It is easy to get confused about writing a resume . There are hundreds of websites and books on the subject and each offers slightly different advice. Bearing in mind that there are many different ways to approach writing a resume, here are some answers to typical questions. After reading this, the best approach is to work up a rough draft and then schedule a time to have one of our staff review the resume with you or stop by during one of our walk-in sessions.

We also have several books on resume writing in our resource library, which you can use for reference and sample resume styles.

The following links and handouts will help you as you prepare your document:

What is a Resume?

A  resume is a document that is written to present your skills and experiences in a short, easy-to-read format. Most resumes are scanned by the reader, usually for only a few seconds, and are used to decide who gets an interview. A resume must be easy to read and error free.

 What type of layout should I use?

All resumes are divided into sections to make them easy to read. Although some sections, such as Experience and Education are found on most resumes, the actual sections can be modified to highlight the information you include. Most experts recommend that resumes for new college graduates be a maximum of one page in length if at all possible. This is particularly true in business, but in the helping professions, or for candidates with extensive experience, a longer resume is acceptable. Remember that the longer a resume is, the less likely it is that all of it will be read.

Items within each section are placed in reverse chronological order – the most recent item goes first. For sections such as Experience, start by listing your title, the name of the organization, the city and state, and the date.

 What should I include and what order should it be in?

The most common sections are Education, Honors, Relevant Experience, Additional Experience, Activities, Skills and References and they are usually placed in this order for a new college graduate. However, you can create sections with different headings to highlight areas that are relevant to the position you are seeking. For example, you may have a section called Leadership Experience or Overseas Experience if you want to draw attention to those areas. You can also arrange the order of the sections so that those of most importance to the employer are near the beginning of the document. For example, Skills may be placed near the top if you have in-demand skills that you want to draw attention to.

 Do I need an objective?

If you state your objective in your cover letter, an objective is not necessary. In order to be effective the objective must be specific, such as “A position as a management trainee in retail services”. An unfocused objective, such as “An entry level position where I can use my quantitative and inter-personal skills”, is not helpful to the reader/employer.

 Should I include my GPA?

If your grade point average is 3.0 or above (cumulative or in your major) it should be included.

 How do I write the Experience sections?

The header of each experience should include a position title, the name of the organization, the city and state, and the dates  of the experience. Then under each experience use action verb phrases, not complete sentences, to describe what you accomplished in that position. Do not write a job description!

A bullet can be used to set off verb phrases at the start of each line where a phrase starts or periods, commas, or semi-colons can set off the phrases. The bullet style typically takes up more space but is easier to read.


Intern , Mary Washington Hospital, Fredericksburg VA, Fall 2011

  • Planned health awareness events for high school students
  • Presented workshops on cardiovascular fitness to groups of up to 30 people
  • Recruited and trained volunteers for a health awareness fair

 How do I list experience that is not very important?

You include the same basic information – title, organization, city, state, and date in the header. However, you do not need to give any additional information. The resume does not need to be an exhaustive list of all you have ever done. If it is not important and you need space, leave it out!

 How do I list activities?

Activities should also be listed in reverse chronological order and will typically include the dates you were involved in these activities. You may also add short action verb phrases to these items. If you are a senior or recent alumnus, activities from all of your college years can be included, but the most recent should items should receive the most emphasis. High school activities can be listed sparingly on your resume. Keep in mind that your college experience should be the more impressive of the two.

 What should I list under skills?

The two most common categories under skills are computer and foreign language. For computer skills list languages, platforms and software packages you can use in a work setting. If you list foreign languages, indicate your ability level. Typical phrases include fluent, near fluent, reading knowledge, and conversational. Most people choose to understate their ability level slightly. Only list skills that you are prepared to demonstrate that you can use.

 Should I list references?

It is not necessary to list references on your resume. Reference lists should be a separate document.

 What font and point size should I use?

Use a font that is easy to read, such as Times New Roman or Arial. Fonts that are too elaborate can distract the reader from the content of the resume. They can also be difficult for scanners to read, if the organization is using that technology to screen resumes. The point size of the font should be between 10 and 12 point, although this may vary slightly with different fonts. Selective use of bold type can also increase the readability of the resume.

Before you send out your resume, have it viewed by several people, including the staff at the Office of Academic and Career Services.