Resume Help/Resume Help


Dear Ralph,

It seems like everywhere I look on the internet, there are different opinions about how a resume should be done.  I see different opinions from nearly everyone.  It seems like there is no consensus about how it should be put together.  Can you give me some simple guidelines?  Thanks.

Hi Scott,

I feel your frustration.  There are, indeed, a wide variety of opinions about the way a resume should be put together today - much more variety than should be the case.  It makes it difficult for people like you who are trying to do the right thing, but can't find common ground among those of us who are in the business of helping.

I have three rules for resume writing: (1) Don't lie, (2) don't use a template, (3) make it perfect.  Applicants are often tempted to "puff up" their qualifications.  Resist the temptation; it simply isn't worth the potential risk.  People lose jobs every day because their employer found out (sooner or later) that they had either fudged or outright lied on their resume.  My admonition about templates is simple: using them makes you look lazy and that's not a good first impression, right?  The people who create them (graphic designers) are paid to design things that are "different" and eye-catching.  You certainly want your resume to stand out - but not because it "looks cool."  Finally - and this is the big one - you need to proofread and revise your resume until it is absolutely perfect; error-free in every possible way.  Most applicants rush this stage of the process and don't spend enough time ensuring that what they create represents the best possible view of who they are.  Mistakes in a resume tell an employer that your work will likely be sloppy and that you are not committed to being as professional as possible in everything you do.

So, as to the mechanics, here is the way I recommend you set it up.  Create a letterhead for yourself with name, mailing address, email address, and best phone to reach you.  Center this information at the top of the page and put a margin-to-margin line beneath.  The font you choose should be clean (Times New Roman, Garamond, Arial are good choices) and large enough so a reader doesn't have to squint to read it but not so large as to be overwhelming.

Centered in bold and underlined following your letterhead will be "Professional Experience."  If you are a new grad, this will be replaced by "Qualifications."  Your job experience is listed in reverse chronological order.  It will include name of the employer, city, your job title and inclusive dates of employment, including month; e.g. "December 2005 - January 2007."  I have noticed recently that some national career-assistance companies are advising you simply put the years of employment.  I cannot tell you how wrong that is.  For example, if, using the previous example, you simply put "2005 - 2007" that could mean you were there for the entirety of those three inclusive years, that is, 36 months.  On the other hand, if you list the months as I did above, it is clear that this person was employed only 14 months in those three calendar years.  Big difference.  Following that information, you might list three or four bullet items (of only 4-6 words each) with descriptions of what you actually did at those jobs that conform to what this new employer is looking for.

If you have not held professional employment previously, you will use "Qualifications" and bullet-list things you have actually done that qualify you for this position.  That is, pay attention to the job announcement and only list things that match what the employer is looking for.  If they want their applicants to be able to do ABC and XYZ, don't tell them about your experience with DEF unless that experience can somehow be linked to ABC or XYZ.  Note: if you have had professional employment before, do NOT have a separate list of qualifications.  Your job experience should be self-explanatory as to your suitability for the position in question.

Do not include categories such as "Focus" or "Career Goals" or "Objective" or anything else that purportedly describes where you hope to work or what you hope to do.  They already know where you want to work; that's why you applied to that employer, right?  Don't state the obvious.  Even more important, I can assure you that employers today do not read these things, so there is no point in you writing them.

Next, create a category for "Education."  List the institution, city and state, your major (or focus of study), and graduation year.  Do not list high school graduation unless you have not graduated from college or technical institute.  Once you graduate post-secondary, your high school record is no longer relevant.

You might include other categories such as "Awards" or "Publications" or "Professional Affiliations" or anything that bolsters your case for being qualified for this job.  But be sure these are professionally linked.  Your participation on the campus cheer team or being the number one seller at the annual bake sale are fond memories, but not relevant to the job for which you are applying.

Finally, include your references.  The old "References Available Upon Request" should NEVER be in your resume.  If you have references (and you should), why would you withhold them?  If you tell the employer you will only provide your references if they ask for them, you are basically insulting the reader by telling them they have to go to the trouble to request something you should have already given them.  Not a  good thing.  Provide the name, institutional affiliation, complete mailing address, email address, and phone number.  Be certain all your references know you are applying, where you are applying, and - I hope this comes as no surprise to you - you are using their name as a reference.  Yes, it does happen that people use references who have no idea their names are being used.

If you would like, you can send me your resume once you finish it and I will be happy to give you a free evaluation.  Send it to me as an attachment to the email address below.

Best wishes,

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Ralph D. Converse, Ph.D.


I can answer questions about general job searches, resume construction, crafting an effective cover letter, and how to prepare for, and conduct, a winning interview. My speciality is the field of education, but I also have extensive background in business and administration. I know what works and what doesn't work and I can make your application package stand out from the rest ... because that is what you have to do.


I have interviewed for, and held, dozens of jobs in a career going back more than 42 years. I have taught at all educational levels including middle school, high school, community college, and university. In more than 42 years of experience on both sides of the job-search process, I have interviewed hundreds of applicants and have reviewed literally tens of thousands of job application packages. I am the author of 12 Mistakes That Got Your Job Application Rejected ... And How To Fix Them! I conduct workshops for job seekers in a variety of locations every year.

Music Educator's Journal, Teaching Music, Music and American Culture (forthcoming, 2013), Last Teacher Standing: The Job is Yours Now! and 12 Mistakes That Got Your Job Application Rejected ... And How To Fix Them!

B.A. New Mexico State University; M.Mus. Southern Illinois University; Ph.D. University of California and University of North Texas

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