Four Tips for Writing a Better Resume

Even though the majority of jobs are filled through word of mouth, you still need a resume. In my experience, even if people hire you because they know you or you come highly recommended, they still ask for your resume. Either because they want to make sure you are the real deal or because they need to have something to show their superiors. Something to show to others that you are worth hiring.

Having worked with hundreds of PhD students and ECRs on their resumes, here are some tips that I think you’ll be able to apply to your resume:

1. Maintain a resume AND a curriculum vitae

It doesn’t really matter what you call them, but you need a summary of your work that you send in for a job. I call that a resume. You should also keep a full list of everything you’ve done. I call that a curriculum vitae (CV). Resumes are bespoke. Specific and unique to each and EVERY job you apply for. CVs are updated annually with what you’ve done that year. It means you’ll forget less. It means you’re under less pressure to remember those key experiences that a prospective employer is looking for. 

2. Make it look pretty

Resumes are essentially marketing or advertising material about you and your career. If you want others to take notice, in the first instance your resume needs to look good. There are various versions of looking good. But one thing is for sure – your grant manuscripts are NOT good. Small typeface, and edge to edge formatting are not good. Yes, you can fit much more in. But it makes the document less enjoyable to read. It makes the document look cluttered. 

Instead, allow whitespace to allow the reader time to catch their breath.1

In their article Should resume layouts always be creative, Koolen, and Van Wilgenburg (2018)2 present three resumes. They found that different layouts are better suited to different audiences. However, all examples included plenty of white or negative space. The area VOID of information.

Another research article looked at two resume layouts – vertical or horizontally proximal. That is, how the information in the resume were grouped.3 They conclude that visual hierarchies matter for information assessment and recall. Unfortunately, they found vertically proximal resumes were better for recall, but horizontally proximal resumes were better for assessment.4

And just in case you need me to say it – journal article manuscripts aren’t good either.

So, if a page of your resume is indistinguishable from a page of a journal manuscript or grant application, it needs to be re-designed.

If you’re not good a design, feel free to use the templates in MS Word or PowerPoint. 

3. Experience before education

You’ve probably put a lot into your education. And the achievements probably mean a lot to you. But, for most prospective employers your experience matters more. Thus, put your work experience first, and your education second (or third or fourth). And for many people education will be three lines – Bachelors; Honours/Masters; and PhD. 

4. Mention your responsibilities and achievements

For each of your roles, include both the responsibilities you had in the role and your achievements. Remember to keep them related to the role you are applying for. That might mean including a one line summary about your grants, publications, and awards. Yes, use those two headings, responsibilities, and achievements. It’ll make the information easier to write about and easier to find.

And, if you need help writing your resume or applying for jobs, feel free to get in touch.

Dr Richard Huysmans is the author of Connect the Docs: A Guide to getting industry partners for academics. He has helped more than 200 PhD students, early career researchers, and established academics build their careers. He has provided strategic advice on partnering with industry, growing a career building new centres and institutes as well as establishing new programs. Richard is driven by the challenge of helping researchers be commercially smart. His clients appreciate his cut-through approach. He knows the sector and how to turn ideas into reality.

To find out more, call 0412 606 178, email ( or subscribe to the newsletter. He’s on LinkedIn (Dr Richard Huysmans), Twitter (@richardhuysmans), Instagram (@drrichardhuysmans), and Facebook (Beyond Your PhD with Dr Richard Huysmans).

1WRITING and FORMATTING RESUMES for TODAY’S JOB SEARCH, Louise Kursmark, 2016,, accessed 26 Oct 2020

2Should resume layouts always be creative?, Ruud Koolen, F. Van Wilgenburg, 2018,, accessed 26 Oct 2020

3Understanding the enigma that is résumé layouts by analyzing saccade-derived and scanpath metrics, S Devlin, M Sauls, L Hieftje-Conley, A Ward, 2017,, accessed 26 Oct 2020

4Understanding the enigma that is résumé layouts by analyzing saccade-derived and scanpath metrics, S Devlin, M Sauls, L Hieftje-Conley, A Ward, 2017,, accessed 26 Oct 2020