A resume is a document submitted to a potential employer by a job applicant outlining and summarizing that person's qualifications for employment. Generally speaking, resumes are written with a particular job objective in mind and include data on the applicant's education, previous work experience, and, to a lesser extent, personal information. The resume is formatted so as to make the applicant appealing as a potential employee. A resume should be accompanied by a cover letter that briefly introduces the applicant and the resume to the potential employer. The purpose of a resume is to be called for a job interview—not to land a job. This is an important distinction. Whether or not a person is hired for a particular position is largely determined by what transpires during the interview, not by the resume. A cover letter and resume are nonetheless extremely important as they are responsible for the employer's first impression of the job seeker. From this first impression a decision is made as to whether or not to proceed with the interview.

Resumes are looked at, read, and interpreted from two perspectives: the physical document itself and the content of the resume as it relates to the applicant. In the former, the potential employer at first reading will quickly notice any typographical errors, smudges, poor grammar, and the like. Many resumes also use a number of gimmicks to attract attention and set them apart from the competition. Such gimmicks can include odd sized or garishly colored sheets of paper, parchment paper, or unconventional type. One resume book, however, advises against thick or heavily textured paper—it might just jam an interviewer's copying machine! Many prospective employers feel that such tactics are an attempt to draw attention away from weaknesses in the applicant's background. Employers prefer resumes printed on white paper or another conservative color, such as ivory, light tan, or light gray. The color of the ink should also be conservative—black or navy. The paper should be at least 20 weight and have a slight texture. If, however, the job applicant is seeking a creative position in fields such as commercial art, graphic design, or advertising, some creativity might be in order. Regardless of the design of the resume it needs to be accompanied by a cover letter.

The content of the resume falls into three broad categories: education, previous work experience, and personal and social data. Personal and social data include such things as address and telephone number and, if relevant, club memberships, military status, and references. Educational information and previous work experience are arranged chronologically with the most contemporary information appearing first. Some professional resume writers believe the educational information should be foremost on the resume while others prefer work experience appearing first. There are those, however, who believe that a resume's format should be flexible enough so as to be tailored to fit one's own personal job hunt.

Job seekers may opt to use a professional resume service rather than prepare their own resumes. There is some disagreement among employers concerning professionally prepared resumes. Many such resumes are so standardized as to make their source apparent. Prospective employers often prefer resumes in the applicants' own words and style so as to better judge their communication skills.

For those who choose to prepare their own, there is a bewildering number of handbooks currently on the market dealing with resumes, cover letters, job interviews, and the like. Some are rather straightforward, such as The Resume Makeover ("50 Before and After Resumes Teach You How to Create the Most Effective Resume") and High Impact Resumes and Letters: How to Communicate Your Qualifications to Employers. Others, although loaded with good information, are somewhat whimsical, such as Sweaty Palms: The Neglected Art of Being Interviewed and The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Perfect Resume. Others, such as Best Resumes for Scientists and Engineers and Best Resumes for Attorneys, are tailored to specific careers. Most of these and other titles provide a multitude of resume examples and helpful advice in a straightforward manner. The Idiot's Guide, for example, offers its readers the "five commandments" of resume writing: "Thou Shalt Not Write about Your Past—Thou Shalt Write about Your Future"; "Thou Shalt Not Confess"; "Thou Shalt Not Write about Job Descriptions—Thou Shalt Write about Achievements"; "Thou Shalt Not Write about Stuff You Don't Want to Do Again"; and finally, "Thou Shalt Not Lie."

Resume and job-hunting advice is also available on numerous Internet sites. Like resume handbooks, there are a large number of handbooks that serve as a guide to the "information highway." Career-X-Roads, for example, is a directory to "500 best job, resume, and career management sites on the World Wide Web." Another source is The On-Line Job Search Companion, which is a "guide to hundreds of career planning and job hunting resources available via your computer."

All of these and other titles offer practical and anecdotal information but offer little empirical evidence as to what makes a good resume. A 1984 survey, although somewhat dated, offers just such hard data. Personnel administrators of 500 large corporations and organizations in the United States were surveyed as to preferred resume content. A summary of the survey shows that the administrators wanted information on educational qualifications and previous work experience (92 percent), professional job objectives (90 percent), special aptitudes such as foreign-language skills (78 percent), special interests related to one's vocational field (75 percent), personal information (72 percent), and finally, social data (57 percent). The survey also demonstrated that content was more important than format and showed no support for the need to mention personality traits, little support for the inclusion of information on hobbies and outside activities, and a strong feeling that specific references to race, religion, and gender should not appear. There was mixed and sometimes contradictory support for information relating to age, marital status, and dependents.

It is generally agreed that potential employers are looking for hard data and information on resumes. Resumes without dates are often seen as indicators of excessive job changes or attempts to hide large gaps in one's employment history. Nebulous phrases such as "exposed to" or "assisted in" indicate a lack of depth in one's work experience as does excess space devoted to education, personal, and social information. Employers are also on the lookout for deliberately falsified information and often hire outside firms to verify information appearing on resumes.

[ Michael Knes ]


Allen, Jeffrey G. The Resume Makeover. New York: Wiley, 1995.

Crispin, Gerry, and Mark Mehler. Career-X-Roads. Kendall Park, NJ: MMC Group, 1998.

Fondell, Joan, and Mary Jo Russo. Best Resumes for Attorneys. New York: Wiley, 1994.

Gonyea, James C. The On-Line Job Search Companion. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995.

Hutchinson, Kevin L. "Personnel Administrators' Preferences for Resume Content." Journal of Business Communications, fall 1984, 5-13.

Ireland, Susan. The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Perfect Resume. New York: Alpha Books, 1996.

Krannich, Ronald L., and William J. Banis. High Impact Resumes and Letters. Manassas Park, VA: Impact Publications, 1998.

Lewis, Adelle, and David J. Moore. Best Resumes for Scientists and Engineers. New York: Wiley, 1993.

Medley, H. Anthony. Sweaty Palms: The Neglected Art of Being Interviewed. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press, 1995.

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