Resume Guide for Graduate Students and Postdocs

The Purpose of a Resume
Additional Resume Writing Resources
Timeline/Getting Started with your Resume
How Career Services Can Help You
Samples/Anatomy of a Resume

The Purpose of a Resume

Resumes are documents that are requested by employers in many fields outside of the academic arena. Most private sector, nonprofit and government jobs require a resume rather than a CV. (For a discussion of applying for academic jobs, see Academic Job Search Handbook and our online guide to CVs.) Please note that if you apply for positions in a setting where many of the employees have PhDs, for example a research position in a think tank, the terms "CV" and "resume" may be used interchangeably. For a comparison of the similarities and differences of CVs and resumes, see this resource (pdf): Changing Your CV to a Resume.

Resumes are a SUMMARY of your selected professional experiences in the context of where you want to go next. They are not meant to be a comprehensive list of your every activity or accomplishment. Resumes serve as a marketing tool to get you to an interview, meaning you select the "message" of accomplishments that will show you are qualified for a particular job. The skills you illustrate in your resume must match the requirements of the job. If you are applying to multiple types of jobs or multiple types of employers, you will likely find more success in your job applications by creating multiple versions of your resume. Because a resume concisely summarizes your experience, education and skills as they relate to a specific career field or job, it is important that you are familiar with the industry, career field and organizations that interest you. You will write a more effective resume if you do this research and are informed about potential employers.


Timeline: Getting Started with your Resume

First step:

Before drafting your resume, review all your qualifications. Using the categories suggested below, list everything which you might include. This list will form the basis for your resume and will help you identify your accomplishments. Eventually you will choose what to include or exclude for each application, but initially it is important not to overlook anything relevant. Think through the skills you would like to emphasize. For example, if you would like to stress your organizational abilities, write descriptions which incorporate specific accomplishments demonstrating those abilities.

Second step:

The next step is to find a job to apply to, or at least the type of job you want to apply to. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all resume, each should be tailored to each job you apply to, but there will certainly be parts of the document that will stay much the same, and be appropriate for multiple jobs. This might mean changing some of the key words in the resume, or illustrating different skills in your bullet points, so that you are describing your experience in the employer's language, not your own.

Third step:

Go through the job advertisement and carefully note all of the requirements and skills the employer is looking for. Based on your background research of the employer and the people you have spoken to who know about this employer, try to create a resume that illustrates that you have these skills and have used them effectively.

Next step:

Use some of the samples and resources we have provided to create a draft version of your resume, and then make an appointment with Career Services. In this stage, you should experiment with the format, pare down irrelevant information, have the resume critiqued by a Career Services advisor, and then make at least one more draft before you produce the final version. Take a look at this pre-meeting checklist to help you make the most of your next appointment with a Career Services advisor.

    "American Style" Resumes - a Note for International Students and Postdocs

    Unlike the CV you might create for a job outside the United States "American style" resumes do not include personal details. You do not need to include date of birth, gender, health or marital status, and in fact employers are not allowed to hire (or not) based on these qualities.

    Additionally, if there is anything in your resume which may make an employer question whether you have U.S. work permission, list U.S. citizenship or permanent residency if you have it. If you do not, either make the most positive statement about work eligibility which you honestly can, for example:
    "Visa status allows 18 months of U.S. work permission" or omit any mention of citizenship.


    Anatomy of a Resume and Resume Samples

    Every resume should include information about your education and relevant professional experience. Many other sections may be added, including a job objective, summary of qualifications, honors and awards, extracurricular and community activities, certifications, professional memberships, languages, computer and research skills, and background information. Choose categories which showcase your strengths in relation to the job(s) that interests you. Organize the contents of your resume by highlighting whatever category of information is most important, given your career goal. Within each category, give information in reverse chronological order (listing the most recent first, and then going back in time). In general, whatever is most relevant merits the most space.

    We have many resume samples from different fields, provided by Penn graduates and postdocs after their successful job searches. Here is a general template for a resume, and below is an overview of typical sections in a resume. In many sectors/industries, there is a strong preference for a one-page resume; two pages at the most. This limit of one to two pages with publications, is appropriate for most industrial research positions as well. In any case, if you use more than one page, put the most important information on the first page (with the exception of publications), and be sure to add your name and page number to the second page in a header or footer.

    Federal Application Tips - Federal resumes look different and contain specific content - to learn about writing federal resumes, click here.

    Formatting and Layout

    Layout is crucial to the impression your resume makes. Resumes are skimmed before they are read, so try to have the most important information "jump off the page" when readers take an initial glance at your resume. In general, the simpler the formatting, the easier it is to read a resume. Use a standard font that is easy to read. Times and Helvetica, or fonts like them, are commonly used. Use one font and one or two type sizes, from 10-12 points. Using just one type and size of font and relying on capitalization and boldfacing for emphasis is also acceptable. To create emphasis, use indentations, capitalizations, spacing, boldface or italics. Put dates on the right-hand margin.

    A good check for whether or not your resume is effective is to show the resume to a friend for 15 seconds and then ask which points they remember or what items they saw first.

    Contact information

    Your name, address, telephone and email should always come first as part of the "header" of a resume. List only phone numbers which you're sure will be answered professionally. Your cell phone or a number with an answering machine is best. Make sure the voicemail message is appropriately professional. List only one email address; an employer won't know which to use if more than one is listed. If you have a website, you may also list the URL in your contact information/header.


    Objectives are optional, but in many cases, a well-worded, specific objective strengthens your resume. It should answer the question, "What does this person want to do?" and set the tone for what kinds of qualifications and accomplishments will follow, that support the objective. Avoid bland, vague phrases like "Seeking a challenging and responsible position using my creativity." The objectives below, while simple, are acceptably specific:

    • Position designing and administering public education programs for an organization concerned with broadening public access to the Internet. Position in telecommunications policy research.
    • Position designing and administering public education programs for an organization concerned with broadening public access to the Internet. Position in telecommunications policy research.

    • Position in public opinion polling or consumer product market research using skills in survey design and statistical analysis.

    • To work with the design and development of new computer systems with a special interest in microprocessor applications and computer design.

    Qualifications, Professional Summary, or Profile

    This optional category can follow or substitute for an objective in a resume. A well-written "Qualifications" section can focus the reader's attention on your strengths. Like the objective, it must be specific. Writing a good one requires you to think carefully about exactly what you have to offer. For example:

      Meticulous public opinion researcher with experience in project management. Persuasive public speaker. Bilingual in Spanish and English. Strong interest and background in public health issues.

      Two years' experience serving as liaison between community groups and government agencies. Familiarity with budget preparation and administration. Skill at public speaking and negotiating working relationships between public and private sector organizations.

      Sometimes an objective and a statement of qualifications are combined: Position in management consulting. State-of-the-art knowledge of biotechnology. Experience working in teams of international researchers. Ability to communicate complex concepts to varied audience


    In reverse chronological order, list all your degrees from your present or most recent program back to your college experience, but do not include high school/secondary school. List the name of the institution and date degrees were awarded. List the date you expect to receive the degree for the program you are currently in. If you are a doctoral student who will not complete your degree for some time, date the times important milestones were completed, such as completing all coursework.
    You may include details in this section such as special areas of academic concentration, title or topic of dissertation or thesis, and name of advisor. You may also list additional research projects, names of members of your dissertation committee, or specific research papers. Be sure to condense or expand your academic background in ways that are relevant to where you want to go next in your career.

    If you have self-financed a significant portion of your undergraduate and graduate education, through any combination of scholarships, work, and loans, you may want to put a statement on a resume such as "Self-financed 80% of undergraduate and graduate education."

    Honors, Awards, and Activities

    These categories can be combined with "Education" or given separate sections, depending upon how major a qualification they are for the positions that interest you. Depending on the kinds of jobs you are applying to, if you have received several prestigious and highly competitive awards, for example, you might want to highlight them with a separate section. Commonly known honors (Phi Beta Kappa) need no explanation, but other awards can be briefly explained. Foreign students, in particular, should stress the degree to which an unfamiliar award was competitive. For example, "One of three selected from among 2,000 graduating chemists nationally." If you have many awards you may choose to list just the most prestigious to save space for other relevant information. You might use a heading such as "Selected Honors and Awards."

    If you were very active in school, give details about only your most impressive/interesting activities. If you became extremely involved in an activity and want to discuss it at some length, it can also be included under "Experience." In this example, honors and awards are combined with "Education." Make sure that your descriptions clearly show what skills you used and what results/outcomes you achieved.

    University of Pennsylvania, Annenberg School for Communication
    Ph.D., Communications, May 2010
    - Dean's Fellowship
    - Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship


    In this section, more than any other, you will emphasize material in proportion to its probable interest for a particular audience of employers. Include everything you've done that's relevant, whether you did it as an employee, as an intern, as a volunteer, as a member of a student research team, or as the officer of an organization. Sometimes one general heading called "Experience" is all you need. Sometimes you will want to subdivide this section by functions (such as "Editing," "Promotion," and "Program Administration"), by topic (such as "New Technologies" and "Public Education") or by industry (such as "Publishing," "Telecommunications" and "Advertising"). For teaching focused positions, a common breakdown is "Teaching" and "Research." Describe each experience to give an overview of what you did, with an emphasis on what you were able to accomplish in the position. Use verb phrases and make every word count. Instead of saying "Responsibilities included developing various new course materials and instructional aids," say "Developed training materials on customer service now used for all new employees, resulting in positive recognition from management." If you are describing a research project, give a brief introductory statement indicating what you set out to accomplish and what results you obtained. If relevant, go on to indicate important research techniques you used.

    Usually there is no need to list your references on the resume, and "references available on request" is so obvious as to be unnecessary. However, if your references are so well-known that the mere inclusion of their names strengthens your qualifications, you may want to mention them within the resume or in your cover letter, once you have permission to do so.

    Eventually, most employers will ask for a list of references. If you have the permission of your contacts/references, provide the contacts' names, titles, telephone numbers and email addresses. If it is not clear how you know the person, it can be helpful to list the relationship as part of the references page. (IE Internship Supervisor, XYC Corp, 2008-2009.)


    These are usually cited only on a resume for a research position, or on a resume for a position which requires writing for publications. In these cases, use standard bibliographic format. If you are applying for a position in a non-research setting, don't cite publications in full. A phrase such as "Five publications in professional journals" is usually all that is necessary. This shows that you completed research projects and successfully communicated your accomplishments to a broader audience, both good skills to highlight across most fields.

    Professional Memberships/Leadership

    List memberships or committee work in professional organizations. If you have been very active in university committee work, you might include that information here, or create a separate section. If you are applying for a non-research position, list only the memberships which are relevant to the type of position you're seeking.

    Civic or Community Activities/Leadership

    Often employers are interested in what you do besides work. Volunteer work with charity organizations, student groups, alumni associations, or civic or political groups is of interest. Usually you don't need detailed descriptions of these activities; however if you want to show transferable skills, you can describe relevant accomplishments of your volunteer effort, for example: "Coordinated 12 volunteers in a fundraising effort that resulted in $53,000 in donations." Occasionally you may be concerned about reaction to disclosing political or religious activities/affiliations. In such cases, you can use more general phrases, such as "the Pennsylvania Senatorial primary," rather than identifying a campaign by the candidate's name.

    Research Techniques/Computer Skills or Other Specialized Skills

    This section is usually in the form of a simple, specific list. If you are listing laboratory research skills, include only the more specialized and difficult ones you have mastered. List the most relevant skills first.

    Additional Information

    This is the place to put interesting information that does not fit elsewhere. You may include foreign languages (unless they are highly relevant to your career goal, in which case they merit their own section or could be included in a section on specialized skills) and interests that show your accomplishments such as artistic endeavors, competitive sports, extensive travel and the like.

    Click here to view Resume Samples from Career Services

    Formatting for Email, Print or Online Applications
    Some organizations scan resumes so hiring managers can do keyword searches to identify qualified candidates. To make sure your resume scans easily, avoid italics and other elaborate formats. Use simple formatting for online applications through website forms as well.

    If you send your resume by email, save it in a pdf document, and name it with your name and date, such as "J.WongResume2010.pdf" instead of "Resume.pdf"

    Have paper copies printed on good quality paper. You may choose white or some neutral color. Print on only one side of each page


    Additional Resources for Writing your Resume


    How Career Services Can Help You

    You can make an appointment with a career advisor at any time, but you'll find it more helpful if you have a draft version of your resume (and/or other job search materials) to get the most useful feedback. To make an appointment, log in to Handshake or call 215-898-7530. You can also drop in for walk-ins. These slots are open for 15 minutes so it may not be possible to get a complete review during this time.

    Take a look at our calendar of events to see if we have any workshops or panel discussions that might be helpful. Take every opportunity to network with our speakers. Remember, the more you know about an organization and what they do, the easier it is to write an effective resume.