Are you ready to apply for an internship while in college, or for a job after graduation? Are you confused by the advice you’ve been given or read online? There is so much information out there, but I believe college students will do well if they just follow these 12 rules.
Rule #1 – Assemble pertinent information
Jot down all the information you need for a resume — achievements, activities, awards, work experience (including company name, title and dates employed), publications, language and other skills. Organize your information by category and all entries within a category by reverse chronological order. Add in the details for each achievement, activity, award or prior job. Details on your prior work experience should include your responsibilities, projects, any milestones reached, award or recognition. Now you have the framework for a resume.
Pro Tip: As you compile the necessary information, speak with your family, friends and teachers to help you figure out your strengths and aptitudes.
Rule #2 — Be honest
As you gather your information, double check dates and other key information. Your resume should not contain any information that is false or exaggerated. It is simply not worth it. Not only will you be compromising your ethics, you also run the risk of being exposed.
Rule #3 — Be professional
You should always be professional in your communication with employers. You have one chance to grab their attention and impress them, so don’t squander that opportunity.
Treat online applications with the same formality as applications by mail. Use correct grammar and phraseology in your resume, cover letter or accompanying messages. Use your .edu or an appropriate personal email address. Do not use an email address that you think is funny, or one that can be misconstrued.
Rule #4 — Tailor your resume
It’s so much easier to prepare one resume and send it to all the companies you are interested in. So why can’t you do that? Employers want to know why you are interested in them and the particular position you are applying for, and what you can bring to the table. How do you tailor your resume? Study the internship, or job posting, and apply the keywords used in the posting to your resume.
Rule #5 — Be strategic with content
As you prepare your resume, keep in mind who will be reviewing your application, what you are applying for, and what you can show to convince the employer that you are the ideal candidate. If you are the typical student, your resume shouldn’t be more than one page long. You should present only the information that would speak to the particular employer.
- What to include
Include information that is relevant to the position you are seeking or that enhances your resume. For example, if you are applying for a marketing internship, you should include sales or marketing experiences. Include activities that highlight leadership roles, awards and achievements. Include publications if they are significant and/or relevant. If you speak more than one language, you should include the language and indicate if you are fluent or proficient in it.
- What to exclude
Do not include any information that is not relevant or would not enhance your application. For example, you don’t need to mention an award for rock climbing unless you are applying for an internship at a fitness facility. If you belong to several clubs in your college, don’t list the ones where you had limited roles unless they are relevant.
Once you’ve figured out what to include and exclude, you also need to determine how you will present the information. That will depend on the position you are applying for. For example, if you’re looking for a marketing internship and you already have sales/marketing experience, you want to make it stand out. You should separate relevant experience from other work experience you have. For the example I’ve set out above, you can have two headings — (i) Sales/Marketing Experience and (ii) Other Work Experience — with the former above the latter.
Rule #6 — Leave no room for errors
Employers receive hundreds and thousands of emails, and you have just one chance to impress them. Before you click SEND, make sure your resume (and cover email) are FREE of errors.
- Check for spelling mistakes
I recently reviewed a resume with five spelling errors: opperations (operations); postential (potential); Wiconsin (Wisconsin); Univeristy (University); and Power Point (PowerPoint).
The same resume also had a punctuation error: Outlook,Power Point (Outlook, PowerPoint). So check your punctuation as well. Is your apostrophe in the right place? A common mistake is the use of “it’s” when the writer means “its” or vice versa. Watch your hyphen in compound words.
- Be consistent in your use of tenses
Use past tense to describe jobs or activities you had and present tense for current jobs or activities. The resume I cited above listed 3 jobs, one past and two current. The student used the past tense correctly for a job the student had: managed, directed and assisted. But then she mixed up present and past tense when describing one current position – create, assisted and aided – and used present continuing tense for the other current job – organizing, teaching, coordinating and hosting. Consistency and the use of correct tenses are important for clarity.
- Be logical in your presentation
The resume I used as an example above cited 3 jobs and presented them in the following order: current job, past job, and another current job. The order should have been current, current and past jobs. Since the student had 2 current jobs, she could have listed the job with the most recent start date as the first priority.
Rule #7 — Make sure it is easy to read
Your resume should be easy to read and understand. Use simple words and avoid jargons. Remember that the first cut may be made by someone who is not well-versed in technical language, so break it all down into simple language.
Rule #8 — Show, not tell
Remember “show and tell” in elementary school? Well, good resumes drop the “tell” part. You don’t need to rattle off a list of your good qualities and make your resume two-and-a-half pages long. If you do that, you’ve already lost your reader’s interest. For example, a resume I reviewed recently devoted half a page to a host of virtues, including honest, dedicated, organized, passionate, and creative.
Listing your qualities won’t convince the employer, but a well-crafted resume and detailed descriptions of your work experience and activities will demonstrate that to the employer. For example, a statement “led a team of 3 students to form a strategic plan to save coral reefs” would show that you are a leader, and that you are passionate about the environment.
Rule #9 — Name your resume
Employers receive hundreds of applications so give your document a name that makes it easy for employers to find; it will also help prevent mix up with other applicants. A simple first name and last name followed by resume will be perfect, e.g., Jane Doe Resume.
Rule #10 — Format your resume
Your resume should be neat, organized and pleasing to the eye. Let’s walk through the steps you should take to get the result you want.
- One Page
Unless you have a rich employment history that’s relevant to your application, your resume should be no longer than one page. If a line or two spill over to the next page, you can play with the margin, line spacing and font to fit it all on one page.
The default margin is usually 1” from the top, left, right and bottom. If the content fits, you don’t have to do anything more. If the content spills over to the next page, consider adjusting the top and bottom margin slightly; .8” would be a good start. You can go as far as .7” for the top and .5” for the bottom margin. If there is still a need, you can also adjust the right margin next to a minimum of .7”. The left margin would be adjusted last to a minimum of .7”.
If you still need to fit in more text after adjusting the margin on all four sides, you will have to do that using line spacing.
- Line spacing
Line spacing between two lines should be at least “single” to make it readable. Line spacing between categories should be double that.
If you need to fit a line or two on the page after adjusting the margins, you can reduce the line spacing between categories slightly (.9 to .95). Conversely, if you don’t have enough content to fit one page, you can increase the line spacing between two lines (try 1.15 to 1.25) as well as the line spacing between categories.
Avoid default fonts like Times New Roman and Helvetica. Instead, choose a font that will stand out (but not too much). You may use a different font for headings to make them stand out, but I personally think it’s less distracting to use the same font for the entire resume. If you choose to use the same font, you can use formatting tools to make headings stand out (discussed below). To make it readable, you shouldn’t use a font smaller than 11 pts. You can use a larger size for your name, as much as 18 pts.
Resumes should contain different categories of information. Make each category stand out by bolding it and making it ALL CAPS.
- Name and contact information
Your name should be at the top of the page, centered and bolded, followed by your mailing address, email and phone number (all centered). The sample below uses 18 pts font for the name, 12 pts for the address and 11 pts for the contact information.
- Objective statement or summary
Since college students are seeking entry level positions and generally do not have substantial work experience, you don’t need to include an objective statement or summary. If you still want to include one, go with a summary that reflects your experience, and not just a list of your strengths.
If you are a typical student with scant work experience, you should place your education up front and not at the bottom. Later in your career, when you have substantial work experience, you can flip the order and move it back.
Set out the name of the university, city and state followed by your degree and graduation date. You should bold the university name and italicize the degree.
Next, set out any awards, achievements or activities related to education, including the date of award or involvement in activity. Again, you can italicize the award or activity to make it stand out. You should have a brief description for each award, achievement or activity.
If you have substantial work experience, you may want to place the achievements and activities after work experience (demonstrated two sections below).
- Work Experience
Organize your work experience in reverse chronological order. If you have relevant experience, you can separate it using another heading to highlight it. In the example used above where a student is looking for a marketing position, you would have two headings – (i) Sales/Marketing Experience and (ii) Other Work Experience. You would also place the former above the latter.
Set out the name of the company, your title and dates of employment. You should bold the company name and italicize your title.
Use action verbs to describe what you do or what you’ve done for your employer – achieved, assisted, led, designed, trained, increased, maintained, collaborated, etc. Describe any projects and the results or savings from the projects. State an award you’ve received from an employer.
- Achievements & Activities
As mentioned above, you could list any awards, achievements or activities related to education after work experience.
- Other Skills
You should list any other skills that would enhance your resume. If you speak a foreign language, state the language and specify if you are fluent or conversational. In the case of Chinese, for example, you should specify if you read and write, or just speak it.
If you are savvy with social media or skilled with creating images, you should list that as well. You should also list all computer-related skills.
Rule #11 — Proofread
Have you heard of the mantra “location, location, location” for real estate? Well, my mantra for resumes would be “proofread, proofread, proofread.” If you’re happy with your resume, print it out and proofread it. If you have the luxury of a few days, set the resume aside for a day and then revisit it. You can also pass it along to your family, friends, and anyone else who is detail-oriented. You want to read for sense and catch any typos, spelling errors, and grammatical or punctuation mistakes. Remember, there is NO room for errors in your resume.
It would be great also if you could show your resume to someone in the industry you are trying to crack, so you have the comfort of knowing if you have presented all the information needed for the job.
Rule #12 — Test before submitting
You should look at the instructions and submit your application accordingly. But before submitting your application, send the resume (and cover letter) to yourself and check if the attachments come through and whether the formatting stayed true.
After you have done all of the above, it’s time to click that “send” button! Good luck!
Susan Chu is a writer and editor who likes to write about trends in higher education.