10 Key Points for Designing Your Resume

Writing a resume.
10 Key Points for Designing Your Resume

Whether you're looking for a volunteer position, an internship, or even a part-time or full-time job, having a resume prepared is often essential to getting your foot in the door to explore new opportunities. While submitting a resume will put you in line for consideration, designing a strong resume will get you through the application review phase and to the interview table. Receiving the invitation to participate in an interview is a major milestone in the search process because it's where you can showcase who you are not just in writing, but in person. To put it simply, a resume is one of the most important documents you'll create for yourself in your lifetime--so, you'll want to give it your all from the very start. A resume is a formal document and written representation of who you are in terms of what you've done and are doing, and what your qualifications are.

What is a resume's purpose?

The purpose of a resume is to represent you when you can't be there in person. It highlights what makes you a qualified candidate, why you feel you are worthy of being selected, and why you'd be an asset if you are chosen.

In terms of qualifications, be sure to include your relevant knowledge, skills, abilities, and experiences. These can carry a lot of weight when being compared to other candidates. As for illustrating why you feel you are worthy of being selected, be mindful of what you choose to include on your resume. Your chosen details provide information on what you find to be most valuable and important, not just for yourself personally, but in broader, general terms as well. Lastly, to clearly depict why you believe you're the best candidate in the applicant pool, aim to phrase your words in ways that align your qualifications with what recruiters are looking for. This approach will show that you've done your research, that you are interested in them specifically, and why and how you'd be an asset if you're chosen.

When should a resume be submitted?

A resume is typically used by college admissions officers, employers, and writers of letters of recommendations. They are commonly used for employment and direct experience applications, scholarship applications, and specialty program considerations.

What is the main goal to focus on when writing a resume?

To determine if your resume is strong, ask yourself the following question: Am I able to confidently say that my value and what I can bring to the table shines through on this document? If your answer is "YES!," then you know you're on a very good track. If your answer is "No," or if you're hesitant about any part of what you've written or are embarrassed to share it with others, take more time to develop it. Sometimes, word or phrase adjustments can make a world of difference in how your information comes across.

What is the best resume format to use?

There are three formats commonly used for resumes:

  • Chronological: The chronological format lists resume details in date order, frequently from most recent to past.

  • Functional: The functional design showcases skillsets and qualifications, and often present the information in block or paragraph structure.

  • Hybrid or combination: The hybrid or combination resume blends the chronological and functional design together, sometimes listing extensive details of skills and qualifications at the top followed by dates of experiences, or vice versa.

To choose the best format, consider the opportunity you're applying for along with the type and amount of experiences you've had. One format may work better for ease and speed of review, whereas another design may show stronger emphasis in areas you want to draw attention to.

What are the right and wrong ways of writing a resume?

Truthfully, there are no right or wrong ways of writing a resume. But, there are unacceptable and varying degrees of acceptable word choices, designs, and formats. The key is to consider who's on the other side of your application and how they do business. If it's for a creative arts program or camp, a more visually artistic resume may be acceptable, whereas if it's for a research position in a biology lab, a more traditional format would be in your best interest. Be sure to do your research! You will find guidance and answers through this critical, worthwhile step. Review websites, marketing materials, business offices if they are in your local area, to name a few. Key information can be gathered through research.

What is the most common resume format used and what information should be included?

The most common resume format is the chronological option. The components that should be included are:

  1. Your name

  2. Your contact information

  3. Objective statement (optional)

  4. Education history: list the schools you've attended, location of those schools, dates of attendance, and grade point averages and test scores (optional)

  5. Relevant work and/or internship experiences: list your most recent experience first starting with the position you held, the name of the organization or company, its location, the dates you were there, and the most important duties you were responsible for

  6. Relevant extracurricular activities: include the same details as listed in the work and/or internship experiences section

  7. Skills (optional)

  8. Certifications (optional)

  9. Awards and recognitions (optional)

  10. References (optional)

What order should categories be placed in?

Depending on what you're applying for, the order in which you present your information should change if you wish to give yourself a better advantage over other applicants. First and always, your name and contact information should be at the very top of your resume. They should be easy to read and clearly noticeable. If you'd like to include an objective statement, it should follow directly after your name and contact section. The objective statement is optional, but if you do decide to include it, be very diligent about updating it so it aligns with what you're applying for. The quickest way to take yourself out of the running is to use an objective statement and then forget to update it before your next submission. In most cases, your educational background should follow. Typically, this section includes your school's name, location, and dates of attendance. If you're applying for a job as a high school student or recent graduate, include your high school's information. If you're in a trade school or college, or are a graduate and have received your certificate or diploma, include those details instead of your high school information.

From here, the order in which you present your remaining information may vary. For example:

  • If you're applying for a leadership position, your next section and header should be Leadership Experience, providing you have participated in leadership-related roles and activities in the past.

  • If you're applying for a general entry-level position or have a few previous jobs that were in different industries, you may wish to follow your contact information with the general section header of Employment Experience.

  • If, on the other hand, you have no experience in a particular position but have participated in extracurricular activities such as sports or music groups, or clubs, you may want to spotlight Extracurricular Activities and Experiences, Athletic Experiences, Fine Arts Experiences, or Volunteer Experiences, respectively.

Ideally, you'll first list the most relevant experiences. To determine what's relevant, use what you've gathered through your research of the opportunity and reflect on what they're looking for in candidates, as well as your evidence of why you're the most highly qualified. Being aware of your formatting choices and where you place key pieces of information should be strategically considered so you intentionally place emphasis on those details and guide reviewers to see what you want them to see before all else.

Suggestions for word choices and formatting

Here's a rundown of key points to remember when writing and formatting your resume.

Use clear short descriptions.

  • Example 1: Coordinated monthly team meetings for 20 members.

  • Example 2: Assisted with researching and publishing a 55-page report on the effects of pesticides.

Use punctuations and formatting consistently. For instance, if you--

  • use a period at the end of a bullet-pointed description of an experience, be sure to use a period for each and every bullet-pointed detail you write.

  • format a section header with bolded, all capitalized, Arial font that's size 14, make sure that all other section headers are formatted in the same way.

  • enter the date of an experience as March 2015 to June 2017, double-check that all other dates are formatted exactly the same [and not 3/2015 to 6/2017 (numerical months) or 3/2015-3/2017 (dash instead of "to")].

Be consistent with verb tenses.

  • If the experience occurred in the past, use past tense, e.g., Assisted with…, Organized…, Facilitated…

  • If you're currently holding the position being described, use present tense, e.g., Assist with…, Organize…, Facilitate…

Use relevant, action-oriented keywords. Aim to use words that reflect what you're doing or have done. Words such as created, produced, managed, assisted, supported, coordinated, designed, presented, hosted, communicated, delegated, coached, led, and provided, are effective in showing your skills, experience, and accomplishments.

Check your spelling and grammar carefully. This reflects not only your knowledge and ability, but your level of interest, effort, and professionalism, as well.

Avoid heavy use of jargon; keep it reader-friendly. Excessive use of industry-specific terminology should be used with caution. Depending on the structure of the program or company that's offering the opportunity, the first-line of application reviews may be performed by general human resources representatives who may not be as well-versed in the jargon of specialized departments (especially in large corporations). Choose words that are relatable and understandable by a general audience to be on the safe side. If you are invited to interview, it'll likely be with people in specific departments who are in lead or management positions. If you wish to show further depth of your knowledge, skills, and abilities as they relate to industry-specific processes, this would be the appropriate time to do so.

Do not use colored paper unless is it resume paper. These typically come in white and off-white shades and have a different weight and texture than regular printer paper.

Use one side of one page (two pages at the most).

Try to maintain one inch margins on all sides of your page(s).

Avoid fancy fonts and font sizes that are too small or large.

Use bullet points for your descriptions of experiences.

Chronological format: make sure your experiences start with the most recent experience.

Use reasonable spacing between lines.

Choose Your Words Wisely!

When writing your resume, be selective in the words you use to share your history. Not only do you want to spotlight your relevant skill sets, but you also want to tailor your resume to align with the program, school, or job you're applying for. To succeed at this, take your time and do your research! Look up as much information as you can that's available for that program, school, or company, as well as any additional information that directly relates to the opportunity. For academic situations, design your resume with words that demonstrate perseverance, participation, leadership, initiative, and motivation to learn, for example. For employment situations, strive to show your level of perseverance, leadership, teamwork, initiative, job stability and commitment, communication, ability to learn and grow, and past achievements and results of efforts.

Presentation Matters!

Devote quality time to determining your strategy. Then, apply that strategy to the three main components of writing a powerful resume:

  1. Essential content: Name and contact information, education, experiences, and activities. If you have special certifications, skills, and recognitions, include those details as well. Always remember: Your life choices matter!

  2. Phrasing: Be clear, concise, and engaging; use action-oriented words; and choose words that flow and complement each other. Write in a way that the information you provide appeals to the intellect and reflects your knowledge, skills, and abilities. Always remember: Your word choices matter!

  3. Design: Be consistent in your formatting, use white space to your advantage, choose font styles and sizes that are traditional and easy on the eyes, include bullet points to guide the reader down the page, and select a template that has a professional look and feel. Design your resume so it's visually appealing while maintaining professionalism. Also, make it tactile. If you're submitting a hard copy of your resume, choose to print your information on resume paper. The heavier weight and texture of the paper will stand out in a stack of regular printer paper. Always remember: Your efforts matter!


It is commonly known in the human resources industry that, on average, during the first round of reviewing application materials, recruiters spend approximately five to seven seconds on each resume they choose to read. Once they have enough candidates, they may stop and move on to the next phase of their recruiting process. Therefore, it's critical to give your best effort to your resume. Opportunities come and go, but there will be times when you really want to be selected and at least have a chance to participate in an interview. Your resume will become your personal sales pitch that needs to shine and get you to stand out above the other applicants. Can it be done? Absolutely! With an effective strategy behind the decisions you make, and the willingness to put time and effort into the written representation of yourself, you can be successful at creating a strong and powerful resume. The strategy consists of formatting elements, relevant content, and impactful words and phrases based on the position available and the program or company offering the opportunity. Yes, you can easily improve your chances by simply aligning how you present yourself with your audience!

A final word…

Writing a strong, effective resume takes time and effort; but, once you have a template, you can use it for the rest of your life without having to start from scratch. You'll need to make small adjustments every now and then as you gain new experiences and apply to different opportunities, but this will take only minutes to do if you update your resume regularly. If you're at a loss of where or how to start your resume, or if you just need help with choosing the right words, reach out to us and let us help you! Contact us here and we'll get back to you to get the process started.