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How to Format an APA Resume

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The goal of a resume is to get a job interview. Use your resume to highlight your education, skills and experience. A concise, well-written resume invites the reader to find out more about what you have to offer in the workplace.

Curriculum Vitae (CV) vs. Resume

Curriculum vitae is Latin for course of life. As such, a curriculum vitae (CV) is a multi-page document detailing education, experience, publications, awards and professional memberships. CVs are usually required for jobs in research, academia and high-level positions. CVs are all-inclusive, so they can run as long as 20 pages.

A resume, on the other hand, provides a synopsis of your relevant education, experience and skills. It's best if you can confine the information to a single page, but no longer than two pages at most. If you had a job unrelated to the one you're applying for, you can include it on your resume, so you don't have a gap in your employment history. When listing responsibilities and accomplishments for the unrelated job, include only those that translate to the new position.

So-called "soft skills" are almost always transferable from one job to the next, even in vastly different fields. Soft skills are akin to personality traits in that they reflect who a person is rather than focus as much as on what they know how to do. Soft skills include the ability to work independently and as a team member, communications skills, interpersonal skills, leadership qualities and time management abilities. Words and phrases such as "dependable," "punctual," "detail-oriented" and "multi-tasker" describe qualities that any employer would view as assets.

What Is APA Style?

The American Psychological Association (APA) publishes a style guide widely used by writers and academics. Using APA style standardizes content organization, spelling, abbreviations and citations. APA style is typically the required style guide for writers and students in the social sciences, business and nursing.

The APA regularly updates its style guide. You can find a copy at most libraries. Purdue University's Online Writing Lab (OWL) offers an extensive free guide to APA style to anyone who wants to use it. You do not have to be a student at Purdue to access OWL.

There is no APA resume format or APA resume template. Within APA writing and formatting guidelines, you can make choices about the content and organization of your resume.

Chronological vs. Functional Resume

The three types of resume are chronological, functional and combination (also called hybrid). The format that you choose depends on personal preference, your qualifications, your work history and the position for which you're applying.

A chronological resume:

  • Lists experience and education in chronological order
  • Best suits individuals with a consistent work record on one career path
  • Highlights progressively responsible positions with more than one employer in a single industry
  • Shows little or no gap in work history

A functional resume:

  • Allows you to organize your qualifications by skill sets instead of employment history
  • Best suits new graduates or others with a limited work history
  • Highlights qualifications of individuals changing career fields

A combination resume:

  • Allows you to combine elements of chronological and functional resumes
  • Best suited for those with a steady but diverse employment history
  • Focuses on skill sets relevant to the position you're applying for instead of on previous job titles

Look online for resume examples relevant to the position you're seeking. The websites of college career centers often have resume examples and suggestions. Jobs websites such as CareerBuilder, ZipRecruiter and Indeed also have examples. Use them for reference only and do not copy word-for-word. Hiring managers use these websites too!

Use Action Words

To keep resumes brief, it's standard practice to use phrases beginning with verbs in the past tense rather than complete sentences. Avoid using "I." For example, you might write:

  • Communicated organization goals effectively to trainees
  • Provided courteous customer service
  • Demonstrated strong interpersonal skills
  • Reduced paper usage by 10 percent
  • Maintained accurate records

Notice that action words are used in each of the examples. A phrase such as "responsible for" does not say much about how you performed your job duties. Use your resume to tell your prospective employer how well you did your job. Did you help improve efficiency or customer satisfaction? Did you find a way to save your employer time and money? A new employer wants to know how you'll be an asset to the organization.

Formatting Your Resume

Choose a standard business font such as Times New Roman or Arial. Use 12 point type for the main text of the resume. Underlined text can be difficult to read; instead, use italics where appropriate. However, limit the use of italicized and bold text, as too much can be a distraction.

Set the margins to 1 inch all around. Your text should be left-justified only. Justifying the right margin, which the margins are set so the text lines up evenly in a block, is unnecessary. Right-justification sometimes results in uneven letter spacing or wide word spaces, which can also be a distraction.

Prepare to Print Your Resume

Standard copy paper is acceptable, but your resume may attract more notice if you use a higher-quality business paper. Stationery and office supply stores sell paper that is packaged by weight. Paper labeled 20-lb. refers to the weight of 500 sheets of uncut paper. The heaviest business paper is 32-lb., and it usually contains either cotton or linen fibers. Cotton fiber paper is smooth, while linen fiber has a fine texture that you can see and feel. The type you choose is a matter of preference.

When choosing paper color, white or off-white is best. Brightly colored paper makes your resume stand out, but not necessarily in a good way. Hiring managers are often skeptical of individuals who use gimmicks and attention-grabbing tricks in their resumes. The content of the resume should speak for itself. Use the same paper, and matching envelopes, for your cover letter.

Print your resume using black ink and a good quality printer. If you don't have a printer at home, you may be able to save your resume to a flash drive and print it at your local library, typically for a nominal charge. Otherwise, get copies printed at a copy center or office supply store. Prices usually start at 11 cents per page.

Send Your Resume to Prospective Employers

If you're mailing a resume, make a neat stack of papers with your cover letter on top. Do not clip, staple or fold the corners. It's easier for hiring managers to read the pages if they are separate, and the reader can attach the pages or not, depending on personal preference.

Fold the cover letter and resume together in thirds and place them in a standard #10 business envelope. It's unnecessary and even distracting to place your resume in a folder or document protector and send it flat in a large envelope. Make sure you have affixed sufficient postage to the envelope before dropping it in a mail slot. You don't want your resume returned or, worse, delivered with postage due.

Some prospective employers request that you send your resume via email. Be sure to do a virus scan on your computer before sending an attachment. You can include a cover letter as an additional attachment or put the information directly in the body of the email.

At the Job Interview

Hopefully, your resume gets you a job interview. Bring a copy of your resume when you go. The hiring manager may not have a copy of your resume on hand. You can use your resume to remind you of talking points during the interview. The purpose of the resume is to provide the highlights of your qualifications. In the interview, you can provide more details about your skills, background and experience.


Denise Dayton is a a freelance writer who specializes in business, education and technology. She has written for, Library Journal, The Searcher, Bureau of Education and Research, and corporate clients.

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