A résumé is a document that summarizes your educational and professional qualifications for job applications. It's one of your most important job search tools.


  • A résumé should be no more than one page long if you have little or no professional experience, two or more pages if you have a more extensive work history.
  • Choose a standard typeface for your text (e.g., Times New Roman, Arial, Tahoma, Garamond), 10–12-point text size, and use it consistently; your name and subheadings can be larger and may be bolded for emphasis and readability.
  • Use bullet points rather than paragraphs for content; in general, each bullet point should be at least five words and no more than three lines long.
  • Include only information relating to your education, skills, professional interests, and work experience. Do not include photographs of yourself or personal information unrelated to your ability to do the job (e.g., Social Security number, height, weight, general health status, or personal interests). International students: Do not include your visa status on your résumé; however, be prepared to talk about it in an interview.
  • Write in the third person; do not use "I" (e.g., "Worked for three summers at…" rather than "I worked for three summers at…").
  • Make sure your spelling and grammar are flawless.

Suggested Formats

Reverse Chronological

The reverse chronological format is recommended for current students or for recent graduates who have little or no prior work experience. In this format, you list your education and qualifications near the top and your professional experiences in reverse chronological order (i.e., most recent first).

The layout for a reverse chronological résumé typically includes the following sections.


Include your name, Penn State email address (e.g., abc1234@psu.edu) or other professionally appropriate email address, phone number, and LinkedIn profile URL if you have one.


  • It is not necessary to include an objective statement if you are seeking a full-time position after graduation. However, we recommend one on résumés for internship or co-op positions.
  • An objective should be no longer than two lines and should briefly describe your current goal, including the semester in which you are seeking a position (e.g., "To obtain a mechanical engineering internship for summer 20xx").


  • List your degree or anticipated degree (e.g., "B.S. in Electrical Engineering"), graduation date or anticipated date, and cumulative grade point average. If you are using Nittany Lion Careers, current GPA is required for your résumé to be approved.
  • The official name of this institution is The Pennsylvania State University and the location of the University Park campus is University Park, PA (not State College).
  • International students: Consider including your Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) scores if English is not your native language.

Work Experience

  • Include current and past paid positions you have held, especially those that are or were engineering-related; include your title, the name of the company or organization, location, and months/years of employment.
  • Include volunteer positions and research projects, if applicable.
  • Begin each bullet point under each job title with an action word to describe specific responsibilities, and quantify whenever possible (e.g., "Increased customer satisfaction with company procedures, as evidenced in 80 percent of customer surveys between 20xx and 20xx")
  • In general, include no more than five bullet points to describe each position.
  • Descriptions of job responsibilities in current positions should be in the present tense; descriptions of responsibilities in past positions should be in the past tense.
  • International students: When describing previous work experience in your home country, provide additional information about the company that will help to put your experience into context for an American employer (e.g., "second-largest automotive technology company in China").
  • If you don't have much engineering or technical experience, emphasize the transferable skills that you may have used or developed in non-technical positions you have held, including management or public speaking


  • Avoid using subjective descriptors of your skills (e.g., "good communicator", "hard worker"). Instead, include specific technical skills, including computer programs related to your major that you would use in the position or any relevant special training.
  • Make sure you are reasonably proficient in any program you list as a "skill"—an employer might follow up to see how much you really know!
  • Non-technical skills can be helpful to include as well:
    • Include foreign language skills if you have them, especially if you are interested in working overseas.
    • International students: Emphasize strong English language skills (if you can do so honestly).

Activities, Honors, and Awards

  • Include membership in honor societies or academic, professional, or interest-related organizations. Specify those in which you took a leadership role (if applicable).
  • If you have received any academic or professional awards at Penn State or from a previous employer or another source, include them along with a brief description of what each award was for.

Functional Format

The functional résumé format is an option if you are a current student or a recent graduate with an extensive work history. This format emphasizes work experience and workplace skills rather than education. Most elements of a functional résumé are similar to those of a reverse chronological résumé; however, the layout is a little different:

  • Provide your name and contact information in your heading at the top of the page.
  • The next section should be a "Profile" or "Summary" in which you provide a short professional description of yourself that includes some of your top selling points, with quantitative evidence of success (e.g., "Highly motivated engineer with five years of industry experience seeking a chemical engineering research position. Demonstrated history of managing up to 20 people in a research lab setting. Excellent leadership and team-building skills.").
  • Include a "Work Experience" section that provides information about where you are working or have worked in reverse chronological order. Emphasize transferable skills that you have gained from each experience in addition to specific job-related skills.
  • If you have received any awards or honors in the last few years—whether in a degree program or in a previous workplace—you can list them in an "Awards and Honors" section.
  • List your educational information toward the bottom.
  • It’s not necessary to include "References Available Upon Request" at the bottom of your résumé. Employers will ask for references if they are interested in more information about you as a candidate.

See our Sample Job Search Documents page for links to sample résumés.

Applicant Tracking System (ATS) Optimization Tips

Employers are increasingly using Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to filter job search documents—such as résumés and cover letters—using keywords such as job titles or specific skills. An ATS can store and track job search documents and help hiring managers by screening for the most appropriate candidates to contact and potentially interview.

To increase the likelihood that your résumé makes it through the initial screen and into the hands of a real person, it’s important to make it as ATS-friendly as possible. 


  • Create the document from scratch, using Microsoft Word. Avoid templates, especially fancy ones that include graphic elements and colors.
  • Use well-known, easy-to-read font styles.
  • Don’t use tables, flowcharts, text boxes, photos, or graphics, including special characters or symbols; these can confuse the ATS.
  • Use tabs to navigate within the document.
  • If including URLs, use the whole address (e.g., https://www.linkedin.com/in/myid)
  • Maintain a one-inch margin on all sides of the document.


  • Follow any instructions that the ATS presents.
  • Use traditional résumé section headings that the ATS is likely to be looking for.
    • Experience is an important keyword, so consider using it in headings for different types of experience (e.g., Work Experience, Volunteer Experience, Leadership Experience)
    • For headings that don’t use the word "experience", keep headings simple (e.g., Education, Technical Skills, Awards).
  • Use bullets or commas in content sections, not open spaces.
  • Incorporate exact keywords from the job description wherever possible to describe your skills and experience.
  • Submit your résumé in .doc, .docx, or PDF format.

Check how well your résumé is optimized by using a service such as Jobscan, which provides up to five résumé scans a month for free (although you must create an account to use the service).

Learn More: Résumés


Engineering Career Resources & Employer Relations

College of Engineering

117 Hammond Building

The Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA 16802-4710

Phone: 814-863-1032