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Resume writing

The resume has become an essential part of the work search process.

A resume is:

  • A systematic assessment of your skills in terms of a specific work objective
  • A marketing device used to gain an interview

The purpose of the resume is to get an interview. It is like an advertisement: it should attract attention, create interest, describe accomplishments and invite a person to contact you. The average amount of time an employer takes to initially scan a resume is 30 seconds. It is very important that the resume be brief, one page if possible and two pages the limit. The resume tells a potential employer what you can do and have done, who you are, and what you know. It also states what kind of work you seek. The key is that the resume must provide enough information for the employer to evaluate your qualifications and interest the employer enough to invite you for an interview. There are services that do nothing but write resume’s for individuals. You must provide all the information. The service puts it in a format that allows it to get the most attention. You should consider whether it is worth the cost of investing in this type of service. Some websites have free templates of resume’s and cover letters that you can use. A search for “resume templates” should give you examples.

Steps to writing your resume

  1. Make detailed self-assessment notes and keep them together in a file.
  2. Obtain detailed job description information for the type(s) of work you want to do.
  3. Prepare a draft of a resume.
  4. Organize major sections in order of importance, with Job Objective or Career Goal first and Summary of Qualifications or Skills Summary second.
  5. Have someone else proofread a draft of your resume.

Style and appearance

The first impression of your resume should be favorable for both your electronic and paper versions: well organized material, easy-to-read font (Ariel or Times Roman, 11 point size) correct grammar and spelling, up-to-date information. Your paper copies should be printed on high quality white or light colour paper and have no handwritten corrections or whiteout.

Prepare a positive document presenting your skills, qualities and experience. Don't be shy! If you don’t believe in yourself, how will a potential employer? On the other hand, the resume must be an honest evaluation. Don't lie or stretch the truth. There is no one right resume. The goal is to create a document that presents your strengths, which are revealed through both content and writing style. Be enthusiastic, confident, and focused.

There is a standard order you can follow to write your resume; however, you can adjust the order. For example, if you have a work experience related to your job objective, this section should go before your education. If your work experience is weak and your education is more closely related to your objective, you can place your education before your work experience.

Personal information

This refers to information such as: Name, Address, Telephone numbers, E-mail, Web page. No other personal information is required. Do not include your date of birth or marital status.

Work objective or career goal

The term "Career Goal" refers to a desired position that has a longer-term association, while "Job Objective" can refer to an interim or more temporary type of role (e.g., Forensic Chemist for a career goal and Laboratory Technician for a job objective). State your goal or objective in terms of what you can do for an employer, not what you want an employer to do for you; avoid expressions such as "...where I can use my knowledge and skills to expand my expertise in......

Phrase the statement in terms of the job you want now, by job title (e.g., Computer Programmer, Social Worker, Technical Writer) or area (e.g., Communications, Public Relations, Health Education)

Prepare two or more resumes to tailor qualifications if you are seeking different types of jobs

Summary of qualifications / skills summary

This section will provide a concise overview of your qualifications as they relate to your objective. This is where you want the employer to become interested in the competitive advantage you bring. Include four to six points outlining your most relevant strengths for the type of work you are seeking. Describe your competitive advantage...the value you offer.


  • A summary of the experience you have related to your job objective (e.g., One year experience in graphic design)
  • A description of your working knowledge of the various components of the position (e.g., budgeting, report writing, program planning)
  • An outline of the various skills you possess to do the work effectively (e.g., problem-solving, communication, time management)
  • Any academic background you have that complements your practical experience (e.g., machine design, resource assessment, marketing)
  • Your personal characteristics and attitudes that are requisite for the position you are seeking (e.g., reliable, able to work under pressure, creative, attentive to detail, flexible, enthusiastic)
  • Your work experiences, volunteer and/or extracurricular activities in terms of duration, scope, accomplishments, etc.; if you lack relevant experience, emphasize such skills as interpersonal, organizational, supervisory, etc.
  • Formal or professional training/education
  • Fluency in a language other than English
  • Relevant areas of expertise such as computer proficiency, scientific instrumentation, etc.


How you describe your education depends upon whether you are currently enrolled in an educational program.

  • For students in postsecondary education: state Candidate for, Degree, Plan (major) / minor / option / specialization (if desired), University, Location and Year beginning program
  • Secondary school listing: it usually is not necessary to include your secondary school after your first year of a postsecondary program unless it is a prestigious institution or the entry will add valuable information when the reader considers you for an interview; list Diploma, High School, Location and Year diploma was
  • For graduates: state Degree, Plan (major), University, Location and Year degree
  • Check the name of the degree you get and list it unabbreviated
  • Multiple entries: when referring to additional studies at other schools arrange entries in reverse chronological order (i.e., most recent first)

Relevant courses

You may choose to create this section as a sub-heading or bullet of the Education section.

  • Choose three to six courses related to your objective
  • If the name of the course does not adequately convey the information you wish, elaborate to show the relevance
  • Prioritize the list, or arrange by themes, to avoid a random assortment of names
  • Place in columns for easy reading
  • Do not include the course number

Laboratory skills, computer skills, scientific instrumentation, certification

If you have sufficient experience and wish to highlight it, you may choose to create one or more separate sections; alternatively, you could include this experience as a sub-heading or bullet in the Skills Summary section.

  • Present an overview of qualifications relating to your objective
  • If dates are added, list these in reverse chronological order

Work experience

How describe your work experience depends upon the type of resume you have chosen. There are three basic types of resumes: chronological, modified chronological and functional. These styles of presenting your work experience are listed in the next section.  

Awards and scholarships

  • State name of award, name of institution award received from and date
  • Include important awards from both university and high school in reverse chronological order
  • Explain the meaning of the recognition if the reader would not understand its significance
  • Be selective; include no more than five to six points

Professional memberships

  • List those with relevance to the jobs to which you are applying


  • List in bibliographic format only those publications that would interest the reader; if your list is lengthy, include only those relevant to your objective by stating the heading as "Selected Publications"
  • Include the work which has been published, has been submitted for publication, and is in progress
  • Include also the papers you presented as a guest speaker


  • Include those for which you are fluent or have a working knowledge (other than English)
  • Specify if you can speak and/or write the language

Volunteer experience

  • Volunteer work can be included in different ways, depending on the message you want to convey:
  • If you wish to highlight or emphasize these activities, create a separate heading (e.g., Volunteer Activities, Volunteer Experience or Community Service)
  • In this section you can either list the organizations, or you can add to the listing more detail about your contributions, beginning each point with an action verb
  • You can include your Volunteer Experience before Work Experience in your resume if it would be to your advantage
  • If your volunteer activities are as important as your paid work experience, add your information to your Work Experience section, with a volunteer notation (e.g., Assistant to Director - volunteer)
  • If your volunteer activities are less related to the work you are seeking, add them to the Activities and Interests section

Activities and interests

  • In listings for activities, state role (e.g., Member, President), name of organization, dates, organize in reverse chronological order and state if any positions were elected or appointed
  • General interests do not require dates


Whereas references are very important, the notation "References Available upon Request" is no longer considered necessary.

Listing a reference’s name and contact information is generally not desirable. You want to be able to meet with the prospective employer to sell yourself rather than trusting that one of your references would do the job better than you could. Also, you do not want your references to be bothered with phone calls until you have reached the interview stage. Always ask the person you would like to use as a reference for permission to do so, and check out what that individual will say about you if contacted by a prospective employer. Do they see your strengths and weaknesses as you see them? It is important to discuss what that person’s response might be to potentially embarrassing questions. If time has lapsed between being given permission to use someone’s name and the possibility of their being phoned, update them as to the possible contact.

Choose someone who has seen your work in as similar a situation as possible to the job for which you are applying; you do not necessarily need to use your immediate supervisor

Give your references a copy of the relevant resume(s) for the type(s) of work you are applying to.

Have the name, address, and telephone number of two or three references typed on a sheet of paper, which you can hand to an employer when asked for your references.