How to Write a Resume

Tips for College Students and Recent Graduates

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How to Write a Resume

May 14, 2021

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Formatting and writing a professional resume is a challenge that even seasoned workers often struggle with. As a college student or recent graduate, you likely have limited work experience, making the resume-writing process all the more difficult.

But don't get discouraged — there are several steps you can take when putting together a college student resume or college graduate resume to help you stand out from other applicants.

Below, we've compiled a comprehensive list of tips and examples to teach students and recent college graduates how to write an effective resume.

Table of Contents

What Sections Should You Include on a Resume? Tips for Formatting a College Student Resume How to Write a Resume Header How to Write a Resume Body Last Steps for Finalizing Your College Resume

What Sections Should You Include on a Resume?

Your resume should include the following sections in a similar order as this:

  1. Name and Contact Information
  2. Education
  3. Work Experience
  4. Skills

As a college student or recent graduate, you'll probably want to add additional sections to showcase your relevant achievements and skills. Here are some examples of optional sections you could include:

  • Extracurricular/Volunteer Activities
  • Honors and Awards
  • Certifications, Skills, and Training
  • Digital Proficiency
  • Foreign-Language Proficiency
  • Hobbies and Interests

Tips for Formatting a College Student Resume

Choose a Professional Font and Font Size

Selecting the right font and font size ensures your resume looks presentable and professional. Stick with simple fonts, such as Calibri, Cambria, Helvetica, or Georgia. For example, you could use Georgia for your name and section headings, and Calibri for the rest of your resume.

Many contend that 12 pt is the ideal font size for the resume body, though if you're having trouble fitting in some of the text, you may go down to 11 pt. What's important is that you don't make your font so small that it's difficult to read at a glance.

For headings and subtitles, increase the font size about 4-6 pts larger than your body text. For section titles, consider using bolding, underlining, or capitalization to provide even more visual emphasis.

Use Appropriate Margins

Setting your margins correctly is crucial to presenting an organized and readable resume to potential employers.

Microsoft Word's default page margins are 1 inch — the standard margin size for resumes. If you need a little more room, however, you can move your margins within a range of 0.5-1 inch. For instance, you could drop your top and bottom margins to 0.5 inches and your left and right margins to 0.75 inches.

Left-Align Key Content

Making your college student resume easily accessible means aligning your content in an effective manner. In most cases, you'll left-align the bulk of your resume, including your contact information, as people's eyes naturally move from left to right when reading in English.

That said, not everything has to be left-aligned. You might prefer to align job titles, company names, and responsibilities to the left, and align secondary information, such as dates and locations, to the right. Stay consistent throughout your resume and left-align anything you want to stand out.

Strategically Apply Bold, Italics, and Caps

Use bold, italics, and caps to draw a hiring manager's attention to important information on your resume — but don't go overboard. The key here is to choose what to emphasize wisely.

If you're a recent college graduate with some internship experience, you might decide to bold the names of the companies you interned at rather than your job titles. If, however, you believe your titles better convey your qualifications for the position, you could do the opposite.

You might also bold your college degree or your school's name depending on what you want to draw more attention to.

A good rule of thumb is to use bold to emphasize important titles and italics for secondary information relating to the bolded titles. Caps should generally only be used for your name and section headings.

How to Write a Resume Header

If you're still using an old email address from high school, it's time to create a new professional account. Choose a popular email provider like Gmail or Outlook and keep your address simple by using your full name or a variation of your first and last name.

Your contact information must be up to date so that potential employers won't have any issue reaching you. Make sure to include your first and last name, phone number, and email address in the header of your resume, and double-check that these are correct.

If location is important or relevant to the company, you may also include your city and state in your header. You can usually skip putting down your full home address.

If you don't have a lot of work experience but do have a portfolio of relevant work you can show, you should insert links to your personal website and/or online portfolio in your resume header.

You might also consider including a link to your LinkedIn profile to help the hiring manager get a better sense of your professional presence. Steer clear of adding links to any other social media accounts unless the job specifically requires social media skills.

How to Write a Resume Body: 8 Essential Tips

1. Tailor Your Resume to the Job Description

Tweaking your resume so that it aligns with the position is vital. Start by carefully reading the job description to identify keywords and key phrases. Next, insert these terms throughout your resume wherever applicable. Most hiring managers will search for keywords related to critical skills, even if the resume is processed through an applicant tracking system.

If you're having trouble finding keywords, you can run the job description through a word cloud generator, which should help you identify prominent words and phrases. Once you've finished crafting your resume, run it through that same generator to see whether its keywords align with those in the job description.

2. Focus On Education

For a college student or recent grad, your academic history should come first in the body of your resume, since your educational background will be one of the most important factors for employers.

In each education entry, include your major and degree, the institution's name, your (prospective) graduation date, and any minors. You can also add relevant coursework, favorite fields of study, thesis/dissertation titles, honors and awards, or academic achievements (e.g., dean's list).

EXAMPLE:

Bachelor of Arts, Digital Technology and Culture
Washington State University | Pullman, WA
Minor: English Rhetoric and Professional Writing

Relevant Coursework: Writing and Rhetorical Conventions, Technical and Professional Writing, Electronic Research and the Rhetoric of Information, Advanced Multimedia Authoring, Usability and Interface Design

3. Include Work Experience

While your previous work experience might not relate exactly to the jobs you're applying for, it's still important to show hiring managers that you are employable, can complete tasks effectively, and can develop new skills. Ideally, you'll discuss internships and jobs for which you can highlight transferable skills and experiences.

For each work entry, put down your job title, the company's name and location, the dates you worked, and 2-4 bullet points summarizing your responsibilities and achievements in that role. Start each bullet point with a strong action verb (see tip 7 below) instead of the first-person "I."

If you don't have any work experience, you'll need to include additional sections that illustrate your achievements and skills in a non-work-related setting.

EXAMPLE:

Writing Consultant, WSU Writing Center
Washington State University — Pullman, WA

  • Created and maintained lists of media contacts.
  • Researched opportunities across online media channels.
  • Produced product pitches and press kits.
  • Supported event organization.

4. Showcase Your Skills

Put down your strongest and most relevant skills that will help you perform well in the job you're applying for. Don't shy away from discussing soft skills — those personality traits and handy life skills, such as public speaking and time management, that many employers look for when hiring.

5. Consider Adding Additional Sections

Adding additional non-work-related sections after the skills section on your college resume can help you stand out from other applicants with similar educational backgrounds and skill sets.

Here are some examples of sections you could add to the end of your resume:

true Extracurricular Activities

An activities section is ideal for students or recent grads who have limited to no prior work experience. Listing relevant activities gives you the chance to show where and how you developed certain skills outside your education. Just make sure your activities reflect the type of work you'll be doing in the position you're applying for.

Honors and Awards

You'll want to list any academic-related honors and awards you've received in your education section. If you've earned any honors outside your college experience that are relevant to the job, you can create a separate section that briefly explains the significance of each award.

Certifications and Training

If you've received any training and/or certifications that prove you have specific skills or knowledge relevant to the position, put these in a separate section.

Digital Proficiency

Those applying for a job that requires experience with specific software, digital tools, or web languages should include a digital proficiency section at the end of their resume to prove they're technologically qualified. You could also include this section in place of a standard skills section if digital proficiencies are more relevant to the role.

Hobbies and Interests

If you have any space left at the end, consider throwing in some hobbies and interests. Companies are increasingly emphasizing work culture and prefer to hire candidates whose personalities fit well with their environment. Research the company and choose hobbies and interests that clearly echo the company culture and/or support the position you're applying for.

6. Quantify Wherever Possible

Numbers included in conjunction with job responsibilities can pique hiring managers' interest by providing a clearer idea of what it looks like when you apply your knowledge and skills. For example, you might put down that you increased sales 20% over a six-month period, or that you assisted around 50 customers each day at your retail job.

7. Stick With Action Verbs

Many resumes are littered with the same trite words, which is why you should make an effort to switch up common words and phrases with stronger action verbs. This is especially important when writing the first word for each bullet point in your work experience section, as you want to immediately catch the hiring manager's attention.

Use verbs such as "converted," "analyzed," and "composed" to portray your achievements in a more engaging manner. You might even consider using a thesaurus to help you find stronger synonyms for common words, or referring to this list of action verbs created by Harvard.

8. Use Reverse Chronological Order

Always use reverse chronological order, which means listing your entries starting with the most recent (and then working your way back in time from there). This organizational trick gives hiring managers a clearer sense of what you're currently doing, what you recently accomplished, and how these experiences might translate to the open position.

Last Steps for Finalizing Your College Resume

Take Time to Edit and Proofread

Carefully edit and proofread your resume before you submit it. A resume that's grammatically correct will make you look more professional and appealing than a resume filled with typos. While both Microsoft Word and Google Docs do a decent job of detecting technical errors, other tools, such as Grammarly, are better at catching minute grammar mistakes.

After you've cleaned up your resume, slowly read it over to look for any awkward phrases, inconsistencies, ambiguous descriptions, or poor word choice and tweak as needed.

Get Another Set of Eyes to Look It Over

The final step is to show your resume to someone who can provide you with constructive feedback. If you're still in college, you might turn to your university's career or writing center; otherwise, take your resume to a mentor, friend, or family member you trust.

You'll want them to check your grammar and analyze whether the resume sells you as the best person for the role. Ask the reviewer questions like "Does this resume portray me as the best candidate for this job?" and "Is this resume engaging?" If their answer to either question is no, go back and revise your resume.


Feature Image: PeopleImages / E+ / Getty Images

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BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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