We’ve touched on the importance of having a student resume before, but some of you may still be wondering how to go about writing one. So let’s sit down and talk about what goes into an amazing resume.
The great thing about practicing this skill is how useful it is. A great student resume isn’t structured any differently from a job-seeker’s resume. The only thing that changes is the experiences that are included and what items are prioritized. Practice now and you’ll be an expert resume-drafter well ahead of the curve! So let’s jump into the first tip for writing a great resume:
1. Follow a Consistent Format
There are countless ways to structure your resume, and some are definitely more right than others. But regardless of how you decide to organize your resume - font choices, sizes, margins, or word order - keep it consistent! Let’s take a look at a (fictional) example below:
The student lists two positions and keeps to a consistent format while doing so. Both the name of the organization and the name of the position are in bold, while the place and time of the position are justified to the right. Underneath each item are a few bullet points describing the student’s responsibilities.
2. Use Active Language
Under each of these items, our fictional student has included several bullet points describing the positions. The bullets should include details that will help the reader understand your accomplishments, skills, or achievements. Remember, these bullet points show what you’ve done, so the verbs will be doing the heavy lifting here.
Verbs describing previous positions or work that you have finished should be in the simple past tense. For things that you’re currently doing, use the simple present tense. You can see examples of both in the items above!
By focusing on these strong action words, the student emphasizes the work they’ve put in and the abilities they have as a result of these positions. But there are other ways to show your reader the importance of what you’ve done.
3. Build Impact
Okay, we’ve talked a lot about the first word - those wonderful verbs that show the reader all the amazing things you’re capable of. But what about the rest of the description? Here, it’s important that you build “impact” - that you show the reader why what you did was important or impressive. There are a couple of ways to do this.
You can add numbers to things like:
How many people you lead, trained, or supervised
How much money you earned or raised
If it’s not natural to include a quantifiable result, that’s fine! But make sure to talk about the outcome of your work. What was published? What was accomplished? Who was helped? You can also include the name of any awards or recognitions you received for your work. All of this combines to give the reader a very concrete picture of the work you’ve done in a very short amount of time.
4. Name the Skills You Learned
But a resume isn’t just for showing the things you’ve done. It’s also a place to explain the person you are and the things you’re capable of doing. This can be accomplished in a number of ways. In the items above, our student shows what they learned through their bullet points, as with their work for the Human Rights Campaign where they write:
Built a strong understanding of the issues as well as how best to advocate for social issues through both in-person and online events.
This bullet point focuses on new things they have learned and new skills they have acquired and can apply to future roles. However, if you have skills or abilities that are not directly related to a specific position, you should absolutely include a “Skills” section in your resume:
5. Put the Most Important Information First
This one is easier said than done - what is “important” on your resume is incredibly subjective. In fact, you’ll often find that what’s more important will change depending on the position to which you’re applying. Your academic awards might be more important for applying to a research internship position, while your volunteering experience might be more relevant when applying to be a political campaign volunteer.
But there are some general principles we can use to organize this information. At the start of your resume, you should include some general information about yourself.
At this point, you have a decision to make. Typically, your experiences can be divided into volunteering, extracurricular activities (that aren’t volunteer), and any work experience. Whichever you feel is most relevant to your life and you spend the most time on is likely the section you will put first. In the case of our student above, their resume starts with his school, then adds Volunteer Experience and Extracurriculars. They don't have any Work Experience and decided to put Volunteer Experience first because they feel that experience is most relevant.
6. Ask Someone to Proofread It for You
As perfect as you think your resume is, as many times as you’ve gone over every sentence, clause, and iota with a fine-toothed comb, there will be errors. Or there may be places where you missed an opportunity to talk about a relevant experience. Or where you didn’t adequately explain what exactly you were doing.
The best people to proofread your resume are those who know you well. They’ll be able to not only say if the grammar and style are correct, but also whether it does a good job of representing the person you are. Of course, if grammar isn’t your strongest skill, it may be worth bringing it to someone whose writing ability you trust, like a parent, teacher, or mentor.
And now you have a resume! The wonderful thing about this is that you can continue to add to the structure and experiences you have, tweaking things as they change. When you do, make sure to look them over again to ensure that your new entries fit with the rest of your resume - both in terms of format and in terms of the themes of your life that you’re presenting.
A resume can be sent with an application, with a request for a letter of recommendation, or as a cheat sheet for someone introducing you at a talk or workshop. Having a current resume around, with pre-written language describing your experiences, might take some time. But it will save you so much effort in the future!