Resume Writing for Graduate Students

A résumé is a summary of your education, experiences, skills, and qualifications in an easily readable format.  It is used as a marketing or promotional tool to demonstrate how your background is a fit for a particular position.  The same advice for developing a résumé that is given to undergraduates and working professionals applies to graduate students: it should be a concise, tailored document that highlights your relevant skills and experience.   The information on this page will provide you with important considerations for graduate students when preparing résumés, common categories for graduate student résumés, and the differences between résumés and CVs. 

Before you Begin Writing

Brainstorm your past experiences: Make note of the skills you have developed through a variety of experiences, including research experiences, projects, leadership roles, volunteer roles, paid positions, and teaching.  What were your daily tasks?  What equipment or software did you use?  What were your results?  What were your accomplishments?  Think broadly about your research and academic background.  This brainstorming will be used to shape the examples you use when writing your résumé. 

Identify your skills: In a résumé, you will need to demonstrate how the skills developed through your past experiences have enabled you to perform the required duties of the position to which you are applying.    There are two main categories of skills:  content and transferable.  Content skills are the direct knowledge or training required to perform a task (i.e.:  a programming language, technique, or theory).   Transferable skills are skills that are acquired through any activity that are applicable to the duties of a particular position (i.e.: communication, project management, teamwork).  Some graduate students do not have prior work experience or direct experience in the field in which they are seeking employment.  As a result, these students face an added challenge of communicating the value of their transferable skills to potential employers. Graduate Student Transferabe Skills Handout (pdf)

Research the industry/employer: Identify the skills and experience that are most valuable to your industry or employer of interest.  Through employer research, you will develop a better understanding of the keywords and terminology of the field, which you can then use in your résumé to make yourself more marketable for a particular position.

Tailor your experience to the position: Carefully read the job description.  Match up your content and transferable skills that are most related to the position.  As a graduate student, you have developed a wide range of skills that have prepared you for multiple career options after graduation.   The more clearly and accurately you can describe the connection, the easier it will be for the employer to understand.

Remember the goal: The goal of a résumé is communicate your relevant skills in order to obtain an interview for a particular position.  It is not to tell your life story or share everything you know.  While you might have a lot of experiences that are personally important to you, those experiences might not necessarily have a place on your résumé if they are not relevant to the position you seek.  Your résumé should not include anything and everything. 

Résumé Sections

The sections of your résumé will vary based on your background and the information you want to highlight for a potential employer.  Start with this list of common resume sections.  In addition, here are sections that may also be found in graduate student résumés: 

  • Research Experience: List your research experiences in reverse chronological order.  Include graduate-level research, and relevant undergraduate and industry research experiences.  In the header, indicate the institution name, position title (e.g.: Research Associate, Graduate Research Assistant, etc.) and dates.
  • Teaching Experience:  List your teaching experiences in reverse chronological order.  In the header, include the institution name, course title (not the course number), position title (e.g.: Teaching Assistant, Lecturer), and dates.
  • Projects:   Course projects can provide relevant real-world experience through which you develop content and transferable skills.  List your projects in reverse chronological order with the project name, course name and dates. 
  • Selected Publications:  Provide an abbreviated list the academic publications for which you are an author using the proper citation format for your field, including journal articles, books, book reviews, etc.  If there are multiple authors, bold or underline your name in the author list.  For some fields, it is appropriate to indicate publications that are “in progress,” “submitted,” and “under review.” 
  • Selected Presentations:  Provide an abbreviated list of the research talks you have given at a conference or meeting using the proper citation format for your field.  Bold or underline your name in the list of presenters.  Note:  The Publications and Presentations categories can be combined for if you do not have many publications or presentations.
  • Profile or Summary of Qualifications (Optional): This optional section provides a snapshot of your most relevant qualifications for the position to which you are applying.  It is often written in the form of a few sentences or bullet points at the top of the résumé.

Differences between Résumés and CVs

Graduate students who decide to apply to positions outside of academia are often charged with the task of converting their curriculum vitae (CV) into a résumé.  Here are key differences between the two documents:

CV Resume
No page limit 1-2 pages in length: concise
Comprehensive overview of academic and scholarly achievements Summary of skills, education and experience relevant to a particular industry or employer
Written for academic audiences, typically in your field of study Written for employers with a range of academic and professional backgrounds
Used when applying to positions within academic and research institutions, and for funding and fellowship applications Used when applying to positions outside of academia, particularly in industrial, business and nonprofit settings
Categories and formats vary widely by discipline The format should be simple, using action verbs to describe experiences and bold/italics to highlight important sections