Crafting Your Resume

26 minutes, 3 links


Updated June 8, 2022

You’re reading an excerpt of Admitted by Soundarya Balasubramani. Written by an Ivy League graduate from India, this is the proven guide for students worldwide looking to pursue undergraduate or graduate study abroad in the U.S., Canada, or Europe. Purchase for instant access to the guide and other exclusive resources—including sample SOPs, sample resumes, scholarship lists, and a private community with other readers.

A resume needs to be a living, breathing document of who you are, what you’ve done, and what you hope to do. We know, that’s a lot of pressure. That is why, in this chapter, we will be guiding you through the process of constructing a resume step-by-step.

Ah, the mighty tale of a resume—which means summary in French—goes back more than 500 years to 1482 when Leonardo da Vinci wrote the first professional resume.* Of course, back then it was a mere description of what he did in 1481 and 1482. There was a long period of dormancy for the next 450 years, and then the concept got picked up again.

By the 1950s, resumes became mandatory and included information on height, weight, marital status, religion, and even the number of kids one had.* It was a balance between a person’s personal and professional history.

statsFortunately, in 1965, the Equal Employee Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was established in the U.S. to prevent employers from discriminating against candidates based on their race, color, religion, sex, nation of origin, age, disability, and genetic information (including family medical history).*

In short, it was to prevent companies from discriminating against you based on anything but your skill and past experiences.

At first, resumes were written on scraps of paper over lunch as a form of introduction. However, with time, owing to the introduction of word processors and typewriters, they began adopting a more slick and standard format. The arrival of fax machines in the late 1980s dramatically changed the way resumes were sent. What took days to be sent by post could now be sent in minutes.* Then the internet and email came along to make this even easier. There was a brief period when some people thought that resumes would go out of style, but that could not be farther from the truth.

Resumes might have changed in form from a lunchtime hobby to a highly standard document, but their relevance has stayed the same, if not more pronounced, with time.

A resume, today, is seen as a marketing tool where you are the product you’re selling. It needs to be attractive, structured, and well-tailored. It is more important to exclude things than to include them in a resume, since it cannot span more than one page or look like a condensed ancient Indian scripture.*

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A resume is meant to be a summary of your education, work experience, and skills, and not the entire gist of it.

And according to an eye-tracking survey by Ladders Inc.*, you only get 7 seconds to impress someone who reads it. So, how do you want to leverage that?

actionWe highly recommend you do this exercise with us as you’re reading this section.

First, there are two formats to choose from: the chronological resume vs. the functional resume.* The chronological resume, as the name states, lists your past experiences starting from the most recent one. This is the format that is used by most candidates and preferred by most universities and companies. The functional resume highlights your skills and accomplishments, and is used by people who want to switch career fields. We advise you to pick the former.

Assuming you go ahead with the recommended chronological resume, you can choose either a one-column or a two-column format.* We’ve provided structural samples of both to show the differences.

One-Column Resume Format

Two-Column Resume Format

Both the formats have their pros and cons. A one-column resume is more ATS-friendly (which we’ll get to soon), suffers less distortion when converted into a PDF, and is considered the more acceptable format. However, it is not optimized for space, contains long sentences, and is not appealing to the eye. The two-column resume is newer and more reading-friendly. It lets you separate the less space-consuming sections such as Education and Skills from the more verbose Experience sections. However, it is less likely to be ATS compatible.

Applicant Tracking Systems

An applicant tracking system (or ATS) is a tool used by companies, and more specifically recruiters, to manage the thousands of resumes that come into their pipeline, by parsing the resume content of resumes for relevant keywords followed by sorting and ranking them into different categories.*

If you were applying for a data science role that specifically states that you need a background in Python, R, and machine learning, it’s pretty obvious that the recruiter would only want to look at the resumes that had them. However, instead of having to skim through all of them manually, they let the software do its magic, which then provides them with a ranking of applicants (based on a plethora of indicators).

The ATS is a quintessential example of the phrase necessity is the mother of invention.

As mentioned before, the advent of personal computers, word processors, fax machines, and the internet over the decades made it exponentially easier for job seekers to create and send resumes. Not surprisingly, as their task became simpler, the employers’ task in choosing a candidate for the job became harder.

Until the 1990s, recruiting happened primarily through classified advertisements in newspapers, but this changed dramatically as we entered the 2000s. An early version of the ATS began to take shape in a website based out of Canada.* Before we could reap the benefits of the internet, though, there was the infamous dot com bubble collapse.* Within a few more years, there was the housing collapse.* All this meant the number of unemployed people around the world skyrocketed in a short amount of time.

So what did they do to find jobs?

They flocked to job boards such as Monster and CareerPath, which were already seeing steady growth.

statsThis surge of growth left the job boards blindsided, paving the way to an accelerated adoption of ATS software, which is now used by over 95% of the Fortune 500 companies.*

And somewhere along all this, the need to mention your race, height, weight, and more in your resume lost its significance. Fortunately.

We tell you all this so you know that the ATS is here to stay.

The Two-Column Resume

Let’s begin constructing a two-column resume from scratch. If you choose to go for a one-column resume, you can still use all the best practices provided below, since the difference between the two is more structural than functional. We’re going to pick a two-column resume format created by Debarghya Das* and taken from Overleaf, a website that lets you use ready-made templates and customize them in LaTeX (pronounced lay-tech).

LaTeX* is a document preparation system that is generally used for technical or scientific documentation writing. Unlike a word processor, it lets you focus more on the content of a document and less on its appearance, which is taken care of by it by assigning default values.

You can either pick the template we chose, or pick something else to your liking, and follow along. The following are the five major sections of the resume.

  • Contact

  • Education

  • Work experience

  • Skills

  • Extracurriculars/Volunteering

actionAre you ready with a fresh template opened up in front of you? Let’s begin!

Contact Section

In my junior year, I used to think contact details meant I needed to include my name, date of birth, sex, full address, father’s name, mother’s name, and more. These were the days when I was still under the presumption that a resume spans four pages.

I’ve grown up a lot since.

danger Contact details only mean five things: your full name, professional email address (no more poojavictory or iamcoolguy), phone number (with the appropriate country and area code), short address, and a link to your LinkedIn profile.

After you’re done, it should look something like the following:

Although LinkedIn has become the Facebook of professional networking, you can go above and beyond by adding profiles from other reputed websites such as GitHub, Research Gate, or link your personal website, which can act as a hub for all of the other sites. Tools like Squarespace and Wix have made website creation downright simple. If you plan to limit it to just your LinkedIn profile, ensure that it is up-to-date and complete (which we’ll help you with in the chapter on networking).

It might also be time to clean up your social media in general, seeing how the U.S. has made it a mandate to screen all applicants based on their online history.*

Education Section

We’ve noticed that people outside India tend to have a narrow view of the universities in India. They have heard of the IITs… and that’s pretty much it. However, don’t be alarmed if it’s the same for universities in your country. The people who read your applications are used to viewing and admitting students from colleges belonging to all tiers, as visible from the undergraduate institutions represented at Harvard Business School.*

This section is to give the admissions committee an idea of not just where you come from, but also how well you’ve done academically. To do that, include the following fields:

  • university name

  • degree and major (mention minor if any)

  • graduation month and year

  • location (Follow city, state if it was in the U.S. or the country that you’re applying to. For places outside, it’s best to mention city, country since the admission committee wouldn’t be familiar with your state.)

  • CGPA (Optional: some students also mention a major GPA for subjects that are directly related to the major.)

  • other distinctions (For example, Top 5% in class, Top Ranker, other department specific awards.)

  • relevant coursework (Don’t mention all, but only the top 5–10 relevant types of coursework.)

Below is an example of education and coursework:

As you can see, the same format can be followed for details of your high school.

Work Experience Section

So far, you gave the reader an idea of where you studied and your tactfulness in creating email addresses (among other things). Now we come to the crux of the resume: your experience.

Experience should take up about 30-40% of your resume’s real estate, for good reason. This is where you compress many months (or even years) into a few inches of paper.

For those of you who are applying right after your bachelor’s, ensure to list all your internships and relevant academic projects. For those of you who have a few years of experience under your belt, use your best judgement in cherry-picking the internships and projects you want to include. Relevance is key here.

Each experience should have the following fields:

  • company/university where you work

  • title

  • duration of internship/work

  • location (with the same state and country rule as the Education section)

  • three to four bullet points of the amazing work you did.

    • Include action verbs: Spearheaded, Researched, Developed, Built, Streamlined, Improved, Lead, Served, etc.

    • Include numbers to show impact: time, money, or other valuable resources saved.

    • Include any programming language or software you used and learned.

    • Finally, include the end-result of the internship if it resulted in a form of recognition, such as writing a paper, presenting at a conference, winning a hackathon, etc.

Below is an example of a university experience:

If you interned at a university (or company) for more than three months and have a lot to show, it’s OK to extend beyond 3 bullet points. As a general rule of thumb, though, we recommend you follow the rule of three whenever possible.

Use the same principles mentioned before, but make sure to include keywords that are relevant to the degree you’re applying for. If you’re aiming to get into an engineering management program, having a product management background helps, since many of the alumni have gone that route (including yours truly). Even otherwise, it shows them that you’ve worked with people to solve problems in a manufacturing or management setting.

For any papers you mention in this section (or under relevant projects), ensure to cite it at the end of the resume using the APA format* (below is the apalike format from LaTeX).

actionFill out the rest of this section with your experiences before moving on to the next.

Skills Section

It’s time to put to paper all those sleepless nights spent on Coursera learning to code and on studying to get the Agile certification.

In this section, include all the software, languages, and certifications you have earned over the past few years.

Once again, the skills you put down need to somehow relate to the degree you’re applying to. While getting an Agile certification is helpful if you’re going the program manager/project manager route, it doesn’t seem too relevant for a master’s degree in robotics. For programming languages (and skills in general), it’s useful to mention the proficiency level along with the skill. It is near impossible to know multiple skills with the same level of proficiency (kudos to you if you do!). So use one of the following ways to distinguish between your skills.

  • Proficient / Intermediate / Beginner

  • Lines of code: >5000 / >1000 / <1000

  • Programming Languages / Software / Certifications (if you have skills in all three areas)

Below is an example:

Do not fret if you don’t have enough skills to mention. For non-coders, it’s worth mentioning proficiency in languages (German, French, etc.), soft skills (project management, Agile methodology, Scrum certification, etc.), and other interests (non-fiction writer, district level chess player, touch typing 80 wpm, etc.). These skills are in no way trivial or irrelevant. In fact, I still have non-fiction writer and badminton player on my resume.

Maybe it’s time to remove the latter.

So, dig deep into all the activities you did over the past 4+ years, and we can assure you that things will begin surfacing.

Extracurriculars Section

Ah, finally we arrive at the fun part! This is where you get to include all the clubs, organizations, and festivals you were a part of. This is an important section of the resume. Why?

Extracurriculars signify that you actively took time out of an already busy schedule to contribute towards societal good.

Even if you were part of half a dozen communities, limit this section to a maximum of three experiences. In terms of things to include, this follows a very similar approach as your Experience section.

It’s still advisable to use action verbs, mention numbers, and any competitions that you were a part of, or events that you organized for the wider community.

One section that we didn’t explicitly mention above is the Awards. This is optional based on whether or not you’ve received them. For those who have bagged awards academically and/or otherwise, ensure to include a maximum of five either on the right or left (depending on the space left over and assuming you’re using a two-column format).

More often than not, the admissions committee wouldn’t have heard of the country-specific or state-specific awards. So ensure to include the integrity of your award by mentioning the number of total participants or the level of locality of the award (national vs. international).

With that, we’re done with building the resume. Now, there’s one final task before you can call this complete: making it ATS friendly.

ATS Best Practices

Given how pervasive ATS software has become, it’s highly recommended that you follow the do’s and don’ts laid out below:*

  • Do have long-form and acronym versions of keywords (e.g., Master of Science [MS] or Machine Learning (ML] for maximum searchability).

  • Do use traditional resume fonts such as Helvetica, Arial, or Georgia.

  • Do use standard resume section headings (e.g., Work Experience, Education, Leadership Experience, etc.).

  • Don’t use headers or footers as the information might get lost or cause a parsing error.

  • Don’t use tables or columns as they often cause a parsing error.

  • Don’t save your resume in formats other than .docx or .pdf.

Most importantly, when you begin applying for a job or internship, plug in keywords relevant to the role so the software can pick up on it.*

ATS might have made your job harder by making you more mindful of the content. However, you can use this knowledge to be smarter and reverse engineer it.

Let Software Do the Work

Now, if you’re wondering, is there not a tool that does part of the work for me?

The answer is a resounding yes!

Although we recommend crafting the resume yourself to get experience with LaTeX, you can use a tool that will simply take the input and spit out an ATS-friendly, good-looking resume. One such tool is ResumePuppy.* It was founded by Saiman Shetty,* an Einstein Visa recipient and a veteran product manager from Tesla and Lyft, and Anish Hegde,* another product expert from Yahoo and Signeasy. ResumePuppy is similar to Overleaf in its functionality, but has a more user-friendly interface.

Instead of letting you edit a LaTeX template, it lets you input content into pre-set fields under various sections of a resume. As of now, there is only one standard ATS-friendly template you can use for building your resume, but they are growing rapidly and have plans to add more features soon.

Glad you asked! We highly recommend following the design principles stated below:

  • Do not go below font size 10.5. Ensure that your name is bigger than your headings, which are bigger than your paragraphs (ideally, follow the format 24 / 12.5 / 10.5 and bold your headings).

  • Use one of the more well-known fonts such as Helvetica, Ariel, or Georgia (sans serif fonts are more suited for a digital resume, whereas serif fonts like Times New Roman are better for paper resumes).

  • Add strategic lines to partition your resume well. It’s recommended to add one below your name/contact details, one between various sections, and one to split the two columns (for a two-column resume).

  • Strictly adhere to margins to ensure it looks neat. The recommended size is between 0.5–1 inches.

  • Stay away from using colors if you can. Sometimes, things should remain black and white.

We don’t particularly recommend adding a summary at the top as it can seem redundant. However, if you have a catchy two-liner that you’re itching to include, we won’t stop you.

Hopefully that gives you enough guidance to craft your resume. If you want to look at the complete resume that we were building in this chapter, head over to the Resources folder and go to the Sample Resumes sub-folder. Along with the two-column resume, there are other formats available.

You can also read more comprehensive articles on this topic** if you are looking for more inspiration. Now, put all this into practice and build your one-page marketing tool.

Student Testimonials

A resume is the first document that showcases your designing and organizing abilities. I created my resume in Photoshop. I believe using non-traditional software like Photoshop to create a resume showcases uniqueness in thought process and can be useful, especially if you’re looking to work in the domain of design.

I found many pros to using Photoshop:

a) you can create a color palette that brings out the kind of person you are (for example, blue equates to calmness)

b) you can create guidelines and highlight the content you want on the page

c) you can create layers such that edits can be made to parts of the resume without impacting the rest of the content.

Overall, there are many commands that can be useful in showcasing your experiences and skills.

—Vishal Kothari, The University of Texas at Arlington

I read a few sample resumes oriented towards graduate studies online. I stuck to using only two bullet points under each of my experiences, mentioned the courses that seemed directly relevant to the program, and kept the length to a single page. I also focused on the sentence structures for each bullet point so that every word counted.

What really helped was sitting with a friend of mine who was also applying for his master’s degree and editing our resumes together. Having more than one person review it goes a long way.

—Om Vaghasia, Columbia University

Final Thoughts on Crafting Your Resume

Resumes have certainly had a long history. Beginning with Leonardo da Vinci, they have gone through various stages: a lunchtime hobby on a scrap of paper, a typewritten document with unnecessary personal information, and now a highly customizable marketing tool. It is one of the first things that is considered by the admissions committee and contains all your details put forth in a lucid manner. In this chapter, we took you through the process of creating one from scratch.

First, choose between the one-column and two-column format. One-column is more ATS friendly and two-column is more reading friendly. The Contact section should have a clean email address, LinkedIn profile link, and preferably a personal website. The Education section should portray your academic caliber and relevant coursework. The Experience section, which takes around 30-40% of the space, should condense your internships and projects. Skills is best used to talk about your knowledge of various software, programming languages, and unique skills. (Are you a tennis state champion? Be sure to add that!)

Coming to the more fun sections, Extracurriculars is for you to show your involvement in organizations and societies. This section signifies your ability to be a team player and a valuable social member. Finally, there is the optional Awards section, where it would be a good idea to include the number of participants and the level of locality of the award.

Once you’re done creating your resume, use the ATS best practices to ensure you outsmart the software and the design best practices to make it look good. If you don’t feel like creating your resume from scratch, use a website like Overleaf, and customize one of their preset templates. It’s also a good way for you to learn LaTeX. Now go ahead and create an eye-catching one-page marketing tool.

A Little Reflection on Crafting Your Resume

thinkWhich template did you go with? What made you choose that?

Which was the hardest section to write in this resume? Why so?

If you only had three lines to summarize your career objective, what would those be?

Are you happy with the final product?

Writing Your Statement of Purposean hour

Peter Wason,* a renowned cognitive psychologist, conducted an experiment in the 1960s, now popularly known as the Wason Rule Discovery Test.

At the beginning of the experiment, the participants were told that the experimenter had a rule in mind which applied to number triplets (for example, the rule could be prime numbers, in which case an example triplet is 3-11-17, or 79-139-191). The experimenter gave the example 2-4-6 as a triplet that followed this rule. The participants then had to correctly guess what the rule was by proposing their own triplets and getting feedback on whether or not those followed the rule. There was no limit on the number of triplets the participants could propose to get feedback on.

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