A resume is a marketing tool to get you an interview for a particular opportunity. It’s not a record of everything you’ve ever done, and the best ones are never generic.
Your resume needs to be focused, concise and tailored to each opportunity you’re applying to because people tend to skim a resume in 30 seconds or less. To help you focus on what's most relevant to the position, we recommend making a professional inventory before creating your resume.
While it's fine to use examples to inspire you, it's best to create your own resume rather than use a template (looking fancy and being effective aren't the same thing). Here are some page set-up guidelines:
Number of Pages
One page is typical for limited relevant experience and new professionals. Two pages are acceptable for extensive relevant experience, experienced professionals, and/or people with graduate degrees.
Margins should be:
- the same on every side
- half inch minimum
- one inch maximum
Start with a half inch margin to maximize space. You can always make it wider later if needed.
Resumes should be single-spaced, with even line spacing between main sections and even spacing between entries within sections. See the resources page for examples.
Left justification is best. We read left to right, and we skim the same way. Centering is usually only a good option for letterhead and is never good for entries or blocks of text.
Good font choices
The best fonts for resumes are clean, readable, and business-like. Serif fonts are more common in hard copy or for a "classic" look; Sans-serifs are easier to read on-screen and look more "modern."
- Gill Sans
- Proxima Nova
Font choices to avoid
Brush Script (script fonts are not good for this)
Century Gothic (also overused)
Comic Sans (resumes aren't for toddlers)
Courier (the typewriter is dead)
Impact (too bold for body text)
Papyrus (it's not an ancient Egyptian scroll)
Stencil (great on ammo crates and nowhere else)
Times New Roman (overused everywhere for everything)
The next section talks about font sizing.
Because employers more frequently skim resumes than read them, you should use headings, subheadings, and a few simple text alterations (like bold, italic, and size) to make that easy for them.
- Body text (your entries): 10 pt minimum, 12 pt maximum.
- Entry Headings: same size as body, but altered to stand out
- Main Headings: 2 pts bigger than your body text
- Your name: 4-8 pts bigger than your body text
Here's an example:
Arya Stark [name]
123 4th St, Cheney, WA 99004 | 509.555.1212 | email@example.com
Experience [main heading]
Research Assistant | Fall 2013 [entry heading line 1]
Eastern Washington University, Cheney, WA [entry heading line 2]
+ Conducted analytical experience on gene expression [body text]
+ Performed purification of protein [body text]
+ Generated statistical summaries and reports of collected data [body text]
Black is really your color.
Using any other color is usually a bad idea for anyone whose job isn't actually about the use of color. Bright colors are distracting and gray or soft pastels can be difficult to read. Black is classic. It behaves itself. It won't get you in trouble.
Don't include pictures or graphics.
Bluntly, if you're not applying to be an actor, dancer, or model, your future employer doesn't need your headshot. Submitting a photo with your resume puts a potential employer at risk for violating Equal Opportunity legislation. Many employers won’t interview those who submit a personal photo.
You also don't put graphics or clip art on your resume.
At a minimum, your resume must have these three sections. It might have more, but those sections are optional according to the needs of your audience and the content you want to deliver.
The letterhead contains your contact information at the top of the page. It should include:
- Your name
- Your phone number
- Your professional email address (see below)
- Your mailing address (optional)
Here's an example:
111 Adams Ct., Spokane, WA 99201 | 509.555.1212 | firstname.lastname@example.org
A professional email address is one that is as close to your name as possible with as few numbers as possible (i.e., email@example.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org). Anything that doesn't meet that criteria (e.g., email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, etc.) is an unprofessional email address and should not be used.
Optional mailing address
Your prospective employer needs to know how to contact you, but in the age of the internet, they're not likely to do that through the mail. If you're applying to a job in another city, however, it's often a good idea to list your city and state so they can structure interviews appropriately.
You can put your Education either before or after Experience. Before is more common for current students and new professionals. After is more common for experienced professionals.
Education entries must contain four elements:
- The official name of your degree (e.g., Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, Bachelor of Arts in Theater, etc.)
- The month and year you graduated or will graduate
- The name of the institution
- The city and state where you attended
Start with your most recent degree, either completed or in progress, and work backward in time.
Here's an example:
Master of Arts: Rhetoric and Technical Communication | June 2018 (Expected)
Eastern Washington University, Cheney, WA
Bachelor of Arts: English Literature | June 2016
Whitman College, Walla Walla, WA
It's really that easy.
Other items you can put in your Education section:
- Minors, if you have them.
- Certificates, if you have them.
- GPA (only if it's 3.0 or higher), or your honors designation if you graduated with honors - but usually not both
- Relevant special coursework
- Competitive academic awards, if relevant
Don't include the following:
- High School (unless you're Running Start - then it's okay)
- Associate Degrees (under most circumstances, but see below)
- Dean's List if your GPA is over 3.5 (it's assumed)
- Irrelevant coursework, or classes common to your degree
- Irrelevant awards
When to list an AA:
- When it's the highest degree you've earned, and you're applying to a job that lists an AA as a minimum requirement.
- When you have an AAS or special certificate in a field of study that's relevant to your career (Fine Arts, Electrical Engineering, etc.)
- When applying for a job at a community college. They like people who are familiar with the environment.
A well formatted and relevant experience section is crucial to getting noticed and getting an interview. Your experience section should contain the experiences you've had that best demonstrate your qualifications for the opportunities you want.
Experiences don't necessarily have to be paid experiences as long as they gave you knowledge, skills, and abilities that will be useful to your prospective employer.
Learn more about experiences you might include and ideas for getting experiences here:
Formatting the entry heading
Your experience entries should follow the same layout and arrangement as your entries in your education section. They should be listed in reverse chronological order and contain:
- position title
- dates (month and year)
- organization name
- location (city and state)
Do not include additional details such as street addresses, phone numbers, supervisor names, or wages.
Describing Activities & Demonstrating Relevance
Next, describe your activities in that experience that are relevant to your audience.
- Use bullets, not paragraphs - bullets are easier to skim.
- 3 - 5 bullets per entry is ideal. One is not enough. Eight is too many.
- Bullets are often one line long, but particularly important ones might be two lines.
- Use phrases, not complete sentences.
- Begin each bullet with strong action verbs in past tense, even for experiences you're currently engaged in.
- Each bullet point should demonstrate a different skill used, relevant to what you are applying for.
- Don't include items that do not bring value to your future position.
The basic bullet formula is:
Action Verb + What You Did + How You Did It + Quantities + Frequencies + [Results if applicable]
If you follow this formula, your bullets will have consistent phrasing and won't be flat, shallow, and generic. Using quantities and frequencies proves your level of competence at that skill.
Communications Intern | January 2019 – March 2019
Spokane AIDS Network, Spokane, WA
- Wrote weekly press releases resulting in 24 publications in three local news papers
- Developed script for Sub for Santa segment on Good Morning Spokane news program
- Assisted in coordination of donor recognition event, hosting more than 150 guests and 15 high profile donors
- Edited “Spokane AIDS Walk” campaign pamphlets and website, ensuring seamless transition during new media campaign
- Provided creative ideas for 15 second commercial, supporting Communications Director in development of workable concepts and script
Introduction sections are optional but common. If you have one we recommend having a Summary (also called a Profile). Guidelines include:
- It should be one to four short sentences or lines
- It can be in paragraph style with sentences or bullet style with phrases
- It should focus on the needs of the employer rather than the needs of the candidate.
- It should act as an abstract for the reader, giving them top level information at a glance, so it's best to write it last.
Here's an example in paragraph format:
Health Services Administration graduate with experience in rural health care. Successfully established multiple clinics with nonprofit health care groups, providing service for thousands of rural patients from infants to the elderly. Bilingual in Spanish and English.
Here's an example in bullet format:
- Skilled fundraiser with three years of experience.
- Plan and execute events for nonprofit organizations.
- Strong interpersonal skills with training in conflict mediation.
- Proficient in current web design technology.
We don't recommend objectives because they're outdated and usually aren't very effective, as they are all about what the candidate wants instead of what the employer wants.
Valuable experience isn't always attached to a job, internship, or volunteer opportunity. Depending on the industry, valuable experience can also be demonstrated through projects, public presentations, and publications.
Entries in a projects section should be formatted just like your experiences and given activity details in the same way.
Here's an example:
Event Management and Student Check-in System | Sep 2016 - May 2017
Eastern Washington University, Cheney, WA
+ Designed system to track student registration and attendance for weekly events, and schedule events and facility resources
+ Implemented using CodeIgniter, PHP framework, MySQL, JQuery, and CSS3
Publications and Presentations
Listing important publications or presentations works just like listing them on a Works Cited/References/Bibliography page in a paper. Pick an appropriate style format, (like MLA, APA, or Chicago), and use it consistently.
Here's a presentation example:
Weldon, T., Field, N. (2014, April). Cambodian Genocide and Intergenerational Attribution of Blame. Poster presented at the annual Western Psychological Association Conference, Portland, OR.
Here's a publication example:
“Gadamer, Dewey, and the Importance of Play in Philosophical Inquiry.” Reason Papers, Vol. 38 (1) [Spring 2016] 8-20
Skill lists should be brief and contain only the skills most relevant to the opportunity you want. Skills are always specific, named, trained things:
- relevant tools you know how to use, whether hardware or software
- languages you can speak (or code in!)
- methods and strategies to accomplish goals that people without your education or experience aren't likely to have.
Skills are not personal qualities that make you a wonderful human being. Also, they are not the ability to be a functional adult at a basic level. (Those are very good things, but they don't go here).
Things you should not list as skills:
- Basic computer skills (e.g., email, basic word processing, being able to switch between operating systems)
- Social media (unless you've managed it as a job)
- Languages you can't have an actual business conversation in
- Time management
- Quick learner
- Team player (demonstrate this in an activity bullet instead)
- Good communicator (same here)
- Passionate (also avoid dynamic, engaged, thought leader, out-of-the-box thinker, etc.)
And, of course, anything that isn't true or is exaggerated.