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A resume is a brief summary of your abilities, education, experience, and skills. Its main task is to convince prospective employers to contact you. A resume has one purpose: to get you a job interview.
Resumes must do their work quickly. Employers or personnel officers may look through hundreds of applications and may spend only a few seconds reviewing your resume. To get someone to look at it longer, your resume must quickly convey that you are capable and competent enough to be worth interviewing. The more thoroughly you prepare your resume now, the more likely someone is to read it later.
This guide, “Preparing a Resume,” will be useful if you’re writing your first resume or want to analyze the effectiveness of your current one. The Center for Communication Practices can also help you draft your resume and cover letters, and can give you sample resumes and related handouts. Simply drop by; no appointment is necessary.
This document, which is divided into eight separate sections, can be read in two different ways. You can either read it all the way through, as you would a paper version, or you can click on any of the links listed below to jump ahead to a particular section.
Gather and Check All Necessary Information
Write down headings such as EDUCATION, EXPERIENCE, HONORS, SKILLS, ACTIVITIES. Beneath each heading, jot down the following information:
EDUCATION usually means post-secondary and can include special seminars, summer school, or night school as well as college and university. If you are just starting college, you can include high school as well. List degrees and month/year obtained or expected; names and locations of schools; major and minor, if any; grade point average. A brief summary of important courses you’ve taken might also be helpful.
EXPERIENCE includes full-time paid jobs, academic research projects, internships or co-op positions, part-time jobs, or volunteer work. List the month/years you worked, position, name and location of employer or place, and responsibilities you had. As you describe your experiences, ask yourself questions like these:
- Have I invented, discovered, coordinated, organized, or directed anything professionally or for my community?
- Do I meet deadlines consistently?
- Am I a good communicator?
- Do I enjoy teamwork?
Even if you’re new to a field, you aren’t necessarily starting from scratch.
HONORS. List any academic awards (scholarships, fellowships, honors list), professional awards or recognition, or community awards (i.e. for athletic skills).
SKILLS. List computer languages and software, research, laboratory, teaching or tutoring, communication, leadership, or athletic, among others.
ACTIVITIES. List academic, professional, or community organizations in which you hold office or are currently a member; list professional and community activities, including volunteer work. Listing extra-curricular activities or hobbies is optional.
After you have all this information down, check it for accuracy. You’ll need full names, in some cases full addresses, correct and consistent dates, and correct spellings.
Match Your Skills and Experience with an Employer’s Needs
POSITION: What kind of position do you want for this job-search? Make notes. Now match your wishes up with positions that are actually available. You can get this information through postings, ads, personal contacts, or your own research.
Also, the Rensselaer Center for Career and Professional Development (CCPD) can help you with job-search techniques. The CCPD offers workshops, materials, personal assistance, and on-campus recruiting. It also coordinates a “Focus Program” to help freshmen, sophomores, and juniors find out about their field from Rensselaer alumni.
EMPLOYER: For a certain position, what aspects of your education, experience, or skills will be most attractive to that employer? List SPECIFIC coursework, areas of specialty, specific skills, or knowledge that you think would interest the employer.
Highlight Details That Demonstrate Your Capabilities
Look over what you’ve written and try to select details of your education, experience, honors, skills, and activities that match an employer’s needs in a few important areas.
Organize the Resume Effectively
PERSONAL INFORMATION: Top center of first page. Name (no title); addresses; phone numbers; e-mail and/or fax addresses (optional); citizenship if applicable.
NOTE: A potential employer has no legal right to request information about age, sex, race, religion, marital status, health, physical appearance, or personal habits. Don’t include such information on your resume.
EDUCATION: Often comes first in student resumes, especially if it is a strong asset.
EXPERIENCE: Here, you can use one of two formats:
Functional: To emphasize skills and talents, cluster your experience under headings that highlight these skills: for ex.: leadership, research, computers, etc. This format can be helpful if you have little relevant job experience.
Chronological: To emphasize work experience, list jobs beginning with the most recent.
- Write all job descriptions in parallel
phrases, using ACTION verbs
- List the most important responsibilities
or successes first
- List similar tasks together
- Emphasize collaborative or group-related
AWARDS/HONORS: Use reverse chronological order; include titles, places, dates.
ACTIVITIES: Generally, list hobbies, travel, or languages only if they relate to your job interests. In some cases, you may wish to emphasize your willingness to travel or relocate.
REFERENCES: You need not put these on your resume. Instead, you can prepare a separate list of references, with complete name, title, company name, address, and telephone numbers for each individual. Usually, you give this list to prospective employers after your interview.
CREATING YOUR DRAFT:
- Look at other resumes written
for positions within your field.
- TYPE each entry in a format close to
the one you want to use for your resume.
- LENGTH: for many resumes, two pages
is the maximum length (NOTE: an academic resume or “curriculum
vita” is often at least five pages long).
If you are considering listing your participation in a MOOC (Massive Online Open Course), you could add that experience to your resume or CV in a section for ‘Employment Related Activities’ or ‘Professional Development’. Not everything needs to be on a two-page resume, but there may be reasons to list items like this if you have room for them. For more, see http://www.onlinecollegecourses.com/2013/03/07/putting-a-mooc-on-the-resume/
Consider Word Choice Carefully
In a resume, you need to sound positive and confident: neither too aggressive, nor overly modest. The following words and phrases are intended as suggestions for thinking about your experience and abilities.
Whatever your final word choices are, they should accurately describe you–your skills, talents, and experience.
Choose ACTIVE VERBS that describe your skills, abilities, and accomplishments. Examples: I can contribute, enjoy creating, have experience in organizing. . . While at X Company, I administered, coordinated, directed, participated in…. Below is a list of such verbs:
accomplish; achieve; analyze; adapt; balance; collaborate; coordinate; communicate; compile; conduct; contribute; complete; create; delegate direct; establish; expand; improve; implement; invent; increase; initiate; instruct; lead; organize; participate; perform; present; propose; reorganize; research; set up; supervise; support; train; travel; work (effectively, with others)
NOTE: You can change the forms of any of these verbs to stress different aspects of your abilities and experience: organize ==> organized, organizing, organization.
Choose ADJECTIVES and NOUNS that describe yourself positively and accurately:
able to; administrative; analytical; (fluently) bilingual; broad scope; capable; communication skills; collaboration; collaborative; consistent; competent; complete; creative; dedicated; diversified; effective; experienced; efficient; extensive; exceptional; flexible; global; handle stress; imaginative; intensive; in-depth; innovative; integrated; able to listen; motivated; multilingual; multi-disciplinary; a negotiator; other cultures; reliable; responsible; a supervisor; teamwork; well- traveled; work well with….
Ask Other People to Comment on Your Resume
WE STRONGLY RECOMMEND that you have an advisor, potential employer, or someone in your field critique your resume. For more help, ask:
NOTE: People may offer many different opinions. Use your own judgment and be open-minded about constructive criticism.
Make the Final Product Presentable
Use a computer and high-quality (preferably laser) printer. If you don’t have a computer or laser printer, you should either have your resume professionally produced, or use the resources that Rensselaer has to offer:
- IBM/PCs, UNIX, and SUN workstations
on campus. Depending on which system you use, you have
some choice of fonts, limited layout capability (i.e. creating
borders, boxes, and columns), and access to laser printers.
- Computer labs/printers closest
to the Writing Center. Windows 98 workstations (room
Evaluate Your Resume
Hold your resume at arm’s length and see how it looks. Is the page too busy with different type styles, sizes, lines, or boxes? Is the information spaced well, not crowded on the page? Is there too much “white space”? Is important information quick and easy to find?
- Name is at the top of the page: highlighted
by slightly larger typesize, bolding, and/or underlining
- Address and phone number(s) are complete
and correct, with zip and area codes, and are well-placed
in relation to name
- All entries highlight a capability or
- Descriptions use active verbs, and verb
tense is consistent; current job is in present tense; past
jobs are in past tense
- Repetition of words or phrases is kept
to a minimum
- Capitalization, punctuation, and date
formats are consistent
- There are NO typos or spelling
- Your best assets, whether education,
experience, or skills, are listed first
- The page can be easily reviewed: categories
are clear, text is indented
- The dates of employment are easy to
find and consistently formatted
- Your name is printed at the top of each
- No more than two typestyles appear;
typestyles are conservative
- Bolding, italics, and capitalization
are used consistently and in support of the information
- Margins and line spacing keep the page
from looking too crowded
- Printing is on one side of the sheet
only, on high-quality bond–white or off-white (i.e. beige
- The reproduction is good, with no blurring,
stray marks, or faint letters
- The right side of the page is
in “ragged” format, not right-justified. Right justification
creates awkward white spaces
Now you’re done! Just one more suggestion: If you are sending your resume to a prospective employer, you’ll probably also have to include a separate cover letter. This is usually one page long. The letter indicates your interest in a particular company or position, summarizes the most important aspects of your education and experience, and lets the employer know where and when you can be contacted for an interview. The Writing Center and the Career Development Center can give you more information about effective cover letters.
Developed by The Center for Communication Practices at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York.
April 29th, 2009
What We Do
The Center for Communication Practices at Rensselaer is a FREE resource for all members of the RPI community: students, faculty, and staff. Our experienced consultants will work with you, one-on-one, to discuss:
- ANY type of communication project—written texts, oral presentations, websites, visual elements (tables, photographs, films….)
- For ANY purpose—class work, research publications, personal projects etc.–from ANY discipline
- At ANY stage of the process—from brainstorming and getting started, to polishing your final product!
Our goal is to provide all writers with strategies that will help them become better communicators, in the classroom and beyond.
What You Do
- Schedule a Conference for 30 or 60 minutes: To make an appointment, please use our online scheduler. Drop ins are also welcome, but openings are limited.
- Bring your work from any discipline or personal projects of any type—essays, lab reports, resumes, doctoral theses, PowerPoint slides and more. Whether the work is nearly completed or still in the planning stage, we will work with each writer to take the project to the next step.
- Be prepared for the session. This helps the session run smoothly and gives you more time to focus on improving your work.
- Remain responsible for your own work—consultants do not “fix” or edit any writing.
October 29th, 2012
The preliminary application for a professional position generally consists of two documents: a cover letter and a resume. This handout describes the cover letter; the resume is described in a separate Writing Center handout.
While the resume is a somewhat generic advertisement for yourself, the cover letter allows you to tailor your application to each specific job. Although the thrust of your various letters may remain the same, with the assorted text-processing options available at RPI—options that include find-and-replace and merging capabilities—there is really no reason to have a single, generic cover letter.
Effective cover letters are constructed with close attention to
Your cover letter and resume usually provide all the information which a prospective employer will use to decide whether or not you will reach the next phase in the application process: the interview.
While your goal is an interview and, ultimately, a job offer, the more immediate purpose of your cover letter in some cases may simply be to gain an attentive audience for your resume.
A cover letter provides, in a very real sense, an opportunity to let your prospective employer hear your voice. It reflects your personality, your attention to detail, your communication skills, your enthusiasm, your intellect, and your specific interest in the company to which you are sending the letter.
Therefore, cover letters should be tailored to each specific company you are applying to. You should conduct enough research to know the interests, needs, values, and goals of each company, and your letters should reflect that knowledge.
A cover letter should be addressed to the specific company and the specific individual who will process your application. You can usually find this through research or simply by calling the company to find out who you should address your letter to.
The letter should name the position for which you are applying and also make specific references to the company. Indicate your knowledge of and interest in the work the company is currently doing, and your qualification for the position. You want the reader to know:
- Why do you want to work at that specific company?
- Why do you fit with that company?
- How do you qualify for the position to which you applying?
In addition to tailoring your application to a specific job with a specific company, the cover letter should also
- highlight the most important and relevant accomplishments, skills, and experience listed in your resume
- point to the resume in some way (as detailed in the enclosed resume”)
- request specific follow up, such as an interview.
A cover letter should be in paragraph form (save bulleted lists for your resume) with a conversational, though formal, tone.
The first paragraph should be brief, perhaps two or three sentences, stating
- what job you are applying for and how you learned about it
- any personal contacts you have in or with the company
- your general qualifications for the job.
The body of your letter should consist of one to three longer paragraphs in which you expand upon your qualifications for the position. Pick out the most relevant qualifications listed in your resume and discuss them in detail, demonstrating how your background and experience qualify you for the job. Be as specific as possible, and refer the reader to your resume for additional details.
The concluding paragraph of your letter should request an interview (or some other response, as appropriate). State where and when you can be reached, and express your willingness to come to an interview or supply further information. Close by thanking your reader for his or her time and consideration.
Example: Cover Letter 1
34 Second Street
Troy, New York 12180
October 4, 2001
Ms. Gail Roberts
Department DRR 1201
Princeton, New Jersey 05876
Dear Ms. Roberts:
Your advertisement for software engineers in the January issue of the IEEE Spectrum caught my attention. I was drawn to the ad by my strong interest in both software design and Database.
I have worked with a CALMA system in developing VLSI circuits, and I also have substantial experience in the design of interactive CAD software. Because of this experience, I can make a direct and immediate contribution to your department. I have enclosed a copy of my resume, which details my qualifications and suggests how I might be of service to Database.
I would like very much to meet with you to discuss your open positions for software engineers. If you wish to arrange an interview, please contact me at the above address or by telephone at (518) 271-9999.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Example: Cover Letter 2
1234 15th Street
Troy, New York 12180
January 30, 2002
Mr. John M. Curtis
55 Washington Avenue
New York, New York 10081
Dear Mr. Curtis:
As an experienced computer programmer who is presently pursuing a master’s degree in electrical engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, I am writing to request information about possible summer employment opportunities with HAL. I am interested in a position that will allow me to combine the talents I have developed in both computer programming and electrical engineering. However, as you can see from the attached resume, I have extensive experience in many related fields, and I always enjoy new challenges.
I feel that it is important for me to maintain a practical, real-world perspective while developing my academic abilities. I am proud of the fact that I have financed my entire education through scholarships and summer jobs related to my field of study. This work experience has enhanced my appreciation for the education I am pursuing. I find that I learn as much from my summer jobs as I do from my academic studies. For example, during the summer of 1986, while working for IBM in Boca Raton, Florida, I gained a great deal of practical experience in the field of electronic circuit logic and driver design. When I returned to school in the fall and took Computer Hardware Design, I found that my experience with IBM had thoroughly prepared me for the subject.
Having said all this, I realize that your first consideration in hiring an applicant must not be the potential educational experience HAL can provide, but the skills and services the applicant has to offer. I hope the experience and education described in my resume suggest how I might be of service to HAL.
I welcome the opportunity to discuss with you how I might best assist HAL in fulfilling its present corporate needs. I will be available for employment from May 14 through August 31, 2002. Please let me know what summer employment opportunities are available at HAL for someone with my education, experience, and interests. You can reach me at the above address or by phone at (518) 271-0000.
Thank you for your consideration.
Developed by The Center for Communication Practices at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York.
April 29th, 2009
Today, the process of admissions for graduate programs is highly competitive. In addition to the quantitative data (tests scores and academic transcripts) and other materials that you will be asked to submit to a school’s admissions committee, a piece of writing—variously called a “statement of purpose,” “personal essay,” or “statement
of background and goals”—will probably be required as well.
The overall application package will represent who “you” are to people whom you will most likely not know personally. The written expression of your qualities as an applicant will often be a very important way for committee members to get to know why you are an acceptable candidate for their program. Thus, it is essential to take great care in preparing this part of your application. Because graduate schools make important selection decisions that are partly based on what you say in this essay, the writing of it can be an intimidating prospect.
This handout offers some points to consider as you undertake the writing of an application essay.
Start Early! Be Thorough!
If you have begun your application process early, take the time to investigate thoroughly each institution to which you are applying.
- Go to the library and locate/browse-through/read texts or abstracts by the school’s faculty members who work in your field or area of interest.
- Study and re-study the application materials sent to you very carefully; in particular, read through the school catalog and required course offerings.
- Find out if the school and program have web sites where you can learn more about them.
Taking these steps will familiarize you with the department, and allow you to weigh its specific strengths and weaknesses in comparison to those of other schools. While conducting your inquiry, take notes so that you will have something to base your essay on. Additionally, if you happen to know anyone—a friend, family member, colleague, or teacher—who has graduated from a school that you are considering, ask her or him for information as well. Although such people may be very helpful, be careful not to let their advice sway you too much, unless you are quite sure that they are particularly familiar with the department in question, and that their knowledge of it is up to date.
What to Include
The piece of writing that each school requests may be very different from that of others; some programs may even ask for more than one essay. Before you begin to write, study very carefully the essay directions on the application materials sent to you by the school and by the specific department to which you are applying. While some programs leave the content of the essay fairly “open,” others may place explicit content and length restrictions on it. Try to make sure that you have a good idea of what you are being asked to write about.
Whatever the particular form of the essay asked of you, there are a number of basic areas committees are interested in. When evaluating your application, each reader will ultimately have this question in mind: “Why should we let you into our school?” In order to answer this question, try to do the following:
- Clearly state your short and long term goals; tell how university “X” can help you meet them.
- Describe your areas of research and professional interest. You might indicate how your proposed studies are located within a broad field. For example, someone applying to a composition and rhetoric program might say, “I hope to examine the relationship between rhetorical invention strategies and demonstrated ability to write for members of diverse discourse communities.” Or, someone applying to an engineering program might say, “My particular interests are in optical communications, networks, and signal processing. As an undergraduate research assistant, I studied the principles of wavelet transforms, one of the most recent signal processing techniques, and I developed software models using Matlab to simulate the transform process. Currently I am investigating new applications of wavelet transforms. University X’s program in electrical engineering provides the direction and environment in which I can pursue my work in optimal communications networks and signal processing.”
- Give specific reasons why you are interested in a particular field, as well as why you have chosen this particular school to apply to.
- Refer to past experiences, both academic and “real world,” that are relevant to graduate study.
- Articulate what is particularly valuable about the perspective that you will bring to the prospective field of study and the specific department.
- Demonstrate your ability to think and express ideas clearly and effectively.
- Show motivation and capacity to succeed in graduate education.
- Write concisely and try to keep your readers interested. Remember that they are reading many application essays and therefore, you need to be considerate of their needs.
- Offer other information that demonstrates your need and desire to be accepted by the program.
Why this School?
Once you have developed a sense of the faculty’s interests and the department’s special features, you can make it clear in your application exactly why you want to attend that particular school. What is it about the department’s curriculum structure or general approach to the field that makes you interested in being a student there? Don’t waste your valuable essay space, or your reader’s valuable time, telling the reader how wonderful or prestigious their institution is; people on the admissions committee already know this. They want to know about you.
Nonetheless, if there are special programs or institutes at the school that seem appealing to you, briefly mention that you are interested in becoming part of them. For example, state that you “want to be a member of the XYZ Group for Blank and Blank Studies because . . .”, but don’t tell them how great, well respected, and world-renowned this part of the school is.
If, during your research on the department’s faculty, a faculty member strikes you as someone whom you might be interested in working with, indicate this in your essay; be concise and specific about why you want to work with this person in particular. A word of caution here: Do not try to use this as a way to “butter up” the admissions committee, because if there is any reason to believe that you are not sincere, your application may be adversely affected. Again, mention the person and how their work relates to your interest, but don’t load this statement with what might be interpreted as false or superfluous praise.
Some applications may ask you to give a personal history, telling about experiences that you have undergone which have led you to decide to pursue graduate education in a certain field of study. (If personal information of this sort is not required, then you are under no obligation to provide it.)
The information that could be included in a personal-type statement is limited only by your own imagination and life history, but you should be highly selective about what you include. There are two things to watch out for: (1) saying too much and/or (2) not saying enough.
Some applicants may ramble on about themselves in a manner that may appear self-indulgent and not very appealing to the committee. Remember, this is an application essay, not an autobiography. Conversely, some applicants tend to say too little, perhaps hesitating to promote themselves too explicitly or not knowing what about about themselves would be interesting to people whom they don’t know. In such cases, perhaps focusing more on what you want to do than on what you have already done (let your record speak for itself), may help in getting beyond self-inhibition.
Generally, keep in mind that the points about your life that you highlight should be somehow relevant to both your own interest in the field of study, as well as to the concerns of the admissions committee. In judging what information to include or exclude from your essay, try to balance academic, work-related, and personal information in a manner appropriate to your situation, goals, and the application requirements.
If you have additional, relevant information about yourself that does not easily fit into the essay, or into any other section of the university’s application, you may want to include a condensed resume or curriculum vitae with your application package. This is especially applicable to those who have worked professionally since having graduated from school. Relevant items here might include work experience, publications, and presentations, as well as language and computer skills.
Also, if you have experienced times of great hardship or extenuating circumstances that have negatively affected your academic performance at any time, provide a short explanatory statement. This is another one of those places where caution should be exercised: you want to explain the cause of your poor grades, etc. without alienating the
reader by overdoing it. Once again, be specific and concise.
Although some people may be able to write an essay from start to finish in one sitting, most would probably not be particularly satisfied with the results of such an effort. Outlines, including a list of possible components to include in the essay, are often a good way to get started on your essay. Some writers prefer to start writing one paragraph at a time, re-arranging their ideas for orderly flow later on. Whatever method you use (only a few out of many have been mentioned here), make sure to allow time for revision—don’t start your essay the night before you have to send it out!
Ask others to read your essay and give you honest feedback; tell them that it is important to know what areas they find unclear or unnecessary. Don’t feel shy about asking for or receiving criticism; remember, the effectiveness of your essay depends on your being able to present yourself in a manner that is attractive to admissions committees. Comments such as “it’s good” are not going to be very helpful to you because they will not help you to improve your essay.
The Writing Center is available to offer suggestions on beginning, revising and finishing your application essay, so make use of this valuable resource. Also for ideas on form and style selected application essays that students have written in the past are on file for you to browse-through at the Writing center.
After considering responses to your work, revise your essay until you are satisfied with it. (Remember to spell check the final draft). Also, make sure that your name and possibly the essay title—for example: “Personal Statement”—is included in a header on the first page, and that your last name is on a header or footer for each additional, numbered page (in case the first page gets misplaced).
For more advice on how to approach application essay writing, there are a number of extended treatments of this subject, some of which may be available at your library or graduate studies office. The graduate center at RPI has at least two books, as well as shorter documents within graduate school guides, that may provide you with a more comprehensive picture of application procedures than could be articulated in this brief handout.
Developed by The Center for Communication Practices at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York.
April 29th, 2009