College student resume tips
What do you put on your resume when you’re still in school? This advice can help you make the grade—and get the job.
Whether you’re writing a resume for the first time or updating an existing resume to pursue a job, internship, or other opportunity, heed this advice for graduates and soon-to-be-graduates: Don’t wait. You know you have great skills, work ethic, and potential, but communicating that on paper is easier said than done. We have a few resume writing tips for college students that can make the process less painful than pulling an all-nighter before finals. And be sure to check out Monster's grad site for more great info.
Start with the right format
Of the three most common resume formats, a combination resume, works for most college students. Here’s the rundown:
- Chronological: For students with minimal work experience, a chronological format is usually not the best choice. This format presents a detailed work history, shining a light on lack of experience.
- Functional: College students may be drawn to functional resume formats, which emphasize skills and abilities and downplay chronological work history. This could be a mistake—hiring managers know this format is used by job seekers trying to hide something. Skills are typically provided without context, making the content hard to follow. Functional resumes don’t play nicely with applicant tracking systems.
- Combination or hybrid: This format combines elements of a chronological resume and functional resume and is a smart choice for both traditional and nontraditional students. A combination resume allows you to demonstrate your most marketable qualifications, skills, and abilities, while still documenting professional experience.
Use two pages if needed
One of the most welcome resume tips for college students solves the dreaded how-many-pages-should-it-be mystery. Conventional wisdom says that a college resume should always be one page, but that’s not the case anymore.
“If one page does the trick, perfect; however, it’s fine if a college student needs more space as long as all of the information is relevant,” says Dr. Cheryl Minnick, nationally certified resume writer and career and experiential learning advisor at University of Montana. “Nearly three quarters of U.S. undergraduate students are nontraditional, having delayed enrolling in college and bringing more experiences to the table, so they may need two pages.”
Lead with a qualifications summary
Incorporate a summary that articulates your value proposition, essence of your brand, and the main reasons why you should be selected for an interview. Make the value you’d bring to the table very obvious to the person reading your resume. How can your skills help a company achieve its goals?
For the summary to be effective, it’s important to include a clear goal and supporting qualifications. Super-important advice for graduates and students: If you have more than one possible goal, avoid creating a “one-size-fits-all” resume that doesn’t speak to hiring managers’ needs. Instead, create distinct resume versions and call out relevant credentials in the summary.
“The student should have several different resumes that showcase their skills for that particular job target,” says Kim Matteson, nationally certified resume writer and career center director at St. Ambrose University.
Because your career goal can be woven into the summary, there’s no need for a separate objective section. (Those are pretty much outdated.)
If you’re a college student with limited experience, place the education section below your qualifications summary. As you gain experience, move education to the end of your resume.
The core information for the education section includes name of the college or university, city and state, degree program, major or concentration, and anticipated degree date.
You can expand the education section to include additional college-related activities. “Include education in and out of the classroom, such as relevant coursework, course topics, team projects, internships, extracurricular activities, field experience, and volunteer roles,” Minnick says.
Also include academic honors, scholarships, and other awards. As a general guideline, list your GPA if it’s at least 3.0 on a 4.0 scale.
Overcome poor academics
What if your academic performance leaves something to desired? “Highlight what makes you stand out,” says Matteson. “If that’s academics, focus on that. If you’ve had amazing internships, emphasize those experiences.”
Include your major GPA if it’s significantly higher than your overall GPA. Label it “Major GPA” so it’s not misleading.
Besides GPA, Minnick says employers want to see written communication, problem-solving, teamwork, leadership, and analytical-reasoning skills. “Building out education with experiential learning that demonstrates these attributes can mitigate against marginal academics.”
Describe unrelated jobs the right way
You may have part-time, seasonal, or temporary work experience that seems unrelated to your career goals. When listing unrelated jobs, keep the descriptions of day-to-day responsibilities to a minimum.
For example, if you waited tables to help pay for college but your goal is software engineering, avoid detailing your food-service duties. Instead, describe accomplishments that show leadership, teamwork, drive, and determination. Was your team recognized for achieving high guest-satisfaction scores? Did you win any awards, such as Employee of the Month? Were you entrusted to train or mentor new hires?
For insight into what aspects of the job to include, study job ads or internship announcements. If an ad says that communication skills are important, think about times when your written or verbal communication skills came into play. If you worked in retail or other customer-facing positions, you likely relied on these skills regularly.
Be strategic with your headings. You can move important experiences higher, even if they weren’t the most recent. “If you had a couple of unrelated part-time positions, followed by an internship and then another part-time position, create an internship heading and move it closer to the top of your resume,” says Matteson.
“Spelling and grammar errors are common on college resumes,” says Minnick. While using spell check and grammar check is helpful, these tools may not catch all mistakes. Show your resume to a trusted advisor, professor, industry professional, friend and anyone else willing to review your resume before you test drive it. An error-free resume looks more professional and will increase your chances of securing an interview.
Juggling real-world expectations plus your current course load is no easy feat. Here's some advice for graduates and students alike: Get some help from professionals. Need to refine your resume? Get a free resume evaluation today from the experts at Monster's Resume Writing Service. You'll get detailed feedback in two business days, including a review of your resume's appearance and content, and a prediction of a recruiter's first impression. You've got plenty on stuff on your plate without worrying if your resume is in good shape; let the experts at Monster give you a hand.