How to Write a Resume
Tips for Students and Recent Graduates
Formatting and writing a resume is a challenging process that even seasoned professionals often struggle with. As a college student or recent graduate, you likely have limited work experience, making the process all the more difficult.
But don't get discouraged — there are several steps you can take when crafting a 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 format and write an effective resume.
What Sections Should You Include on a Student Resume?
Your resume should include the following sections in a similar order as this:
- Contact Information
- Work Experience
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/Foreign Language Proficiency
- Hobbies and Interests
How to Format a College Student Resume
Choose a Professional Font and Font Size
Selecting the right font and font size may seem insignificant compared to everything else that goes into writing a resume, but getting this right will make your resume more presentable and professional.
Stick to simple fonts, such as Calibri, Cambria, Helvetica, or Georgia, throughout your resume. 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 here is that you don't make your font so small that it's difficult to read at a glance.
For headings and subtitles, increase your font size about 4-6 pts larger than your body text. For section titles, you might 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 document to potential employers.
Microsoft Word's default page margins are 1 inch, which is typically the standard margin size for resumes. However, if you need a little more room, you can move your margins within a range of 0.5-1 inch. For example, 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
Hiring managers often receive dozens of resumes for a single job posting. When this happens, these managers usually only take just a few moments to skim each resume for the right qualifications, keywords, and skills.
In order to make your resume more accessible, you'll need to align your content effectively. In most cases, you'll align the bulk of your resume to the left, 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. For example, you might prefer to align job titles, company names, and responsibilities to the left, and secondary information, such as dates and locations, to the right.
Ultimately, you should 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 may decide to bold the names of the companies you interned at rather than your job titles. However, if you believe your titles better convey your qualifications for the position, you could switch this around.
You might also want to bold your college degree or your school's name depending on what you want to draw more attention to.
Whatever the case, a good rule of thumb is to use bold to draw attention to important titles, and use 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
Create a Professional Email Address
This might seem obvious, but it's worth acknowledging because your email address is often the first point of reference for potential employers.
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.
Update Your Contact Information
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 all 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.
Insert Relevant URL Links
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
Tailor Your Resume to the Job Description
Tweaking your resume so that it aligns with the position is a vital part of applying for jobs.
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 identifying keywords, another option is to run the job description through a word cloud generator, which can 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 found in the job description.
Focus On Education
For a college student or recent graduate, it's critical that your academic history comes 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 take your education section one step further by adding relevant coursework, favorite fields of study, thesis/dissertation titles, honors/awards, or academic achievements (e.g., dean's list).
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
Include Work Experience
While your past work experience might not relate exactly to the jobs you're applying for now, 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 or jobs for which you can highlight transferable skills and experiences.
For each work experience 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. Remember to start each bullet point with a verb instead of the first-person "I."
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.
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.
Showcase Your Skills
Including a skills section on your student resume lets hiring managers immediately know where your biggest assets lie.
Put down your strongest and most relevant skills that will help you perform well in the job you're applying for. And don't shy away from including "soft skills" — i.e., personality traits and other life skills, such as public speaking and time management, that can be desirable for certain jobs.
Consider Adding Additional Sections
All college students and graduates should consider adding additional non-work-related sections after their skills section on their resumes to help them stand out from other applicants with similar educational backgrounds and skill sets.
Here are a few examples of sections you could add to the end of your resume.
An activities section is ideal for students or recent graduates 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 will 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 job you're applying for, include them on your resume in their own section.
Those applying for a job that requires experience with specific software, digital tools, and/or web languages should include a digital proficiency section at the end of their resume to show that 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 after your education, work experience, and skills sections, consider throwing in some hobbies and interests. Companies are increasingly emphasizing work culture and prefer to hire candidates whose personalities fit well in their environment. Take care to research the company and choose hobbies and interests that clearly echo the company's culture and/or support the position you're applying for.
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 by 20% over a six-month period, or that you assisted around 50 customers each day at your retail job.
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, more compelling action verbs.
This tactic 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.
Use Reverse Chronological Order
As you write up your work experience and education sections, don't forget to use reverse chronological order, which means listing your entries starting with the most recent experience (and then working your way back in time from there).
This organization trick gives hiring managers a clear sense of what you're currently doing, what you recently accomplished, and how these experiences might translate to the position you're applying for.
Finalizing Your Student Resume
Carefully Edit and Proofread
Take time to carefully edit and proofread your resume before you submit it to a company. A resume that's grammatically correct will make you look much more professional and appealing than will a resume that's surfeit with typos.
While both Microsoft Word and Google Docs do a decent job of detecting technical errors, other tools, such as Grammarly, do an even better job of catching minute grammar mistakes.
After you've used these tools to clean up your resume, slowly read it over to look for any awkward phrases, inconsistencies, ambiguous descriptions, or poor word choices and fix as needed.
Get Another Set of Eyes to Look It Over
The final step is to show your resume to someone else 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 advertises you as the best person for the position. Ask the reviewer questions like "Does this resume sell me as the best candidate for this job?" and "Is this resume engaging?"
If the answer to either question is no, go back and revise your resume once more.