Criteria for Success

  1. Typically, a recruiter spends less than 60 seconds skimming a résumé. Convince them that you are qualified for the target job.
  2. A résumé is no more than 2 pages (1 sheet of paper).
  3. You showcase selected skills and experiences that match those required by the job.
  4. The organization and formatting help the reader find the information that shows you are qualified.
  5. Your experiences are concrete and quantified.
  6. There are 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.

Resume CV
Goal Shows how your experiences and skills qualify you for the target job Shows your academic achievements and research qualifications for the position
Length Strict 2-page (1 sheet of paper) limit; preferably one page 2-3 pages for a graduate student; gets longer throughout career
Typical sections include…
  • Name & contact info
  • Education
  • Work experience
  • Skills
  • Leadership & Service
  • Honors & Awards
  • Name & contact info
  • Education
  • Research experience
  • Career objectives/research interests
  • Publications & presentations
  • Awards & grants
  • Professional societies
  • Teaching experience
  • References

Resumes must quickly convince readers that you are qualified

Your résumé and cover letter are the first parts of your application that your potential employers will read. Your résumé is designed to make the person reading it move your application forward in the recruiting process by, for example, inviting you for an interview. Your résumé should quickly convince your potential employer that you are a well-qualified candidate for the specific job to which you applied.

Analyze your audience

Your résumé should be tailored to the job for which you’re applying and – if possible – to the specific people who will be reading it. Research who will be reading your résumé and what they hope to see in it. If the job has explicit requirements, make sure your résumé makes it obvious that you meet all those requirements. Customize the content so it will excite your specific readers.

Your résumé shouldn’t tell your whole story. In many cases, the people who read your résumé will be reading a whole pile of them. Make it easy for them to put your résumé 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 résumé,
  • put more bullet points under the most relevant experiences,
  • move important experiences earlier in the document.

Résumés in particular have limited space, so you should be critical about what experiences you should include and which you should leave out.

Concretize, Quantify, and Demonstrate Impact

Give concrete – preferably quantitative – evidence that you are a qualified match for the organization you want to work in and the specific role to which you’re applying. If possible, also showcase the impact of your work.

A general formula for highlighting your experiences is:

(Past-tense action verb) + (Concrete, quantitative object) + (Outcome or impact)

Vaguely-worded experience Concrete, quantified experience
Researched crystallization in the Myerson Lab
  • Designed two assays for rapidly screening drug solubility
  • Screened 900 drug targets to construct database of dissolution times
  • Contributing author on two papers
Teaching Assistant for transport phenomena course (10.50)
  • Provided one-on-one instruction for 48 students
  • Developed content for weekly recitations
Treasurer for Engineers Without Borders
  • Managed $6k budget and raised $500 to improve water quality in Chile
Sports editor for school newspaper
  • Provided feedback to 12 writers to improve editorial skills
  •  Managed a team of three supporting editors to streamline The Tech publications
Increased club membership
  • Expanded MIT Chocolate Lab from 5 to 35 members
Developed relationships with new sponsors
  • Recruited $10k in new sponsorship for the MIT Practice School
Worked out weekly with team
  • Organized and led 6 weekly Zumba classes to improve student fitness

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
  • Participated
  • Researched
  • Designed
  • Managed
  • Led
  • Developed

When describing research experiences, it’s OK to include a brief overview of the lab, but it’s critical to characterize your individual contributions. Also, be careful to limit the use of jargon, as those terms may not be familiar to those reading your résumé.

If you are applying for a research position, include your PI’s name. Your academic pedigree is important currency in the scientific community.

Make your document easy to skim

Recruiters will skim your résumé 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 so that the sections that have the experiences that are most relevant to this job come first.
  • Use white space to make it easy for a hiring manager to read your résumé. Use indentation and bullet points to partition information. A dense résumé has more information in it but is hard to read. A spacious résumé might have less information, but your reader will understand more of it.
  • Bold important words so the reader can quickly find the important content.

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.


Resources and Annotated Examples

Undergraduate Résumé for Industry

Undergraduate Résumé for Industry

This undergraduate student’s résumé resulted in an interview and, ultimately, an offer for a full-time position in industry upon graduation. 80 KB

Annotated CV Example

Annotated CV Example

This graduate student’s CV resulted in a fellowship offer. 95 KB