Resume Guide

A resume is a clear and concise professional document written to provide a brief snapshot of your most relevant accomplishments, qualities, and interests. Expect to adapt each resume to the perspective of your anticipated reader and accompany it with a cover letter.

Steps to Success

Research and learn some professional resume basics and begin a first draft.

Use these Career Center resources to get you started:

Watch a video of our Converting Your CV to a Resume Workshop

Take advantage of the Resume Modules, a three-part video series, Structure and Formatting Strategy, Developing Resume Content: How to tell your story with impact, and Tailoring Your Resume for your Audience.

Resume Tips Handout information  |   Verbs to Highlight Your Accomplishments  |  Example Accomplishment Statements  |  Transferrable Skills  |  Resume and Portfolio Examples for Creative Careers

Look at a number of resumes to build your familiarity with how young professionals effectively communicate their accomplishments. Start with our Resume Examples:

Graduate Student Resume Examples

Master’s Arts  |   Master’s Consulting   |   Master’s Student Affairs   |  Master’s Tech   |   PhD Biotech   |   PhD Clinical Project Management   |   PhD Math to Industry

Undergraduate Resume Examples

First-Year   |   Biotech Lab   |   Engineering & Entrepreneur   |   Fashion   |   Finance   |   Global Health   |   Journalism, Photography and Publishing   |   Prehealth   |   Television and Film   |   Duke Sanford School Example*

*Sanford Public Policy students developing a resume for your major required internship, refer to the Public Policy Resume Checklist for specific requirements. Please create an account in the Sanford Career Link and go to the document library to find the checklist and specific resume writing resources.

Versatile Ph.D. Examples for graduate students considering non-academic careers (provided by The Graduate School)

  • Summary Statements

Studies have shown that recruiters spend an average of six seconds per resume.**

A summary statement is an opportunity to convey information quickly to the reader. However, these statements are not commonly used by undergraduate students. Since the summary is the opening to your resume, it’s the first opportunity to communicate who you are and why the hiring committee should choose you over other job applicants. Through carefully chosen words, your summary should indicate your desired area of work AND demonstrate the relevant value you bring to the position. For undergraduates, it is generally best to present this information in your cover letter.

** Eye Tracking Online Metacognition: Cognitive Complexity and Recruiter Decision Making. Will Evans, Head of User Experience Design, TheLadders. 2012.

When You Should Consider Using a Summary Statement

Explaining a career shift or connecting professional experiences
Demonstrating a multidisciplinary set of skills that make you a strong candidate for the job/internship
Highlighting personal traits and skills; demonstrating how you will bring value to the company

For undergraduate students, we recommend you consult with a career advisor before using a summary statement.

When You Don’t Need a Summary Statement

If you’re applying for a very technical position or have been working in the same field for a while, you may be better served by using the space to expand upon your education, experience, or skills sections.

What to Call This Section

Much like the section headers on your resume, there is no one right way to label the category of summary statement. Common terms include:

  • Professional Summary
  • Summary of Qualifications
  • Key Skills
  • Key Qualifiers

Avoid the term “objective,” as your objective should be evident—to get the job to which you’ve applied.


A summary statement should be two to three sentences that effectively outline what value you would bring to the position and organization to which you are applying. See the next page for examples.

  1. Start by saying who you are. Who are you in terms of profession and job? Even if you’ve only been in school, you may be training as an educator, scholar, analyst, or researcher.
  2. Provide context. Why is your experience relevant? This will probably include several industry-specific terms and keywords.
  3. Demonstrate how you’re unique. What strengths do you have? What makes you different from other people in your program? What evidence do you have for these traits?

Some summary statements may include bullet points after a sentence or two. This is certainly acceptable, but be sure to make them succinct.

Common Mistakes

Generic: A generic summary statement might be something like, “Engineer with experience in machine learning and Python/Java/R.” Ideally, your summary statement should not be the same as someone else’s. Consider what personal traits or unique perspectives you offer and bring those into your summary statement.

Self-focused: These summary statements use personal pronouns (I, me, my). For example, “I’m looking for a position where I can learn and grow as a professional.” Avoid personal pronouns (I, me, my) in your summary statement.

Vague: Vague summary statements might sound something like, “Experienced writer and editor, looking to apply communication skills in this field.” Too broad, could be written for almost any job role or industry. Avoid this mistake by indicating your target industry or key skills needed for a particular field or job role. Tailor your summary statement to each job role you apply to.

  • Summary Statement Examples

    Below are several examples for summary statements. Note the bolded phrases, which you can use as building blocks for your professional summary, but be sure to make your summary fit you.

    Award-winning poet and creative writer offering extensive storytelling, event planning, and museum curation experience. Driven to engage public audiences in artistic appreciation, conversation, and participation.

    Software engineer with a keen eye for human behavior. Dedicated to helping companies gain a competitive edge by developing and implementing intuitive technology that responds to customers’ needs.

    Summary of Qualifications

    • Engaging communicator with 6+ years of progressive experience in education, group facilitation, and community development
    • Strong public speaking, teaching, and training skills for a wide variety of audiences
    • Proven ability to juggle multiple projects while adhering to strict deadlines

    Biochemist with 10+ years of laboratory and research experience. Adept at translating technical results in business settings; thrives in a fast-paced, hands-on environment.

    Dynamic educator with a passion for North Carolina stories. Trained in research methodology, pedagogy, and maximizing the use of technology in the classroom.

    Results-oriented data analyst driven to provide technological solutions to human problems. Experienced at helping Fortune 500 companies reimagine customer service interactions. Proven success in implementing strategies to draw in a 20 percent increase in qualified leads.

    Policy-minded architect, focused on improving physical spaces in public schools. Skilled at data analysis, grant writing, and managing projects with diverse stakeholders. Recognized for creative solutions and environmentally-driven designs in a team-based environment.

    Accomplished researcher and economic analyst with seven  years of experience focusing on commercial and retail banking. Adept at combining in-depth knowledge of industry practices and legal requirements with analytical expertise, strategic negotiation, and skillful relationship building to secure new and repeat funding sources. Earned top graduate researcher award from pool of 750 students.

    Accomplished data science professional with deep expertise in artificial intelligence and machine learning in healthcare. Expert in integrating, mining, and analyzing key data sources for life science companies to increase ROI on marketing campaigns. Successful track record building global data science teams and analytical products using structured and unstructured data sources.

    Collaborative geneticist with a passion for uncovering insights from large complex data sets and implementing new data-driven strategies. Effective team leader with exemplary skills in mentoring and managing groups of diverse individuals.

    Adaptable environmentalist and urban planner highly skilled at developing solution-focused strategic plans for cities and municipalities. Proven success building cross-functional teams and pushing the boundaries of space planning. Specialties include urban design research, streetscape design, and mixed-use planning.

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