I don't have any younger siblings. I do, however, have some amazing cousins, one of whom is about to be a senior in high school. Realizing this got be thinking about the college application process and resumes. It's been 4 years since I applied to colleges, one year since I applied to grad school, but in both cases, having a well-prepared resume was crucial. So whether you're a senior in high school, a college student, or applying for your first job, here are some tips and tricks to make your resume stand out.
Where do I start?
One of the easiest tricks I found was to keep an ongoing list of activities I was involved in. This list wasn't a formal resume, but when it came time to put a formal resume together it was helpful. Sometimes it's hard to remember what you did as a freshman when you're a senior, so start early. Save the doc on your computer and update it every few months. That way, if you do need to submit a resume, for a job or college/scholarship application, you won't have to stress as much.
How do I format my resume?
Start with the header.
*The first line should be centered and include your legal name. (Elizabeth Pond, Elizabeth J. Pond, Elizabeth Jane Pond are all possible options) Your name should be in a font slightly larger than the rest of the text, try 14. You can also use a fancier font for your name. Something cursive but still legible. Choosing an easy to read font is important. You don't want your admissions representative or future boss straining to read your name and credentials.
* Beneath your name include your home address and email. (Contact info can be spread out across the page. You can even include bullet points to separate the components.) Some people choose to include phone numbers as well. Phone numbers would be more appropriate for a job resume, not one sent to a college. Your relevant contact info should be in a font size that is smaller than what you used for your name, perhaps 10. Choose a font that is simple and easy to read, such as Times New Roman or Arial. Use this font for the body of your resume as well. **Also, if your email address is something like BieberFan376 or TheNextLeBron, consider a creating a different account with a more sophisticated name. You want to stand out, but not because everyone in the admissions office is having a good chuckle about your email address.
Choose your categories.
* EDUCATION is typically the first category. If you are a high school senior, include your high school's information including the city and state. (If you have attended more than one school, include both or more school as well as the year you attended) For me it was St. Paul Catholic High School (Bristol, CT). I did not apply to any in-state schools, so it was important to include the city and state. If you are a senior in college, the same rule applies, especially if you are going to a school that is not as well known. Include your degree information. This can read written as Class of 2013 if you are a HS student or Bachelor's of Arts Degree in English, expected 2013 if you are a college student. You can also include your GPA in this section. For college resumes, it is common to have your cumulative GPA, your major GPA, and your minor GPA all listed, especially if your major GPA is higher than your cumulative GPA because this will show you have gotten good grades in your field of study. **Remember, though, your resume is not your transcript. Transcripts are also requested when you apply for higher education as well as some jobs. Your resume should tell what your transcripts can't.
* The rest of the categories depend on what the resume is going to be used for. It is okay to have more than one resume. For example, a resume for a job would highlight your work experience, but a resume for a grad school would highlight your academic background (then work experience, especially if you have done an internship in your field.) Also, if you are applying for a scholarship, highlight what qualifies you to receive that scholarship. Is it a journalism scholarship? Did you work for your school paper? That information needs to be higher up on the page. You don't want it to be overlooked because it is at the bottom of your resume. Prioritize!
Here are some possible categories. Obviously not all apply to everyone or maybe there is one that I haven't included that better fits your background. The trick is to have your most impressive, most relevant information closest to the top. If you are a high school senior, colleges want to know about your academics and extra-circulars. Grad schools, on the other hand, care more about academics and employment/internships than whether or not you played college ball or sang in the choir. **If you are applying to a creative writing MFA program, having a strong resume is great, but more weight is given to the quality of your writing sample.
ACADEMICS, SCHOLARSHIPS and AWARDS, EMPLOYMENT (or EXPERIENCE), EXTRA-CIRCULARS, ATHLETICS (sports can fall under extra-circulars, but if you want to play sports in college, for example, it would be better to have this as a separate category), SERVICE (or VOLUNTEERING) PUBLISHED WORKS. **I've also seen resumes with REFERENCES as a category and the person will list their references contact info. This is more appropriate for a job resume. Colleges will ask for letters of recommendation to be included with your application or mailed to them directly. ***For a job resume, you can also include SKILLS such as proficient in Microsoft Excel or Office. (These might seem obvious to our generation. We live on computers, but it is still commonly included on resumes.) ****You can even include LANGUAGES SPOKEN and the level of proficiency i.e. fluent, near-native fluency, conversational fluency, proficient in reading, writing and speaking.
Okay, I've chosen my categories, now what?
This is where HS and College resumes differ. So let's tackle HS first.
You will need to include the year you did the activity and any positions you held. (For year, you can use the calendar year, or 9 for grade 9 a.k.a freshman, 10 for sophomore etc.)
Here's a quick example:
Chorus 9-12 *this indicates you did it all four years of HS
Debate Team 9,10 *only did the activity 2 years
Color Guard 9, captain 10-12 *did the activity all four years, but had a higher position for some of those years
Were you class treasurer or yearbook editor? Make sure you note the title. It shows leadership!
For college, use the calendar year. (You can use calendar year for HS too rather the grade, if you choose.) Also note the semester.
Here's a quick example:
The Profile Student Newspaper: staff reporter (fall 2008-fall 2009), associate editor (spring 2010)
Some activities might require an explanation. Maybe not so much for extra-circulars, but if you had a job or internship, you can include bullet point and give a brief description.
Academic Peer Mentor (fall 2011-spring 2012)
* assisted first year students with creating their schedules
Writing Center Tutor (fall 2009 -spring 2012)
* worked 5 hours per week. Helped students structure essays and correct grammatical mistakes.
These explanations should be brief. Concisely explain the major points of what you did. These bullet points are especially helpful if the position you held or company you worked for is not easily recognizable. Also, avoid abbreviations of your resume. Write out titles like Academic Peer Mentor, even if it is known around campus as an APM.
How long should it be?
A resume should be one page. The reason for this is that the second page could become detached and lost in the shuffle. A resume acts as a blueprint. It gives others a sense of who you are. That being said it is important to have a neat, easy to read.understand resume, as this gives a good first impression. Also be careful what you choose to include because you will be evaluated on this information.
What if it is more than a page?
There are a couple tricks to solve this problem. Perhaps use size 10 as the font size for the body. Size 10 is still readable. Make sure your header is not taking up too much room.
Address Address Email
Email takes up room page space than
Also, check your categories to make sure that you haven't created too many. For example, if you created a category for scholarships, you might be able to put this info under academics. Also, if athletics can count as extra circulars. If you condense categories you are saving the a couple extra lines, which could make the difference when needing to fit your info on one page.
What if it isn't enough?
Don't panic. This doesn't mean you should rush out and do things just to pad your resume. Perhaps you could play with the aesthetics a bit. The body of the resume can be in size 12. Maybe your name can be in a size 16 font. Also, something to consider is that while a jam packed resume might seem impressive at first glance, it doesn't mean the person is a better candidate. Play to your strengths. Maybe you only did one or two clubs in high school, but you were the president of that club and organized events. Include that. Don't feel bad that your resume isn't as "full" as some of your peers. Maybe you couldn't do extra-circulars because you had to have a job. Having a job shows maturity too. "Full" resumes can be overwhelming. In some cases, less is more, so if you don't fill your whole page, think of it this way, you have more room to format, so when others might be trying to scrunch every last little activity in, yours will stand out because it will be easier on the eyes.
Remember, a resume is often the first impression college or employers have of you. You can tell a great deal about a person based on their resume. The activities you are involved in tell what you are interested in. The jobs you've had and positions you've held can indicate punctuality, responsibility, leadership. That being said, a putting together a polished resume is time well spent.
Sorry I wasn't able to include actual examples, but if my explanations weren't enough, and you want a visual, there are plenty of great examples out there. When I was doing my grad school resume, I found Google to be more helpful than career services.