Resume Basics – Content

In our first post, “Resume Basics – Design”, we talked about the visual design of your resume and that it’s more important that your resume is easy to read and find information, well organized, than cool-looking and really design-y. Here, we talk about what to put on your resume.  The basics, but how to beef it up a bit, legitimately.


  • Obviously, include your employer, title and dates of employment. Then some details on your responsibilities and skills used or developed. (For example, if you were a waiter, you strengthened customer service skills, speed, accuracy, memory, professionalism, grace, dedication and reliability.) Call out specific projects, clients/brand names or accomplishment.
  • Value-Add projects:  If there was anything extra or unusual that you did or any recognition you earned, like you won an intern of the year award or if you can actually say that you lead a team or 5 interns or you organized a company picnic, include any extra relevant and specific experience.
  • Results:  If you have impressive results, always include those. Some people love data. Make sure you explain why that data is good (like an improvement over the prior). Example:  You handed out 250 free Popsicle and 300 coupons every Saturday in the grocery store resulting in an increase in Popsicle sales by x% over a non-promotional day. Pay attention to that stuff while you are doing it, or go back to your employer and ask for data if it’s collected. 
  • Keep notes while you are employed: Always look for opportunities to learn or do something you can put on your resume. You don’t have to have it on there 5 or 10 years from now, but when you are fresh out of high school or college, you want as much as you can – as long as it’s relevant. (Again, resume only one page.)

As always, A few things NOT to do:

  1. Don’t get too cute or fluffy. And for goodness sake, NEVER lie or even over-exaggerate what you did. If you get asked about it and aren’t convincing, or an interviewer follows up with a previous employer, you’re so screwed. Some industries are a tight network and you could ruin your reputation before you even get started.

2. Be careful about including experience that might send a message about you that you don’t want to convey.  If you were a stripper or a model or a drug dealer, think about if that might either turn off a potential employer or attract the wrong type and consider how you might word something on your resume to show that you were reliable, responsible, strengthened your entrepreneurial skills, customer experience, etc.  Also consider that there MIGHT be something on your resume that you need to leave off or seriously edit. 

[Story:  I saw a resume for someone on LinkedIn who had waited tables at Hooters. Additionally, her profile picture was less-than-classy (See: Midriff and Nipples in the “What NOT to Wear” section of our related post). Finally, she had listed “modeling” under activities.]

I respect waitstaff, models, dancers, etc. I am well aware that they are very hard working and that those are legitimate professions and good money. But I’m merely suggesting that, as you move forward in your career and want to build some credibility and professionalism, you might want to be selective in what you include and what you leave out or how you communicate it. For example, the above-mentioned young lady might (a. change her profile picture to something more professional and b.) say she waited tables at an American restaurant chain. We will talk more about this in another post – about Separating your Personal and Past Life from your Future Professional career. And, how to use LinkedIn.


If you are most recently a student, consider listing education FIRST, above experience. (I wouldn’t say this is a hard and fast rule, especially if you have some killer experience – if so, list EXPERIENCE first.) If you haven’t graduated, you can put expected graduation date.  Maybe list your grade point on your resume if it’s really good?

Include your degree, major, minor, overseas study, special coursework. YES – Consider calling out relevant coursework.  When I was in college, in some more senior level courses we worked on assignments for actual clients. When I was in grad school, we had extremely specialized courses that I listed a few of on my resume.

BEEFING UP the resume

 Okay, so your resume is feeling a little thin. What are some other things you can do to add one or two items to your resume? 

Training:  Take a training class. Teach yourself. Get certified.  There are many free (or nominal fee) courses online! Complete something relevant.  Take an Ideo +Acumen course on Human Centered Design or Public Speaking. Free! Get certified in Google Analytics.  Sign up for Toastmaster’s Club and learn to give public speeches – one night a week for a 6 months.

Non-profits: We will have a whole talk on volunteering but get out there and DO something out of the goodness of your heart. Why? Because its easier to get a free job than a paid job and its good for your soul and your community.  It also looks good on your resume, though hopefully you are doing it for more reasons than that. Did you serve on your subdivision social committee? Did you coordinate a can drive for the local food bank? Did you help organize a 5K or park cleanup that attracted an impressive number of participants? Did you head up a committee at your church?  Did you install a Free Little Library at the local park? Ideally, you can volunteer your time doing something that is relevant to a future career.

For Profits:  Offer to conduct a free (short term) internship or project work; Coach or Referee; Camp counselor; even just job shadow a few places; find work/projects/activities through your college; anything you can learn and put on your resume.

Clubs, organizations and networking:  Join some. Commit to the ones you enjoy and benefit you. Consider fraternities (not necessarily just the college ones, also ones like Lion’s Club, Elk’s Club, PEO, Masons) and get involved on sub-committees that interest you; go to regular meetings, presentations, outings and put this on your resume under activities/interest.  You might not only learn something but you’ll make connections. More on networking on another post.

Be creative; be entrepreneurial:  Start your own company by selling stuff for others on eBay on a commission; mow lawns/rake/shovel snow/gardening/landscaping; babysit/ pet-sit/house-sit; odd jobs.  Try Kelly Service temporary jobs; make phone calls or campaign door to door for a political candidate you endorse.  All of these things demand shorter periods of time or you can do around the edges of other jobs/school.

Be interesting.  Do what you love and include it in your Activities/Interests/Awards section:  Don’t go crazy, but remember that sometimes in an interview or when scanning through piles of resumes, something might catch a potential employer’s eye, so put a couple fun things here without getting too personal.  Did you hike the Appalachian Trail?  Did you referee youth soccer? Were you a member of the local Skydiving or Archery Club? Remember to do most of these things because you’re passionate about them and you truly want to engage, not just to put it on your resume.

A few miscellaneous resume items:

  • Objective/Personal Statement: Not a fan but open-minded.  If you feel you need one, because it’s not obvious or there’s no email (“cover letter”).  Just keep it super simple. I’m looking for an administrative/entry level marketing role at a ___ company where I can learn ___ and contribute ____. I worry that something too specific might limit opportunities, so don’t be too particular about what you are looking for. But then if you need to be too vague, what’s the point?
  • “References: Available Upon Request”:  Skip this on the resume: It’s presumed you have references.  BUT, be sure to think about who your references are (teachers, professors, bosses) and make sure that you have permission to use them as a reference. Get their name, title, phone number and email and have that tucked away on a prepared document for when you need it.
  • These two above items, IMHO, only serve to take up space that is better filled up by all the interesting things you can include as noted in previous sections.

Get started! You can do it! Build that stand-out resume!

Check out our Vlog on building content on your resume.

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