Resume Writing Guide for College Graduates and Students

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Few documents are as important in the professional and academic worlds as a resume, but you may not be familiar with how to create one to suit your needs as a college student. While you need a strong resume to apply for most jobs, you might also need one to secure your place in a variety of academic contexts, such as: graduate school, scholarships, study abroad programs, internships, research positions, and fellowships. However, crafting a resume for an academic program differs greatly from one sent to a prospective employer.

Fortunately, Maryville University Online provides you with all the information you need to create a strong resume as a college student, no matter what you’re applying for. This guide will go over the importance of a resume, things you should and shouldn’t include on it, how you should organize and format your resume, as well as addition tips for proper formatting. Whether you’re looking to submit an application to a master’s program or find your dream job after completing your bachelor’s degree, here’s your guide to writing and optimizing the perfect resume.

Why Is a Resume Important?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word “resume” as a “summary; curriculum vitae; a set of accomplishments.” Though succinct and clear, this definition does not properly explain what this document is, what purpose it serves in the professional world, and why it is so important.

A resume is a brief list of your education, work experience (including internships and volunteer experience), skills, and relevant certifications and qualifications. Typically, you hand out a resume when looking for a job, though you may also need to submit a resume when applying for graduate school, internships, or another academic program. Hiring managers then look over this document to determine if applicants are qualified for the posted position.

Hiring managers and recruiters only spend an average of six seconds reviewing an individual resume before deciding if a candidate is qualified or not. Your resume may be your only chance to make an impression on the recruiter. And when you only have a few seconds to convince someone that you are a good fit for this position before they move on, your resume becomes one of the most important documents you submit with your application. Essentially, it can be the difference between getting an interview and never hearing back about your application.

What To Include in Your Student Resume

As a college student, you may have some trouble deciding what to put on your resume. You may be worried about not having any previous work experience or how to look professional enough to catch the recruiter’s eye. As you begin to think about what skills and experiences you want to highlight, you might wonder what information even belongs on your resume. But no matter what you’re applying for or your level of experience, there are several sections and pieces of information every resume should include to make it as strong as possible.

Contact Information

First and foremost, you should start your resume off with your name and contact information clearly listed at the top. This section should always contain your first and last name, a current phone number, a current and professional email address, and a link to your professional portfolio or website if you have one. Ideally, your name should appear as the largest header on the page, and your subsequent contact information should take up one line of space, up to two at the most.

In the past, listing your full address on your resume was the norm, as many employers communicated with candidates through the mail. Now that most job communications are online, it may not be necessary to include it. If you have privacy concerns or don’t feel comfortable sharing your address, simply list your city and state. You can always provide that information later in the application process.

Education

If you are a current college student or recent graduate, you should put a section detailing your education directly after your contact information. This part of your resume will be most relevant and easiest for you to use to your advantage, especially if you are applying for an entry-level job related to your degree or an academic program.

In this section, you should disclose:

  • The name and location of your school
  • The degree you have completed or are currently pursuing
  • Your major or field of study
  • The years you started and completed (or will complete) your degree
  • Your GPA, if it is a 3.5 or above
  • Any relevant academic achievements, honors, awards, or coursework (such as a minor or concentration)

You should include this information in reverse-chronological order, from most to least recent. For example, your master’s degree should be listed above your bachelor’s degree. Keep in mind that if you have a higher degree, such as a doctorate, it’s not necessary to share information about your high school education.

Relevant Work Experience

In addition to your education, your work experience is one of the most important aspects of your resume. If you have an extensive employment history, only include the most relevant positions. On the other hand, if you have had little work experience, be sure to list all of your previous and current positions, even if the field you worked in is not related to the position or academic program you’re applying for. This can still show potential employers that you can successfully get hired and hold a paid position.

Begin this section by listing out your paid job experience in reverse-chronological order. Don’t forget to detail:

  • The name of the company
  • Your title
  • The length of time you spent in this position
  • A minimum of two or three and maximum of six short bullet points describing your responsibilities, duties, and achievements

The bullet points should highlight experience that is relevant to the position you are applying for, or that showcases your particular talents and skills in that role. If applicable, including any statistics or figures related to your achievements can also help you stand out and make your resume easier to read. For instance, if you helped increase sales of a certain product, make note of how large that increase was with the appropriate percentage or figure.

Internships

Internships are another key section of any resume for current or prospective college students and recent graduates. An unpaid internship can still show employers that you have the skills necessary to succeed, as well as some amount of both academic and professional experience.

You can create a separate section for your internships or list them under your job history, depending on your job history. If you’ve had only one internship and several paid positions, it may be better to place them in the same section. However, if you’ve only had internships, you should devote an entire portion of your resume just to them. Be sure to share the same information about an internship as you would a paid job.

Volunteer Work

Volunteer work can also be a great addition to an academic or student resume. No matter what kind of volunteering you’ve done, it can help your resume stand out from other candidates. The Corporation for National and Community Service found that people who volunteered while unemployed had a 27 percent better chance of finding employment than those who didn’t.

Volunteering can help fill gaps in your employment history, or, similar to internships, act as an employment history in and of itself. If you only have experience volunteering, build an entire section of your resume detailing the organization you worked for, how long you spent contributing your time there, and the most pertinent responsibilities you had. Only include your volunteer work with your job history if it is directly related to the position or program you are applying for.

Skills

Regardless of your employment history, previous internships, or volunteer work, you should build an entire section of your resume to discuss your skills. This is a chance to persuade the recruiter or application reviewer that you have the knowledge and talents necessary for this role, even if you don’t have a lot of professional or academic experience.

You want to find the right balance of both hard and soft skills. For example, disclose your familiarity with certain computer programs or softwares, but also highlight your excellent ability to communicate with others. In addition, try to include skills listed in the job posting or that are directly relevant to what you are applying for. If a research you’re interested in states they need someone who is detail-oriented, for instance, don’t hesitate to emphasize your own attention to detail.

Optional Resume Sections

Though there are sections you should include on every resume, there are optional ones you may or may not want to add. Depending on what you are applying for, these sections can either bring a greater depth to your resume, or overwhelm more relevant information. What can strengthen your application for one position can weaken it for another. Use your own discretion when deciding what to include, as each job, internship, and academic program is unique.

 

  • Training and Certificates: You might want to create a section to discuss your training and licenses, especially if your field requires certain certifications to secure a position.This can give whoever looks at your resume a quick way of understanding what your skill set is.
  • Relevant Coursework: If you are creating a student resume to apply for graduate school or another academic pursuit, list out your relevant coursework to give the recruiter a better idea of what knowledge and skills they can expect you to have.
  • Awards and Honors: Taking a moment to list your awards and honors can easily add prestige to your resume while communicating to the recruiter that you have a masterful command of skills in a certain area. Only include awards that are directly relevant to what you are applying for.
  • Student Clubs and Activities: If you are having difficulties filling out your resume, consider adding a section about your involvement as a student. List the clubs and organizations you are a part of and your role within them. Be sure to explain any relevant skills or knowledge you’ve learned from these activities.
  • Leadership Roles: A small section outlining your leadership roles can also help bolster your resume. You can discuss your role as a leader in a number of contexts, from creating a study group to being president of a club, in order to demonstrate your talents in this area.
  • Publications and Presentations: If applicable, consider adding a section detailing academic publications you have written or contributed to, presentations you have given, or high-profile conferences you have attended. This can show the recruiter your academic interests while also emphasizing your active involvement in that community.

 

What Not To Include on a Resume

Just as there is information you should always put on your resume, there are several items you should exclude from this document, whether you’re submitting an application for a scholarship or a part-time job. While some information may simply be unnecessary for a recruiter, certain information may actively harm your chances of being selected. Though there are exceptions to every rule, generally speaking, some items you should avoid putting on your resume include:

 

  • An objective: Putting an objective on your resume restates the obvious. By applying, it is clear that you want to be selected for this job or academic program. This takes up valuable space that could be better spent persuading the recruiter that you’re the perfect candidate. Further, you limit yourself to only one goal with an objective, which could cause you to be rejected because the institution or program is an imperfect fit.
  • Personal information: Beyond your name and contact information, do not disclose any personal information, such as your gender, marital status, age, religious and political preferences, and sexual orientation. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) prohibits discrimination based on some, but not all, of these factors; it is better to protect yourself and your chances of getting hired as much as possible. The recruiter also may prefer not to know this sensitive information in order to protect themselves and to be sure that they are able to fully adhere to these legal standards.
  • References: Including your references or writing “references available upon request” on your resume takes up space that you could use to explain why you are the most qualified applicant. Often, applications will allow you to submit a separate page just for you to list your references and their contact information. If not, be prepared to provide them if the recruiter or application reviewer asks.
  • Hobbies or interests: Do not include your hobbies or interests unless they are directly related to the position or program you’re applying for. For instance, if you love to paint and are submitting an application to work at an arts and crafts store, it’s appropriate to share that information. However, for the most part, this takes up space on your resume that you could use to expand on more relevant information, such as your work experience or skills.

 

  • Negative language: When applying for any kind of academic program or job, you want whoever is reading your resume to only associate you with positive thoughts. For that reason, avoid all kinds of negative language or suggestions on your resume. If you want to be clear about the fact that you may not have as much experience as desired, do not point it out; instead, give examples of what you do have experience doing. This will still give the reviewer a clear idea of what your skills are like, but in a positive light.
  • Falsifications or exaggerations: Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes you can make on a resume or other application materials is to lie about yourself, your history, or your experience. Many of your claims can easily be refuted — such as if you claim to have attended a certain university or previously worked for a company — and if not, the hiring manager will likely figure it out later.

Should You Include Social Media on a Resume?

Social media has become increasingly popular over the years, and can even be relevant in the professional world. In fact, a report from Business Insider has found that Americans spend roughly 20 percent of their total time online on social media platforms, both on desktop and mobile devices.

Though social media is commonplace nowadays, it doesn’t necessarily belong on your resume. Sometimes, though, adding a brief section devoted to your various profiles can make you stand out to any recruiters and remind them that you are a person, not just the piece of paper in front of them.

There are a few things you should consider before listing your profiles on your resume or ruling them out altogether, such as:

  • How have you used social media in the past? Is it only for personal use? Have you used them in a professional setting or to better market yourself and your work?
  • Are you a casual user, or are you familiar with how to use social media for marketing and branding?
  • How do your profiles come across to strangers? Are your posts engaging, clean, and well-constructed?
  • Are your profiles strong enough to give you an additional edge, or will they harm your image? What do you hope to achieve with your social efforts?
  • Are your profiles safe for work?

Think over these questions and evaluate each of your profiles in turn. You may even decide to list some, but not all, of your accounts on various platforms, depending on what purpose they serve in your academic and professional endeavors. Whatever you decide, keep in mind that people are likely looking at your digital life, especially if you are applying for an academic program or job. Be sure to display only what you are comfortable with potential employers seeing.

LinkedIn

If you’re only going to include one of your social media profiles on your resume, it should be LinkedIn. This network is one of the simplest ways you can connect with others online in a professional context. Not only does being on LinkedIn show that you are actively engaging with your field and community, it demonstrates that you care about your overall branding and online image.

However, simply having an active profile isn’t enough; it must be optimized to stand out and be as effective as possible. Some optimization basics include:

  • A professional photo of yourself
  • An engaging and attention-grabbing headline
  • An authentic, well-written summary
  • A summary of your professional experience that’s different from but consistent with your resume
  • A clean and concise customized URL

Do your best to make your profile as complete as possible while showcasing your professional achievements and goals. Don’t forget to show off your personality too, as people who view your profile are doing so to get to know you.

Twitter

Depending on how you use it, Twitter is one of the most appropriate social media profiles to include on your resume after LinkedIn. On Twitter, you can showcase your various interests and your engagement with your professional niche online. This can show recruiters that you are outgoing and active in your chosen industry on your own time.

If you do choose to add your Twitter handle to your resume, be sure your profile is regularly active, doesn’t have any profanities or grammar mistakes, and doesn’t showcase your personal opinions on polarizing or sensitive issues. An inactive profile riddled with inappropriate language or grammatical errors may do more harm than good if you put it on your resume.

Facebook

Among American users, Facebook is the most popular social media platform. It is also highly connected to your personal life, and may not be the best profile to include on a professional or academic resume. Though this website has settings that allow you to hide certain parts of your profile while highlighting others, it may still not be appropriate to add it. Unless your Facebook profile is directly related to the position or program you are applying for, or contains more professional content than personal, you may want to leave it off. If it does have some value to your ambitions, and you can hide your personal information, it can still be a great addition to your resume.

Instagram

You should also think carefully about whether or not your Instagram profile belongs on your resume. While it can be an effective platform for marketing and personal branding, its visual nature may make it more difficult to use for professional or academic purposes.

If you are pursuing a creative position or degree program, such as art or digital media, including your Instagram may bolster your entire application. You can use it as an opportunity to highlight your artistic skills in another medium or add even more depth to your portfolio. But if your profile is mostly pictures of you, your friends, and your family, it’s probably better to leave it off.

YouTube

Similar to Facebook and Instagram, you’ll want to think carefully before listing your YouTube channel on your resume. Depending on your niche or what you are applying for, YouTube can be a powerful way to put your expertise on display. You can use it to establish the persona you want and cultivate an image that sets you apart from others. If you do not use your YouTube profile to further your professional and academic goals, though, it likely won’t serve you well if you put in on your resume.

Snapchat

While each platform has its own pros and cons, Snapchat is probably the one that is most difficult to include in a professional setting. Many of its features involve sharing live content that disappears quickly, so it’s trickier to tailor it in a way that would be advantageous to your ambitions. Recruiters may never see that perfect picture or video that you want them to. Further, be sure not to post anything inappropriate or unprofessional after giving out your handle to potential employers. However, if you can curate your profile in a way that works in your favor, it’s still worth putting on your resume.

Formatting and Organizing Your Resume

Having strong content on your resume is important, but so is formatting and organizing it correctly. Even if your resume is well-written, the wrong format may cause a recruiter to reject you outright. But the right resume format can help highlight your strengths while minimizing your weaknesses, in addition to catching the recruiter’s eye.

There is no universal format that will work for everyone, regardless of personal history or what they’re applying for. Even if you’re applying for a scholarship and include similar information, a study abroad program, and a part-time job, they each require a different kind of resume to be as effective as possible.

As a college student, these alternative resume formats may work in your favor more than a traditional one does, as they work to emphasize other aspects of your experience and education than your employment history. This can be highly beneficial if you are applying for academic programs or other opportunities aside from employment.

Chronological Resume

A chronological resume is the most common resume format. When you think of a resume, this is likely what comes to mind. It’s called a “chronological” resume because, when crafting the document, you list your employment history in reverse-chronological order, starting with your current or most recent position and moving backwards.

Though they are the standard, chronological resumes work particularly well for people looking for jobs in the same niche they have already worked in, because they show a direct progression in their chosen field. This may not be as beneficial for college students, as you may not have not yet had the chance to enter the workforce.

When creating a chronological resume, list your sections in the following order:

  • Your name and contact information
  • An extensive list of your work history
  • An outline of your education
  • A brief discussion skills
  • Any other applicable sections

Though chronological resumes work to highlight your work experience, you can still use them to your advantage as a student or recent graduate. You may not have a lot of employment history in a full-time job, but you can include any internships, volunteer work, or part-time positions instead. Even if they aren’t within the same niche as they position or program you’re looking at, your history can still show a recruiter that you are hardworking and able to successfully complete the hiring process.

Functional Resume

A functional or skills-based resume prioritizes your achievements, skills, and abilities over your work history. You may not include your previous jobs at all, and if it does, not in reverse-chronological order like a traditional resume.

This resume format works well if you have gaps in your employment or have little to no work experience — something that is beneficial for a college student or recent graduate who may not have had the opportunity to work in their chosen field yet. A functional resume may also work well if you are applying to an academic program or opportunity that’s unrelated to a job, as it doesn’t focus on your professional history.

When creating this kind of resume, you’ll still want to keep all of your contact information at the top of the page. After that, put your different sections in the following order:

  • A summary of your qualifications
  • A detailed list of your skills and abilities
  • An outline of your education
  • A brief list of your work history
  • Any other applicable sections

The skills you discuss on this resume should be directly related to or beneficial in the position you’re applying for. The purpose of a functional resume is to better show recruiters how your knowledge and abilities pertain to the job. Detail ways you have previously used and applied your skills to various situations in order to make this format even more effective.

Combination Resume

As the name implies, a combination or “hybrid” resume takes elements of both a chronological and functional resume and mixes them together. In addition to providing your employment history, a combination resume also gives a more detailed overview of your skills and abilities than a chronological resume does.

You have more flexibility when crafting a combination resume than the previous varieties. As long as your name and contact information come first, you can choose to put the other sections in whatever order you choose.

Combination resumes work especially well for recent college graduates and students because you can choose to emphasize your experiences that suits the position or program you’re applying for. In addition, you can accentuate both the skills and jobs that are most relevant without wasting valuable space on aspects of your history that aren’t as strong.

Curriculum Resume

A curriculum or student resume is one created either by a current college student or a recent college graduate. This is beneficial for students because it highlights different aspects of your history than a traditional resume and can help gloss over a lack of employment history.

Student resumes typically contain information in the following order:

  • Your name and contact information
  • An objective statement
  • Your education
  • Any relevant work or volunteer experience
  • Your skills and abilities
  • Additional sections as you see fit

With a student resume, be sure to spend plenty of time building out your education section in particular. Don’t hesitate to list any related coursework, awards, or achievements. You can even optimize your resume further by discussing any extracurricular activities, campus involvement, noteworthy class projects, and academic research you’ve done. These other experiences still demonstrate positive attributes that can work in your favor, even if you don’t have an extensive job history.

Non Traditional Resume

A non traditional resume is just that: a resume that takes a different form than a traditional one. You may choose to use this in conjunction with or in place of a traditional resume, depending on what you’re applying for and what you are trying to showcase.

Here are several examples of non traditional resumes:

  • An infographic resume
  • An online portfolio
  • A video resume
  • A LinkedIn profile resume
  • A career website or blog

Think very carefully before committing to a non traditional resume. If they aren’t strong and well-crafted, you may end up putting time and effort into something that doesn’t help your efforts. However, if they’re done well, a non traditional resume can be a great way to set you apart from the crowd and capture the attention of a recruiter. If you are a student or graduate applying to an academic program, a high-quality non traditional resume may work well for you if you put in the energy needed to make it great.

Length

Deciding on the right length for your resume can be tricky. Everyone has their own unique history and way of writing that can affect the length. And while a single-page resume may be common, there are no strict rules on how long your resume must be unless a posting dictates a certain length.

You should make your resume as long as it needs to be. You need enough space to adequately discuss your experience and qualifications, and generally speaking, the more information you include, the more opportunities you have to persuade the reviewer that you are the ideal candidate. Keep in mind that you may be one of many applicants, and if your resume is too long or verbose, the recruiter may not have the time or energy to read it.

The Appropriate Length for a Student

As a student, you may not face the same troubles with length that more experienced candidates do, unless you’ve returned to school after joining the workforce for several years. Some who has been working for 20 years will likely have a more extensive employment history than a student who hasn’t yet had a full-time job.

Try your best to let go of your concerns about resume length and focus your efforts on making it as strong as possible. Don’t add unnecessary content to make it longer, but don’t leave out important information to make it shorter. Irrelevant information or not enough detail will only serve to weaken your resume instead of making it as strong as it can be. Instead, do your best to ensure that every detail you put on your resume is relevant to your application and works to communicate your experiences and achievements.

Language

The language you use on your resume is crucial to making it strong, effective, and noteworthy. No matter how impressive of an applicant you are, they may not come across that way if your resume is not well-written. On the other hand, the right language can be an impactful way to further highlight and complement your qualifications.

To help your resume accomplish that goal, there are a few rules about language, grammar, and sentence structure you should keep in mind as you begin to write:

  • Avoid pronouns: You don’t need to use personal pronouns such as “I” or “me” on your resume. Not only do they take up valuable space, they’re unnecessary since it’s assumed that you’re talking about yourself on a resume.
  • Be professional: Always be professional when writing your resume. Do not use slang and avoid being too casual. Even if the organization or position feels relaxed or laid-back, you should strive to be as professional as possible during the application process.
  • Reduce word count: Do your best to reduce the word count of your resume by removing any unnecessary words. Think of words such as “a,” “the,” and “of” that can easily be deleted without impacting the meaning of your sentence or phrase. Be sure not to omit any words that are needed to make your sentence grammatically correct!
  • Use words from the application: Try to incorporate words used to describe the qualifications and skills of an ideal candidate from the posting or application itself. Don’t include these keywords if they are not true of your own experience, and be careful not to use too many.

 

  • Use action verbs: Instead of using variations of “to be,” try to use more powerful, action-oriented verbs when you can. This strengthens your writing and eliminates extraneous helping verbs that can make your resume look cluttered.

 

  • Use “achieving” language: To truly optimize your resume, shift your language to focus on what you achieved, rather than what you simply did. For example, if you discuss how you were responsible for handling customer service, shift the sentence to focus on how well you performed in that role and any results that came of your actions.

 

    Proofread Your Resume

    After all of your research and writing, you may be tempted to go ahead and submit your resume. However, your resume is not complete or ready for submission unless it has been proofread and edited. Any spelling or grammatical errors on your resume can be catastrophic for your application, as 59 percent of recruiters will reject a candidate based on those mistakes alone, regardless of how qualified you are for your program or position.

    Despite the usefulness of tools like spellcheck, they aren’t entirely reliable. For instance, while it may pick up most spelling errors, it may not notice that you wrote “cat” instead of “can.” Though it may feel tedious, you have to proofread your resume yourself. To help improve your chances of being selected (or at least included in the “maybe pile”) here are a few resume proofreading tips:

    • Take a break: You have put a lot of time and effort into writing and optimizing your resume. Give yourself a break before editing. As a college student, you likely have assignments to work on or classes to attend, so focus your energy on one of your other important commitments for at least a few hours before proofreading.
    • Check your contact information: Double- and triple-check your contact information. It sounds silly, but if your phone number is even a digit off or you accidentally mistyped your email address, the application reviewer may not be able to contact you, meaning that all of your hard work was for nothing.
    • Print it out: Printing out your resume is another way to refresh yourself before proofreading. It’s a way of tricking yourself into thinking that you’re looking at a new document. If you can’t print, try changing the font, its size, or color for a similar effect.
    • Focus on one edit: Proofread your resume multiple times, focusing on a different edit each time. For example, read it once with the intention of only looking for typos, then again when looking at grammar mistakes, and once more when ensuring the format is consistent.
    • Read it aloud: Try to read your resume out loud to edit it. This will force you to slow down and pay more attention to what you’re reading. You can even follow along with your finger on the page to help ensure accuracy.
    • Ask a friend: You may have simply spent too much time looking at your resume. Don’t hesitate to ask someone you trust to proofread and edit your resume. They’ve got a truly fresh set of eyes and may be able to catch simple errors that you didn’t even notice.