What is a resume?
- A resume is a summary of your experiences and skills relevant to the field of work you are entering.
- It highlights your accomplishments to show a potential employer that you are qualified for the work you want. It is not a biography of everything you have done.
- Its purpose is to get you an interview.
- A resume can (and often should) reflect more than just your paid work experience. Current students, in particular, should consider including the details of your more important extracurricular, volunteer and leadership experiences.
- Tailor separate resumes to fit each career field in which you are job searching. Some people create slightly different resumes tailored to each job opening.
- Remember that you can attend a resume workshop or have your resume critiqued here at the Career Center.
- Student should list paid work, volunteer positions, extracurricular activities, (especially those in which you had a leadership role) and internships.
- Students should go as far back as four or five years. Even graduating seniors will often have one or, occasionally, two items from high school on their resume. However, they may also so many experiences from college that they may not need to include experiences from high school.
- Alumni may also list volunteer, leadership and civic activities, especially those in which you had a leadership role or those that indicate skills relevant to the career field you are pursuing.
- "Important items" would include most paid work, internships, extended volunteer activities, and activities in which you had a leadership role.
- Don't worry about the wording of your paragraphs at this point - for now, they don't need to fit the standard "resume language."
- Describe accomplishments as well as duties. An example of a duty might be "I maintained ten computers, loading new software and resolving problems as needed," while an example of an accomplishment might be "I created two self-paced Powerpoint presentations to train people in our office on the new company software, and it was so successful that my manager asked me to present it to five other managers in the company."
NOTE: You will eventually change your wording into "resume language," dropping any "I's" and making your phrases more concise. For now, use whatever language you want.
Give this some thought! Consider two factors here:
1) What are your greatest strengths, and how can you demonstrate those strengths through your experience?
All employers value certain qualities: team player; good communication skills; leadership abilities. In addition, you have particular skills that you consider your strong points, you would generally try to bring those to light, as well. (If you want help understanding your skills, we recommend you speak with a career advisor.)
2) What are the requirements and needs of this particular industry, this particular employer, and this particular job?
Here's an example of the needs of an industry and a job:
Advertising industry - account executive:
- the industry tends to value creativity, high energy, and the ability to work in a hectic, deadline-driven environment.
- the job of account executive demands that you be detail-oriented, good with people, and able to handle many projects at once.
Your task, then, would be to demonstrate those qualities through the activities described on your resume.
NOTE: You may want to create somewhat different resumes for different jobs.
NOTE: What follows is the format for a chronological resume, by far the most common form of resume in use today. Occasionally, alumni who are changing careers or re-entering the work force after a prolonged absence may find that a functional resume is more appropriate. Visit our sample resumes to see examples of both styles.
- Put your name in at least 14-point. Recruiters often must look through stacks of resumes in search of a particular one. Make it easy for them to see your name.
- If you are still in school, be sure to include both your school address and phone number, as well as the address and phone number where you can be reached during school vacations or after you graduate.
- Include your e-mail address. If you check your e-mail during school vacations, you may want to center the address on your resume in a way that implies it is not just associated with your school address. Be sure to have a professional email address for your job/internship search. Employers may be turned off by your email@example.com email address. Also avoid the email hyperlink under your email address. The line under your email should not be included.
- Avoid unnecessary personal information such as marital status and date of birth.
OBJECTIVE: An objective is optional. If you have worked out a clearly targeted job objective, then definitely include it.
- Avoid pronouns and flowery language.
- Focus on what you have to offer rather than on what the job can offer you. This may sound backwards, but employers are not so much interested in what you hope to get out of a job with them, so much as they want to know whether you fit their needs.
- Example: OBJECTIVE: Editorial assistant position in publishing industry, utilizing my academic background in literature and my three years of experience writing for campus and local newspapers.
If you are not clear on your career goals, you probably should not include an objective on your resume. You should work with a career advisor to focus you interests and objectives.
If you are applying for an internship, you probably should not include an objective on your resume.
IMPORTANT - Resumes that are sent to an employer by e-mail or that are entered onto a form on the Web may end up on a resume database. When recruiters seek resumes from these databases, they try to match certain keywords appropriate to a particular career field.
Particularly for job seekers with experience in that career field, it is important that your resume contain some of those keywords. Click here to learn more about resume keywords.
Experienced job seekers, especially those with two-page resumes, sometimes include a Summary of Qualifications section at the beginning of their resume. IF you choose to include a Summary, it should be concrete (e.g. "five years management experience in the health care industry," etc.), and it should include as many appropriate keywords as possible.
- This section always goes first on your resume, as long as you are in school.
- If you are still an undergraduate and applying for an internship, list your high school below Boston College in this section (freshmen and sophomore students).
NOTE: Your significant activities from high school can be listed in this section, though many students benefit more from listing those in more detail in their Experience or Activities sections.
- If you have graduated from college, your education section goes first on your resume from one to three years after you graduate, depending on such factors as whether your education was relevant to your career field and how impressive your work experience has been in the intervening years. If you have recently received a graduate or professional degree, your education would usually go at the top of your resume.
- As a graduating senior, your GPA should always be mentioned, as long as it is above 3.0. Most recruiters will assume that it is below 3.0 if they do not see it on your resume. (The phrase "3.2/4.0" indicates that you have a 3.2 GPA on a scale that runs up to 4.0. Some schools use a 5.0 scale.) Your GPA is printed on your most recent BC transcript. Do not round up your GPA. If you have a 3.90, put that down. Do not round up to a 4.00. Employers want to see accurate information and may compare your resume GPA with your official transcript.
- "Courses studied" or "Relevant Coursework" is an optional section. If you have taken courses outside your major that are relevant to the job (or if you simply want to emphasize your academic training relevant to the job or internship), you would definitely benefit from including this section. For example, if you were a Philosophy major trying to find work in the computer industry, and you had taken three courses in the Computer Science department, you would definitely include them in a "Relevant Courses" section."
- Significant honors and awards can be included as a sub-category of your Education section.
What should you include in this section?
- Don't feel that you must limit this section to paid work experiences, especially if you are still in college or a recent graduate. Employers understand that the most valuable or most challenging experiences often occur in internships, volunteer work or other extracurricular activities.
- Nursing Clinical Experience - List placements in reverse chronological order, including dates. Describe type of setting, responsibilities, and knowledge gained.
- Student Teaching Experience - Include name and location of placements, dates involved, and grade level of assignment. Major responsibilities in teaching area should be emphasized.
IMPORTANT - How should you describe your experiences?
Visit our sample resumes for assistance with this.
- Consult the paragraphs you wrote about each of your jobs or activities - choose from one to eight sentences (depending on the extent of your responsibilities) that encapsulate the skills you used at this job or activity, your duties and your significant accomplishments.
- Include both your duties AND your accomplishments.
Duties tell the employer you can do the job. Accomplishments indicate that you will go above and beyond the call of duty:
- Duties alone can sound bland: "Wrote articles, researched topics, filed documents"?
- When you add your accomplishments and contributions, you set yourself apart from the other applicants -- "Researched and wrote weekly Music Notes for local arts newspaper. Created archival database that saved staff several hours of work per week. Chosen from among seven interns to represent newspaper at MusicFest 2001 festival; wrote feature story that ran on front page."
- Use action verbs ("wrote," "managed," "researched," "coached," "planned," etc.).
- Where possible, use keywords - Resumes that are sent to an employer by e-mail or that are entered onto a form on the Web may end up on a resume database. When recruiters seek resumes from these databases, they try to match certain keywords appropriate to a particular career field.
Particularly for job seekers with experience in that career field, it is important that your resume contain some of those keywords.
- Cite numbers to make a point (e.g. number of people supervised, number of children in classroom; size of event; budget you oversaw, etc.)
- Be concise. Avoid use of the pronoun "I".
- Include "buzz" words only if you are sure of their meaning.
- If you choose to separate your work experience from your extracurricular activities or volunteer work, they can go in a separate section. BUT they don't have to go in a separate section. REMEMBER, though, that some of these activities may demonstrate your skills just as well or even better than your paid work experience.
- You do not need to demote these activities to the bottom of your resume. Employers spend an average of 15 -30 seconds looking at each resume. What's left at the bottom of your resume may not get any attention.
- A note about "interests": listing your "interests" or hobbies on a resume is okay, but generally you should not do so at the expense of leaving out other, more important information. When should you list your interests?
- when your interests or hobbies are so unusual that they are bound to attract positive attention. (One recent alumna, applying for work in the investment industry, listed "sky diving" as a hobby. Every recruiter that interviewed her started the interview off with a question about her hobby.)
- when your interests or hobbies reflect positively on your job skills. For example, if you are applying for work as a paralegal and you love chess, the recruiter may equate your hobby with analytical abilities.
This is an optional section - if specific skills are necessary to the job, or if your skills help you stand out from the crowd, then include a skills section in your resume.
- You may wish to list the systems (Macintosh, IBM, UNIX, etc.) and applications (Filemaker Pro, Microsoft Word, Pagemaker, HTML, Excel, Powerpoint, etc.) with which you are capable.
- If you know programming languages, list those as well.
- You may even want to use italicized sub-categories:
- List languages in which you have more than just some basic ability. In other words, if you are able to carry on a conversation in that language, list it.
- Indicate your level of ability ("basic conversational ability," "proficiency," "near-fluency," "fluency") or the number of years of college-level study.
- If you are applying for scientific or laboratory positions, you may want to create a list of your lab skills. A biology major might break those skills down into sub-categories such as "histology," "cell culture," and "staining." Of course, the sub-categories and skills mentioned should be relevant to the particular job.
- Always check your skills list with a professor or mentor, unless you have significant professional experience in that career field.
Don't write "References Available On Request" on your resume. This went out of style over a decade ago.
Do create a references list as soon as you can and have it available, in case an employer asks for references.
THE KEY to a well-formatted resume - realize that most employers will only spend 20-30 seconds looking at your resume. You direct the employer's eye to the most important information:
- Leave plenty of white space on your resume - don't make your resume look crowded.
- Emphasize job titles by boldfacing them (except where the name of a prestigious organization you have worked for will grab their attention first).
- Place the most important information closer to the top of your resume. (For example, if you are a student and your paid work has been fairly mundane, but you have great computer skills or excellent extracurricular leadership experience, then put the skills or the extracurriculars near the top of your resume.)
- Where appropriate, descriptive category headings can attract an employers attention (for example, "Counseling and Tutoring Experience" or "Leadership Experience" instead of just "Experience").
- Leave blank space between the separate sections and items on your resume.
Other formatting details:
- Condense to one page.
Exceptions: two-page resumes for nursing, for education and for those alumni who have over two years of experience in that field (however, before going with a two-page resume, check with others in your career field). Alumni with many years of experience in a broad range of jobs may be interested to look at When a Lengthy Resume Makes Sense for Executives (will open a new browser window).
- Center and balance your resume on the page, leaving approximately 1 inch margins.
- Design your resume for easy skimming: emphasize by boldfacing, capitalizing and italicizing.
- Use 8 1/2" x 11" white, off-white or very light-gray bond paper. Do not use colored paper.
- Proofread carefully and have a Career Center staff member review your final draft.