Three Tips for Creating a Resume

When I was in high school, I remember writing my first resume: a disorganized list of everything I’ve ever done, including everything from my favorite foods to the musical instruments I played in kindergarten. To this day, I still laugh at the fact that this resume was what I submitted to colleges when I was applying. I really had no idea what I was doing.

Your journey with resume writing might not have started out as tragically as mine did, but if you’ve ever written one, you know that resumes are tough. Packing all your accomplishments succinctly, yet impactfully into a one-page professional document is a daunting task but not an impossible one.

With hundreds of guides out there, it can be overwhelming to begin your resume writing process. So I’ve put together some best practices that I have found helpful to craft the perfect resume:

Know your audience

Before you can start your resume, you have to get a good feel for who your audience is. Think about the program you are applying to, and what type of skills and experiences are outlined in the job description. Are a panel of experts reviewing your application? Does the company/program value certain qualities in their employees? Thinking about your audience is an important first step because to impactfully present your story depends on the audience reviewing your application. Before I start a resume, I like to take notes about my audience. It usually looks something like this:

Program: Summer Research Program

-panelist of experts in chemistry and biology

-program director has a PhD in Immunology

-program values lab experience, critical thinking skills, teamwork, and internal motivation

-has networking opportunities and discussion groups, values curiosity and communication

Through these initial notes, I get a good sense of who my resume is targeting, and what aspects of my personality and experiences I should bring to the forefront. Now, I can start thinking about what experiences to highlight.

Think critically about the content

After thinking about your audience, you want to think about the content of your resume. I think this is the hardest part, because often we doubt our qualifications or think we have no relevant experience. But remember: your resume can include everything from relevant coursework to club leadership to volunteer work. Your goal is to convince your audience that you are ready to take on this job by pointing to your diverse experiences to show that you are indeed qualified. For this step, I like to connect my notes about my audience to my own skills and experiences:

What is my audience looking for? What skills/experiences do I have?
Lab experience Undergrad. Researcher; completed gen chem and bio labs (8 credits total)
Teamwork As first-year fellow, collaborate with co-fellow to host programs; worked in team of 3 for stats project; member of Habitat for Humanity where I worked with members to organize Shack-a-Thon

Notice how I put my class projects and volunteer work down — you still can be qualified, even if you don’t have professional work or internship experience. Think critically about your experiences and what content you want to include, keeping in mind who your audience is and what skills they might value.

Be precise and impactful with your language

Once you’ve honed in on the general idea of what you want to include in your resume, now it’s time to get descriptive. You want to think about the professional qualities each experience highlights, and what language best conveys them. Resume descriptions are written in the third person and use precise action verbs that describe your accomplishments and the impact of your efforts. For example, if you wanted to describe a teaching assistant role:

Bad example: “Serve as teaching assistant for general chemistry laboratory course.”

Good example: “Facilitated the learning of general chemistry laboratory techniques by preparing discussion questions, overseeing chemistry experiments, and hosting weekly office hours to help students with data interpretation and lab report writing”

In the bad example, notice how it’s unclear what skills and qualifications you gained from this teaching assistant role. The audience is probably wondering what you did as a teaching assistant. How much time did it take up? What was your impact? In the good example, this is fixed through specific, precise descriptions. The verb “facilitated” conveys leadership, and specific examples, like hosting office hours and helping students write lab reports, show what you did as a leader.

Resume writing is not an easy task and can take multiple drafts to perfect. Don’t hesitate to ask for help and always have a second set of eyes look over your documents. For more tips, browse our website for helpful pointers on resume writing.

By Julian Maceren
Julian Maceren