As a career advisor, the topic students come in to inquire about the most is irrefutably the resume.
Students all seem to understand the importance of having a polished document to present to potential employers or admission reps, and the resume is one of those universal monsters no one can escape.
Whether applying for a job, internship, fellowship, or grad program, almost all students will need to have a resume at some point in their college career and beyond. There are some basics everyone should know in order to make sure they are showcasing their skills appropriately.
Start with your education
You’ll see a lot of examples of resumes, but many are for more experienced professionals.
When you are in college, or about to graduate, one of your strengths is the education you’re receiving. It is important at this level to put this information first.
In this section, you should include your current university, degree you’re seeking, and in some cases, coursework that is relevant to the application. It’s also an area where you can include study abroad, and any universities that may have been attended previously. If you are a first or second year student, it is still okay to list your high school.
And you should certainly include your GPA in most instances. But sometimes it isn’t the strongest point of your education. So what do you do?
Should you include your GPA on your resume?
GPAs can be tricky. You’ll hear a lot different advice in this area, but there are a few rules of thumb that you can follow. If your GPA is under a 3.0, it’s pretty safe to say you’re better off omitting it from your resume. It doesn’t mean you’re not a good candidate, but it can help an employer focus on the rest of the content, and not get hung up on numbers. But be warned; in some cases it can raise a red flag, and the reader may wonder what you are hiding. This is where the risk lies.
Another way of combating a low GPA is to calculate just the coursework in your major. Sometimes, it was the non-core classes that were the struggle, but once you got in the subject matter you really cared about, you shined bright. Or perhaps you were a late bloomer when it came to learning good study habits in college, and tanked your GPA the first couple of semesters.
Whatever the case, if your major GPA is much more solid, it’s worth highlighting it instead.
Ordering your experiences
List each section in reverse chronicle order. Because you probably do not yet have a wide set of skills that need to be strategically split into categories (which is a functional resume), the best way to arrange your experiences is chronologically. But unlike other times when you’d arrange from first to last or top to bottom, you will start with the most recent, and go backwards. This goes for your education section as well.
Use bullets to highlight details of your experiences
For each of your experiences, you want to explain in detail what duties you performed, what you accomplished, and skills you learned. Without this information, your readers will not be able to decipher what they need to know to make a decision on your application status. Writing a bullet should be like completing the following phrase: In this position, I…
Start each bullet with an action word, and quantify when you can. For example, instead of saying “Saw students in after school program,” one could say “Tutored 8-10 middle school students weekly in Math and Science for after school program.” The latter provides a clearer picture of responsibility.
Write for your audience
What does your reader need to know about you? This is one way you can shape the content of your resume. How will you demonstrate your strengths? In addition, you’ll want to write your bullets in order of importance. This way, they will always process what’s pertinent first, and what’s less critical last.
Don’t overuse wording
In writing, students often become repetitive. Try to avoid line after line of the same words. Using a thesaurus can be very helpful if you are at a loss of how to describe what you’ve done.
Highlight leadership and activities on campus
Teamwork and leadership are areas everyone looks for in a candidate. What better way to demonstrate your abilities in each than through campus clubs and sports? You learn to work with others, and if lucky, even have the chance to serve in a leadership capacity. You also figure out how to deal with adversity, step up when a team needs, and problem solve.
Let a professional critique your work
The key word here is “professional.” Not your friends in the business school, or that classmate that landed a great summer internship. And certainly not your dad that hasn’t written a resume in 20 years. Visit your career center advisors and let them help you perfect your resume, and present yourself in the most effective manner.
And then proofread again. Don’t depend on those squiggly red and green lines to catch all of your errors. Sometimes the word may be spelled correctly, but used in the wrong way. And sometimes you may miss a word, but your fancy editing tools don’t catch it. Read over your resume slowly, and then again. Have a friend read it as well.
Create different versions as needed
For some students, it makes sense to create different versions for different readers. Let’s say you had a sports internship, but it is buried in your resume because it’s less recent. You are applying for a sports related internship and would like it to be closer to the top. How do you fix this?
Simple. Make a sports version of your resume by creating a “related experience” section that follows your education. This way, your information is in order of importance and most recent, the exact order you will want it to be read.