculum.

Related Projects: A section like this might be appropriate for those candidates without internships or related work experience. This could be used to profile course projects, senior thesis topics or independent study efforts.

Internships: Use this if you’ve had more than one position that could be considered a related experience. Internships can be paid, for credit, both or neither.

General Resume Advice

  • Make sure there are absolutely no typos, spelling mistakes or grammatical problems.
  • Use the same “family of fonts” throughout the document. Use italics, bold and underlining for emphasis; use no more than 3 different point sizes (between 11 and 18)
  • White paper is the preferred color as many employers fax or scan resumes very routinely. Colored or shaded paper often produces poor quality copies or faxes.
  • Keep resumes to one page if at all possible. Brevity and succinct descriptions are highly desired by most employers.

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