Perfecting Your Résumé Structure

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A clean résumé structure and well-written descriptions will contribute positively to a reader’s impression of your professionalism and achievements.

Perfecting Your Résumé Structure

In “Perfect Form”  we discuss the importance of submitting a clear, polished résumé. Once you have an easily readable format for your résumé, your next step is to strategically structure its content. Since readers will only be able to spend a few minutes with your résumé, you should follow the conventional formula, and make sure that each item you include is relevant, specific, and focused on your impact and achievements.

The Résumé Structure Formula

Section 1: Education

Begin with the Education section, following the formatting guidelines in “Perfect Form”  Your education section can be brief, but if you have top-performing test scores and a solid GPA (3.5 or above), you should include them. Your readers will already have this information from your transcript as well as official test scores, but it never hurts to emphasize impressive achievements. Here is an example of what your education section should look like:

EDUCATION

Vassar College                                                                                                 Sept. 2009-May 2013

B.A Art History

Thesis: “Royal Fools: Velázquez’s comic portrayal of Spanish royalty” 

GPA 3.63

Note: If you transferred universities, include the names of both schools, and add in italics the dates of attendance for each school.

Section 2: Experience and Activities

The Experience section of your résumé is by far the most important. As we discuss in Chapter 5, your experience section can be divided into two or three categories: for example, “Work Experience,” “Extracurricular Activities,” etc. Only divide your experiences into sections if you have more than two relevant experiences per section, and if all categories are relevant to your chosen field. If not, one section should suffice.

Prioritizing Your Activities

Regardless of how you decide to divide your activities, these general guidelines will always apply:

  • Order your activities chronologically, beginning with the most recent. If you are currently involved in several activities, include the most impressive one first. For example, if you’re editor-in-chief of the newspaper, and are also on a student advisory board, list editor-in-chief first since it is a more impressive leadership role. Then, list activities you have been involved with in the past (see Playing the Game: Prioritizing Relevant Experience on Your Résumé to decide which activities to include).
  • Your bullet point descriptions of each activity should focus on your impact. If a position required extensive responsibilities that a reader might not guess by your title, you could briefly describe them, but you should focus primarily on showing readers that you went above and beyond.
  • Only include activities for which you have enough content to write at least 3 and at most 5 bullet points. These bullet points should highlight your impact, specific role, and the effort you put into each activity. The example below demonstrates the candidate’s impact in the activity, while also painting a picture of the responsibilities and roles the activity entailed.

PLEASANTVILLE HERALD

Editor-in-Chief

  • Increased readership by 20% through local advertising and social media outreach
  • Facilitated weekly editorial meetings with a staff of 20, including assigning stories and pitching ideas
  • Responsible for copy-editing ~30 articles per issue, overseeing layout, and proofing galleys

Section 3: Awards and Honors

This is an optional section that you should only include if you won any awards or honors that are not already apparent on your transcript. See “Short and Sweet: Listing Your Awards” to learn which honors and awards you should include, and how to effectively describe them in your bullet points. If you only have a few awards that were granted by your undergraduate college, you may consider adding them beneath your Education section, like in the example below. This will highlight your honors, and look more impressive than a skimpy Awards and Honors section.

EDUCATION

Vassar College                                                                                     Sept. 2009-May 2013

B.A Art History

Thesis: “Royal Fools: Velázquez’s comic portrayal of Spanish royalty” 

GPA 3.63

Honors:

-Dean’s list (2009-2013)

-Awarded departmental recognition for senior thesis

-Awarded $1000 research grant based on merit of thesis proposal

Additional Sections

Some candidates may want to include optional sections, such as “interests,” “languages,” and “skills.” Only include these sections if you have room, and if you feel they will showcase your unique passions. Most students are required to take foreign languages in college, so your intermediate French might not attract much attention, but if you speak three languages fluently, or taught yourself American Sign Language, you may include this information. Also, if your program has a language requirement, you should include your proficiency (and test scores if applicable) in the required languages. This logic also applies to the “skills” section. Programs will assume you have a basic understanding of social media and Microsoft Office, but have you been building websites since middle school? Do you have specialized knowledge in a cutting-edge program or app fundamental to your field? Having a rare skill that is harder to master can be a bonus, and demonstrate your drive.

Final Tips

Consider your résumé as a self-portrait that you can personally tailor and perfect. By using a clear format and strategically selecting and describing the achievements that make you unique, you have control over how a reader will perceive your impact and interests. A clean résumé structure and well-written descriptions of your activities will contribute positively to a reader’s impression of your professionalism and achievements.

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Juan Hurtado
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