Building Your Resume: Resume Tips for College Students

Whether you're getting ready to graduate and go into the workforce or just hunting for that perfect college job, having a polished resume is an essential part of getting your foot in the door. Read on to learn how to build an eye-catching and effective resume.

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Resume Content

Many students fear that lack of work experience will make their resumes look insufficient or unimpressive, and they resort to 'padding' their resumes to fill blank space. Don't fall prey to this temptation! You will almost certainly get caught in any lies or half-truths, and that is a guaranteed way to lose your chance at any job.

Instead, remember this tip: A resume is not a work history, it's a chance to demonstrate that you have the skills necessary to do the job. In order to achieve this goal, here's what to include:

Heading

There should always be a heading at the top of your resume that includes your name, mailing address, phone number and email address. If you have a professional website, its web address can be included, but make sure the content is 100% safe for work first.

Education

List any college degrees that you've earned here, as well as special accolades, such as professional certifications. If you completed a thesis, you may also include a brief mention of this project. Students who have yet to earn a degree can list their anticipated date of graduation like this: Bachelor of Business Administration, Expected May 2012. You can also include your GPA if it's 3.0 or better. This shows employers you are hardworking and that you maintain academic excellence.

Depending on how many years of college you've completed, you might also consider listing your high school diploma, GPA and any positive high school experiences. This may be especially helpful for first- and second-year college students.

Objective

It's generally best to write a cover letter and exclude the career objective. However, if a prospective employer has asked applicants not to submit cover letters, then it's a good idea to include one or two sentences that concisely describe your goals for the position.

Selected Experience

Using the word 'selected' serves two functions: First, it indicates that you're only describing previous jobs that have a direct effect on your qualification for the current position. Second, for those students who are worried about a lack of work history, it implies more experience without making any false statements.

Use this space to list any jobs, internships, volunteer positions or other professional experiences that are germane to the position. Keep job descriptions as short as possible, highlighting only relevant duties. Be sure to list your most recent experience first, and then all experiences in chronological order thereafter. Include the companies name, your job title, location, and the dates you worked there. If you're currently employed and the position is relevant, it can be listed as 'start date-present' (e.g., 10/29/12-present).

Skills

This is your opportunity to draw attention to any important professional skills that aren't explicit in your education or experience information. Consider things like computer skills (be specific, especially if the position relies on a particular piece of software), foreign language skills or creative skills. If you're looking for inspiration, read over the job description again and try to distill why you'd be a good fit into a list of skills - just be careful not to copy a company's list of desired skills verbatim onto your resume.

Honors & Awards

This section isn't required, but it can be useful to fill up space if necessary or highlight special achievements. It's ok to include academic awards here because they demonstrate diligence and hard work.

Activities & Special Interests

This is another 'filler' section that isn't required, but it can be useful to show evidence of intangible skills like leadership or communication. Don't list every club or student group you ever joined, but consider adding organizations that are relevant to the position as well as more generally impressive roles, such as student government.

Professional References

Although most employers require you to submit your references later on during the application phase, some will ask that these contacts be included with your resume. Many employers ask for 3 professional references whom they can call to verify your skills and work experience. Be sure to include any supervisors, professors, coworkers or other reliable sources who you trust to give a positive representation of your work ethic.

Resume Style

Having engaging and impressive content is at the heart of any resume, but style is more important than you may think. When an employer is paging through a stack of over a hundred resumes, he or she is going to pick up the one that looks best before reading a single word.

There's no one right way to style a resume, so it's important to take the time to look at many different examples for inspiration. Your school's career services office may have some samples for you to look at and an Internet search for 'sample resumes' will turn up lots of results.

Here are a few basics to get you started:

  • Your resume shouldn't be longer than one page, single-sided. The cover letter and curriculum vitae (C.V.) give you an opportunity to be more detailed, but the resume should be a short and sweet summary that's easy to scan.
  • Choose a clean, simple font that's easy to read. Avoid scripts or anything else that's visually distracting.
  • Print with black ink on white paper and avoid colored ink, colored paper or pictures - even artists should save images for their portfolios. If you want to make your resume seem a little more fancy, try printing on high-quality, heavy stock paper.
  • Make sure that your style is consistent throughout, from the size of your headings to the indent of your lines.

Final Tips

There are two final things to remember when it comes to writing a great resume:

Proofread, Proofread, Proofread

Spelling or grammar errors almost always get your resume thrown into the trash - the same goes for cover letters and other documents. We all make mistakes, but letting them slip into a job application is a sign of sloppiness and inattention. Be sure to have a fellow classmate, professor, career counselor or family member that you trust look over your resume. It doesn't hurt to have multiple people look it over to ensure it's polished and free of errors.

Customize Each Time

As noted above, your resume isn't an encyclopedic work history, it's a list of relevant experiences and skills. You should therefore rework it every time you send it out, even if it's for the same type of job. It's ok to keep the same style and even a lot of the same content, but make sure that you've read it over with the specific position in mind.

Before you send your resume off, make any necessary changes to your selected experience, job duties or skills to highlight the most relevant details. It can be helpful to keep a 'master resume' with all of your information on it to refer back to when creating a job-specific document.

If you are feeling lost in this whole process, take advantage of the career counselors at your school. They can help you create a resume, and they'll provide you with other valuable job information and career resources.

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