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Cornell University

Resumes

An effective resume will be an essential tool for nearly every student, no matter what your career goals are. It is critical that you understand your audience and what they need to learn about you, so that you can target your resume effectively to achieve the goal you're seeking (e.g., on-campus employment, postgraduate job offer, graduate school admission, etc.). You want your resume to stand out and convince the reader that you are right for the opportunity they're offering. 

Even if you don't have relevant experience, focus on presenting evidence of the transferable skills that you have developed. For example, a leadership position in a student activity translates into leadership potential in an organization. You will use specific, concrete information describing your activities and accomplishments to illustrate the qualities you wish to communicate. The information here will give you an overview, but you should refer to the Career Guide, the Resumes Module in the Canvas Career Development Toolkit, and OptimalResume for specific guidance in preparing your resume and samples of various resume styles.

Resume Purpose

To help you develop your resume's content and writing style for maximum effectiveness, it is important to understand how they are used. For instance, employers use resumes to:

  • Screen applicants and determine whom to interview. Employers scan a resume quickly—in under 30 seconds—for evidence that a candidate will be of value to their organization. Your resume should be results-oriented and tailored to the employer's needs.   

  • Develop interview questions. Statements on your resume often serve as the basis for interviews. 
  • Judge an applicant's communication skills.  
  • Remind them of a candidate's qualifications when they're making final hiring decisions. Employers want to know how your experiences have prepared you for the job, and your resume will remind them, even after the interview.  

Resume Styles/Formats

Chronological Resume

The most widely used and familiar format is the chronological resume. Education and experience are listed in chronological order, starting with your most recent experience. This format emphasizes positions and organizations, and describes achievements and responsibilities. The chronological resume demonstrates career growth and continuity, and is most effective when the job target is in line with your experience and academic background.

If your most relevant experience for a particular career field was not your most recent, you can feature it by creating two "experience" sections. These can be called "related experience" and "other experience." By separating the information into two categories, you can maintain a chronological format while emphasizing your most pertinent skills.

Functional Resume

The functional resume highlights skills and accomplishments and de-emphasizes specific job titles, organizations, and dates of employment. To create this style, you will carefully examine previous duties and activities, without regard to job or setting. Then you'll create specific skill areas such as writing, research, communication, leadership, etc., that correspond to the skills being sought by the resume reader.

Combination Resume

This format merges elements of functional and chronological resumes. It accentuates skills and capabilities, but also includes positions, employers, and dates within the skill groups. It retains the directness of the chronological format, grouping skills into functional categories.

Resume Parts

Although resumes are composed using standard elements, there is no one prescribed format that works for everyone. Sections that do not relate to your objective or career field of interest may be de-emphasized or even omitted. Titles of sections can also be modified to describe the information presented more accurately. Here are some basic resume parts. Much more detail is available in the other resources mentioned above.

Heading

Include name, permanent and local addresses, e-mail address, and phone number. If using two addresses, indicate dates you can be reached at each.

Objective (Optional)

An objective should convey specific information about what you are seeking, but those that are too narrow can limit your options. If you decide to include an objective, specify the type of position you are seeking. If you find it difficult to write a definitive statement of your objective, describe the skills you want to use or the functions you want to perform. As an alternative, you could opt to include a summary of qualifications describing your skills and experience in relation to your career interest. Qualification summaries are less widely used than objectives, but offer the opportunity to highlight your most important assets at the top of your resume.

Education

Here you will list institutions attended and locations, including study abroad experience; degrees and dates received; major and concentration; and honors thesis title, if applicable. Include your GPA if it is at least 3.0; you may want to add your major GPA if it is considerably higher. [Note: Guidelines for science and technical fields may vary. Check with your college career office.] If you attended another college before coming to Cornell, include it only if you make reference to it elsewhere in your resume or cover letter. Don't include your high school unless it is nationally recognized or in an area where you want to work.

Honors and Awards

You can list Dean's List, honor societies, and academic awards in a separate section if you have more than one or two entries; if not, incorporate them into the education section. Only include scholarships that are based on merit.

Relevant Courses

List courses that are pertinent to your objective and employers' needs, particularly if your major does not directly relate to your employment goal. For example, if you are an English major seeking work as a computer programmer, relevant courses will be computer-related.

Experience

This includes diverse experiences, both paid and unpaid, such as part-time or full-time work, co-op experience, internships, volunteer experience, and extracurricular activities. Include the position you held, name of the organization, city and state of its location, and month and year of your involvement. Summarize what you accomplished in each experience and prioritize these results-oriented descriptions to support your job objective. Focus on the experiences you have had that demonstrate that you can succeed in the position you are pursuing. Use brief phrases beginning with action verbs, incorporating statistics, percentages, and numbers where possible.

Skills

List computer languages and programs, knowledge of foreign languages, laboratory and research skills, analytical skills, and management skills that you do not mention elsewhere.

Activities and Interests

In order of their importance, list student organizations, professional associations, committees, and community involvement, indicating offices held. Include high school activities only if they direct relate to your objective. After activities, list interests such as music, sports, and the arts, especially if they pertain to your career interest. You may want to avoid including religious activities or those representing extreme political views.

After you've prepared a draft of your resume using the materials here, in our Career Guide (available online or in 103 Barnes Hall or any of the college career offices), and in OptimalResume, you should have it reviewed. Student Career Advisors and professional staff in your college career office and at Cornell Career Services in Barnes Hall are available to provide feedback on a rough draft of your resume.