Penn State Harrisburg

Resume Instructions

The function of your resume is that of a sales piece; it's the "advertisement" that stimulates an employer's interest in you, the product. An employment manager will spend approximately 30 to 60 seconds screening resumes; therefore, as a marketing tool, the resume must package your qualifications in the most attractive and concise manner possible. It is this one piece of paper --your resume --that determines whether or not an employer will consider you as a candidate. If you want to increase the probability of a decision in your favor, read on!

Although writing a resume seems like a formidable task at first (maybe worse than a term paper!), there are some tips which can make the process a lot easier. These pages will present some general resume "rules" and refer you to other sources of help. HOLD EVERYTHING...

(You knew there was a catch, didn't you?) Before sitting down and writing a word on that blank sheet of paper, there are a couple of important steps.

First, and most importantly, you should give considerable thought to what you want to do. An effective resume usually contains a statement of what type of position you are seeking - your career objective. With a well-defined objective, the experiences summarized in the body of your resume can be highlighted in a way that reflects positively on your potential. And it is your potential, more than your past, that is of interest to the employer.

Now, if you don't have a notion of what your career objective is, stop here. Writing a resume without a goal in mind is like starting a 500-mile hike without a destination - sure, it's possible, but where will you be when you finish? If you need to clarify your sense of direction, you are encouraged to talk with a member of the Student Assistance Center staff.

Once your objective is defined, the second step is simply to list all of your experiences on scratch paper under several headings: academic, work, extracurricular, internships, volunteer, community, etc. Make another page to list your skills: communications, research, computer, mechanical, planning, etc. Don't worry about format - this is not a draft, only a complete worksheet from which you can select the experiences and skills that are most indicative of your potential. In other words, your best-selling features.

One More Thing Before You Start...

Many resumes today no longer have to pass a 30-second scan by a personnel worker who is putting them into two piles: reject and possible. Instead, more and more firms are scanning resumes using computers.

Optical character recognition (OCR) software scans resumes, creates a file which may be "read" to abstract basic information (name, address, education, etc.) and to pick up the key words which describe the kinds of experience you have had. Therefore, unless your resume contains the same key words that appear in the description of vacancies in an organization, you won't receive consideration.

To make sure that electronic reading of their resume is an asset rather than a liability, candidates often put a "Key Words Summary" right up top where career objective used to appear. Think about how the employer describes a job. For example, if you have been a teacher in a school system but would like to end up as a corporate trainer; then use a word like "training" to describe your recent work.

As an article in the National Business Employment Weekly pointed out, you may want to submit your qualifications two ways: one via faxed resume which you assume will be computer scanned and the other via a conventional letter of application and resume which gives the employer a clearer sense of the kind of person you are.

Now Let's Get On With It...

Click here to view a basic resume template that will help you to create that first draft.  Additionally you may want to contact the Penn State Harrisburg Career Services office at 717-948-6260 to inquire about upcoming resume writing workshops (or do a search on our "calendar of events").

The following tips will help in developing a professional-looking resume from the worksheets you have prepared. Remember, your purpose is to write a positive, promotional-type resume, not a blow-by-blow description of everything you have ever done.

Unlike a term paper, there is not a fixed or correct format for a resume. Certain elements are required, but the layout and organization are flexible, except as indicated below. Do not simply copy a sample format - your resume should be designed to suit you. The basics to be included in the resume are as follows:


The resume heading consists of three items: your full name, complete address, home telephone number (you may also want to include a cell phone number) and your email address. If you will be relocating, show both your temporary and permanent locations. You should avoid the use of labels such as "resume of," "vita," or "personal data sheet."


This is the hard part, but you already have it done, right? The objective as written on your resume should be a concise statement of the type of work you seek. Care should be taken to avoid objectives that are too broad, making them meaningless, such as "a career in management." On the other hand, if you are too specific, the objective may cause an employer to screen you out from positions that could be of real interest to you!

Job objectives should mention either a functional area in which you choose to work (such as accounting, mechanical engineering technology, advertising, sales) or a target industry (communications, hospitality, retailing, banking). Ideally, the focused job objective will include both the functional aspect as well as the target industry: "A sales position in a hotel or conference center," or "An administrative position in a health care organization."

Jargon and clichés should also be avoided. For example, "to pursue a challenging and rewarding career," or "opportunity for personal and professional growth" add nothing to your career objective and only confuse the issue as to what type of position you are aiming for.

You may want to discuss objective wording with a Career Services person and/or review publications in the Career Library. Although many employers prefer to see an objective on the resume, there are alternatives such as describing your goals in your cover letter. Better yet, you may wish to print two or three resumes with different objectives.


The general rule is to follow the objective with your best asset; as a new college graduate, your education is probably your most "sellable" feature. The highest degree should be listed first, including the name and location of the institution and the month/year of the degree. Do not abbreviate your degree.

Other institutions that you have attended should be listed in reverse chronological order. If you earned an associate degree, identify the degree field and the month/year the degree was conferred.

If you are an individual with a history of changing schools, do not list every school on your resume. It may be impressive to your friends, but apt to raise a few eyebrows with employers and could possibly screen you out of an interview! We suggest you omit this laundry list of schools, offering a brief explanation in your cover letter or summarizing the schools attended in a short paragraph on your resume.

Along this line of thinking, it is assumed that college graduates somehow got through high school, so it is not necessary to include your high school unless you attended a prestigious or specialty school.

Grade point average may be included if it is a positive factor (usually a 3.0 or better on a 4.0 scale), or you may emphasize special courses that are consistent with your career interests.

Any academic honors/awards may be listed under each college attended, summarized in a closing statement under the "Education" category of your resume, or listed in a separate section entitled something like "Activities and Honors."

Example 1: Bachelor of Science, Mechanical Engineering Technology, May 2005
The Pennsylvania State University, Capital College, Middletown, PA
GPA: Major 3.6/4.0; Overall 3.3/4.0

Example 2: Bachelor of Science, Professional Accountancy, May 2005
The Pennsylvania State University, Capital College, Middletown, PA
Grade Point Average: 3.83 on a 4.00 scale
Honors and Awards: PICPA Scholarship Award, 1990.
Selected to represent The Capital College in a statewide competition. One of 60 winners as judged by the Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants.


The experience section of your resume may be formulated in a variety of ways. However, it is not the way you format your experience that is important, but rather the way you describe your experiences.

The content of your experience section is probably the most important component of your resume, for the information given in your work descriptions conveys more than factual data. This information implies your values, personality style, interests, maturity level, and communication skills. These traits are often vital factors in determining who an employer decides to call in for an interview and who an employer decides to screen out!

Experiences should be listed in reverse chronological order. You may list experience under one heading or you may choose to separate your information into subheadings such as "College," "Summer," "Internship," "Cooperative Education," or "Related Work Experiences."

Job experiences should include dates of employment, employer's full name and address, division or location of position, job title, and description of responsibilities including contributions and accomplishments. A good "rule of thumb" is to avoid the use of pronouns (I, you, they, he, she) and articles (a, an, the). Do use action verbs and words to show brevity and results: directed, organized, guided, initiated, engineered, developed, analyzed, improved, eliminated, streamlined, modified, launched, accomplished, demonstrated, optimized. Also, use quantitative descriptions when you want to emphasize your contributions: helped assist over 200 persons annually; developed new packaging equipment resulting in an annual savings of 1.5 million dollars.

So remember, highlight and describe your duties and responsibilities rather than simply stating the title of your position.

Note: If you have a variety of part-time jobs and summer experiences, you may want to summarize these in a short paragraph as in the following example.

June 2001 - May 2005
While attending college full-time, the following positions were held to supplement expenses:
Self-employed Groundskeeper, Middletown, PA. Estimated prospective jobs and controlled expenses (5/01 to present); Cashier, Pathmark Supermarkets, Inc., Camp Hill, PA. Totaled items and maintained grocery stock (1/01 - 8/01); Salesperson, Edison Brothers Stores, Inc., Shoe Division, Camp Hill, PA. Advised customers on shoe styles and resolved customer complaints (summers '01 and '02).

Military Experience

Military experience can be included in the "Experience" category or described in a separate category. Obviously, you will want to identify the branch of service and time period, highest rank achieved, special schools and training, and overseas assignments.

Other Sections

(Skills, Interests, Professional Affiliations, College Activities, Community Activities, etc.) These sections are of varying importance to personnel officers; however, many employers are looking for "well-rounded" candidates. This is the area where you should show your versatility, variety of interests, or any activities you may have. Use whatever heading (or none at all) you feel is most appropriate. What follows are examples of "other sections" found on resumes.


Working knowledge of BASIC and COBOL computer languages, fluency in Spanish, and proficiency in typing.


Hot air ballooning and travel (including East and West Coasts, Mexico, Spain, and parts of South America).

Professional Affiliations

Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering, Association of Student Accountants.

College Activities

Pennsylvania State University Ski Club Member, 1990/1991; Meade Heights Community Council, Residence Area Organization: President, August-May 1991; Vice President, August - May 1990 .

Community Activities: Vocational Industrial Clubs of America: Chapter President, September 1986 - May 1987

United States Table Tennis Association, member, September 1988 to present.


A few pointers: If your actual work experience is quite limited, emphasize your college and community activities. (Remember to use action verbs: planned, organized, etc.) Don't be afraid to include your volunteer work experience. Employment guides like to point out that experiences acquired as a volunteer can be used to document work skills. But a lot of employers haven't read the same books because many discount nonpaid work activities. They fail to see how working with a child care program or raising money for a school is related to their jobs.

Obviously, it takes talent to effectively sell volunteer experience to a hiring officer and too few do it well. Just remember:

  • Distinguish between what you did and routine jobs. Highlight programs or projects which you did and cite achievements. Did you create any new activities which were particularly successful?
  • Don't use the word "volunteer" on your resume. Simply tell what you did. You are not obligated to say it was unpaid unless asked.
  • Present your work as regular and scheduled, rather than something you did whenever you felt like it.
  • Cite any training or classes attended. Did you direct any training yourself?
  • Nonprofit groups may be particularly receptive to your work as a volunteer, so be sure to include them in your job search. If a potential employer has volunteer opportunities, you might start as a volunteer, make contacts, and hope to join the payroll.

Likewise, if you have been working while going to school, you probably had little time for outside activities, so leave activities off your resume and supplement with a short listing of interests. (This list shows you are an interesting person and more than a ''bookworm," as well as gives the recruiter something to use as an "ice breaker" at the beginning of your interview.) Be careful when deciding to include membership groups that identify controversial issues, religious affiliations, or political preferences; these entries may have a negative impact with an employer that does not share the same moral or value system you possess. (Some examples: nuclear freeze, equal rights amendment, right-to-life, young Democrats, Baptist Council, etc.) Remember, you want to give your best image to an employer, so always present yourself in a positive way.

Please note: Individuals may use a personal data section to indicate whether they are willing to relocate or travel. Age, marital status, and health need not be indicated. Employers who are well-versed in equal employment regulations do not expect to see such information on resumes --so, when in doubt, leave it out!


Most people use the phrase "available upon request" rather than listing names of individuals. References generally are not placed on resumes. Be prepared, however, to provide employers with names, addresses, and phone numbers of persons who have agreed to serve as references for you. Although an employer will usually wait to contact references until an applicant has reached the stage of serious negotiations, you should have reference information with you to use in an interview or to include on an application form if requested. Finally, you should always obtain permission to use a person as a reference; also, it is courteous to give a copy of your resume to each person who has agreed to act as a reference for you.

More Resume Writing Information

You may want to investigate resume writing tips from several sources, including:

Resume workshops conducted by Career Services staff are offered each semester at a variety of times to suit different student schedules. Watch bulletin boards and Career Services News for workshop announcements.

For viewing: "Resume Preparation From The Employer's Perspective" and "Writing Resumes That Sell." These 30-minute videotapes are available to review in Career Services, or can be checked out for viewing at home. Just contact our office to arrange for a time and day.

"Getting A Job" module on our computer software program entitled "DISCOVER." It includes information on resume writing, both chronological and functional formats, as well as cover letter writing. And best of all, you can compile your resume and cover letter while on line!

"Re$ume" - a computer software package that helps you to organize your personal history, skills, and experience, telling you the essential kinds of information to put on a resume -- the final product being a printout of your polished resume.

The Career Library, housed in the Student Assistance Center, includes several resume writing guides, articles, and samples.

The Heindel Library reference section includes resume guide books. Ask one of the reference librarians for assistance.

A variety of resume writing publications are available in the Capital College and other bookstores.

Note: When using books or articles, be sure they are recent. Acceptable resume styles have changed considerably in the last few years due to market conditions, employment regulations, and recruiter preferences.

The resume style described in this handout is a basic chronological resume. Other styles, such as a functional resume, may be suitable for some students. The sources identified above include descriptions of different resume styles.

Now That the Darn Thing is Written...

Well, at least you have a first draft. Here are a few things to consider:

  1. A recent employer survey entitled, "Criteria for Effective Resumes as Perceived by Personnel Directors," revealed that 53% of the responding employers preferred a resume of one page in length, whereas 35% of the respondents preferred two pages. Therefore, your aim in compiling your resume is to edit it into one page unless you have lengthy, relevant experience that deems it appropriate for two pages. (Consider top corporate executives who condense thirty years of experience into two or three pages. New college graduates should be able to fit their resume on one page.) The key words for a resume are "professional" and "concise."
  2. As previously stated, avoid titles such as "Resume of," or "Vita of," and leave out the personal pronouns "I" and "My."
  3. Format is important because you want your resume to create a good impression. Choose a format to complement your content. You can vary the format by CAPITALIZING, underlining blocking, etc. Use your imagination!
  4. Once you have your information presented in an accurate, concise, and attractive manner, don't ruin it with poor grammar, spelling errors, typos, coffee stains, or other signs of carelessness.
  5. After you have drafted your resume, you may want to make an appointment with a Career Services counselor to review your work.

Ready for the Final Typing and Duplication

Employers initially judge applicants by the physical appearance of their resumes. So, if you are not a proficient typist, do not attempt to type your own resume in its final form. A poorly typed presentation on onionskin or erasable bond paper tells the prospective employer a great deal about the applicant. Even if you have exceptional qualifications, an employer may overlook them if the resume conveys an impression of sloppiness, disorganization, or a lack of professionalism.

The few dollars you may spend for a professional-looking job will be well spent. A typist having access to a typewriter with variable size and style types is particularly desirable, since much can be done to personalize your data with this kind of equipment. You may also want to consider having your resume type-set by a commercial printing firm. A word of caution: If you decide to hire a commercial printing firm, be careful not to have them print a resume that is unusual in style (such as fancy border and non-traditional formats), for an employer may wonder what these cosmetics are trying to hide!

If you elect to have your resume type-set and reproduced professionally, we suggest that you secure bids from two or three firms, together with samples of their work, in order to compare both quality and price. Use the yellow pages of your local telephone directory to identify commercial printing firms that would be readily accessible to you.

If you prefer, the Copy Center, located in W-117 of the Olmsted Building, will reproduce (from your perfect, typed copy) resumes on document bond for eight cents per copy, plus tax. It is important to give the Copy Center as much advance notice as possible, since they do have very busy times.

Now That You Have 1000 or 100, or 25 Copies Printed...

Preparing your "personal advertisement" (your resume) is, of course, only a first step. Now that it is printed, consider some ways to distribute copies of your resume:

  1. Give copies to anyone who is helping in your job seeking process: faculty, Career Services, supervisors of internships, previous bosses, relatives, associates in professional organizations, friends, and anyone else you can think of who may hear of possibilities for you. Some sources indicate that the majority of jobs are found through "contacts," so it pays to let everyone know that you are looking, what you are looking for, and what you have to offer.
  2. As mentioned earlier, give copies to people who have agreed to act as references for you. If that person gets a phone call about you, it will help if your resume is available to refresh his/her memory about your unique capabilities.
  3. Always take a copy of your resume to an interview, even if you have already submitted one. It may have been lost in the meantime, or you may be asked to leave an extra copy for another manager; it pays to be prepared.
  4. Of course, you will use your resume to respond to advertisements and to send to companies you have targeted as employers of your choice. Any resume sent in the mail should be accompanied by a cover letter that is individually typed, addressed to a specifically named individual and geared to your objectives and qualifications.