The start of the spring semester reminds us of looming deadlines for summer jobs, internships and study abroad opportunities for next year.
These can be super stressful processes; especially given the hundreds of other applicants eyeing the same opportunities as you. Use the following 20 tips to make sure your resume stands out from the pack:
1. Choose the right template.
With so many formatting options, it’s easy to end up with an awful looking resume, but there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.
Almost every major college offers a sample resume on its career services website, so don’t feel limited by your specific school’s resources.
My favorite options are the University of Texas Bachelor of Business Administration Resume and University of Pennsylvania - Wharton Resume.
If you want to go more professional, there are services that will literally create the perfect resume for you. Hiring managers often like to see professional resumes, and they can definitely set you ahead of the pack.
Consider multiple options before selecting a format that will enable you to have a resume that is well-organized, easy to skim and showcases your skills best.
2. Save the creativity for the content.
Many companies use an applicant tracking system (ATS) that can’t process elaborate fonts or unique layouts. So, stick to a conservative font, like Times New Roman, in a traditional size, like 10 or 12.
3. Have a master resume.
Create a version of your resume that contains everything you’ve done. Don’t leave out any accomplishments and list as many experiences as you can brainstorm.
When it comes time to apply for a position, create a copy of your master resume, rename it as “First Name Last Name’s Resume – Position Title,” then tailor your resume to that position. Not everything on your resume is pertinent to the specific job or scholarship for which you’re applying.
4. Stick to one page.
As a college student, you should never submit a resume that is longer than one page. If you do so, you won’t win the respect of your interviewer by showcasing all of your accomplishments, but rather, you will communicate your lack of ability to be concise.
5. Don’t include an objective.
Don’t waste the few lines that this section will absorb. Your objective is to land the scholarship, job or fellowship for which you’re applying and the review committee knows that.
Instead, use your cover letter to elaborate on why you're applying and explain how your experiences make you the best candidate.
6. If you’re in school, include your GPA.
If you don’t, recruiters will assume that there is a negative reason you didn’t include this detail.
7. Use reverse chronological order.
Your resume communicates how your qualifications and interests have evolved over time. List your activities under each section in reverse chronological order.
In certain situations, it’s permissible to use a “functional” order that lists activities by relevance to a specific position. If you choose this option, be clear so it doesn’t look as though you haphazardly listed your accomplishments and experiences with no form of organization.
8. Take advantage of section headings.
Make sure to use section headings that appropriately categorize your accomplishments. The following should be included:
- Contact Information (listed directly under your name) - Education - Employment Experience - Leadership Experience or Extracurricular Activities - Additional Information
Using “Additional Information” instead of “Skills” as the final category allows you to highlight achievements and attributes that don’t fit well in other categories.
Other optional sections include:
- Community Service/Involvement - Research, Interests and Publications - Certifications
9. Do not include references on your resume.
List your references on a separate document and offer it to employers upon request.
10. Be specific and quantify whenever possible.
For each description or bullet item on your resume, ask the questions “How often?” “How much?” “How many?” and use dollar amounts, percentages and numbers to highlight results.
11. Always start with a different active verb.
Use strong, descriptive verbs and avoid the passive voice. Each bullet should demonstrate a different skill, so don’t stick to the same verbs. If you need help with this, check out this resource that lists different action verbs. Be careful not to be too verbose and don’t use phrases like “responsible for,” as they are not descriptive.
12. Use the appropriate verb tense.
This is an easy mistake to overlook. If you are describing an organization in which you are no longer involved, use the past tense. Only use present tense if you currently hold a position.
13. Every word counts.
You only have one page, so be brief and succinct. Instead of writing “responsible for planning events,” simply say “plan events.” Don’t ever use five words when just one will work. Look for other easy improvements like saying “to” instead of “in order to.”
14. Be consistent with your dates
Don’t switch between using semesters and months as the time increments in which you describe your experiences. Also, decide if you want to use month abbreviations or the whole word, and don’t switch back and forth.
15. Proper alignment makes a difference.
Make sure every part of your resume is aligned to either the right margin or the left margin. Don’t leave dates just floating half an inch from the right margin. It makes your resume look cluttered and gives the impression that you’re sloppy and not detail oriented.
16. Put periods at the end of your statements and bullets
Your descriptive bullets are sentences, so punctuation is preferred, but not necessary. Either way, make sure you’re consistent.
17. Always send your resume as a PDF
If you send it as a Word file, you risk the possibility of formatting inconsistencies when someone opens the document on another device.
18. Don’t exaggerate.
This sounds obvious, but sometimes we convince ourselves that an embellishment is different than a lie. But truthfully, it is a lie, and it’s not worth it — especially if your school or potential employer discovers you.
19. Review. Review. Review.
Get at least three other people to review your resume. A fresh set of eyes is much more likely to catch any kind of problem that you may have missed.
20. Evaluate it at the end or beginning of every semester
Reviewing your resume means editing the current content – grammar, format, etc. Evaluating your resume means scrutinizing your accomplishments, identifying areas for development and creating a plan for how you will achieve your future ambitions.
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