Even though technical fields favor conventional and old-school rules, many students, particularly those with extensive experience or a diverse background, stretch the limits slightly—and smartly—when creating their resumes. Creative format and content choices on your resume certainly are permitted, as long as they enhance rather than detract from utility and appearance.
Creative Format Choices
Although format must remain accessible so the eye can readily scan the resume both horizontally and vertically, creative format choices such as the following can enhance resume content:
- Jazzing up the heading. If nowhere else, many writers give the heading of the resume a bit more dazzle by using different fonts and sizes, perhaps even drawing a line or using an underscore beneath the heading that crosses the entire page.
- Experimenting with tabs and margins. By experimenting with format options for the entire document or for portions, you can change margin settings in order to get more information onto a particular line or onto the entire page. Informal tables and the use of tabs also economize on space. Still, aesthetically, avoid using less than one-inch margins at the page’s edge or more than three different indentations within a single line.
- Providing visual emphasis. Obviously, capitalization, boldface, underscore, and italics enhance both the appearance and hierarchy of information on the resume. Beware, though, of graphic overkill, and keep in mind the intuitive hierarchy we employ as readers: Capitals and boldface typically represent important information, while underscore and italics imply subordinate material.
- Using a resume template. Resume templates, which tend to offer a variety of fonts, preset fields for blocks of text, and even sample text itself, can certainly make a resume look pretty. Keep in mind, however, that resume templates do have constraints in format, they often put categories into a different order than they would be on an undergraduate resume, and the resulting resume may not be suited to the conventions of your field. If using a template, be sure you manage resume content and appearance in a way that suits your circumstances and keeps you in charge of form.
Creating Special Sections
One way to elevate your resume is through difference. Special sections highlighting specific traits that employers seek can make your resume rise above the crowd. Typical approaches writers take include the following:
- Creating a special section based on specialized experience. Common special categories include “Leadership Experience,” “Military Service,” “Professional Qualifications,” “Communication Skills,” “Teaching Experience,” and “Research Experience.”
- Taking a “skills” approach. Drawing from the model typically used in post-graduate professional resumes, some writers open the body of the resume with a “Skills Summary” or similarly titled section, detailing their skills and how they acquired them. A common strategy is to think both quantitatively (“Four years of experience programming computers using . . .”) and qualitatively (“Superior customer relations skills acquired through . . .”). The skills approach can go beyond simply one section, with other section titles including the word “skills” and work experience descriptions focusing on the skills acquired. The focus should be on outcomes and personal and professional attributes that would apply to any job performed, regardless of your field of study.
Two websites you can explore for tips on writing “skills” resumes reside at: