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Résumé Best Practices

Your résumé is a summary of your relevant education, experiences, and skills. It is used to market your strengths to potential employers. Most industries outside of academia require résumés rather than CVs. It is important to note that résumés are not meant to be exhaustive. While your list of experiences and accomplishments will grow, your résumé (unlike the CV) will not, or at least not by as much. By and large, you want to keep your résumé to one page, which means prioritizing the most relevant experiences to showcase the skills you have developed.

Before writing a résumé, identify the skills employers value by carefully reviewing job descriptions and conducting informational interviews with professionals in industries and careers that interest you. If you are considering multiple career paths, you will want to tailor your résumé for each industry and job function.

Finally, as PhD students and postdocs, it is important to think expansively about the skills you develop in your research, teaching, service, leadership roles, and professional development. Because most potential employers will not have the same academic background as you do, your work becomes translating academic experiences, which may not be as legible to people in other industries, into skills that employers seek.

  1. Write a Master Résumé : A tailored résumé should not include everything. Keep track of all experiences and accomplishments in a “master” résumé, then tailor it for each job.

    Make a list of each experience you have had, whether it is a full-time position, an internship, service, a professional development program or a role in a student/professional organization.

    For each experience, reflect not only on the regular tasks that you completed but also on the skills you used. Ask yourself what you did and how you did it and keep your audience in mind! For example, if you were a TA and held office hours, think about what someone who has never been a TA would need to know about your responsibilities to demonstrate relevant skills (e.g., consulted one-on-one with students on course policies, development of content and assignments, regularly provided written and verbal feedback, managed communications with multiple stakeholders, etc.).

    Reflect on the significance or of your work, and consider deliverables, impact, value, and results. Whenever possible, use numbers to describe the scope of your work (e.g., # of professional development events organized, # of student mentored, # of peer reviewed articles and conference presentations, etc.).

    Build Better Bullets

    Put these steps into practice using this formula:
    ACTION VERB (skill) + TASK (what) + PURPOSE or RESULT (why or impact)

    Ex: PhD student who served on a student organization leadership board:

    Maintained yearly budget of $10K and allotted funds toward quarterly professional and social development events for 150+ graduate students.

    Ex: PhD student who helped with prospective graduate student recruitment:

    Organized recruitment weekend dinner for 25 admitted graduate students and five faculty members to foster conversation between groups

    Once you have drafted a master résumé, it will be much easier to tailor for specific positions!

  2. Identify a Position: The next step is to find a role for which you would like to apply, or if you are not at the application stage yet, a type of job you are interested in. This step will help you contextualize your experiences and skills for a specific industry and position.

  3. Tailor your Résumé: Review the job description carefully and analyze the skills and qualifications the employer is seeking. Based on the job description, your background research, and informational interviews, tailor your résumé to highlight your relevant experiences and skills. This will likely mean reframing some of your skills and experiences to echo the language in the job posting to demonstrate your alignment with the role.

  4. Get Feedback: So, you have a draft! Graduate students can make career advising appointments at NCA through Handshake to receive individualized feedback from our dedicated PhD advisers on application materials. They can also pop into our virtual drop-in hours for quick questions. Postdoctoral fellows can contact the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs for feedback. The Graduate Writing Place is another wonderful resource for both grad students and postdocs, and their fellows provide feedback on academic and non-academic application materials.

All résumés will include contact information, education, and relevant experience, but other categories may be used depending on the role and the desired skills and qualifications. Here are some common résumé categories:

  • Education
  • Research
  • Teaching
  • Publications/Presentations/Patents
  • Leadership & Service
  • Previous Professional Experience
  • Professional Development
  • Community Outreach
  • Honors/Awards/Fellowships
  • Professional Memberships
  • Skills
  • Interests
  • Length: 1 page is typically preferred; 2 pages maximum
  • Font Size: 10–12 point for body of résumé—be consistent throughout; 14–24 point for your name (for emphasis)
  • Fonts: Easy-to-read fonts include Arial, Book Antiqua, Calibri, Cambria, Centaur, Century Gothic, Garamond, Helvetica, Palatino Linotype, and Times New Roman
  • Margins: 0.5–1 inch on all sides; ideal margin width is 0.75 inches
  • Spacing: Single-spaced lines are acceptable, but use double-spaced lines between sections and experiences
  • Alignment: Use left alignment; do not justify the text
  • Format: Use bold and italics for emphasis and to help the reader quickly scan your résumé.
  • Bullet Points: Aim for 2-5 bullets per experience
  • Numbers: Use numerals for numbers (6 instead of six; 30% instead of thirty percent)
  • Order: In each section, list information in reverse chronological order (put your most recent experience first). But you get to decide on the order of the sections!
  • Phrasing: Avoid full sentences and personal pronouns (such as I, my, and our).

Sample #1

Highlights results-driven impact and test scores for management consulting

Sample #2

Highlights editorial and publishing experience

Sample #3

Highlights subject matter expertise combined with communication, leadership, and collaboration

Sample #4

Highlights quantifiable outcomes and expertise coupled with client experience for technical consulting

Sample #5

Highlights skills from teaching without specific courses taught

Career Exploration with Beyond the Professoriate Training Platform

All PhD students and postdoctoral fellows have access to the Training Platform by Beyond the Professoriate. The Professional Career Modules offer 20-minute videos, along with workbook activities, to help you start the résumé writing process. See the Resources section or use the link below for more information.

Learn more about THe TRAINING PLATFORM