Resume Formatting Essentials

Click to download a PDF version of the Resume ChecklistResumes are often skimmed in seconds, not read word for word, there here are some major things to consider when developing your resume.

  • Use bullets instead of writing in paragraphs (but use sparingly)
    Bullets help your reader skim more quickly and guide them through the page.  However, your entire document should be filled with bullets (or a variety of bullets).  Use them to help you describe the work in your positions and use headers and formats to help organize information.  Speaking of which -
  • Be consistent with format. 
    Use the same spacing, font, sizes, placement of headers, etc.  Avoid italics and underlining since both can be misread by scanners or electronic systems. Use ALL CAPS and bold instead.
  • Make headers larger than body text.
    Use them to organize your content and make it easier to find relevant information.
  • Choose a standard font that is easy to read—like Arial, Times New Roman, Garamond, Tahoma, or Verdana.
    Use no less than 11 points for smaller fonts; larger fonts can be easily read at 10 or even 9 points.
  • Try to stick to 1-2 pages.
    Most people have heard that they need to keep their resume to 1 page, however, that's really advice for most college undergraduates who don’t have the range of relevant experience that a PhD student or postdoc has.

(However, if you are a recent graduate applying for a non-academic/non-research job with no professional experience you may want to stick to the 1 page rule if all you have done is research.)

  • Leave some "white space."
    One-inch margins are standard. White space not only gives your reader’s eyes a break, but it also leaves room for notes.

 Other things to  consider

  • When the job market is tight, it’s VERY important to customize your resumes to each job you are applying for.
  • It’s all about relevance. Use your knowledge of the position and organization to make decisions about how you describe your experience and skills
  • Active, skills-based language is the best way to write your resume.  Even a quick skim by a reader should give them enough to know whether they want to read more.
  • Go beyond duties and responsibilities and be specific and results-oriented. If possible, quantify your accomplishments.
  • Employers are interested in what you’ve done recently. Leave out your undergraduate activities, such as student organizations.
  • Your resume will need to be updated regularly to reflect new skills and experiences as you gain them.
  • For most positions, colored paper, funky fonts, and fancy graphics aren’t going to help, and in fact, may hurt your chances if the design interferes with electronic scanning. Content is key.
  • When e-mailing or uploading your resume, the best format is PDF. However, you should always follow instructions you are given.  If employers specifically request MS Word format send it in word.  Also if they ask you to upload one document with your resume and cover letter, upload one document!