Creating a Professional Resume

By Allison McWilliams (’95), Ph.D., Assistant VP, Alumni Personal & Career Development, Wake Forest University

One of the most important documents that you will create in your post-college life is a professional resume. Your resume, both online and in print, is Open notebook with blank white paper and a penthe story that you tell about yourself: who you are, what you can do, and where you are headed. Your job with your professional resume is to demonstrate, through your experiences and education, how you are progressively building skills and how you have been able to apply them to achieve results. You need to tell your story, effectively and strategically.

The nice thing about a professional resume versus a college resume is you are no longer limited to the one-page rule. But that does not give you license to be sloppy with it. And, just like in college, you may need to tailor your resume to meet the specific criteria of different positions. Depending on what the role is looking for, you might choose to focus on different aspects of different projects; for example, your ability to grow and lead teams, your ability to manage projects, your ability to generate revenue and manage budgets. What is the story you need to tell about yourself to this employer? Critically examine the job description’s duties or essential functions and qualifications sections for insight into how to answer this question.

Strategically telling your story also means it’s time to let go of some activities from your resume. In most cases, people will be far more interested in your most recent professional experiences since you graduated. And these include volunteer experiences. Think about how your volunteer experiences (what you would have called extra-curricular experiences in college) have helped you to develop leadership, interpersonal communication, organizational, or other skills. Are there skills or experience gaps that you are missing? Volunteer activities can be a great way to fill those gaps, in addition to your direct work experience.

Generally speaking, the sections you should include on a professional resume are:

  • Full Name and Contact Information – a current phone number and email address will suffice, and unless you are ok with someone contacting you at your current place of employment, it should be a personal phone and email address.
  • Education – degree, school, year you graduated. If you graduated with honors you can include that as well. You can also put any certifications or credentials you have received here or put those in a separate section later.
  • Work Experience – in reverse chronological (most recent experience first) order, include all of your professional work experience from present day to graduation. If you had meaningful employment while you were in college you can include that as well, but no one expects you to do so. Include your position title, place of employment, and the dates you worked there. Under each of these headings, use bullet points to describe your role and your activities with short, action-oriented statements that demonstrate impact and describe how you applied skills and knowledge. Only your current role should be in present tense; all other roles should be in past tense.
  • Service/Volunteer Experience – again, put these in reverse chronological order. Include your role, the organization, and the dates of service. If warranted, you can add additional descriptors that continue to tell your story, but keep these short.
  • Presentations and Publications – if you have presented at conferences or had papers or articles published, be sure to include these with full and appropriate attribution.
  • Awards and Honors – if you have received any professional or civic honors or awards, include these with the name of the award, the organization who awarded it, and the date it was received.
  • Technical Skills – highlight any technical skills you possess, in particular unique skills like mastery of data analytics software, web design software, content management software, and others. Pay attention to the skills the job is looking for, and note the ones you possess. You can mention Microsoft Suite here, but that is a general baseline expectation and will not make you stand out from the crowd.

It should be noted, if you are applying for academic (faculty) jobs, then a very different sort of CV, which is focused primarily on teaching and research experience, is required and should be created for those positions. Additionally, certain fields like the arts require very specific resumes or portfolios that do not align with the basic professional outline presented above. In all cases, seek out guidance from mentors or others working in the field to make sure you are presenting yourself in the manner that is most appropriate to that field.

As you grow your career, your professional resume will continue to grow, and over time some things towards the beginning of your career may start to drop off, or you may start to shorten the descriptor statements. People are always going to be most interested in what you have been doing most recently. And that is why you can never stop building your skills and abilities and seeking out experiences that challenge you, help you to learn and to grow, and build the story of your life.

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