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Preparing your Professional Resume

The purpose of a resume is…

to highlight and summarize your professional experiences and accomplishments as they relate to the position at hand in order to help you get an interview. Unless your professional experience related to your policy interests is extensive, your resume text should be kept to one page.

(Resumes for the Ford School resume books should ALL be one-page long.) Since one of the trickiest aspects of writing a resume is deciding how to use limited space to most strategically highlight what you have to offer your potential employer, this handout was designed to help you get started. In addition, individual resume consultations are available through the Ford School Office of Career Services.

Strong resumes:

  • provide details that highlight the scope of your work.

  • demonstrate a well thought-out, easy-to-read layout in which consistency is maintained throughout each section. Your formatting should become the background of your resume not the focus, making it easy for the employer to focus on your resume content. Steer away from using non-standard bullet points, shading, and other format techniques that can make a resume look “noisy.”

  • use headings that best allow your qualifications to shine through. (See “Other Sections” below for ideas.)

  • ?make the most of limited space to highlight experiences that are most related to the professional goal at-hand. The typical employer spends less than one minute scanning a resume. Is that waitress job you did over the summers during college taking up as much space on your resume as your summer internship at the GAOIf so, consider mentioning it only briefly as a one-liner under “Other Experience,” or even leaving it out.

  • are error-free. Proofread your resume for errors, and then proofread it once again. Have your friends review it for errors, and don’t rely on your computer’s spell-check function or Career Services staff to catch errors.

Getting started

One of the most valuable things you can do before developing (or redeveloping) your resume is to research job descriptions and talk to potential employers and Career Services staff to learn what the employer is looking for. Brainstorm a list of your experiences that can be used to demonstrate that you have the skills and qualities desired by your future employer. Think outside the box (significant class projects, volunteer experience, leadership, paid work, prior internships). Use the language of your future employer as you present your experiences on your resume. Expand on experiences that highlight the types of skills that are desirable by employers in your field of interest. Keep your resume targeted, and employer-focused. Remember: the purpose of a resume is to help you get an interview, not to list everything you have ever done or won.

So…what do I include in my resume?


At the top of your resume, include your name and contact information. If relevant, include both current and permanent telephone and address information. Make sure that whatever number you list leads to a reliable message recorder—be it a roommate, voice mailbox, or family member.

A Word on Objectives

Objectives are optional, and for the resume book should be left out. If you do use an objective for other resume purposes, keep it short and employer-focused.


List all your education in reverse chronological order, starting with your Ford School experience. See sample resume included in this document for formatting ideas. If you have limited policy experience, you may want to include academic honors, organizational affiliations, et cetera. Consider including relevant course work or a short description of the master’s degree program, particularly if you are targeting employers who are not familiar with the Ford School or a MPP/MPA


Past and current experience should be listed within sections in reverse chronological order. Be strategic as you list your different positions so that your most relevant experience is not buried in the middle of less relevant professional experience. Consider using separate sections (e.g. Relevant/Related/Policy Experience, and then an experience section titled “Other Experience”) so that all policy-related positions can be grouped together. Expand upon the experiences that are most relevant to your professional goals, and that highlight the types of skills you possess which are most important to your future employer.

Unless dates are the most marketable aspect of your experience, position the dates after the job title and name of organization. Include location (city, state) for each position.

Describe duties, activities and accomplishments of your positions using short one-liners that begin with an action verb (see attached list). Help the reader create a mental image of your skills, abilities, and achievements by providing information about the scope of your work and results you achieved. Whenever possible, identify your accomplishments in quantifiable terms. (E.g. “Presented 20 minute report of findings to senior administrative team. Recommendations integrated into citywide management plan.)

Other sections

Depending upon your experience and the type of employer you are targeting, other sections you may want to include are: Leadership, Significant Academic Projects, Publications, Selected Presentations, Research Experience, Civic Activities, Professional



Since it is a given that if asked you will provide references, it is not necessary to note “references available upon request” (or something similar) at the end of your resume.

Prepare a one-page list of references to submit upon the recruiter’s request. Provide name, title and contact information for each reference, and make sure you have contacted your references ahead of time to give them the “head’s up” that they might be getting calls about you sometime soon. (This also provides an excellent opportunity for you to update them on your recent experiences and professional goals.)

CV versus resume

As noted above, your resume is a one- or two-page document that highlights and summarizes professional experiences and accomplishments as they relate to the position at hand. A CV (or “curriculum vitae”), on the other hand, is often more than two pages long and is used to demonstrate expertise and authority. CVs are used more in scientific and academic settings in which it’s necessary to provide detailed information about activities like teaching, research, publications, and presentations. Many people, however, use the terms CVand resume interchangeably. Generally, when recruiters say “send me your CV”, they are looking for your resume. If in doubt, ask Career Services staff.

A few words on technology

For resumes that you plan to send out by email, many of the same resume-writing rules apply.

Similar to the regular “snail mail” process, resumes sent out via email should never be sent out without a cover letter or letter of introduction. Since some companies’ email applications and policies make it difficult to view attachments, you may want to develop a second resume specifically for email purposes. By using the following strategies, you can ensure that your resume looks the way you intend it to look when it appears upon your potential employer’s computer.

  • Create your resume in your favorite word-processing program avoiding any special formatting commands specific to your work-processing program. Use ** and – instead of bullets. Use only the keys on the main portion of your keyboard.

  • Save your resume as an ASCII (plain) text file which you can then paste directly into the email. Because most email readers are set to 60-characters per line, you can avoid sloppy looking line breaks by limiting your lines to this length. Use hard carriage returns to insert line breaks. Avoid multi-column layouts.

  • Send your resume via email to yourself in order to check the formatting.


There is no one correct resume format. Take a look at the following resume samples to get ideas for your own resume. Come into the Career Services Resource Library (Annex 210) to review past years’ resume books for additional ideas on wording, format, et cetera. Be sure to schedule some time to attend a resume-writing workshop and to meet with Career Services staff individually for a resume critique or consultation.

Next: Free Professional Resume Sample - Professional Resume Sample - Resume Layout

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