A professional résumé is a one-page document that demonstrates to employers that you have the skills and experiences needed to make a valuable contribution to their organization. It is a marketing tool designed to get you an interview for a specific job, not an exhaustive list of everything you’ve done since middle school. Think of your résumé as a proposal, not a record. It should be crafted to highlight your accomplishments and demonstrate why you would be an excellent fit for the position you are applying for. Recruiters spend just seconds looking at each résumé, and for some positions, résumés are scanned by a computer to see if they contain key terms and phrases. Your résumé needs to be clear, concise, and convincing. You may need to create multiple résumés if you are interested in multiple fields.
Start by looking over sample résumés from the Croft Institute, the University of Mississippi Career Center, or another university. Don’t be intimidated by how accomplished the people depicted in sample résumés seem to be. If they’re not fabrications, they were chosen as exemplary models. Sample résumés usually aren’t typical.
Once you have sense of what a résumé looks like, start working on your own by making a list of all your educational, professional, internship, study abroad, volunteer, athletic, and extracurricular activities and experiences. It is good to be exhaustive at this stage. For each activity or experience, write a short paragraph or a series of bullet points about what you did. Try to think of specific accomplishments that helped the organization, ways you used your skills and talents, and how you developed. Try to quantify your achievements – how many people came to the event, how much money you raised. It can be hard to remember those specific numbers when you write your résumé months or years later, so keep a journal of your major accomplishments as you move through your college career.
You should also write a list of your skills and attributes, including personality traits (e.g., good with people) and technical skills (e.g. fluent in Spanish, skilled in SPSS). Think about how you’ve used those skills, either in school, at work, as a volunteer, or for an extra-curricular organization, and write down some specific examples.
The next step in preparing to write a résumé is to research the industry you are interested in working in. The best résumés are targeted for specific industries or even specific positions.
Read company websites, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and job postings to get a sense of the skills and experience employers are looking for. Even better, use your personal, U.M., and Croft connections to find people working in the industry. Talk to them about what kind of work they do, how they got their job, and what it takes to get a B.A.-level position in the field. Make a list of the technical terms and industry-specific jargon used in job postings and by people in the field, and make sure you know what they all mean. Match your skills and experience with job requirements. What would the ideal candidate for a given job look like? How do you compare?
If you don’t think you have the qualifications needed for a job, think creatively. Even if you don’t have relevant paid experience, you may have done something as a volunteer or for a campus or community organization that could take its place. Or you might have done a research project or presentation for a class that could apply. Don’t exaggerate your experiences, but don’t be too modest, either.
An undergraduate résumé should never exceed one page in length. It should be clear, easy to read, and attractive to the eye, with consistent formatting and a good balance of text and white space. The text should between 10 and 12 points, although your name can be as large as 21 points. The most important information should come first. Don’t get too fancy or creative. Impress potential employers with your skills and experiences, not unusual typefaces and embellishments.
There are four sections common to virtually all résumés, and most have five or six. The first is the header, which contains your name, e-mail and mailing address, and telephone number. It might also contain short objective statement. The second section is your educational background, followed by your relevant experience, whether paid or unpaid. Other possible sections include specific skills, other work experience and/or activities, honors, and even hobbies and interests, if they’re relevant. Each section should be set off with a heading. Use common headings so the person reading your résumé knows where to look for specific information.
The header contains your contact information. Put your name first, either aligned to the left margin or centered on the page. It should be set off from the rest of the résumé by size, typeface, or both. Be sure to include your e-mail address, preferably your Ole Miss address, unless you’re a recent graduate who’s about to lose it, and your phone number. Be sure the e-mail address you include is professional, set up the voicemail on your phone (with a professional-sounding prompt), and check your messages! Finally, include your mailing address. If you are still a student, you might put both your school and your permanent address. Save space by aligning one to the left of the page and the other to the right.
Don’t include your gender, marital status, date of birth, social security number, a photo, or other irrelevant personal information.
The objective is a short statement describing the position and field you are interested in as well as the skills you hope to use and develop. Résumés guides for undergraduates offer different advice about objectives. Some say they are unnecessary, except for certain technical fields, while others argue that a good objective sets you apart, reflects knowledge of the field, and shows you are directed. But they all agree that a poorly-written, generic objective is worse than none at all.
Ask people in the field you’re interested in whether they think an objective is useful. If you decide to include one, be specific and focus on what you have to offer, not what you hope to get.
For most jobs, this is your most important qualification. List your degrees in reverse chronological order. As an undergraduate, you probably just have one degree, but you should strongly consider listing your study abroad university or program separately. You should only include your high school if you are a freshman or, at most, a sophomore, unless your high school has a great reputation and a passionate alumni base in the region where you are applying for a job.
For each degree, put the name of the university and its location on the first line. The location can follow directly after the name of the school or it can be set at the right of the page. The name of the degree and the date of conferral (write “expected” if you’re still in school) come next. Put the date under the location, either immediately after the name of the degree or to the right. Additional majors and minors can go on the same line as the degree or on a separate line. You should also include your thesis topic and relevant course work, especially if it is unusual for your major. For example, if you’re applying for a job in the private sector and you’ve taken accountancy, finance, or other relevant courses but don’t have a minor in business, be sure to list those.
Include your GPA if it is above 3.0 and any honors you’ve received (Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi, departmental awards), unless you have so many you want to include them in a separate section as described below.
There are three ways to structure the experience section of your résumé: chronological, functional, and hybrid. A chronological résumé lists your experience in reverse chronological order. It is the more traditional format and gives a sense of your development over time. A functional résumé lists your skills first, dividing work experiences between them or listing them separately at the end. Functional résumés are useful for people who are changing careers or who have gaps in their employment history. A hybrid résumé combines the other two formats.
Most résumé guides for undergraduates recommend a strictly chronological résumé or a hybrid format. A hybrid, or combination, résumé lists a few skill categories relevant to the position with the appropriate experiences in reverse chronological order under them. A hybrid résumé for a job in marketing might contain a category entitled “Marketing Experience” and another called “Additional Experience.” Up to three specific experience categories might be useful, but more is probably too much.
List your experiences in a similar format to your education: the name of the organization and its location on one line and then your title, position, or role, and the dates you were employed or active on the next.
For each experience, include three to six sentences describing how you used your skills to accomplish something. These are usually bullet points, although they do not have to be. Different guides have different formulas for writing good job descriptions, with names like “problem/project + action = result”, the "STAR" Formula (Situation, Task, Action, Result), or “bullet plus”, but the advice is generally the same. Don’t use personal pronouns, don’t use generic language, and don’t just describe your duties. Highlight a problem you solved or a contribution you made, use precise action verbs to describe what you did, highlight your skills, and give specific results, quantifying them when possible. Use buzzwords and technical terms relevant to the field, but be sure you understand them.
Concentrate on your most relevant experiences and the specific skills needed for the job you are applying for, but think about how you can describe your other work (summer jobs, work study positions) to demonstrate you have the soft – and hard – skills that would make you a good employee. Emphasize your responsibility, your ability to deal with challenging situations, and your commitment to the success of your organization.
This is where you list your language and technical skills, as well as any relevant certifications you might have. Language skills are important for Croft students: even if the job you are applying for doesn’t require the use of a second language, your language skills set you apart from other applicants and demonstrate your intelligence, work ethic, and ability to confront challenging situations. Be honest about your abilities, and include your ACTFL score if you’ve taken your OPI, especially if it is Advanced or higher.
Technical skills are also important. If a particular software package, operating system, programming language, social media platform, or statistical tool is listed in the job description, include it here and describe how you used it in the experience section of your résumé. For everything else, just list it here.
You should also include any certifications or security clearances you have if they are relevant.
Other sections of your résumé might include honors, publications, and/or presentations, if they are not listed in your education section, as well as activities, hobbies, and interests. Activities include campus and community organizations, travel, athletics, and volunteer work that are not broken out separately under “experience.” You do not have to give detailed descriptions, but avoid acronyms and be sure the names are clear: the Boys & Girls Club is a nationally-recognized organization, but Leap Frog is not. Call it something like the “Leap Frog After-School Tutoring Program.” While hobbies and other interests might seem out of place on a professional résumé, they can be useful if they are relevant or unique.
There is no room in a one-page résumé for a list of references and no need to include a statement like “references available upon request.” List your references on a separate sheet of paper in the same format as your résumé. Submit it – only if requested – as part of your job application and have it ready when you go to an interview. Ask past and current professors and supervisors to provide references for you, and include their basic contact information and a short description of your relationship to them.
Proofread your résumé very carefully, and have at least two other people check it over for you. You need to be sure that there are absolutely no mistakes. Have your résumé critiqued by someone in the Ole Miss Career Center or at the Croft Institute, and, if possible, by someone in the field that interests you. Ask yourself whether the résumé is strong enough to get you an interview, but also whether it is a realistic description of your skills and experiences. Print it on high-quality, light-colored, 8 ½ x 11 letter-sized paper. If you have to e-mail or upload your résumé, save it as a .pdf to ensure that the formatting is consistent on different computers and make sure your name is included in the filename.
A good résumé is an ongoing project. As you move through your undergraduate career, you will be adding experiences and gaining skills that you will use later on.