4.8 Establishing Your Professional Self

Establishing Your Professional Self: Resume Writing

by Cassandra Branham and Megan McIntyre, Writingcommons.org

Compiling a resume can feel like a daunting task. Just like essay writing, resume creation works well as a process. Before worrying about the format of the resume and where to place everything in a document, consider beginning by compiling an informal list of past and present work experience and education. Once you have a first draft, look at resumes in the field you are applying to, since every field has different standards and preferences. Remember: there are no one-size-fits all resumes. The key to constructing a polished resume is tailoring your experience to the job to which you’re applying.

After you’ve read the job ad(s) and identified key skills and words/phrases, you might consider creating an exhaustive list of possible content for each section of the resume. Not all resumes will have all the sections below. In fact, depending on the amount of relevant experience and skills you have, you may eliminate more than one of these sections. However, maintaining a much longer list of possible content will allow you to more easily tailor your resume to various positions.

Creating Your List

To begin, list each of the potential sections (the list of headings in Table 4.8 below is not exhaustive). The idea is to create headings that allow you to categorize and demonstrate your most relevant qualifications and experiences. For each of these categories, use bullet points with phrases rather than complete sentences to describe your experiences. Action verbs, such as communicated, completed, produced, etc., help to convey your participation. To get started, consider the following questions for each section:

TABLE 4.8 Resume Headings
POTENTIAL SECTION HEADING Ask yourself the following
  • What particular position am I seeking?
  • How will my skills be appropriate for this particular position?
  • What key words from the job ad might help me frame my skills for this position?

The key to writing a quality objective statement is specificity. Instead of writing: “To obtain an entry-level marketing position,” try “To obtain an entry-level social media marketing position with a global media conglomerate that will allow me to benefit the company through my knowledge of social media promotions.” For more help, see previous page’s section on Objective Statements.

Please note: not all resumes should include an objective. In fact, for many resume writers the extra space taken up by the objective may be better used to expand other sections. Additionally, many employers do not expect to see objectives.

  • What skills or experiences do I have that make me particularly well-suited for this position?
  • If an employer reads no other section of my resume, what do I want her to know about my qualifications?
  • How can I quantify my experiences?
  • What are my most impressive relevant skills and experiences?
  • What university did I attend, and what degree(s) have I earned or am I pursuing?
  • In what subject is my degree?
  • If I am still pursuing a degree, what is my expected month and year of graduation?
  • What relevant course have I taken?
  • What, if any, academic honors have I received?
  • What relevant projects have I completed during my coursework (i.e., capstone projects, community service project, client-based projects, theses, etc.)?
  • What is my GPA? (Please note: most resume writers only include GPAs of 3.0 or higher.)
  • Where and for how long have I worked?
  • What were my job titles?
  • What were my job duties?
  • How can I frame these duties using keywords from the job ad?
  • What skills did I use and/or develop as part of this position (i.e., communication and writing skills, interpersonal skills, organization skills, etc.)?
  • Am I bilingual?
  • Do I have intermediate proficiency in another language?
  • Am I proficient in any software like Excel, PowerPoint, etc.?
  • Do I know any coding languages?
  • Can I use any field specific software?
  • Do I have experience with collaborative writing spaces like Google Docs?
  • Have I won any academic, athletic, teaching, or volunteering awards?
  • Have I been awarded any notable scholarships?
  • Have I earned a high academic GPA?
  • Have I taken any summer study abroad trips?
ACTIVITIES (i.e., volunteer work, shadowing, leadership/membership in honors societies, etc.)
  • Am I a member of any academic or professional organization(s)?
  • Have I shadowed a professional in my desired profession?
  • Have I volunteered for an organization or project? Have I organized an event?

Narrowing Your List

Once you’ve created your long list of experiences, you’ll have to decide how to narrow that list in order to create a concise, cohesive resume. While it might be tempting to include all of your educational, employment, and extracurricular experiences on your resume, including details that are not relevant to the position for which you are applying can often take attention away from your most relevant qualifications. In order to highlight your most impressive experiences, it is important to think critically about what the job you are targeting requires and how your experiences match up with those needs.

Undergraduate resumes are typically one full page in length. However, if you have a significant amount of experience in your field, your resume might be longer than one full page. The rule of thumb is this: Limit your undergraduate resume to one full page unless you can fill at least one and a half full pages with relevant experiences. For many of you, this means you will need to eliminate some of your less relevant experiences.

You can narrow your list in three ways: by eliminating sections, by eliminating one or more experience within a section, or by cutting down your descriptions of one or more experiences.

Eliminating Sections: The quickest way to pare down your list is to eliminate sections that have no content. For example, if you only speak English, you don’t need a “Linguistic Skills” section. Additionally, if you have a section that is not relevant to a particular position, you might eliminate that section. For example, if you are applying for a position as a house painter and the job ad makes no mention of office or computer work, you might eliminate your “Technical Skills” section.

Eliminating Experiences: Another way to highlight your most relevant experience is by eliminating some experiences within a section. For example, if you are applying for a position as technical support specialist, and you were previously employed as a technical support specialist, a customer service representative, and a teacher at a daycare center, you might eliminate your position at the daycare from your resume. Eliminating this experience from your resume does not mean that this position did not teach you valuable things; however, your work as a technical support specialist and a customer service representative are more relevant to the position for which you are currently applying.

Cutting Down Descriptions: One final way to trim down your list of experiences is by cutting down descriptions. Typically, you will include descriptions in the form of bulleted lists that help you to describe your employment, volunteer, or educational experiences. However, although it is important to make sure that you reader knows how these experiences are relevant to the position for which you are now applying, it is not necessary to tell your reader everything about these experiences. For example, if you’re applying for a position as a customer service technician and you were previously employed as a cashier at a supermarket, rather than highlighting your job duties, such as ringing up groceries, you might focus on the customer service skills that you developed at this position, such as ensuring customer satisfaction. This enables you to trim down your list by focusing on skills rather than duties.  Rather than providing an exhaustive list, you should aim to include 2-4 bullets for each experience that you are describing.

Creating a Draft

Once you have tailored your list to highlight your most relevant experiences for the position to which you applying, you’re ready to take your list and turn it into a draft of your resume.


Additional Resources



Branham, Cassandra and McIntyre, Megan. "Establishing Your Professional Self. WritingCommons.org. [License: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0]


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4.8 Establishing Your Professional Self Copyright © 2020 by Will Fleming is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.