Resumes — Writing the Content

Summary: 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; major academic honors (but not a list of every club you joined)
  • 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.

Bad ExampleDuties: answering telephones, MS-Word and MS-Excel, customer service, locked up on weekends.
The items in this list aren’t grammatically parallel. It’s correct to say “My duties on this job included answering telephones,” but ungrammatical to say “My duties on this job included locked up weekends.”  Even if you aren’t applying to be a writer, you don’t want to give your employer the impression that you are bad with details.
Good ExampleDuties: answered telephones, used MS-Word and MS-Excel, provided customer service, locked up on weekends.
All the items in this list follow the same grammatical structure.

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.

Bad ExampleI did paperwork.
I made sales.
These bland words accomplish little.
Good Examplemanaged the night shift.
I sold $100,000-$300,000 worth of merchandise each quarter.
More powerful, vivid verbs highlight your personal accomplishments.

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

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”.

Actionless Word  (Weak)Active Verb (Stronger)Active with Support (Convincing)
an organized workerorganized meetings and ran them efficientlyorganized weekly meetings for 20-40 participants; 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 “outstanding” or “very good” on all evaluation criteria for 2 years
general maintenancemaintained equipmentmaintained equipment, saving $1500 in outside repair fees during one three-month period

Avoid Wordiness

  • Most readers will 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.
  • For an entry-level position, most employers favor one page. (On a separate sheet, you might list your awards or provide other special qualifications, such as a headshot, or a sample of your artwork — but only if those kinds of materials are appropriate for the job.)

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:
Dennis G. Jerz

Resumes: How to Write Them

Original site by Erin Vanden Wymelenberg, UWEC undergraduate student
Fall, 1999 — first posted
15 Jan 2000 — modified and reorganized by Dennis G. Jerz
30 Mar 2020 — updated by Dennis G. Jerz

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