Résumés: Writing the Content

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Employers read resumes in order to find evidence that a particular applicant is well qualified for a particular job.  Experience, education, training, and personal qualities relevant to the job are all important. The resume should describe what has led the applicant to where he or she is now.

Note: Before you include a citation from professional honor societies, ask yourself: Does the organization exist for any purpose other than to sell copies of the awards publication?

One of the most important things to remember about your resume is to make sure that the spelling, punctuation, and grammar are correct.

Provide the Basic Information

The resume should include:

  • name (the most prominent element)
  • address
  • email address
  • phone number
  • school attended
  • year of graduation
  • major
  • minor
  • emphasis
  • employment history – including job descriptions

Phrase Items with Parallel Grammar

The wording in the entire document should be parallel.  You do not need to write in complete sentences, but make a decision about whether you will or won’t end each line with a period.  Then, be consistent.  When you present a list of items, each item in the list should be grammatically parallel.

 noDuties: answering telephones, MS-Word and MS-Excel, customer service, locked up on weekends.
yesDuties: answered telephones, used MS-Word and MS-Excel, providedcustomer service, locked up on weekends.

Express Yourself with Strong Verbs

Writing the resume with impact statements and simple sentence structure will make reading easier, and interesting. Using action verbs instead of the following will give the employer a better idea of the activities performed. These words aren’t very descriptive:

nodid, made, had

Instead of using boring, vague, words, the writer should incorporate words that actually pinpoint what he or she did on the job. “I did the paper work” doesn’t say nearly as much as “I managed the closing shift and calculated the $100,000-$300,000 deposits.” [However, don’t go overboard… if you waited tables, don’t say “I maintained positive public relations while overseeing the fulfillment of on-site customer nutrition paradigms.”]

Use words that show exactly what the job entailed.


yesUse These Action-oriented Verbs
  • acquired
  • administered
  • audited
  • calculated
  • changed
  • coordinated
  • created
  • demonstrated
  • formed
  • hired
  • improved
  • maintained
  • managed
  • operated
  • oversaw
  • performed
  • planned
  • reviewed
  • taught
  • tested
  • trained

Check http://www.jobweb.org/catapult/guenov/action.html for a more extensive list.

Use Active Verbs (with Supporting Evidence)

You might want an employer to think of you as “organized” or “efficient”, but you won’t convince anyone if you simply choose from a list of magic action words. You must back up your claims with supporting evidence, providing examples of what you think it means to be “organized” or “efficient”.


Statement (Weak)Active Verb (Stronger)Active with Support (Convincing)
am an organized and efficient workerorganized meetings and ran them efficientlyorganized weekly meetings for 20-40 participants; began and ended on time; distributed minutes promptly; followed up with absentees
cleaning dutiescleaned walls and floorscleaned walls and floors, earning “Employee of the Month” 6 weeks after starting, and scoring “very good” or “outstanding” on all evaluation criteria
general maintenancemaintained equipmentmaintained equipment, saving $1500 in outside contractor fees during one three-month period



Avoid Wordiness

  • Many readers favor bulleted lists.
  • Short phrases are easier and faster to read than long paragraphs.
  • Busy readers can skim for points that interest them.

Be Selective

  • Don’t pad your resume with every single club you’ve ever joined.
  • If you list “Junior Explorer’s Club” on your resume, but don’t provide any details, the employer will probably ask, “What did you do with the Junior Explorers that helped prepare you for this job?”  If you can’t answer with anything more than, “I went to meetings,” your interviewer will start to doubt the validity of the other claims on your resume.
  • The resume should be no more than two pages long. For an entry-level position, most employers favor one page.

Cover letters are the next most important thing for job seeking.  Employers look at the cover letter for a brief introduction to the person.

See also:

Resumes: How to Write Them

Original site by Erin Vanden Wymelenberg
Fall, 1999 — first posted
15 Jan 2000 — modified and reorganized by Dennis G. Jerz
09 May 2000 — first posted in ORR
Revised Format — Apr 2015

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