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Student Resumes - Frequently Asked Questions
by Sue Campbell, 1st-Writer.com

How important is it for college students to have a resume?

As much as one can be, it's important to be prepared for life's events and opportunities.

Remember that teacher back in high school who enjoyed starting his or her class by announcing a "pop" quiz? There was always one kid in the class who met this announcement with glee - while the rest of us sat there slack-jawed and grumbling.

If were that kid, then you'll probably be prepared the next time you find yourself in a chance meeting with someone who can make a huge difference in your future career - that person who will say to you, "Send me your resume."

The rest of us will greet this statement with a look of mild panic, as we scramble to throw something together that we hope will do the trick.

Having a quality resume ready can mean the difference between gaining an opportunity, or losing one.

What's the best way to format experience when it may be minimal?

You want to look at your experience through two pairs of eyes: the potential employer's and your own.

From a potential employer's point-of-view: What responsibilities did you hold that will be considered valuable or transferable to the positions you're now targeting?

Clues can be found within the job ads to which you're responding.

For example, if an ad states that "communication skills" are important to the position you're targeting, then look within your past experience to locate areas where communication skills came into play, and consider how these skills benefited past employers or the customers they served. You may have communicated through speech or writing, communicated within a team, communicated to customers, communicated to superiors or subordinates. If you were a waiter, waitress, cashier, or worked in any level of customer service, communication skills were certainly utilized.

Next, look at your experience through your own eyes. What work did you enjoy? Where did you feel you were making a contribution? While these skills and experiences may not be directly relevant to the positions you're now targeting, they're good indicators of areas where you're likely to excel in the future.

In this same context, minimize those areas of work you didn't enjoy, even if these are areas in which you excelled - or you may find yourself hired to do work you don't enjoy. For example, I am reasonably good at accounting. You will never see this in my resume, however, as I'd rather have a root canal than accept a position where accounting is a major function of the position.

Under each position, use strong action verbs that best denote your role and level of responsibility, and choose terms that are relevant to your target field or industry, where possible.

Strong action verbs include:
Led, Managed, Directed, Guided, Produced, Streamlined, Trained, Improved, Strengthened, Reduced, Enabled, Created, Designed, Generated, Developed, Ensured, Controlled, Oversaw, Supervised, Resolved, Organized, Coordinated, Demonstrated, Prepared, and so on.

For each skill or responsibility that you list, include the benefits of your efforts and contributions, and include quantitative results and information (numbers, figures, dollar amounts, percentages, etc.) wherever possible.

If you lead a statement with an achievement, make sure you show your reader how the achievement was achieved.

Examples:

  • Increased profits and productivity by 25% through the implementation of improved workflow processes that... (solved what problem).

  • Trained and supervised a professional team of # ____________.

  • Managed a busy multi-line phone system and directed callers to appropriate channels.

How should college students handle seasonal jobs that aren't related to their career goals? Go into detail about accomplishments, or just quickly mention the experience?

Even seasonal positions offer potential employers clues about a potential job candidate's hiring value. While the positions held may not be relevant to the target field or industry, a good employee in one environment is likely to be a good employee in another.

By showing your skills and accomplishments, you show your reader that you're willing to do good work in whatever role or responsibility you're given.

Is there a rule of thumb for including a GPA?

If your GPA is high (3.0 or higher), include it. It's an accomplishment. But understand that having a degree or pursuing an education is an accomplishment in itself.

How should education be formatted? Should the student include the number of credits completed, anticipated graduation dates, extracurricular activities, courses completed?

Yes, yes, yes, only if relevant to the targeted field or industry, and yes.

Begin your educational listing with the name of the institution, its location, and expected date of graduation. If you don't plan to complete the program or degree - or won't for some time to come - you can include the starting and ending dates for the period of time you have completed (2006 - 2008), or you can leave it open-ended (Current).

Next, list the amount of credit hours completed (optional) and/or the name of the degree or program being pursued. Listing credit hours is less important if you intend to complete the program. Then, list the relevant coursework you've completed (relevant to the positions you're currently targeting).

And finally, include any extracurricular activities relevant to your targeted field or position. You may also want to include awards or scholarships received (optional).

Example:

Name of Institution, City, State

winter 2009

  • Bachelor of Science Program: Business Administration  /  GPA: 3.5

Coursework completed: Major Course Title; Major Course Title; Major Course Title...

How can a student write an objective if the career goal is unclear?

If the career goal is unclear, then an objective statement will have little value for your reader. In this situation it would be better to omit the objective statement and begin your resume with a strong summary of qualifications section, instead.

A summary of qualifications section should highlight for your reader those skills, abilities and personal and professional characteristics you bring to the table that will make you a valuable hire.

Professional characteristics include those areas of education and applied experience relevant to your personal history: "solid educational background in business administration, with applied experience in sales and customer service." Personal characteristics can include areas such as, communication, problem-solving, time management and leadership abilities.

Always remember that this document is being written for your reader's benefit (hiring manager, potential employer). Therefore, include any and all information relevant to the types of positions and companies you're targeting (this information must be truthful - no fabrications), as well as the type of work you've most enjoyed in the past and would like to continue, and leave everything else off.

Is there a guideline about how long a student resume should be?

Typically, a student resume should be no more than one page in length. There are exceptions to this "rule," but they are few.

From the reader's point-of-view, a job candidate who presents limited experience and yet is unable to communicate this experience in a concise and powerful manner (one page), is a job candidate who may have difficulty in other areas, as well.

Is a resume for an internship different than one for a permanent position?

No, the internship position should be viewed no differently than a paid opportunity. The internship is a starting point for many in securing applied experience and achievements within their chosen field and industry. This is an important opportunity, and there is often great competition for these roles. Treat it like any other job opportunity that matters to you.

Are there common resume mistakes college students should avoid?

The most common error is not prioritizing the information in the resume by its value and relevance to the position and company being targeted. Without applied experience in the target field or industry, education is often the most valuable information a student has to offer, and should be listed in priority. Later, the education section can move down in priority, as the job candidate gains relevant applied experience and achievements in his or her target field and industry.

As stated previously, a resume should include a summary section that outlines for the reader those skills, experience, and education the job candidate has to offer (relevant to the position being targeted). This is the first information the reader reads, the first impression the job candidate has in presenting his or her hiring value. Whether the next section of information should be education or applied experience will depend on the value and relevance of that material.

Most students will benefit from using the following headings and sections of information, in this or a similar order:

Name
Contact Information
Objective Statement (optional, and should be position and company specific)
Summary of Qualifications
- Areas of Focus (sub-heading)
Education
Applied Experience (or Work Experience)

Additional sections of information can include certifications, professional associations, community service, etc. - but all information should be relevant and valuable to the position and company being targeted.

The second most common mistake is contact information that is in a font size much too small for good readability. A good rule of thumb is to use no smaller than a 10 point font. When all is said and done, how to contact you may be the most important information in your entire document. Make sure your reader doesn't need to grab a magnifying glass to locate you.

The third most common mistake is a lack of white space following the headings, in the margins, or between the various sections of information. White space not only promotes good readability, it ensures this readability will be retained even if the document is later faxed, photocopied or scanned (you never know what your recipient may do with your resume once he or she is in receipt).

How can a student create a resume that stands out from the crowd of other students?

Understand who will be reading your document and the type of information this reader needs to secure. Address any known criteria of the position (information often gained via job ads, recruiters, or company research) with your relevant skills, experience, education and/or abilities. Include the real or potential benefits of these skills and abilities, and include the results of your efforts and contributions - your achievements. Include quantitative results and information (numbers, figures, dollar amounts, percentages, etc.) wherever possible, as this information really stands out.

See more at Resume Questions from New Graduates, Answered.

Should I Hire a Professional Resume Writer?  /  1st-Writer.com Services

See more articles on job hunting

Good luck in your job search! Sue Campbell, 1st-Writer.com - over 18 years experience helping clients achieve their career and business goals. Feel free to e-mail me with any questions you may have. I'll be glad to help!


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This page last updated: 04/23/2012