Five Steps to Writing a Great Resume
Your resume provides an overview of your experience and is often an employer’s first impression of you. Recruiters spend just a few seconds on average looking at a resume so it is crucial to use a format that makes relevant information immediately visible.
A good resume can help you land an interview, but even minor errors can take you out of the running. Bring your resume to our drop-in hours or schedule an appointment with a counselor to ensure it will be effective.
1. Use the position description to decide what to include.
While you might keep a ‘master resume’ detailing all your experiences and awards, when applying for a job you want to build a resume that targets a specific position or employer. Look at the skills required for the position and select experiences where you demonstrated those skills. Remember: experience comes in many forms. In addition to jobs, internships, UROPS or leadership roles, consider including class projects, competitions or even personal projects. Just be sure to describe the experience in terms that make its relevance clear.
2. Pick a standard and consistent format.
Resume templates become increasingly difficult to edit with time, so it’s best to start with a blank page and look at sample resumes (pdf). Recruiters don’t have time to search your resume for information, so they appreciate familiar formats. Use a conservative font no smaller than 10pt and leave at least half inch margins on all sides. Stick to one page, unless you have extensive experience or an advanced degree. Use bold text sparingly to highlight key information or section headings.
3. Describe your experiences with specificity and strong action verbs.
Resumes don’t require complete sentences and you should avoid using the first person (I, me, my). Start descriptions with a strong action verb like built, managed, developed, wrote, etc. See this list of action verbs for resumes (pdf) for ideas. Include more than the technical aspects of your experiences. Collaboration and communication such as reports or presentations are also valuable skills in most fields.
Whenever possible, include how you performed tasks, not just what you did. For example, if you wrote software, say what language you used. For lab work, mention specific techniques. Although you might choose to list these skills in a Skills section, including them in experience descriptions reinforces them by putting them in context.
4. Record accomplishments and contributions, not just responsibilities.
The best way to articulate your impact is with factual accomplishments. Your experience descriptions shouldn’t read like job descriptions. While it might be technically accurate to say “was responsible for delivering projects on time,” it’s much more effective to say “ensured projects were delivered on or ahead of schedule.” Did you improve a process or make a crucial discovery? Don’t wait for an interview to talk about it. Quantify if you can. If you gave a presentation, include how many people attended. If you raised or managed money, say how much.
5. Revise carefully!
The simplest error can undo all your hard work. Even a resume without a single typo is worthless if you forget to include your contact information. Read and reread everything carefully before sending it anywhere. Your best bet is to have a few people proofread it for you. A friend or family member is a good start, but your best bet is to visit us during our drop-in hours or schedule an appointment with a counselor.
- Don't include personal information about your age, religion, health or marital status. Photos are generally not preferred for U.S. resumes. Typically you will not be expected to share past salary information on a resume.
- Line up references, but don't include them on your resume unless asked. Employers assume that "references will be available upon request," so you don't need to say so.
- Employers may use keyword scanning on resumes, so know what words are relevant to the industry and position and ensure they appear in your resume.
- First year undergrads are graded on a Pass or No Record basis their first semester. You can include "GPA: N/A" in the education section of your resume until you receive an official MIT GPA (typically at the end of your second semester).