How to Design Your Resume

A resume is a self-marketing tool, designed with the goal of obtaining a job interview. Resume information is targeted succinctly to a career field and addresses the needs of a specific employer. Your resume should market your relevant skills, knowledge, and accomplishments.


It will be difficult to begin the process of writing your resume unless you identify the career field and types of employers that will be the focus of your job search. When you know how you will use the resume, then you will be able to write an effective, targeted resume that gets results. You will likely spend a considerable amount of time developing your resume, choosing the right words and phrases to describe your marketable skills and experiences. It is not uncommon to write several revisions before arriving at the final version.

One-page resumes are preferred for most entry-level positions. Two-page resumes are acceptable if the information on both pages demonstrates the skills and/or experience relevant to your profession. Resumes should highlight skills and accomplishments that meet employer qualifications, excluding irrelevant information and experiences. Well-designed resumes will be visually appealing and free from any spelling, typographical, punctuation, or grammatical errors. All resumes should be written concisely in an organized format that presents the most important information first.

Employers who read individual resumes spend very little time on each resume, in most cases only twenty to thirty seconds. Many employers are now using optical scanning machines and various software programs to assist them with this initial review.

Types of Resumes

Information related to skills and experiences can be presented in a chronological format, a functional format, or a combination of the two. Each format has its advantages and disadvantages. To select the type which best supports your strategy, review the following descriptive information.

Chronological Resume

In the chronological resume, job history is organized chronologically with the most recent job listed first. Job titles and employers are emphasized and duties and accomplishments are described in detail. A chronological resume is easy to read and can highlight career growth. It is suited to those whose career goals are clearly defined and whose job objectives are aligned with their work history.

A chronological resume is advantageous when

  • your recent employers and/or job titles are impressive
  • you are staying in the same career field
  • your job history shows progress
  • you are working in a field where traditional job search methods are utilized (e.g., education, government)

A chronological resume is not advantageous when

  • you are changing career fields
  • you have changed employers frequently
  • you want to de-emphasize age
  • you have been recently absent from the job market or have gaps in employment

Functional Resume

In a functional resume, skills and accomplishments developed through work, academic, and community experiences are highlighted. Your skills and potential can be stressed and lack of experience or possible gaps in work history de-emphasized.

The functional resume is advantageous when

  • you want to emphasize skills not used in recent work experience
  • you want to focus on skills and accomplishments rather than a lengthy employment history
  • you are changing careers/re-entering the job market
  • you want to market skills and experience gained through coursework and/or volunteer experience
  • your career growth in the past has not been continuous and progressive
  • you have a variety of unrelated work experiences
  • your work has been freelance, consulting, or temporary in nature

The functional resume is not advantageous when

  • you want to emphasize promotions and career growth
  • you are working in highly traditional fields, such as teaching, accounting, and politics, where employers should be highlighted

Combination Resume

This format combines the elements of the chronological and functional types. It presents patterns of accomplishments and skills in categorical sections or a single section called "Qualifications Summary." It also includes a brief work history and education summary. This format is advantageous for those who wish to change to a job in a related career field or strategically promote their most marketable skills.

Constructing Your Resume

Categories of information you include on your resume should provide answers to these questions:

  • Contact section: Who are you and how can you be reached?
  • Objective statement: What do you want to do?
  • Experience section: What can you do?
  • Education section: What have you learned?
  • Employment section: What have you done?

Sequence the categories according to what is most important to the employer and your career objective.

A recent college graduate with limited experience will usually put the education section first since it is the most significant qualification. Education will also be listed first when it is a qualifying requirement, as in the case of teaching, law, medicine, or engineering. If an applicant wants to emphasize significant work or leadership experience, or apply for jobs in fields such as sales, public relations, or merchandising, it may be useful to present the experience or employment sections first.

Contact information

Begin your resume with your name by capitalizing and using bold type.

  • Include street address, city, state, and zip code.
  • Include phone number(s) where you can be reached weekdays, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. Designate your home phone with an "H," and work number with "W," or a "Messages" number.
  • Include an e-mail address.

Career/Job Objective

The purpose of the objective statement is to inform the employer of your career goal and targeted interests. The statement should describe the focus of your job search. If your resume is broader, relay the most relevant objective in an accompanying cover letter. A good objective includes type and/or level of position, type and style of organization, and skills/qualifications.

A career/job objective is advantageous when

  • You want to specify your interests and where you would fit in the organization
  • You want to present the impression of a focused, self-confident person

A career/job objective is not advantageous when it is

  • Too broad and meaningless, reflecting indecision
  • Too exclusive, eliminating you from jobs for which you might be considered

Qualifications or Experience Summary

A summary of qualifications can condense an extensive background by emphasizing experiences and accomplishments in brief keyword phrases. The qualifications summary is accomplishment-oriented and provides an overview of your work experience. It can also serve to summarize relevant academic, volunteer and leadership experience for those who have limited work experience. A summary is most appropriate for someone with substantial experience, for someone who is changing careers and wants to demonstrate transferable skills, or for someone with a varied background.

  • Example:
    Accomplished editor, news reporter and promotional writer. Demonstrated skills in project management and staff development.
  • Example:
    Two years' experience as office administrator; four years' teaching experience living abroad; two and one-half years' high school teaching experience; M.B.A. in International Business and Information Systems; B.A. Mathematics; French language fluency.


If your education relates to your objective and is within the past three years, it should be the first section. If not, education should follow the work experience section of your resume.

  • Start with your most recent degree or the program in which you are currently enrolled. List other degrees or relevant education in reverse chronological order.
  • Highlight your degree by using bold type or capital letters.
  • If the degree is relevant to your job objective, begin with degree and emphasis, followed by university, location of university, and date of graduation or anticipated date of graduation. Example:
    M.S., Communications Engineering, The George Washington University, Washington, DC, May 2008.
  • If your degree/program is not directly related to your current job objective, begin with the university, followed by the location, degree and emphasis, and graduation date.
  • If you are within two semesters of graduation, do not use "expected" or "anticipated" with month/year of graduation.
  • If you have a high GPA, include it on your resume. You may want to highlight your GPA on a new line or in an educational highlights section. Example:
    The George Washington University, Washington, DC B.A., Political Science, May 2008. GPA 3.4

Educational Highlights

This section is most effective when you have experiences from your education that are impressive and/or directly relate to your objective. Adding this section is useful when you have developed skills and specific knowledge through education and related activities rather than work experience. This section can be used to highlight coursework, research, study abroad experience, leadership and student activities that complement your objective.

  • Consider listing relevant coursework under the appropriate degree. Example:
    Relevant coursework: Investment and Portfolio Management, Advanced Financial Management, Marketing Research, International Banking
  • An alternative to highlighting courses is to list the skills and knowledge acquired through important courses and research. Example:
    Developed model investment portfolio for Fortune 500 company. Analyzed stock market trends using state-of-the-art computer simulation programs. Invested innovative capital formations strategies at metropolitan Washington area investment firms. Designed promotional campaign for new consumer product in a targeted market.
  • You may want to describe research or design projects. Example:
    Design Projects: RF radio control, Laser and Microwave Amplifiers, Transmission Lines. Research: "Brazilian Economic Policies Beyond the Coffee Exports". "U.S. Foreign Policy: Transition in Latin America".

Employment Experience (Chronological)

Begin with your current/most recent position and work backward, chronologically. Devote more space to recent employment.

  • If your job titles relate to your current job objective, start each position description with job titles. If not, begin with the organization.
  • Follow job title and organizational information with the organization's city and state.
  • Use the first and last month and year to describe dates of employment. Example:
    Telecommunications Engineering Aide, Center for Telecommunications Studies, Washington, DC, September 2005 - January 2008.
  • Describe the last three to five positions in detail. Summarize earlier positions unless relevant to your objective.
  • Do not show every position change with each employer. Only list in detail the most recent job and briefly summarize promotions.
  • Do not repeat skills that are common to several positions.
  • Within each listed position, stress the major accomplishments and responsibilities that demonstrate your competency. It is not necessary to include all responsibilities, as they will be assumed by employers.
  • Tailor your position descriptions to future job/career objectives.
  • If writing a two-page resume, make sure the most marketable information is on the first page.

Employment Experience (Functional)

Use two to four sections to summarize each area of functional skill or expertise.

  • Develop the functional skill headings based on the skills you want to market to employers and/or that are most related to your targeted objective.
  • Describe your skills in short phrases and place under the appropriate functional skill categories.
  • Rank the phrases within each category and place the most important skill or accomplishment first. Examples:
    Reported on-the-spot news stories for suburban Washington newspapers.
    Provided in-depth coverage of Capitol Hill issues, including unemployment compensation and merit pay for teachers.
    Edited and marketed a brochure for a cultural/educational program designed to focus on life in London. Resulted in a 30% increase in program attendance.
  • Do not identify employers within functional skills sections.
  • List a brief history of your actual work experience at the end of the section, giving job title, employer and dates. If you have had no work experience or a very spotty work record, leave out the employment section entirely or summarize the nature of your jobs without providing specific details. If you do this, be prepared to discuss your specific jobs in more detail at the job interview.

Both chronological and functional resumes must be succinct, emphasizing your experience and accomplishments. Resumes are often your first introduction to the employer and dramatically impact the screening process. Invest the time to create an excellent marketing tool - your resume - to increase job opportunities and career advancement.

Back to Top