Posted by: rcieri | October 3, 2008

How to write a resume

Advice from Ross Wade, Elon University's new assistant director of career services for the School of Communications.

Advice from Ross Wade, Elon University's new assistant director of career services for the School of Communications.

Ross Wade shares advice on making the optimal first impression

Ross Wade, Elon’s new assistant director of career services for the school of communications, has résumé writing down to an art of just five steps that he shared with student at a Résumé Writing Workshop in McEwen Oct. 2.

In his experience, Elon students have a lot of experience, but they have a difficult time communicating it on paper or in an interview. This skill, though, is imperative to landing a job or an internship. A student’s resume gets about 30 seconds to impress a potential employer before he or she moves on to the next.

“I’ve kind of deemed that as my mission while I’m here – to help everyone take all these great experiences and be sure that they are obviously and strategically communicated to employers,” Wade said.

Wade has five steps to making the optimal first impression.

1.  Brainstorm

The first step is to simply write everything down; make a list of anything you have done, including jobs, activities, community service, fraternity or sorority activities, leadership, course projects and church work.
Keep it to college experience, though. By sophomore year, students start phasing their high school experiences out of their resumes.

“What we want to be doing at that point is building more professional experience, which just isn’t your internships or your part-time job. There are the class projects or working with student media, if that’s The Pendulum, ETV or WSOE, we want to start looking toward what we can do here,” said Wade.

2. Strategize

Students should put themselves into the mindset of where they would like to be, which means understanding job, industry and organization requirements.

The key tool Wade recommends for this step is a “Them and Me” chart. In the “them” column, students should list any qualities or skills that the particular employer will be looking for.

In the “me” column, students should compare their list of experiences from the brainstorming portion to the “them” column of the chart. Any experiences, qualities or skills that could demonstrate the employer’s desired skill set should be written under the “me” column.

3. Organize

Resumes should always be grouped by sections.

“We want to have the most relevant information up at the top, and then it gets less and less relevant as we go down,” Wade said.

The sections can be split into two categories – basic and strategic sections. Basic sections usually include a standard set of three, the header, objective and education sections, which should always come first for college students.

The header is simply the student’s name and contact information, but it is the most important part of the entire resume because it is the means by which the employer will first get in touch with the student for an interview. It can also be a good place to put a web address for an online portfolio.

The objective section tells the employer the specific position the individual is seeking, and Wade has personal experience with the importance of this section.

Ross Wade demonstrates the "Organize" step of the resume-writing process.

Ross Wade demonstrates the "Organize" step of the resume-writing process.

“I didn’t care for objectives, either, until I was an assistant producer for a multimedia production company, and we were hiring for two [production assistants] and an assistant producer. We were just getting fax after fax of resume after resume, and one of our [production assistants] was just stacking them on top of each other. At one point they were dropped, so we didn’t know which person was applying for what. In the objective, if it didn’t state what they were applying for, it went to the shredder,” Wade said.

Education should usually be the third section, and it can include the student’s school, degree, major, minor, grade point average, study abroad experience and honors. Grade point average, however, is best not included if it is not particularly high. “In major” grade point averages can be included if the student desires or employers require it.

“I’ve never been asked, in any job interview, what my GPA was, so it’s not necessary. But if you have a 3.9, it says a lot about you as a student,” Wade said.

The other sections on the resume, the strategic sections, will vary according the position the student is seeking. To create these sections, the student should reference their “Them and Me” chart to find categories under which they have the most desire experiences.

For example, a journalism major seeking a job at a newspaper could categorize all his or her reporting and writing experience under a section called “related experience,” which is common on resumes. Other typical sections include “skills,” “leadership” and “awards.”

Interests and personal attributes could also make their way onto a resume, but Wade stressed that experience is always better because it demonstrates these interests and attributes. Much of the time, interests are better placed in a cover letter.

4. Create

“This is basically the skeleton of our resume,” Wade said of the first three steps. “The create section – we’re putting the meat on our skeleton.”

In writing objectives, Wade advises that it be specific and highlight how the position will utilize the individual’s skills. He compared it to a movie trailer, saying that it can be a “trailer” for the rest of the resume.

The longest section in the resume should be the “experience” section. Students should go back to their “Them and Me” charts to find the most relevant experiences and list them on their resumes.

Listing them, though, is an art form. The experiences should use descriptive “action verbs” and quantify the experience when possible. For instance, a student could write that he or she wrote articles for the newspaper, but it would be better to write the number and types of articles. The more specific it is, the better.

Students ask questions and confer with one another during the workshop.

Students ask questions and confer with one another during the workshop.

Experiences should be listed in reverse chronological order in most cases, but Wade urges students to think strategically. If a class project was completed more recently than an internship, it may still be prudent to list the internship first.

A skills section may be next, and it can include proficiency in computer programs, fluency in languages and database research experience. Depending on the uniqueness of the skill set, the section may be moved up or down. For instance, a student fluent in a foreign language may have a skills section much closer to the top of the page.

Almost all resumes should be kept to one page, and they should have a clean, simple, easy-to-read layout. They should also avoid using personal pronouns.

Wade advises against using a template when creating a resume.

“Lots of times, they’re filled with all these crazy indents. You might have your master resume and resave it and try to move stuff around, and it’s not going to let you do that because it’s trying to maintain this format that they’ve put together. It’s telling you what’s important. When you create it yourself, you’re deciding how you’re going to put it together, not some guy at Microsoft,” Wade said.

Students can use bold, underlining and capital letters to highlight key points, but it should be consistent throughout the entire document. Proofreading is a must as well.

“I had ‘calendar’ in my resume about four times, and I was doing spell check real quick. It switched the word from ‘calendar’ to ‘colander,’” Wade said of his own experience.

5. Send

Before sending a resume, students should check the method by which a potential employer would like to receive it. If the employer would like it mailed, it should be printed with an ink-jet printer on nice paper that is either white or off-white.

A reference list can be included as well but only if it is requested. It should always be a separate document.

For more information on writing a resume, visit the Elon University Career Center‘s website.



  1. Rachel, your attention to specific details makes this story a wonderful contribution to the community. People who didn’t have time to attend the workshop in person are getting the highlights of the workshop through your reporting. This is a nice public service. I passed the site address along to Colin Donohue, and he might ask if he can use your story on the School of Communications Web site.

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