Your resume is often the first impression you’ll make to a future employer.  You should customize your resume for each position so it immediately draws the reviewer in and convinces them that you would excel at the job.  Your goal is to highlight your best defining qualifications and show specific, concrete, and skimmable evidence for this claim.  Strive to be concise and delete sections or items that do not serve this goal.  Check out the annotated example of what an effect resume could look like!

Criteria for Success

A successful resume is:

  1. Customized to the company and position
  2. As concise as possible
  3. Easy to read and limits jargon
  4. Specific and careful with writing

Identify Your Purpose

Your resume is your personal sales pitch for a potential employer.  The purpose of the resume is to convince the reader that you are both qualified and motivated to take on the role you are applying for.  You prove your qualification by presenting your strengths, and backing them up with concrete experiences and accomplishments. Your motivation is best shown through a carefully written application that is tailored to the company and position.

Your resume should quickly convince readers that you are qualified. Therefore, your resume should catalog all of your qualifications in a way that concise and easy to read.  Qualifications and descriptions should be as straightforward and specific as possible. All extraneous information or details are distractions and should be removed!

Analyze Your Audience

Resumes are often read by human resource (HR) professionals and hiring managers/technical experts. HR professionals will screen submitted resumes so make sure to clearly address any specific job posting requirements. Hiring managers will then review your resume and determine if you should be interviewed or hired.  Research the hiring managers or potential coworkers to find out who will be reading your resume and what they hope to see in it. Customize the content so it will excite your specific readers.

Hiring managers often have too many applicants and too little time. Keep your resume easy to read!  Using a traditional resume structure saves the reader time, increasing the likelihood that reader will notice your strengths. Write as concisely as possible to keep your resume uncluttered which emphasizes the most important points.


Differences between a Resume and CV

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
Length Strict 2-page 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
Name & contact info
Work experience
Awards and Honors
Name & contact info
Research experience
Career objectives/research interests
Publications & presentations
Awards & grants
Professional societies
Teaching experience

Customize your resume based on the position

Your resume should convince the reader that you are both qualified and motivated to take on the role, so customize your resume based on the position. It requires different skills to “drive independent research” than to “work closely with an interdisciplinary team”.

Based on the required qualifications (and anything else you know about the position), highlight skills and accomplishments in your resume that demonstrate your qualifications. Do this by:

  • Including research or professional experiences;
  • Providing details (bullet points) for the most relevant experiences;
  • Place important experiences or skills earlier in the document

Be concise

It may be tempting to include all of your jobs, experiences and honors on your resume. Fight this urge and only include what is important or relevant to the position you’re applying for. The less information you include, the more weight it will be given.

Concretize and quantify your experience

Give concrete – preferably quantitative – evidence that you are a qualified match for the organization and the specific role. Don’t be vague!

Vaguely-worded experience         Concrete, quantified experience
  • Researched nuclear materials
    in the 
    Short Lab
  • Designed experiment to test corrosion
    of metallic alloys by molten salts
  • Tested 5 candidate alloys under various
    simulated reactor conditions
  • Contributing author on two papers
  • Teaching Assistant for
    Nuclear Physics
  • Provided one-on-one instruction for 25
    first year PhD students
  • Developed content for weekly recitations
  • Treasurer for the American
    Nuclear Society
  • Managed $20,000 budget for department
    -wide student group

When it’s accurate, use verbs that illustrate impact over passive verbs. Be specific to the contribution you made.

Passive verbs Action verbs
  • Participated
  • Researched
  • Helped
  • Designed
  • Managed
  • Led
  • Developed

Be careful not to oversell your experience.  You must be able to speak knowledgeably about anything on your resume. Exaggerating you accomplishments might get you noticed, but likely for the wrong reasons.

Make your document easy to skim and read

HR professionals and hiring managers will initially skim your resume in 30 to 60 seconds. Highlight skills and accomplishments in your resume that clearly quickly demonstrate your qualifications.

Use section headers that group your experience to quickly demonstrate you’re qualified for the job. If the job involves teaching or entrepreneurship, include a section that highlights your experience in these areas.

Order your headers to prioritize sections that have experiences most relevant to the position.

Use whitespace to make your resume easy to read. Use indentation and bullet points to partition information.

Bold important words so the reader quickly finds them. Be selective in bolding; too many bold-faced words will detract from the attention-drawing effect.

Use jargon carefully so that different readers understand your resume. Jargon is useful to the right audience when it concisely communicates technical concepts, but it can easily confuse non-experts like HR professionals.

Proofread and spell check your document. A single mistake can be enough to get your resume placed in the “no” pile. Read your resume out loud and listen for mistakes.  Have a detail-oriented friend or classmate help you catch little things you missed.

Resources and Annotated Examples

Annotated Example 1
Annotated Example 1

Sample Resume 221 KB