Chapter 10-5: Résumés for employment

What is a résumé?

A résumé is a brief document that summarizes your education, employment history, and experiences that are relevant to your qualifications for a particular job for which you are applying. The purpose of a résumé (along with your cover letter) is to get an interview. Research has shown that it takes an average of ten (10) interviews to receive one (1) job offer, so your résumé needs to be persuasive and perfect. Given this, your résumé must be user-centered and persuasive.

What should it look like?

A general résumé should be a brief summary of your experience, so it should be as concise as possible-no shorter than one full page and no more than three pages (some specific kinds of résumés can be longer). Résumés differ from letters and papers, and they are written in a concise style using bullet lists rather than long sentences and paragraphs. A résumé is designed to be skimmed quickly. You should look at as many résumé examples as possible before writing your own. You can check our samples to see several different formats.

Though you may maintain a general résumé, you should tailor your résumés to fit the needs and expectations of each company and job position. To help tailor your résumé, collect as much information as possible on the organization and its mission/goals. Then collect information on the people who may read your résumé: human resources, decision makers, potential boss, etc. Finally, collect information on the job position and its requirements. When you know about the company, the audience, and the position, you can match your training and experience to their needs and expectations. Please see the Audience Analysis page for details on collecting information on readers.

What should it include?

There are several sections that almost every résumé must have, including objective, education, work experience, and contact information.


The objective should be short and concise, but it must also be user-centered. User-centered objectives are tailored to the specific organization and position. User-centered objectives state the organization's name and the specific position title, and they briefly outline how the applicant will help the organization achieve its goals:

Objective: Help ABC Aerospace achieve its mission of designing tomorrow's technology today by joining the Navigation Software Development Team as a programmer.

Creating a user-centered objective is important because you don't want to sound like you're using the organization selfishly to further your own career:

Objective: Expand my skills in programming in the software development field

Notice how the second objective does not mention the specific organization or job, and it does not discuss how the applicant plans to help the company.


In the education section, state the highest degree you have earned and provide the following details:

  • Institution where the degree was granted

  • Date of graduation

  • Level of degree (B.A., M.A., etc.) and field (Electrical Engineering), any minors (English).

X?X?X?X? Experience

The Work Experience Section is the place for detailing your previous employment information. This section can be called Work Experience, Work History, Employment History, Employment Experience, Relevant Experience, or whatever else indicates the type of information that is included. For instance, if you have really great volunteer experience in the field to which you are applying, you may want to title this section Relevant Experience rather than Employment Experience, in order to accurately represent the information. The section on work experience is usually broken down by company or position. For each, provide the following:

  • Name and address of the organization

  • Dates of employment

  • Position title

  • Responsibilities.

You may also want to include skills learned if the job has little or nothing to do with the position for which you are applying. Try to connect your experience with your current job interest. This section can also include any promotions you might have gotten while on a job.

Detailing the duties you performed, though, is perhaps the most important part of the Work Experience Section. You must be not only accurate and concise but also highlight those duties that are most relevant to the position you are seeking. While it is acceptable to write full sentences in paragraph form for each position you held, it is more common to create a bulleted list of the duties you performed.

If you choose to create a bulleted list, be aware that each bullet must be in parallel form (which means that each item must be grammatically formatted the same). It is also a good idea that you put each item in the active voice and use powerful action verbs (see our Action Word List). Each job should have a minimum of three bulleted items with the most relevant duties listed first. Take some time to really think over what you actually accomplished for the job, list the specific activities and duties that you were responsible for, and craft exciting and concise bulleted items representing those activities.

The following items illustrate examples you can model:

Purdue University Business Writing Consultant Department of English Writing Lab

• Tutored clients on content and formatting required for business documents

• Conducted résumé and cover letter workshops for classes and organizations

• Promoted the Business Writing services of the Lab by posting flyers and speaking in classrooms

Because each person's work history is unique, you may have unusual circumstances to represent on your résumé. If you have worked for one company for many years and held several positions, you can list each position separately. If you are applying for a position outside of the field most of your work experience is in, you can also list relevant volunteer experience and community service. If this is the case, you might also want to consider a Skills Résumé, in which you group bulleted items by skills and abilities rather than by company or job.

If you are a student, your résumé might contain summer jobs that are not relevant to the position for which you are applying. If this is the case, remember that you honed skills in every job. Be creative and thoughtful in creating these lists. For example, if you worked at McDonald's, you learned how to do the following:

• function efficiently in a team

• work responsibly in a time-sensitive environment

• maintain flexibility in duties from shift to shift.

As your work experience becomes more relevant to your field, you can drop off the oldest summer jobs until all of your listed work experience is relevant to your field.

It can be difficult to know how to represent periods of unemployment. Consider listing what you were doing during that time period. For example, if you took time off work to raise your children, you can put Homemaker (or what you prefer) on the résumé and detail some of what you accomplished. In addition, you can list volunteer work or community service if you were not actually employed during that time period. If you took any classes (even if you did not obtain a degree), you can list the educational activities you were involved in during that time.

Contact Information

The contact information section is where you detail how potential employers can get in touch with you. Make sure all information is accurate and current. You should, at minimum, include your name, address, and phone number. Many people also include cell phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and web pages. It is in your best interest to make sure your potential employers can contact you.

Optional Sections

In addition to the basic sections, you may also want to include other optional sections to provide a more accurate idea of your skills, achievements, education, etc. These can include the following:

  • Computer skills

  • Honors and awards

  • Languages

  • Certifications

  • Volunteer experience

  • Hobbies and interests

  • Foreign travel

  • Professional memberships

  • Community service, etc.

If you believe there is information about you an employer needs to make an informed decision (and you cannot include it in a cover letter), you may create a section on your résumé to showcase that information. Although the résumé is a highly formatted document, it should reflect what you think will convince your potential employer to grant you an interview.

What are the expectations for résumés?

Readers have expectations about how a résumé should look. For instance, your name typically appears at the top of the résumé and is usually the largest item. In addition, headers usually categorize the various sections of the text. Also, readers expect the information in your résumé to be accurate and correct. Finally, your résumé should be free of grammatical and spelling errors. Know that your résumé should be easy to read quickly and contain all necessary and pertinent information. The persuasive quality of your résumé depends on its usability.

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