How do I talk about [topic] on my résumé?

One of the first things graduate students need to do when they look for non-academic jobs is create a résumé.  Here are some common questions graduate students ask about representing themselves, their skills, and their situations on a résumé.  Note: this list isn’t Résumé 101, or comprehensive at all, but rather some of the common questions that arise.  (Don’t see your question here? Email it to me at, and I will update this list.)

You will probably tailor your résumé to some degree, depending on the job you are applying for. Here’s a list of terms from job descriptions that you should be familiar with, because they may influence how you write your résumé.

Available-to-start date
Dissertation topic
Digital skills and tools, including social media
Eligibility to work
Gaps in work history
Maternity leave
Paternity leave
Time in graduate school
Volunteer work
Willingness to move
Writing sample

Age. Your age will be roughly deducible from the dates you went to college.  If you are finishing or ending your graduate degree at an atypically older age, you will need to explain what you did in the intervening years: what work you did, including raising children, and what skills you gained that are relevant to the job you are applying for. topics

Available-to-start date.  You don’t need to have this on your résumé.  A non-academic employer will ask you when you are available to start work, and the normal expectation will be after the usual notice period for leaving a job (two weeks for entry- and lower-level jobs, a month for more senior jobs), not “next semester.”  You will normally not be able to delay starting the job while you finish your dissertation, so you should either not apply until you are ready to abandon your degree program and / or your dissertation or until you are close to finishing, or plan to work on your dissertation in parallel with your new job. topics

Dissertation topic.  If you started or finished your dissertation, whether you include its topic on your résumé depends on its relevance to the work you are applying for.  If you are looking to change fields entirely, you may simply want to say “dissertation on medieval French love poetry.”  If the work you are applying for is tangentially or closely related to your dissertation work, you may include either a much more specific topic description (one or two sentences; one is better) or the actual title.  If the title is connotative rather than denotative and contains field-specific jargon, use a description instead. topics

Digital skills and tools, including social media.  Employers generally assume familiarity with at least one suite of office-productivity tools (document management, spreadsheet, slide presentation, email and calendar), so you need not include that on your résumé unless the job description specifically asks you to account for it.  Other required skills are usually specified in the job description: database, web publishing, social media, statistical analysis tools, for example.  A common place for listing such skills is at the bottom of your résumé, right above language skills.  Unless you have an unusually broad or deep skill set in this regard, it is fine to leave this information off your résumé and speak to it when asked.  You may want to include links or hashtags for especially successful social-media campaigns. topics

 Eligibility to work.  Employers assume you are eligible to work for the job to which you apply; you will need to show appropriate documentation should you get the job.  You may leave your citizenship and visa status off your résumé unless it is an advantage, say if you are applying to a US company with offices in the EU.  Then you may place, under your contact information, “US and EU passport holder,” for example.  Be sure you know and have documents for your visa status. topics

Gaps in work history.  A résumé lists work undertaken in reverse chronological order (more rarely thematically, by type of work), so gaps of more than a month or two will likely need to be explained to an interviewer.  Remember that volunteering and unpaid work is also work and a source of skills, and listing that kind of work experience is particularly important if your time away from the paycheck workforce was longer than, say, six months to a year. topics

Languages.  A line about your language competencies, specifying speaking, reading, writing competencies (e.g. German: good speaking and reading, fair writing) often appears at the bottom of a résumé, along with a description of your education. If you have a strong language skill that is directly relevant to the job you are applying for, you may wish to call that out in your summary paragraph at the top of your résumé. topics

Links.  You may include links to writing samples, social media campaigns, websites, and other samples of your work.  Before you send out a résumé, check every link.  Be aware that many résumés are initially machine-read, so if you submit your résumé online and it includes links, make sure they will work. topics

Management.  You may discuss many different experiences in terms of management: leading a group of teaching assistants, being the senior residential fellow in an undergraduate dorm.  Corporate employers generally understand management as someone with supervisory and evaluation authority, so if you had that responsibility, you have had a managerial position. topics

Maternity leave / time off to raise children.  Maternity leave in North America is generally short enough that accounting for its time does not appear on a résumé.  If, however, you were the primary caregiver for your child(ren) for a period longer than a few months and were not also employed, you will need to have an explanation of the skills you gained from that time and how you plan to use those skills in the workplace.  Women in particular who remain out of the paycheck workforce for multiple years need to list the skills they maintained or gained during those years, whether for volunteer or paid work, as they will often be assumed not to have updated workplace skills.  Here’s a guide to how to do that.  Don’t hesitate to stress time-management skills, as no one understands the value of a half hour better than the parent of young children. topics

Paternity leave.  Paternity leave in North America is generally short enough that accounting for its time does not appear on a résumé.  If, however, you were the primary caregiver for your child(ren) for a period longer than a few months and were not also employed, you will need to have an explanation of the skills you gained from that time and how you plan to use those skills in the workplace.  Describe volunteer work and the skills you gained from it. topics

References.  You no longer need the phrase “References available on request” at the bottom on your résumé, as it’s taken for granted.  You should not have the names and contact information of your referees on the résumé. topics

Time in graduate school.  If your time in graduate school is longer than six years, especially if you did not complete your dissertation, you will need to stress the work you did while you were there and the skills you gained at it.  Especially in this case, it may be an advanage to frame your résumé as an accounting of work experiences and skills rather than an accounting of time. topics

Volunteer work.  Volunteer work may be listed just as paid work is on your résumé: it does not need to be labeled “volunteer.”  Sometimes it will be obvious from the title (“volunteer firefighter”), which is fine.  The important thing for a résumé and to an employer is what skills you gained from that work and how they are useful to an employer. topics

Willingness to move.  Non-academic employers assume that if you are applying for their job, you are willing to move to its location.  If an employer has many jobs available at different locations, you will normally have to apply for the job at a specific location. topics

Writing sample.  If you have a brief writing sample addressed to a non-specialized audience, you may provide a link to it toward the bottom of your résumé, above or below your digital and social-media skills, depending on which is more important for the job to which you are applying.  If it is central to the job for which you are applying, references to such writing will likely go in your summary paragraph at the top.  “Brief” means 500-1000 words; closer to 500 is better. Here’s a detailed guide on non-academic writing samplestopics