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A resume is an essential part of any job search. A strong resume should effectively demonstrate your skills and accomplishments from past experiences, paid and unpaid, as they are relevant to the reader. Keep in mind that your resume will represent you, often to readers who don’t know you, so it can be a first impression. The general purpose of a resume is to get you to the next stage of the application process, the interview.  

If you used a resume in high school, you might have a long list of awards, volunteer hours, clubs, sports, and part-time jobs on several pages. This is typically a comprehensive representation of what kind of student you will be at a given college or university and useful to get you into college. However, a professional resume is very different in that it is a curated set of experiences described in a way that shows the recruiter how you have used relevant skills and what results you achieved. With this in mind, consider the quality of the experiences you choose to include based on their relevance to opportunities you are applying to. It is often more effective to describe a few relevant involvements in depth than it is to include a longer list of positions that may not be as relevant. 

Recruiters will typically take six seconds or less to skim your resume when first reviewing all applicants. While there’s more than one “right” way to build your resume, the tips below are all ways to help your document stand out during that first glance and make it to the next stage for further consideration. 

Steps To Create A Personalized Resume
Be Intentional with Formatting

In thinking about how you want to format your resume, it’s important to keep in mind that you want a visually appealing document that is well organized and easy to read. Review resume samples to get ideas of what you like for format and content, then create your resume in a blank Word document. While templates make it quick and easy to create a resume, they are typically difficult to edit, customize, or update over time and can often be easily recognized as a template. Additionally, creating your own resume keeps you in control of the content. You know your experiences best and paying a third-party provider will likely result in a document that doesn’t represent you well. 

Most industries will expect a one-page resume from a college student or recent graduate. Some industries may accept, or even expect, more than one page, but that is usually not the norm. For example, federal resumes tend to require a lot of details that aren’t on a traditional resume.

Format Tips
  • Optimal font is something easy to read by a variety of readers (like Times New Roman, Arial, or Calibri) 
  • Use no more than 3 font sizes; minimum font size is 10, maximum is 14 (for headers) 
  • Consistency is key
    • Spacing and margins should be consistent throughout; 0.5" minimum margins on all sides 
    • Entries within sections should be formatted consistently; Check commas, dashes, etc. 
  • Use italics, bold, and underline intentionally to visually organize information 
  • All sections or categories should be clearly labeled 
  • Within each section, list information in reverse chronological order (most recent experience first)
  • Right aligning dates can help your resume information be easy to scan
  • Save as a PDF file with first and last name included in the file name 
Organize Your Experience
What Counts as Experience? 

While people typically think of jobs and internships as content for resumes, there are many options you can include as experience. Consider volunteer experience, large-scale academic projects, externships, clubs and organizations, study abroad, and research. 

Resume Sections
  • Name and contact information: This should be part of your main document, not a header, so it’s recognized by automated review systems. You will want to include your address (city and state are sufficient), your phone number, and email address. Use an email address you will check regularly.. Some people choose to include a link to their LinkedIn profile as well, which can be a good idea as long as your LinkedIn is up-to-date. 
  • Education: This should be the first section of your resume as an undergrad or recent grad, or until you have some post-graduation experience. It will move back to the top of your resume if you return to graduate school.
    • List the school as William & Mary  
    • Include your degree (i.e. Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, etc.), major, and any minors or concentrations, if applicable 
    • List the month and year that you graduated or will be graduating 
    • Optional content: You can list high school through your sophomore year of college, or add study abroad, related courses, athletics, and honor societies under the education section
  • Most related experience: Your next section should include experiences that are most relevant to the types of opportunities you’re applying to. This should be based on what the recruiter is looking for and can include a variety of experiences. 
  • Other sections (all optional): Additional sections should include information that wasn’t in your previous sections such as skills, volunteer experience, memberships or clubs/organizations, certifications, leadership, and/or interests.  
  • Sections not to include: A professional summary or an objective is typically not necessary in an undergraduate or new professional’s resume. If you wish to share references, those should be sent in a separate document and there is no need to put “references available upon request” on your resume.
Describe Your Experience

Once you’ve decided the content to include on your resume and where you want it to be on the page, it’s now time to fill in the descriptions of your experiences. The following tips ensure your resume does not read like anyone else’s, no matter the similarities in experience. 

  • Treat all entries in your experience section with consistent formatting.
    • You should include: position title, organization name, city/state, and time frame (month/year). 
    • It doesn't matter whether you choose to use one line or two, or to start with the organization or your position, as long as you are consistent throughout the document. 
    • You may choose to use bold, italics, and plain text to help differentiate between these items, but font manipulations should be used sparingly to be effective. 
  • Do not use complete sentences.
    • Since the reader is likely skimming the content, get right to the point. 
    • Avoid using personal pronouns. 
  • Use skill-based active verbs to start your bullets.
  • Pay attention to verb tense for your bullets.
    • For ongoing positions, use present tense, e.g. collaborate, manage, evaluate; assume only the word “I” is missing from the beginning.  
    • For completed positions, use past tense.  
  • Focus on skills/accomplishments, rather than tasks. 
    • A task-based resume repeats the job description and is only what you were told do. 
    • When you describe how you used your skills and achieved accomplishments, you highlight what makes you a unique candidate and give yourself full credit for your role within the organization. 
    • Avoid using “Responsible for” and “Duties included", as these are passive voice.  
  • Show how you accomplished something, don't just say what you were responsible for.
    • The more relevant the experience, the more details you can give to demonstrate how well you did something, and share what skills, resources, strategies, programs, etc. you used. This helps the reader picture you as a member of their team. 
  • Give results or intended purposes.
    • This doesn’t only mean the final product, but detailing how you had an impact by doing something. This impact could be on a process, a peer or co-worker, a supervisor, a customer or client, a greater audience, or even on yourself.  
  • Quantify whenever relevant.
    • This doesn’t have to be an exact number, but you can use phrases, such as: as many as, more than, an average of. 
Applicant Tracking System (ATS)

Applicant Tracking Systems are used by many organizations, including 98% of Fortune 500 companies, to help automate their hiring process. While there are many functions of an ATS, one that you need to know about is resume screening. Resumes typically go through an ATS when they are submitted and that determines whether or not a person will actually see your resume.  

Examples of ATSs include Taleo, Workday, and iCIMS, although there are many others. No two ATS systems work the same way. Some systems rank applicants based on how closely their resume matches the job description, some on keyword counts, while some have “knockout questions.” The good news is that there are ways to increase your chances of being successful in the ATS screening process regardless of the system being used.

  • Tailor your resume to the job description
  • Use keywords that are in the job description, focusing on versions of the word used (i.e. analyze vs. analyzes vs. analysis). A good way to assess this is to copy your resume into a word cloud website (i.e. WordSift, Jason Davies Word Cloud Generator, and Word It Out) and do the same with the job description. Compare the two to see if the same words are emphasized. 
  • Use long-form and acronyms for keywords (ex. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)). 
  • Don’t utilize complex formatting, such as tables, columns, and images, as it is difficult for ATSs to parse out the information. 
  • Resumes created on websites such as Canva are usually not able to be read by an ATS. 
  • Submit as a PDF and only use Word to create the document (don’t switch between multiple platforms when creating your resume). 
Helpful Articles
Document Versions
Master Document
  • It's a great idea to have one document saved that is a record of all past experiences and involvements that could be useful for different versions of your resume.
Targeted Versions
  • Organizing your positions based on relevancy helps the reader understand and absorb your experiences as they pertain to the opportunities for which you are applying. 
  • While you may save these as “Communication Resume” or “Research Lab Resume,” it’s best to include both your name and the name of the organization in the file name when you send it as part of an application, e.g. “Name-Organization-Resume.” This makes it easier to identify from the others in the candidate pool. 
  • Save and send as a PDF. 

It may sound unnecessary, but it is important to proofread your resume every time you update it. It's easy to skim over common errors when you’re familiar with the document. Be sure to have someone personal and professional review your draft for you. Personally, someone can recognize a typo in your email or phone number, as well as help highlight what they know to be your strengths. Professionally, an advisor or supervisor can ensure you have a clean, organized resume that represents you well and speaks to the appropriate audience. 

No Templates

While templates make it quick and easy to create a resume, they are typically difficult to make changes to and look very cookie cutter. Additionally, resumes created on websites such as Canva can’t usually be read by an ATS because they are downloaded as images.  Feel free to review templates to see what you like, but then create your own document. The best software to use for success with an ATS is Microsoft Word.

Update Every 6-12 Months

Rather than waiting to update your resume when you need to send it out, it’s best practice to review and add experiences to your master document every 6-12 months. When you’re in an experience, or have just finished a position, your strengths and accomplishments are fresh in your mind. This is when it is easiest to write a strong set of bullet points. 

Curriculum Vitae (CV)

Where resumes are brief summaries of an applicant's experiences and highlight the most relevant positions and skills for a particular opportunity, the CV is a more comprehensive listing of a scholar's experiences and achievements. A CV, or Curriculum Vitae, is a document of your intellectual and academic accomplishments. It is an intellectual biography presented as a list without descriptions.  

Typically, CVs are used for university positions, graduate schools, and academic fields that require graduate degrees and are research-intensive. Occasionally, the terms "CV" and "resume" are used interchangeably. Unless you are applying for an academic position, you should use the resume writing guidelines, as that is more common in the United States. However, if possible, find out exactly what an application expects from you. 

The term CV is often used in other countries instead of "resume", but they mean the same thing. However, the formatting is quite different, and you should research the norms for the country in which you are applying to see what information is expected. 

Resume Samples

If you’re looking for more inspiration, review the general sample on page 2 of our resume checklist or an industry-specific resume sample below. These samples are not meant to be used as a template, but rather to give you an idea of options for formatting and content.

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