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When you send your r�sum� and a cover letter to a company that has a job opening, you are making a claim that the company should interview you for this position. It is up to you to persuade the audience (the company that has the job opening) of the validity of your claim by providing appropriate evidence that you are worthy of an interview. The burden of proof — the responsibility for substantiating the claim and effectively persuading the audience — is yours. The employer is entitled to presume that you do not deserve an interview unless your application materials are especially effective.

While the content of the r�sum� (the facts about your education and experience) is powerfully important and central to the substantiation of your claim, audiences are often persuaded by other, more subtle characteristics of your r�sum�. Effective r�sum� format establishes your professionalism, attention to detail, accuracy, clarity, and comprehension of the employer's needs — all characteristics that employers look for in addition to appropriate education and work experience backgrounds.

Thorough understanding of the audience for your r�sum� — what that audience expects and how that audience will read your r�sum� — allows you to design your r�sum�'s format to reinforce your claim, establishing your credibility as an applicant worthy of an interview and a potentially valuable employee. Recognizing some general characteristics of r�sum� audiences allows you to make your r�sum� more audience-based, enabling quick, easy audience access to specific information and increasing the chances of persuading your audience to grant you the interview. In short, effective format makes the audience more receptive to the content of the r�sum�.

R�SUM� AUDIENCES: The "first" or "screening" audience, particularly in large companies, will be someone from Human Resources or a search team — not necessarily someone from your field. In large organizations, these first readers may read dozens (hundreds?) of r�sum�s each day. Typically, this first reader:

  • Spends less than one minute
  • Looks for key words that match the job description
  • Looks for a strong positive impression
  • Requires little reason to reject a r�sum� (Sometimes a single misspelled word is regarded as sufficient reason to exclude.)
  • Scans the r�sum� from top to bottom, left to right
  • Assumes the r�sum� you send them is your best work

Since the first step toward being granted an interview requires that your r�sum� survive this first reading, the characteristics of that audience guide the format and design of successful r�sum�s. Once your r�sum� survives that first reading, it will probably be read by someone in your field who will certainly be influenced by the r�sum�'s content. However, this audience also will be persuaded by the format and presentation of that content. The following guidelines should help you make decisions about format.


  • Identify your most important qualifications for a job
  • Are lists, not narratives
  • Are well-designed to make information accessible to the reader
  • Never contain anything negative
  • Usually are arranged from most important to least important and from most recent to least recent
  • Should rarely be more than one page for someone just graduating from college (be sure, however, that you fill that one page!)

In order to achieve easy reader access, r�sum�s arrange information into blocks. This arrangement of information allows you to focus the audience's attention and emphasize your strengths. You can provide additional emphasis by employing various formatting techniques. For example, you can:

  • Use text characteristics such as capital letters, bold print, larger font sizes, etc. to emphasize important information and help the reader locate specific information
  • Use white space (space with no text) to surround sections and direct the audience's visual focus

The list below indicates the traditional blocks of information. Each item in the list links to a discussion of the content for each block and provides several sample approaches to formatting that content.

The blocks of information ALWAYS include:

The blocks of information may also include:


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