Before you begin actually writing your resume, it’s helpful to understand what content you’ll be including and how you will organize it (i.e., the categories you’ll use to present the material).
Resume Content Checklist
Be sure to refer to the Resume Content Checklist as you’re writing your resume, revising it, and finalizing it. The CLA Career Readiness Guide features this same categorized list of action verbs you can use. See page 72.
Here are the various sections of content that make up a strong resume, presented in the order they generally appear. Start thinking about—and briefly jotting down—what information you’ll include in each of these sections:
Include all of your contact information: your full name, mailing address, phone number, and email address. Your name should be bolded and larger than the rest of the information. It should stand out from the rest of your resume.
- Spell out words instead of abbreviating them (e.g., “Avenue” instead of “Ave.”).
- Make sure your mailing address is permanent and is a place where you can actually be reached.
- Include the email address you check most frequently.
Include the University of Minnesota at the top. If you're a transfer student, you may also choose to list your prior institution. Make sure you detail what your degree and major are, which college/school you are in, and your expected graduation date. For schools, you no longer attend, list the dates you attended as a range.
- Include your GPA if it’s above 3.0.
- Spell out words instead of abbreviating them (e.g., “Bachelor of Arts” instead of “B.A.”).
- Include academic awards, relevant coursework, and study abroad programs.
Document all paid and unpaid experiences that you’d like to highlight. Keep in mind that all experience is valuable, as long as you can communicate how the skills and competencies you developed relate to the position you’re seeking. For each position, include your job title, the name of the organization you worked for, its location (city and state), and the dates you worked there, as well as skills and competencies statements that explain your role.
- Place your most recent and/or relevant experiences at the top of the section.
- Phrase past jobs in the past tense, current jobs in the present tense.
Describe any foreign language skills, computer skills, other unique skills, and special certifications or licenses you hold.
- Be accurate in naming any software or programming languages.
- Use words like conversational, proficient, and fluent to describe your skill level.
Optional: Summary & Qualifications
The summary & qualifications is a section near the top of your resume that highlights your key qualifications and skills for the position (or program) you’re pursuing. It should be no more than three to five bullet points and should highlight what is to come on your resume.
Not Recommended: Objective Statement
Students often ask whether an objective statement should be included on the resume. CLA Career Services advises against objective statements, as they typically don’t add additional value.
Once you’ve gathered the material for your resume’s content and grouped it into these categories, it will be time for you to go ahead and write your resume—in a compelling way, using active words and descriptions to describe your skills and experiences.
It is recommended that you keep your reference list as a separate document from your resume. Get advice for who to include in your reference list and how to format. Sometimes when you apply for a job an employer will request your references as part of your application while others may wait until you are in the interviewing process. Always follow the directions of the employer.
How Do I Write Compelling Resume Content?
Your Resume Will Get a Very Quick First Look
Employers spend as little as six seconds looking at your resume.
It’s essential to write it well.
The language and phrasing you use to describe your skills, Core Career Competencies, and experiences—along with what information you strategically decide to present—will largely determine whether your resume stands out from others.
Here are some tips to help you write compelling resume content.
Commit to Tailoring Each Resume You Send Out
Ultimately, you will want to revise your resume frequently, customizing it to each position you apply for (when possible, of course). Yes, this is more work than using the same resume for everything. But you’ll be one of the relatively few applicants who take this key extra step, which will automatically set you apart.
Pinpoint what each prospective employer is looking for in the person who will be hired for that particular job. Read the job listing carefully, and do some extra research to determine the skills, Core Career Competencies, and experiences you have that seem to be essential to that position, with that employer.
Do Some Prep Work Before You Start Writing (or Tailoring)
Whether you’re writing the very first draft of your resume or tailoring it to a specific position opening, do some prep work before you even begin writing/editing:
- Brainstorm a list of experiences you’ve had that demonstrate you have the skills and competencies for the position/field you’re pursuing. Be sure to include any unpaid/volunteer experiences.
- Create a list of three or four of your strongest characteristics that make you a good candidate for the job/field you’re pursuing. Think not only in terms of specific skills but also in the context of the Core Career Competencies that employers consistently seek in college students and recent college graduates.
- Think of several accomplishments from your previous experiences that illustrate each key skill or competency you’ve identified.
- Outline the training and education you have that qualifies you for the job/field you’re pursuing.
Use Action Verbs
Using action verbs (e.g., “developed,” “coordinated,” “analyzed”) that address the employer’s needs, work to describe each of your skills, competencies, and experiences in a way that sounds professional and responsible. Vary the words you choose to diversify your presentation and add depth, and pick ones that demonstrate responsibility (e.g., instead of “made up,” say “created” or “designed”).
Ask Yourself Questions to Tease Out Key Details of Your Experiences
Ask yourself the following questions about your skills, Core Career Competencies, and experiences:
- Who/for whom?
Use numbers to quantify your skills, competencies, and experiences whenever possible. Think about these questions as well:
- How many?
- How much?
- How often?
That said: You can also expand your concept of "results" beyond a quantifiable figure. Numbers are not the only way of emphasizing your achievements!
To help you assess the non-numerical results of your skills, competencies, and experiences, ask yourself this question:
- As a result of my action(s), what happened to me? my client/colleagues/boss/customer? Are others involved? What value did I add?
Develop Compelling Skills and Competencies Statements
As you write your resume, you’ll be working to create statements about your skills and your Core Career Competencies that are compelling and specific, yet also concise.
It’s not the easiest thing to do! But keeping the following formula in mind will help: Compelling Statement = Action Verb + Details + Outcome/Results.
Here’s a before-and-after illustration of this critical concept:
|Before (Initial draft of resume statement)||After (revised draft of the statement)|
|Responsible for Supervising Employees||Organized the training and supervision of 10 employees by conducting annual reviews to guarantee quality service.|
|Answered phones.||Responded to an average of 200 calls per day to solicit donations for a new charter school.|
|Customer relations.||Provided technical support for customers by using problem-solving skills to alleviate their concerns.|
|Waited on tables.||Managed 10 tables, using interpersonal skills to ensure customer satisfaction through prompt, cordial service.|
Additional Tips on Resume Content
- There’s no need for you to include personal pronouns like “I,” “me,” or “my” on your resume.
- Use the past tense to describe past experiences and the present tense to highlight current experiences.
- Consider leaving off “average” information, such as a not-so-great job experience or a GPA that is less than 3.0.
- Most of the positions and experiences you highlight will have between two and five bullet points, with more emphasis on the more relevant positions/experiences.
- Find a balance between statements that are too short and too long. The majority should be one line in length. Remember: Your reader is likely going through lots of resumes!
Drop-In Resume Reviews: Available to All CLA Students
Stop by CLA Career Services any weekday between 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. to get your resume reviewed! (Note: Summer and holiday hours are any weekday between 12 and 4:30 p.m.) Our Peer Advisors have special training in this area. We also review cover letters.
This is a free, drop-in service available to all students in the College of Liberal Arts. You can just stop by—you don't need an appointment.
Bring a draft if you have one, or print it here. We'll help you develop it and improve it. If you don't have a draft, review this page to get started and then come in!