While some programs may provide space on their application to input your relevant accomplishments, most applications will require you to upload a résumé. A professional and eye-catching résumé will attract the attention of admissions boards, and highlight your achievements and experience. Prompt’s Writing Center can help you turn a blank document into a polished résumé that will attract attention and showcase your achievements.
What do readers look for in a résumé?
- The first thing readers will notice is the résumé’s format:
- Is it clearly presented, or convoluted and padded with unnecessary information?
- Is there enough white space so readers can differentiate between sections?
- Does it prioritize relevant information that will catch a reader’s eye?
- Then, readers will look at your grades and test scores, which you should include if they meet or exceed the program’s requirements.
- Next, readers will skim your headlines and focus on your experience and activities.
- Readers will then go through your bullet-pointed descriptions of your experiences. Learn about how to write dynamic, impact-focused descriptions in Writing Impactful Descriptions.
- Finally, readers will look at any other additional sections, such as “Skills” or “Languages.”
Your first priority should be to achieve a streamlined, polished format. Readers will only spend a few minutes reading your résumé, so all of your information should be clearly presented, and relevant information should be prioritized.
Formatting Your Résumé
Since format is the first thing a reader will notice, you should consider downloading one of Prompt’s recommended formats. If you’re not working from a template, you can follow these guidelines to ensure that your résumé is easy to read and prioritizes the most important information, including your GPA, your achievements and accomplishments, and any activities that are especially relevant to your intended field of study.
Nuts and Bolts
Remember, you want a clean and polished résumé; the format is not an area to get creative in or show your zany sense of humor through liberal use of clip art and Jokerman font. Keep your format simple by following these conventions:
- Write your résumé using a basic font like Times New Roman, Georgia, Garamond, Arial, or Lucida Sans. Times New Roman and Arial are the most commonly used fonts.
- Your font size should be no smaller than 10-point font, and no larger than 12-point. Typically, 11 or 11.5-point font should be large enough for the résumé to be readable, but also allow you extra space.
Number of Pages
- Try to include all of your information on one to two pages. Unless you have extensive and highly relevant experience or publications, you resume should not exceed two pages.
- Admissions boards read thousands of résumés and need to read quickly, so your résumé should make efficient use of limited space.
- White space is your friend. It might be tempting to change the margins in order to cram more information on the page, but try to leave the margins standard. If you want just a little more space, you can adjust the margins to three quarter-inch for the top and bottom, and keep the standard one-inch margin in the sides. Other options include three quarter-inch or half-inch on all sides or half-inch top and bottom with three quarter-inch sides. Ideally, you should set your margins before you begin writing the résumé as formatting can become frustrating if you have to change it later.
PDF versus Word
- Check the application guidelines to see if there is a preferred format for uploading your résumé, but use PDF if possible. Also, make sure to double-check the PDF file before you submit it, in case any formatting errors have occurred.
- Try to keep the number of bullet points under each section to between two and six. Fewer than two bullet points will indicate that you may not have accomplished much, and more than six can become overbearing. At the end of each bullet point, do not use a period, but just end without any punctuation. Punctuation is not needed as bullets are generally not sentences, and the periods unnecessarily add extra marks to the page. Try to keep each bullet point to one line if possible, and do not go over two lines. Remember to include a one to three-point space between the bullet points to improve readability.
Organizing Your Content
Your name should be in a larger font size than the rest of the résumé at around 24-point. Your name should be bold, in all capital letters, and centered. Your name and contact information are the only items that should be centered.
Your basic contact information should be centered below your name. Your contact information should include your email, phone number, and current city. While many people include their mailing address, you could choose to skip it and instead use the space to include a website or appropriate social media account.
There are two main sections every résumé should include: Experience and Education. Your Education section should be brief, and include the name of your undergraduate university, date of graduation, and your GPA and test scores if they are competitive. As we mention earlier, your activities can be divided into categories depending on your experience. If you have sufficient academic publications, for example, you should include a “Publications” section. The same goes for work experience, research experience, etc.
We go into more detail about including and describing leadership roles in Prioritizing Relevant Experience on Your Résumé, but if you held any title in an organization, it should be located under the name of the activity and should be italicized, but not bolded.
You should also include the time you spent doing any activity or job. As we discuss in Prioritizing Relevant Experience on Your Résumé, graduate programs want to be able to gauge your participation in each activity. On the left hand side of the page, on the same line as the name of the activity, write the amount of time you held each position for. For example, on the same line as Assistant Editor, write “September 2012-June 2015” in italics.
A well-organized résumé will be the first thing that readers notice as they evaluate your candidacy. By paying close attention to detail and ensuring that your résumé is clear and readable, you will have an advantage over candidates with less professional presentation. Once you have a rough draft of your résumé in its format, you can begin editing the content to make sure that your descriptions are both dynamic and highlight your achievements and interests. Establishing a consistent and effective format will serve you later as well, as you advance in your career and return to tailor or edit your résumé.