Preparing effective resumes

The Purpose of a Resume

Resumes are documents that are requested by employers in many fields outside of the academic arena. Most private sector, nonprofit and government jobs require a resume rather than a CV. Resumes are a SUMMARY of your selected professional experiences in the context of where you want to go next. They are not meant to be a comprehensive list of your every activity or accomplishment. Resumes serve as a marketing tool to get you to an interview, meaning you select the “message” of accomplishments that will show you are qualified for a particular job. The skills you illustrate in your resume must match the requirements of the job. If you are applying to multiple types of jobs or multiple types of employers, you will likely find more success in your job applications by creating multiple versions of your resume. Because a resume concisely summarizes your experience, education and skills as they relate to a specific career field or job, it is important that you are familiar with the industry, career field and organizations that interest you. You will write a more effective resume if you do this research and are informed about potential employers.

Getting Started with your Resume

Step 1: Before drafting your resume, review all your qualifications. Using the categories suggested below, list everything which you might include. This list will form the basis for your resume and will help you identify your accomplishments. Eventually you will choose what to include or exclude for each application, but initially it is important not to overlook anything relevant. Think through the skills you would like to emphasize. For example, if you would like to stress your organizational abilities, write descriptions which incorporate specific accomplishments demonstrating those abilities.

Step 2: The next step is to find a job to apply to, or at least the type of job you want to apply to. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all resume, each should be tailored to each job you apply to, but there will certainly be parts of the document that will stay much the same, and be appropriate for multiple jobs. This might mean changing some of the key words in the resume, or illustrating different skills in your bullet points, so that you are describing your experience in the employer’s language, not your own.

Step 3: Go through the job advertisement and carefully note all of the requirements and skills the employer is looking for. Based on your background research of the employer and the people you have spoken to who know about this employer, try to create a resume that illustrates that you have these skills and have used them effectively.

Step 4: Use some of the samples and resources we have provided to create a draft version of your resume, and then make an appointment with Career Services. In this stage, you should experiment with the format, pare down irrelevant information, have the resume critiqued by a Career Services advisor, and then make at least one more draft before you produce the final version.

Anatomy of a Resume and Resume Samples

Career Services Resume Guide

Career Services Resume Guide

Every resume should include information about your education and relevant professional experience. Many other sections may be added depending on your field and experience level, including a summary of qualifications, honors and awards, extracurricular and community activities, certifications, professional memberships, languages, and computer and research skills. Choose categories which showcase your strengths in relation to the job(s) that interests you. Organize the contents of your resume by highlighting whatever category of information is most important, given your career goal. Within each category, give information in reverse chronological order (listing the most recent first, and then going back in time). In general, whatever is most relevant merits the most space.

The list below is an overview of typical sections in a resume. In many sectors/industries, there is a strong preference for a one-page resume; two pages at the most. Undergraduates or recent graduates should always stick to one-page resume; individuals further along in their career can consider expanding onto two pages. If you use more than one page, put the most important information on the first page, and be sure to add your name and page number to the second page in a header or footer.

Formatting and Layout

Career Services Undergrad Resume Checklist

Career Services Undergrad Resume Checklist

Formatting: Whether you are uploading your resume to an employer’s jobs system or sending your resume by email, always convert your resume to a PDF first and label the PDF file with your name, e.g. Jane Doe Resume. Be aware that in some employer’s job systems, you may not be able to attach a resume in PDF format, and you may need to copy and paste your resume into an online application form.

  • Use a standard size font (10 to 14 point)
  • Use standard margins (1 to .65)
  • Keep the design simple. Use white space. Skip lines between sections (font size in these spaces can be smaller than 10pt font)
  • Use keywords to describe your assets. Keywords would include, but not be limited to: degrees, majors, professional clubs, names of schools, licenses and certificates, dates (2013-2015) for time periods instead of text (“two years”), abilities, skills, and training. Use a variety of keywords to describe similar skills and experiences. When an employer searches by keyword your resume will have a wider list of words on which a search engine may hit
  • Do NOT use templates, graphics, text boxes, Comic Sans or other unprofessional fonts

Contact information: Your name, address, telephone and email should always come first as part of the “header” of a resume. List only phone numbers which you’re sure will be answered professionally. Make sure your voicemail message is appropriately professional. List only one email address, and usually your Penn email will have a positive impact on hiring managers in many employers because of Penn’s reputation. You can also list your LinkedIn URL, but make sure you have customized this first.

Qualifications, Professional Summary, or Profile: This optional category is sometimes used by PhD/postdocs who are further along in their careers, and may need a short summary to tie together their experience across multiple pages. A well-written “Qualifications” section can focus the reader’s attention on your strengths. It must be specific, and writing a good one requires you to think carefully about exactly what you have to offer. For example:

  • Meticulous public opinion researcher with experience in project management. Persuasive public speaker. Bilingual in Spanish and English. Strong interest and background in public health issues.
  • Two years’ experience serving as liaison between community groups and government agencies. Familiarity with budget preparation and administration. Skill at public speaking and negotiating working relationships between public and private sector organizations.

Education: Start with your present or most recent degree program, and move backwards in reverse chronological order. If you’ve graduated from college or are about to graduate, remove your high school/secondary school. For each school, include the name of the institution and expected or awarded date of your degree (Month, Year). If you are a doctoral student who will not complete your degree for some time, date the times important milestones were completed, such as completing all coursework. List relevant courses under each degree (customized for each application), as these can serve as great keywords that help the reader understand the specific knowledge you can bring.

  • Undergraduate Education Requirements
    • Official School Names
      • College: College of Arts and Sciences (note: no undergraduate may list Annenberg as their school on their resume; however, Communication majors may list “Annenberg School coursework” on their resumes.)
      • Engineering: School of Engineering & Applied Science
      • Nursing: School of Nursing
      • Wharton: The Wharton School (not Wharton School of Business)
    • Degrees.  Resumes MUST include your degree of study. Your degree(s) should be listed according to the guidelines below:
      • College: All degrees are Bachelor of Arts.  The College of Arts and Sciences does not award a Bachelor of Science degree.
      • Engineering: Bachelor of Science in Engineering, Bachelor of Applied Science, Master of Science in Engineering, Master of Biotechnology, Master of Computer and Information Technology
      • Nursing: Bachelor of Science in Nursing
      • Wharton: Bachelor of Science in Economics
    • Graduation Date.  Resumes MUST include your graduation date. List your expected graduation date (month and year), for example “May 2021”.  Do not use” “Class of 2021” or inclusive dates (i.e. 2017-2021).

Honors, Awards, and Activities: These categories can be combined with “Education” or given separate sections, depending upon how major a qualification they are for the positions that interest you. Depending on the kinds of jobs you are applying to, if you have received several prestigious and highly competitive awards, for example, you might want to highlight them with a separate section. Foreign students, in particular, should stress the degree to which an unfamiliar award was competitive. For example, “One of three selected from among 2,000 graduating chemists nationally.” If you have many awards you may choose to list just the most prestigious to save space for other relevant information. You might use a heading such as “Selected Honors and Awards.”

Career Services Resume Action Verbs

Career Services Resume Action Verbs

Relevant Experience: In this section, more than any other, you will emphasize material in proportion to its probable interest for a particular audience of employers. Include everything you’ve done that’s relevant, whether you did it as an employee, as an intern, as a volunteer, as a member of a student research team, or as the officer of an organization. Sometimes one general heading called “Experience” is all you need. Sometimes you will want to subdivide this section by functions (such as “Editing,” “Promotion,” and “Program Administration”), by topic (such as “New Technologies” and “Public Education”) or by industry (such as “Publishing,” “Marketing” and “Engineering”). Describe each experience to give an overview of what you did, with an emphasis on what you were able to accomplish in the position. Use verb phrases and make every word count. Avoid helping verbs (assisted, worked with, helped, responsible for, etc.). Instead, use the specific strong-action verb that reflects the part of the project that you worked on. See our cheat sheet of resume action verbs for inspiration. Ask yourself: What skills did you use? Did you use any specific software/programs? What were your accomplishments? Where possible, add quantifiable details to provide context and demonstrate positive impact.

Publications/Presentations: These are usually cited only on a resume for a research position, or on a resume for a position which requires writing for publications. In these cases, use standard bibliographic format. If you are applying for a position in a non-research setting, don’t cite publications in full. A phrase such as “Five publications in professional journals” is usually all that is necessary. This shows that you completed research projects and successfully communicated your accomplishments to a broader audience, both good skills to highlight across most fields.

Professional Memberships/Leadership Experience: List memberships or committee work in professional organizations or student groups, and describe the transferable skills you used in each case.

Civic or Community Activities/Leadership: Often employers are interested in what you do besides work. Volunteer work with charity organizations, student groups, alumni associations, or civic or political groups is of interest. Usually you don’t need detailed descriptions of these activities; however, if you want to show transferable skills, you can describe relevant accomplishments of your volunteer effort, for example: “Coordinated 12 volunteers in a fundraising effort that resulted in $53,000 in donations.” Occasionally you may be concerned about reaction to disclosing political or religious activities/affiliations. In such cases, you can use more general phrases, such as “the Pennsylvania Senatorial primary,” rather than identifying a campaign by the candidate’s name.

Research Techniques/Computer Skills, Langues (spoken or computer) or Other Specialized Skills: This section is usually in the form of a simple, specific list. Skills should only include objective, measurable skills like proficiency with languages, computer programs, laboratory procedures, programming languages, etc. Any softer skills like communication, teamwork, or industry knowledge should be illustrated, rather than stated, through your descriptions of your experiences.

Resume Samples

Undergraduate resume samples

Master’s student resume samples

PhD/postdoc resume samples