From step-by-step process to formatting and making your resume unique, here are basic resume writing tips for students based on what I learned from my career counselor at Harvard.
Resume writing can be a boring and overwhelming task that many students try to put off until as long as possible. And I was once like that too! The more experienced you become as a professional, the easier your resume writing process will become, too. However, when you’re a student, either when applying a job or for university, resume writing can seem daunting.
If you’re a college student without experience, your first resume may feel empty and unimpressive. It may make you feel like you don’t have any big achievements. But don’t let that demotivate you, since that’s the case with almost everyone!
Importance of Resume Writing for Students
Before we get on with resume writing tips for students, let’s make sure you know why you need a perfect resume. A good resume can is the first step towards starting your professional career. It can help you impress prospective employers, get a good salary and a lot of contacts that will help you throughout your career.
It may seem like an easy way out to just get the format from your classmate/internet and copy it. However, remember that the quickest way is usually the worst. Resume writing may seem like a very time-consuming task, and it definitely is. But all the time is really worth it because a well-crafted resume has the power to get you that job interview and even an offer. Or multiple!
So, from all my experience of resume writing and helping others craft an excellent resume, I’ve created the ultimate guide to resume writing for students. Based on all the tips I learned from my Harvard career counselors who helped me write the perfect resume that got me countless job interviews, here are some resume writing tips that I wish I knew as a student.
Basic Resume Writing Tips for Students
Let’s start with the simple but important tips:
1. Keep your resume short.
One page resume is more than enough for students. This is a tip my Harvard career counselor gave me, “Unless you have 5+ years of experience, your resume has no need to be longer than a page.” A short resume helps busy interviewers go through it quickly and get to the next part – which is the main interview. This is one of the top resume writing tips for students.
2. Keep your resume concise and make it to the point.
The more concise it is, the more efficient you seem to the interviewer.
3. Never repeat facts.
A repetitive resume makes it seem like you’re just in it to waste the interviewer’s time. It can be frustrating for the interviewer. It only highlights the fact that you don’t have enough experience or qualifications.
4. Keep your resume black-and-white only and avoid colors or artwork.
This is one of the top resume writing tips for students of art or design. A simple black and white resume is easy to print and pass around the office. Plus, a simple b/w resume efficiently puts the focus on your qualifications. Just use black color for all the text. Use bold, underline or italics to emphasize things, where necessary.
5. Your photo is not necessary in your resume unless your industry requires it.
6. Your resume should be easily printable.
It should fit on the paper perfectly. This will make it easier for managers to print it out for office discussions after you’ve emailed them. If you’re printing it, make sure the resume is printed well and the words are not faded, etc.
7. Also, your resume should be easy to read.
So make use of bold and underline or italics to highlight different parts of the resume.
8. Use the same format throughout the resume.
And divide your text into columns as required. Keep the titles in a bigger font-size. Stick to the same date format, for example July 2019, or 07-2019.
9. Avoid grammatical or punctuation errors at all costs.
This is one of the most important resume writing tips for students. Nothing is more off-putting than grammatical or spelling errors. They make you seem lazy and unprofessional. Check and recheck your grammar, spelling and punctuation as many times as possible. Attention to detail makes you seem intelligent, and will subconsciously make your employer offer you a higher salary.
10. Avoid mentioning unnecessary details and skills in your resume.
For example Google searching or MS Word. Such skills are really common and it’s taken for granted that everyone knows these nowadays and they’re not worth mentioning in a resume.
11. Don’t miss out on the important details.
For example experience (if any), education details, such as marks/grades, your city, your interests, contact number and email address.
12. Don’t make your resume too empty.
Even if you don’t have a job experience, try to fill it in with experiences or extra-curricular activities. Here are some other things to mention:
- Honors and awards
- Any clubs that you were a member of or in a leadership position
- Your interests or hobbies
- Your skills, software skills or technical skills
Resume Format for Students
I have created three resume templates for students that you can download and use (they are for desktop-use, and don’t open in mobile for some reason).
Other than these, you can find loads of resume templates (not downloadable) here.
What to Include in Your Resume
- Contact Information
- Work Experience
- Extra-Curricular Activities
- Achievements/ Awards
Step-by-Step Resume Writing for Students
Step 1. Planning
The first step of resume writing is to jot down the particulars in your notebook. The first among any resume writing tips for students is thorough planning.
Think of your achievements, interesting experiences or work that you may have done that can be added to your resume. A lot of students forget their own achievements or think of them as too small to be added. Travel, sports, art, at-home projects or helping your parents with their business – all are good ideas to consider. Everyone has some interesting qualifications or achievements to add.
Step 2. Document Format
Start with a Word Document of A4/ standard letter size. Set one-inch margins on all four sides.
You can pick a font (Calibri Regular is good) and a font-size (11 or 12pt). Use a simple font, preferably sans-serif. Choose a good font size, something that’s easily readable. Choose a line height of at least .75 and no more than 1.25.
Then, create your resume header that will contain your contact information. Start with your name, email address, phone number and address. You can center it or keep on on the left side.
Step 3. Create Resume Sections
Start with resume section titles: Resume summary, Work Experience, Education, Skills, Extra-Curricular Activities, Achievements/ Awards, Interests, Languages.
Add an extra line break after each section, and extra space after each section title.
Step 4. Add Particulars
Your summary can be something like, “A Computer Science engineer (B.Tech) with excellent coding skills looking for challenging opportunities that can utilize my technical knowledge.”
Use bullet points or paragraphs to talk about your summer internships or any other work experiences. Mention dates and duration. This is one of the resume writing tips for students that even professionals often forget. For example:
May 2018- Aug 2018: Worked at Cole, Johnson & Partners as an Intern Architect.
Feb 2019- June 2019: Assisted Urban Design Asst. Prof Rick Preston in independent design project.
Mention your academic experience – degrees, grades or marks.
Fill in the rest of the sections. For example:
Software Skills: Adobe Premiere, After Effects, Photoshop, Flash AS3, HTML5, CSS.
Step 5. Add Details
Explain all the particulars in your resume, so that your prospective employer understands your skills and roles in better detail. For example, while listing your program of study for masters or bachelors degree, you can mention its details in one line, explain what it is and some of the courses you took.
If you’re mentioning your summer internship, explain it in a line and mention your job responsibility.
Mention what projects you handled in your summer internship or group projects in school or college.
If you participated in any multi-city or international projects, mention the city and country. For example:
Feb 2019- June 2019: Assisted Urban Design Asst. Prof Rick Preston in independent project – designing a 2000 sq. ft. residence in Shoreditch, London.
- Responsible for creating presentation plans & facade details for client meetings.
- Collaborated with landscape consultant to create proposal.
- Collaborated with lighting consultant for briefing & plans.
- Created 3D renderings of final design.
If you participated in any event or won an award, list the event name and year or explain its importance.
Step 6: Tailor Your Resume
Modify your resume for the job you are applying to. This is one of the lesser-known resume writing tips for students.
For example, say you’re an engineer are applying for engineering, project manager and marketing positions. Make three separate resumes for each field. Modify your technical skills, software skills, etc. or prioritize the order in which they are presented to suit each position. Look up the job descriptions online for the positions you’re applying to, see what is required and try to include those details in your resume if possible.
Here’s one of the top secret resume writing tips for students. Try to list your most impressive qualification first in the resume.
For example, if you did a summer internship at a prestigious firm, at least that first. If you have a degree from an Ivy League institution or other prestigious college, at least that first. If your job experience includes early promotions, leadership roles, or you worked on great projects there, list that first.
Step 7: Handling the Tricky Sections
A lot of people think that you should mention both your strengths and weaknesses in your resume. However, I don’t believe that listing your weaknesses makes sense and it’s sort of becoming an outdated thing to mention, so you don’t have to include that. Here are some of the strengths you can mention: punctual, energetic, team player, leader ship qualities, proactive, creative or problem solver. These are just some of the examples of course you can think of yourself your personality and see what you should include and what best suits you.
Most students who send job applications in my company, start their resumes with a section called “Objective”. This is the trickiest section and most of the times, it makes me reject the applicant straight away. That’s because a lot of applicants’ objective doesn’t match the position they’re applying for.
So make sure you think about it carefully before sending your application. Either way, the objective section is getting outdated these days to. So in my opinion, you don’t even need to include it in your resume.
Step 8: Let Your Resume Make You Shine
Don’t be too humble, don’t hide your strengths. Don’t be too shy to list your expertise our skill sets.
Step 9: Edit, Edit, Edit
Once your resume is in place, sleep on it. Keep editing it over the next week, and take advice from professionals. Once you’re satisfied with it, print a few copies.
Step 10: Send Out Those Copies!
Don’t fold your resume. Keep it neatly in a folder if you’re going for an interview or a career fair. Also check out the ‘What Next’ section below on how to prepare for job applications.
How Long Does it Take to Make a Resume
Crafting a good resume takes more than a day. First of all, it’s a good idea to just jot down your achievements, etc. on the first day. And then patiently craft your resume over a few days. Show it to your career counselor, parents or mentor and keep improving over the next few weeks. Your resume should be well thought of. Obviously, creating a good resume takes a lot of preparation, which often starts years before even making a resume.
Resume Writing Tips for Students: Dos and Don’ts
- Never lie on a resume.
- Be prepared to answer questions about something that you’ve written in your CV.
- It’s better to not write anything as your ‘mission statement’ or ‘objective’ then write something bad or unrelated to do the job you’re applying to.
- Never be lazy with your resume. Keep improving it as much as you can before every job application or interview.
- If the interviewer asks you something about your resume and you don’t know the answer, or if you feel that a detail worked against you in an interview, change it before your next interview. Use every opportunity to improve your resume.
How to Make a Resume Stand Out
You don’t want to come across as a generic student who graduated out of a generic school. There are plenty of those in any country, and employers find no reason to offer them jobs. Your resume should make you look interesting. Also, it should be a conversation starter. If your resume looks factory made, dull or empty, you may as well not have any! Here are some resume writing tips for students on how to craft a unique CV:
1. Make Your Resume Visually Unique
Firstly, if you are appearing for campus placement or college career fair, think of how your resume will stand out among your classmates with similar experiences or details. Here are some tips:
- Choose a unique format or font.
- Add unique highlights to make you stand out. For example, clubs, extracurricular activities, internships or grades etc.
2. Keep Improving It
Resume making is an ongoing process and you should always keep working towards its improvement. So find new opportunities to fill your resume or add interesting details in it that make you stand out as an applicant.
3. Curate an Impressive Section of Extra-Curriculars
What are your interests: academic or extra/curricular? Think about those and work towards them so you have new achievements to list in the resume. Here are some examples:
- Join student clubs
- Try to get a published in a magazine or college newspaper
- Find leadership positions and clubs or student organizations.
- Try to participate in events so that you can win awards.
- Speak and debates or participate in sports.
- If you’re a designer, take up freelance projects.
- If you’re an artist, put up an exhibition, either in school or outside. Or participate in art competitions.
- If you’re academic, assist your professor on an independent project or on a book. Or become a teaching assistant or research assistant.
- Participate in a competition or do an independent freelance project outside the college.
- Teach a class or give tuition classes to younger children.
- Work at a non-profit organization.
4. Show Why You Should Be Hired Without Saying It
Resume writing tips for students are not just about listing your skills and experiences. Instead of your goals or interests, think about why you should be hired. What will you bring to the table at the workplace? What skills will you contribute to an organization? Furthermore, what unique qualifications you have that a company can benefit from? Structure your resume accordingly.
5. Don’t Think of Learning, Think of Contributing
Lastly, job is not offered to those who love to expand their horizons are those who are in it only to learn. Instead, jobs are offered to those who are in it to contribute to the organization. Learning should be left to college, jobs are for making a contribution.
Resume writing tips for students don’t end just here. Then, you need to be ready for the interview.
1. First of all, be proactive in getting help to improve your resume or applying to more and more jobs.
2. Have an email draft ready for job applications, which you can use as soon as you hear of an opening.
3. Create an email signature listing your name, academic qualifications and website or portfolio.
Here’s an example:
MDesS’11, Harvard University Graduate School of Design
4. Make a proper email address that looks formal and use it to send your job applications, such as [email protected] Keep it professional. Avoid inappropriate words like cool, badass, girl/boy etc. in it.
5. Also, create a cover letter, which you’ll have to send along with your resume for job applications.
6. Interview preparation is just as important as making a resume. So, practice speaking, talking about yourself, explaining your qualifications, projects, extracurricular activities, ambitions and answering technical questions or questions about your field of study.
Here’s a guide on how to dress well for your interview.
Hope all these resume writing tips for students were helpful. Have any questions? Let me know below and I’ll try my best to help out!
Shilpa Ahuja is the editor of Career Nuts. She has a Masters in Design Studies (MDesS) degree from Harvard University Graduate School of Design, class of 2011. Shilpa is an entrepreneur and founder of Shilpa Ahuja Digital Media, an online publishing company that includes HowtoGetinto-Harvard.com, a Harvard admissions guide and ShilpaAhuja.com, one of India’s most-read digital fashion magazines. She is also the creator of SlubShop, a trend-based online fashion store, and Audrey O., a comic series that represents the lifestyle of millennial women. She also has a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Chandigarh College of Architecture (B.Arch), class of 2007. She has worked in interior project management for The Park hotels and in graphic design and education technologies for Harvard Law School. Originally from Chandigarh, Shilpa enjoys art, creative writing, fashion and travel. Her art has been exhibited at Harvard Graduate School of Design and the Aroma Hotel, Chandigarh. Her work has been published in University of Fashion blog, Jet Airways magazine, Chandigarh Times and Indian Design & Interiors magazine. She is also the author of the book “Designing a Chinese Cultural Center in India”.