Resume Writing Techniques - Career Services

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Resume Writing Guide

Career resource books lined up on bookshelf.What is a Resume?

A resume is a self-promotional document. Basically, it "sells" you to a company. It is not a job application. A resume should consist of information about your performance and accomplishments (especially those that are relevant to the position you are applying for). It is important to be truthful, specific, and brief.

Some Guidelines for Resume Writing

  • You must tell the truth in your resume. That's not negotiable. It is simply unethical to invent any part of your background. Besides, employers find it very easy to verify the basic facts on any resume, especially your title, dates of employment, prior salary history, and your major and degree. If you do find a job, you won't have any job security. Most employers will dismiss employees, even years later, if they are discovered to have lied on their applications. Remember, your resume, and everything on it, becomes part of your permanent personnel file. Being creative and persuasive are expected, but a fabrication on your resume is a grievous mistake.
  • It is your job to sell yourself. A resume is no place for modesty. Employers will expect you to scour your entire background and let them know what skills, abilities, talents, traits, and experiences you have relative to their needs. They will not expect you to hold back. You are doing them a favor if you put your best foot forward, because they are looking at your resume specifically to discover your talents and abilities. Think about it.

If you have trouble claiming your accomplishments, imagine what someone else, who likes you a lot, would say about you. What would your best friend, sister, mom, dad, favorite professor, or biggest fan say about you? That's what belongs on your resume. Just make sure it's all true.

Most students have much more to offer than they realize. You've got to stop thinking about employment and start thinking about experience. We'll learn in a moment how to wring the most, resume-wise, from student activities, travel, volunteer work, and so on.

  • A resume is about your future, not your past. A good resume is focused toward your future.
  • You put the information in order of interest to your reader. A resume should be customized to the needs of each application, whether that is a graduate program or an internship or a job opportunity. Ultimately, you should plan on customizing your resume every time you use it.

Writing Tips

  • Use an exact figure whenever you can.That is, tell exactly how many people, dollars, departments, arrests or whatever were involved. Never write "Organized SummerFest" when you can write "Organized SummerFest, an event drawing 5,000 students to participate in 17 alcohol-free activities, total budget of $23,600, all- volunteer staff of 35."
  • Use a superlative whenever you can.Report if you were the first, only, best, fastest, largest, or most. For example, you can say, "SummerFest was the largest student-planned event in the history of the alcohol awareness program."
  • Be accurate in reporting your skills, but report all of them. For example, when it comes to computer applications, report the programs you have mastered, but also report the ones you have "some exposure to." Likewise, with foreign languages, report your skill in categories such as "fluent," "proficient," "can read but not speak," and "basic." You don't want to oversell your abilities, but you don't want to leave anything out, either.

The Content

Name, address, telephone, email, fax number

  • List your contact information at the top of your resume.
  • Avoid nicknames.
  • Use a permanent address.
  • Use a permanent telephone number with area code. If you have an answering machine, record a neutral greeting.
  • Employers find email addresses helpful, if you have one. Try to use a professional email address.


  • State your objective or what sort of work you are hoping to do. Be brief and specific.
  • Determine who is reading your resume and tailor your objective to each employer you target.
  • Recognize there are probably many resumes on the employer's desk for the same position. What makes you stand out? Focus on your qualifications that will meet the company's needs.
  • Example:

    To obtain an entry-level position as an Administrative Assistant.

Summary of Qualifications or Skills Section

  • The summary of qualifications is an opportunity to show off your skills and abilities. It draws the reader's attention to your specific skills that will best fit the position.
  • You should tailor the summary of qualifications to each position you are applying for.
  • See sample resumes for an example.

Work Experience

  • Give the employer a brief overview of work you have done that has taught you any skills you may have that relate to the position for which you are applying. Use a variety of action words to describe job assignments and duties.
  • Include most recent job history first.
  • Be sure to include:
    1. Title of position.
    2. Name and location (city & state) of organization.
    3. Dates of employment. USE MONTHS! If you aren't sure of the month, estimate. Here's an example of why you should use months: (If you only put years: '00 -'01 the employer doesn't know if you worked from 12/00 to 1/01 - which is only a month, or 1/00 to 12/01- which is 2 years! It makes a big difference!)
    4. Describe work responsibilities, duties, and specific skills you learned.
  • Example:

    Office Manager, Sun Microsystems 3/99 - 6/01 Santa Clara, CA

    Directed special projects that included sales retention and sales incentive programs.


  • Always list your most recent achievements first.
  • Include any degrees or certificates (High School diploma, G.E.D., A.A., A.S., B.A., B.S.), as well as the major, and institution attended.
  • Mention any academic honors.
  • If you have not graduated yet, list the courses you have taken that are applicable to the position you are applying for.
  • Example:

    Ohlone College, Fremont, CA 1999 - Present

    Relevant Course Work: Elements of Statistics and Probability, Practical Reasoning, and Critical Thinking/Persuasion


  • You do not need to list all of your references on your resume. It is assumed that you will be able to provide references, so you do not need to write, "References Available Upon Request."
  • Be sure to ask people if they are willing to serve as a reference before you give their names to a potential employer.
  • Make sure to have a printed list of references available in case an employer asks for them.

Resume Check-Up

  • Run spell checks & grammar checks on your computer.
  • Check for correct verbiage: be consistent with "ing" or "ed" when writing in past tense. (Ex. Created, organized, and presented new orientation materials).
  • Once you've written your resume, have it reviewed and checked by a few friends and family members. You can also have it reviewed by a Transfer & Career Services Professional or a Counselor at the Career/Transfer Center.
  • The more people who see your resume, the better the chances are that errors and awkward phrases will get caught.

Design of Resume

  • Use white or off-white 8.5 x 11-inch paper.
  • Use a font of 10 to 14 points. Do not use all italics or all CAPS.
  • Print on one side of the paper only.
  • Do not use fancy or decorative types. Stick to one type throughout the resume.
  • Bullet your descriptions; do not list the content in paragraph form. Bulleted lists are easier to read.

Types of Resumes

Chronological Resume

  • The chronological resume shown lists your work experience in a reverse chronological sequence. This format highlights your dates of employment, places of employment, job titles by using them as headings. Achievements are then listed under the headings.
  • Who should use it?
    • This format is useful if you have a solid work history and you are looking to move either laterally or vertically in your career.
  • Chronological Resume Sample (PDF)

Functional Resume

  • Functional resumes highlight your abilities, such as managing, hiring or coaching, rather than your chronological work history. A summary of work history is still needed, but this is usually done at the bottom of the resume.
  • Who should use it?
    1. You are looking to change careers and your most recent work experience has no relationship to the job for which you are applying.
    2. You are a recent graduate and have almost no work experience.
    3. You are have changed jobs several times while being a permanent full time employee and the jobs were not on contract basis.
    4. You have large gaps in your employment.
  • Functional Resume Sample (PDF)

Combination Resume

  • A combination resume is a combination of a chronological and functional resume.
  • Who should use it?
    1. You are looking to change your career and want to highlight your general skills rather than specific skills relating to the job.
    2. You have had a good work history and want to highlight that as well.
  • Combination Resume Sample (PDF)

Article: Common Resume Blunders

by Kim Isaacs, MA, CPRW, NCRW.

Make sure your resume is top-notch by avoiding the top 10 resume blunders:

1. Too Focused on Job Duties

Your resume should not be a boring listing of job duties and responsibilities. Go beyond showing what was required and demonstrate how you made a difference at each company, providing specific examples. When developing your achievements, ask yourself:

  • How did you perform the job better than others did?
  • What were the problems or challenges faced? How did you overcome them? What were the results? How did the company benefit from your performance?
  • Did you receive any awards, special recognition or promotions as a result?

2. Flowery or General Objective Statement

Many candidates lose their readers in the beginning. Statements like "A challenging position enabling me to contribute to organizational goals while offering an opportunity for growth and advancement" are overused, too general and waste valuable space. If you're on a career track, replace the objective with a tagline stating what you do or your expertise.

3. Too Short or Too Long

Many people try to squeeze their experiences onto one page, because they've heard resumes shouldn't be longer. By doing this, job seekers may delete impressive achievements. There are also candidates who ramble on about irrelevant or redundant experiences. There is no rule about appropriate resume length. When writing your resume, ask yourself, "Will this statement help me land an interview?" Every word should sell you, so only include information that elicits a "yes."

4. Using Personal Pronouns and Articles

A resume is a form of business communication, so it should be concise and written in a telegraphic style. There should be no mentions of "I" or "me," and only minimal use of articles. For example:

"I developed a new product that added $2 million in sales and increased the market segment's gross margin by 12 percent."

should be changed to:

"Developed new product that added $2 million in sales and increased market segment's gross margin by 12 percent."

5. Listing Irrelevant Information

Many people include their interests, but they should only include those relating to the job. For example, if a candidate is applying for a position as a ski instructor, he should list cross-country skiing as a hobby.

Personal information, such as date of birth, marital status, height and weight, should not be on the resume.

6. Using a Functional Resume When You Have a Good Career History

It is irksome for hiring managers not to see the career progression and the impact made at each position. Unless you have an emergency situation, such as virtually no work history or excessive job-hopping, avoid the functional format.

The modified chronological format is often the most effective. Here's the basic layout:

  • Header (name, address, email address, phone number)
  • Lead with a strong profile section detailing the scope of your experience and areas of proficiency.
  • Reverse chronological employment history emphasizing achievements in the past 10 to 15 years.
  • Education (New grads may put this at the top.)

7. Not Including a Summary Section that Makes an Initial Hard Sell

This is one of the job seeker's greatest tools. Candidates who have done their homework will know the skills and competencies important to the position. The summary should demonstrate the skill level and experiences directly related to the position being sought.

To create a high-impact summary statement, peruse job openings to determine what's important to employers.

Next, write a list of your matching skills, experience and education. Incorporate these points into your summary.

8. Where Are the Keywords?

With so many companies using technology to store resumes, the only hope a job seeker has of being found is to include relevant keywords sprinkled throughout the resume. Determine keywords by reading job descriptions that interest you and include them in your resume.

9. References Available

Employers know you have professional references. Do not use this statement to signal the end of a long resume or to round out the design.

10. Typos

One typo can land your resume in the garbage. Proofread and show your resume to several friends to have them proofread it as well. This document is a reflection of you and should be perfect.

Cover Letter Writing Guide

Employers receive thousands of resumes and cover letters in response to openings. The cover letter can be thought of as a sales pitch. Keep it brief - example: 3 or 4 short paragraphs. The writing must be concise.

General Tips

  • Emphasize the 2 or 3 strongest reasons why you are the best candidate.
  • Do not restate your resume.
  • Draw parallels with previous work experience.
  • Demonstrate interest or knowledge about the firm or industry.

Paragraph Construction

  • Never begin a paragraph with "I".
  • No sentence should be longer than 12 words.
  • Use proper English and avoid slang or abbreviations.
  • Use action verbs such as "designed" or "implemented".
  • Use the active voice whenever possible.
  • Personalize each letter.

Before you begin writing

  • Answer the question "Why should I hire you?"
  • Respond to the need of the company and the person who is hiring for the position.
  • Answer the following questions:
    • How do I get my message across?
    • What do I want to communicate to the reader?
  • Construct a "grabber" at the beginning and a "closer" at the end.
  • Be honest and factual.
  • Do not make your problems someone else's problems.

Writing the Cover Letter


  • Place at the top and center of the letter.
  • Include name, address, and phone number.
  • Work number, fax or email are optional.
  • Example:

    Chris Smith

    178 Green Street

    New York, NY 09998


  • The date should appear two lines below and to the right of your header.
  • Do not abbreviate the date.
  • Example:

    March 4, 1995


  • Confirm the spelling of the person's name and company to whom you are addressing the letter .
  • List addressee two lines beneath the date on the left-hand side of the letter.
  • Be sure to include full name starting with Ms. or Mr.
  • Then write in the person's title, company name and address.
  • Example:

    Ms. Joan Jones

    Vice-President of Marketing

    Norville Software, Inc.

    335 Winding Block Road

    Suite 500

    New York, NY 09998


  • Should be typed two lines beneath the company's address.
  • Use a colon instead of a comma at the end of the salutation.
  • Always use "Dear Mr." or "Dear Ms." unless the individual is a friend or relative.
  • Example:

    Dear Ms. Jones:

First Paragraph

  • State your interest and purpose for writing to the company.
  • State why you feel you are the best candidate for the position.
  • Reference the name of the publication if you are responding to a classified ad.
  • Example:

    Seeking a new challenge, I was pleased to notice your advertisement for a Senior Product Manager in the May 17th New York Times. Over the last four years, I have consistently delivered new and innovative products to market.

Second Paragraph

  • Use accomplishment statements and link them to the employer's needs.
  • Detail how you can contribute to this company.
  • Demonstrate your qualifications.
  • Use terms that the employer uses in the advertisement or that are industry specific.
  • Example:

    As a product manager for Allied Software, I managed three product launches within 12 months. This included organizing and implementing a direct mail campaign, a product tour, and trade show presentations before industry analysts. As a result of these marketing efforts, revenues exceeded goals by 35%.

Third paragraph

  • Focus on the company. Show your interest in their products or services.
  • Display enthusiasm for the industry.
  • Example:

    Your company recently announced plans to move into networking software linking desktop personal computers to mainframe computers. With my success in bringing this type of software to market, I am confident that I can help Norville become a market leader in this fast-growing (about 65% annually) market.

Final paragraph

  • Go for the close by stating your intent to call for an appointment.
  • Take the initiative and state when you will follow up this letter with a phone call.
  • If you are responding to an advertisement which asks for salary requirements, give a range instead of a specific number.
  • Example:

    Recognizing that your schedule must be quite hectic, I will call you on Thursday to see if we can arrange a time to meet. Thank you for your interest in my request.


  • Place closing two lines beneath the body of the letter right-aligned.
  • Use "Sincerely" as a salutation.
  • Four lines underneath the salutation, type out your full name with middle initial.
  • Sign your name in black ink.
  • Be sure to type "Enc: resume" as your enclosure line.


  • Body text should be in a standard font. (Example: Times New Roman 12 point).
  • Headers should use a sans serif font (Example: Helvetica 12 point).
  • Use italics only to highlight.
  • Do not underline and bold the same text.
  • Example:

    You require _______ I offer

Paper and Envelopes

  • 20 weight bond is acceptable for most letters.
  • Paper and envelopes should match resume.
  • Color should be conservative such as white or ivory.


  • Laser printing provides high quality output as high as 1200 dpi (dots per inch).
  • Inkjet is an inexpensive solution which provides near faster quality (300dpi).
  • Dot matrix is dated and does not provide adequate quality for a resume.

Editing Tips

  • When printing copies, check print quality for bleed, jagged or crooked edges and overall readability.
  • After running a spell checker, visually edit the cover letter.
  • Then give it to three friends or family members to review and edit.
  • If possible, have a hiring manager who works in your area of interest to review the cover letter for content and structure.

Cover Letter Summary

  • Always mail a cover letter with a resume.
  • The cover letter is a sales pitch.
  • One page maximum.
  • Proof! Proof! Proof!

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