Criteria for Success
- It takes less than 60 seconds for your CV/resume to convince a targeted employer that you are qualified for the target job.
- A resume is no more than 2 pages (1 sheet of paper). Resumes should be 1 page for undergraduates or graduate students with limited experience.
- You show a select group of skills and experiences that match those required by the job.
- The organization and formatting help the reader find the information that shows you are qualified.
- Your experiences are concrete and quantified.
- There are absolutely no typos or errors.
Just to clarify: A CV is a kind of resume
A curriculum vitae (CV) is a special kind of resume intended for academic or research positions. In this article, we say “resume” to mean “resume or CV” except when we contrast the two.
|Goal||Shows how your experiences and skills qualify you for the target job||Shows your academic achievements and research qualifications|
|Length||Strict 2-page (1 sheet of paper) limit. Aim to keep it to 1-page unless you have a PhD or significant, relevant experience.||2-3 pages for a graduate student; gets longer through a career|
|Typical sections include…||
Resumes must quickly convince readers that you are qualified
Your resume and cover letter are the first parts of your application that your potential employers will read. Your resume is designed to make the person reading your resume move your application forward in the recruiting process by, say, inviting you for an interview. Your resume should quickly convince your potential employer that you are a well-qualified candidate for the specific job you are applying for.
Analyze your audience
Your resume should be tailored to the job you’re applying for and—if possible—to the specific people who will be reading it. Do research to find out who will be reading your resume and what they hope to see in it. If the job has explicit job requirements, make sure your resume makes it obvious that you meet all those requirements. Customize the content so it will excite your specific readers.
Your resume shouldn’t tell your whole story. In many cases, the people who read your resume will be reading a whole pile of them. Make it easy for them to put you in the “yes” pile. You can share your life story during the interview.
Make a custom resume for every application
First, read each job posting carefully. Make a list of what qualifications are required for the specific role you are applying for. For example, a job posting that says you will “drive independent research” might require very different skills from one that says you will “work closely with an interdisciplinary team.”
Next, highlight the skills and accomplishments that demonstrate that you have those qualifications. To do this, you can
- include different experiences in your resume
- put more bullet points under the most relevant experiences
- move important experiences earlier in the document.
Include only what’s important
It may be tempting to include all of your jobs, research experiences, student organization leadership positions, and honors and activities from high school and college on your resume but it is best to only include what is important or relevant to the position you’re applying for. If you’re applying for a post-doctoral research position, the reviewers will not care that you were editor of your high school paper. Resumes in particular have limited space, so you should be careful about what experiences you should include and which you should leave out.
While you only have 60 seconds to make an impression on a potential employer, the resume will be reviewed in more detail later if you’re selected to move on in the application process. Make sure you can talk knowledgeably and honestly about anything included on your resume.
Concretize and quantify
Give concrete—preferably quantitative—evidence that you are a qualified match for the organization you wish to work in and the specific role you are applying for.
|Vaguely-worded experience||Concrete, quantified experience|
|Researched nuclear materials in the
|Teaching Assistant for Applied
|Treasurer for American Nuclear Society||
|Sports editor for school newspaper||
|Increased club membership||
|Developed relationships with new sponsors||
When it’s accurate, use verbs that illustrate impact over verbs that make you sound passive. Aim for verbs that are more specific to the actual contribution you made.
|Weak verbs||Action verbs|
When describing research experiences, it’s OK to include a brief overview of the lab, but it’s critical to characterize your individual contributions.
If you are applying for a research position (specifically in academia), be sure include your PI’s name. Your academic pedigree can be important currency in the scientific community.
While it is important to quantify your experience and use action verbs, be careful not to oversell your experiences. If you state you “designed,” “managed,” “led,” or “developed” something, be sure you have an explanation prepared for an employer about how you actually contributed in that way. Avoid using hyperbole to make your accomplishments seem more important than they really are; it will get you noticed, but likely for the wrong reasons.
Make your document easy to skim
Recruiters will skim your resume in 30 to 60 seconds. You need to make relevant information easily identifiable.
Use headers that package your experiences in a way that best shows you are qualified for the job. For example, if the job involves teaching or entrepreneurship, make sure to include the relevant header to highlight your experience in these areas.
Order your headers: the sections that have the experiences that are most relevant to this job should go first.
Use white space to make it easy for a hiring manager to read your resume. Use indentation and bullet points to partition information. A dense resume has more information in it, but is hard to read. A spacious resume might have less information, but your reader will understand more of it.
Bold important words so the reader can quickly find the important content. Make sure you pick and choose which words you bold; too many bold-faced words will detract from the attention-drawing effect.
Proofread! Spell check!
A single mistake can be enough to get you put in the “no” pile. Have a detail-oriented friend help you catch things you missed.