A résumé is a document presented by a job applicant to a prospective employer outlining and summarizing that person's qualifications for employment. A résumé generally includes data on education, previous work experience, and personal information, and well-crafted ones are composed in such a way as to maximize the applicant's attractiveness as a potential employee. A résumé is generally accompanied by a cover letter which introduces the applicant and the résuméto the employer. The purpose of a résumé is to obtain an interview, not to land a job. This is an important distinction. Whether or not a person is hired is largely determined by what transpires during the job interview, not by the résumé. A résumé is extremely important, however, because it provides the employer with a first impression of the job applicant. From this first impression a decision will be made as to whether or not an interview will be granted.


Résumés are read from two perspectives: the appearance of the physical document itself and the content of the résumé. Résumé appearance concerns the presence (or absence) of typographical errors, poor grammar usage, sloppy sentence structure, garish colors, unconventional typefaces, paper stains, etc.

The content of the résumé, as indicated earlier, is the actual information included in the document. The content of most résumés falls into four broad categories: education, previous work experience, personal data, and social data. The first two are self-explanatory. Personal data includes such things as address and telephone number. Social data includes military status, club memberships, references, etc.

Handbooks that provide detailed advice on compiling résumés are available in most bookstores and libraries. These guides generally agree on the types of information to include on a résumé but sometimes differ on the format and hierarchical arrangement of the résumé. Some authors feel that educational information should be presented first while others feel previous work experience should be foremost. Other authors of such handbooks offer advice on tailoring a résumé to fit one's particular employment situation (looking for an entry-level position, re-entering the job market, or changing fields or vocations). Most of these handbooks, however, have one thing in common: they generally lack empirical data on what a prospective employer is looking for in a résumé. References in these handbooks to this aspect of the applicant, résumé, and employer scenario are often anecdotal.


When reading résumés, employers generally are looking for hard data and information. Functional résumés (résumés with no dates) are often viewed as indicators of excessive job movement or attempts to hide large gaps in one's career. Nebulous phraseology such as "exposure to" sometimes indicate a lack of depth of work experience, as does excess space devoted to education, personal, and social data. (Of course, recent college or high school graduates and other people relatively new to the work force often have little choice but to highlight such information, and the discerning employer will take this factor into account).

Many small business consultants urge their clients to study résumés closely, citing the unfortunate frequency with which some applicants include out-right lies. A Massachusetts-based management consultant, for instance, told Nation's Business writer Peter Weaver that a résumé should only be used as a starting point for launching a thorough examination of an applicant's business, professional, and interpersonal skills. "Hiring someone based on false claims in arésumé not only weakens a firm's work force but also can lead to costly legal action," said Weaver, who noted that many businesses are held legally responsible for the actions of all employees—even those who may have been placed in positions on the basis of fraudulent information.

Some employers have turned to automated résumé banks or reference checking firms to help them fill their workforce needs. Banks will, for a fee, mail out copies of résumés to prospective employers. Using technical terminology and job-related phrases a computer will match the résumés it stores in its data bank with job descriptions supplied by its clients. Résumé banks, however, are not professional recruiters; the latter are compensated for their services in terms of a percentage of a recruit's salary. Résumé banks charge a sliding fee for their services.


A 2000 survey reported in Business Journal—Milwaukee indicated that 48 percent of hiring executives preferred to receive résumés via e-mail. This result was a significant change from just two years earlier, when only 4 percent of executives preferred to receive résumés in electronic form. Some job applicants have found that the trend toward e-mailed résumés makes it more difficult for them to differentiate themselves in the eyes of prospective employers. As a result, many people have begun adding graphics and interactive elements to their electronic résumés. In fact, several Web sites exist to help users create résumés online. While including graphics and interactive elements can sometimes help applicants for some creative and technology-oriented positions, hiring executives emphasize that these features cannot make up for a lack of experience and achievements.

Job applicants who decide to create an electronic résumé and send it to potential employers via e-mail should keep a few factors in mind. First, it is generally considered bad form to use a current employer's e-mail system to send out résumés. Second, job applicants should make sure that their e-mail user name is professional and appropriate before sending out résumés. Third, applicants should consider using a standard ASCII format with a predictable layout and plain fonts, since fancy text may not be readable on some potential employers' computer systems. It may be helpful to send a test résumé to yourself and to several friends in order to check how the document appears on several systems. Fourth, experts recommend including a name, phone number, and e-mail address at the top of every page so the sender's identity will not get lost if the résumé is printed out or entered into a database. Finally, job applicants should be careful to include keywords referring to their job interests and experience in case hiring companies scan in résumés and search them to find candidates for later job openings.


Asher, Donald. The Overnight Résumé. Ten Speed Press, 1999.

Meece, Mickey. "The E-Mail Résumé: Addressed for Success." New York Times. November 5, 2000.

Narain, R. Kamna. "Changing Face of Résumés." Business Journal. September 15, 2000.

Nemnich, Mary B., and Fred Edmund Jandt. Cyberspace Résumé Kit: How to Make and Launch a Snazzy Online Résumé. Jist Works, 1998.

"No Postage Necessary." Business Journal—Milwaukee. November 3, 2000.

Ream, Richard. "Rules for Electronic Résumés." Information Today. September 2000.

Roberts, Gary, Gary Seldon, and Carlotta Roberts. Human Resources Management. Small Business Administration, n.d.

Weaver, Peter. "Ignoring a Résumé Can Prove Costly." Nation's Business. September 1997.

SEE ALSO: Employee Hiring

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