A resume is neither a really long business card, nor a really short autobiography. It’s an advertisement that explains to a specific employer why they should hire you. A good resume will change all the time, depending on who you’re giving it to.
The most that a good resume will do for you is get you a further conversation: ideally, a job interview, but sometimes a networking conversation that may lead to a job interview.
Entire books, websites, library sections are devoted to the craft of resumes. There’s no one right way to do it. The advice below outlines strategies that track with current conventions and work for most humanities majors — but norms and expectations vary a lot among different fields, so some of these tips may not work in all contexts.
Getting Started: The Resume Masterfile
Make a huge list, to be stored in cyberspace and update regularly, of everything that you’ve done, in reverse chronological order (most recent things first). Make it as long and detailed as you like, even going back to high school. Include
- Potentially relevant courses that you’ve taken (course number and title)
- Study abroad experiences
- Jobs you’ve held, including fast food, retail, service.
- Volunteer involvements.
- Activities, both school-related and not, particularly those in which you held a leadership position.
- Projects you’ve worked on (research, creative endeavors, collaborations–anything that feels substantial to you but you find yourself not sure where it would go on a resume).
As you compile your list, be sure to emphasize (so you can find them later).
- specific titles you held
- roles you played
- achievements and events that you were a part of.
Have you been reluctant to develop your resume because you don’t yet have relevant work experience? You can find some advice to get you started here, here, and here. Quantify anything that can be quantified. How many articles/month did you write? How long was the final report for that group project? How many more followers did you get when you ran your club’s Twitter account? How many people attended the event you planned? How large was the budget for the event you organized? Specific numbers will make your experience more vivid and authentic.
If you can embed relevant links (to things you wrote, newspaper articles about things you’ve done, websites that you were a part of, etc.) do so.
Crafting the Resume: The Resume Format
A resume generally contains the following (not necessarily in this order):
- your name and contact information
- your education (including your major and anticipated graduation date, and also sometimes relevant courses you’ve taken, study abroad experiences, and GPA)
- your experience (which can include both paid and unpaid jobs, volunteer work, internships, leadership positions in student organizations).
- skllls (sometimes a bulleted list of specific technical abilities, languages, software competencies, etc.
- projects (significant research or creative work or other substantial time-limited activities that don’t fit into other categories)
A few points to keep in mind:
- Keep it to a single page.
- Academic achievement looms large when you are in school, but the specific details of how you’ve been recognized matter far less to many employers. Include your GPA if it’s high enough to be a selling point or if the employer has asked for it, but avoid long lists of awards, scholarships, honors.
- Objective statements, summary statements, and the like are usually not an effective use of space in an entry-level resume.
- Most resumes are glanced at, not read in detail, so make it easy for the reader to hone in on the features of your experience that are most relevant for the job you want to fill. Different versions of your resume may look radically different. That’s okay.
- List of Action Words to help be specific and not repetitive –click here
- Do NOT include any mention of references unless they’ve been specifically asked for (in which case names, titles, and contact information — email and phone number — for your references can be on a second page of your resume).
If you want a resume format to build on, use
It has two advantages: (1) it’s the format promoted by career services around the Illinois campus, so employers are used to seeing resumes that look like this, and (2) it uses space efficiently so that you can get a lot of information on a single page.
If you’re pursuing jobs in creative fields or you want to promote your design skills, it can be in your interests to design a more visually compelling resume format. However, online resume templates are best avoided. If you are applying for jobs online, applicant tracking systems (ATS) cannot always distinguish between the content of your resume and the coding of an online template (you can find more information on designing a resume to get past an ATS below). Also, if the template is visually striking, chances are the employer has already seen many versions of it and will not find it as compelling as you do.
Customizing the Resume: Getting the Interview
When you’re applying for a specific job, let the ad for that job structure your resume. The experience that is most relevant to the position you’re applying for is the information that should be most prominent. Employers are less interested in a list of your paid jobs than in evidence that you have the skills they need. Your most relevant experience in some cases may be a volunteer position or an unpaid internship.
Decide on some headings that will make it easy to put your most relevant experience first, while still keeping your experience in reverse chronological order. The all-purpose resume sections that you see in sample resumes and resume guides (“Education,” “Experience,” “Activities,” “Skills”) won’t tell employers as much as headings that you customize to your particular story. An employer who wants someone with excellent communication skills, for example, will learn more from a “Communications Experience” section that includes the Twitter account you ran for your summer job at the hot dog stand AND your editing position on a student publication than they will from an “Experience” section that buries your social media experience in a list of fast-food jobs and isolates it from the unpaid editing roles in an “Activities” section. You may find it useful to have a “Skills” section with specific hard-won qualifications prominently displayed, or your background in Excel may sound more impressive when it’s presented as part of the work you did managing your club’s fundraising activities. There is no one right way–there’s only the way that makes your fit for the position most visible to the employer.
Use the language of the job ad to describe your own experience. If the employer is looking for ” (often a list of bullets at the end of the ad). Draw on your “Skills inventory” to emphasize experiences that align with the employer’s stated needs. If you’re writing a resume without a job ad in mind, think about the kinds of jobs you want to have, and describe your experience in terms of the demands of such positions.
If Necessary, Prep Your Resume for an ATS.
If an employer asks you to upload your resume online, there are a number of additional factors to consider. In such cases, the employer is usually using an applicant tracking system (ATS) — a machine that makes the first cut of resumes submitted for the position. Here are some links to articles about how to craft a resume that will get past the ATS:
- How to Get Your Resume Past the Applicant Tracking System
- Beat the Robots
- Three Things You Should Know about the Robots Reading Your Resume
Build in time to show your resume to some other people. Make an appointment at the Humanities Professional Resource Center or make use of the drop-in hours for resume review at The Career Center. Don’t limit yourself to these resources, though! Ask friends to look out for typos and formatting glitches, and try to get more substantial feedback from networking contacts. You will get conflicting advice, which is why it’s a good idea to collect as many opinions as you can. Listen carefully, and then make your own judgment call based on what you know about the experience of the people advising you and about the field you want to go into.
Do It Again
Your resume is always a work in progress. Review your resume every time you’re asked for it so you can adjust it to reflect the needs of the person or organization you’re giving it to. As you gather new experiences, add them to your resume Masterfile. Be prepared to rewrite it entirely as your goals and interests change.