how to write a college student resume

Whether you’re still working toward your degree and just need to pay the bills, or you’re embarking on your first post-graduation job search, you’ll need to produce a resume. The guidelines below are just what you will need to get started with your college student resume.

1. Write a master resume

Set your job search goals first. These include the type of work you want to do, the type of organization you want to work for, full-time or part-time, salary, and benefits. As you look at each job opening, measure it against these goals.

Start by crafting a master resume based upon all the experience, hard skills, and soft skills you’ve acquired through previous employment and as a result of student groups, organizations, and activities.

Hard skills are those that you have accumulated through training and experience, such as computer expertise or writing. Soft skills are those that are not so easily evaluated, like communication and leadership.

You’ll have to make revisions to your master resume based on each specific position’s preferred skills and experience. These revisions are about tailoring your resume to the job and deciding which skills to emphasize. If you have a good master resume, it can be easily tweaked for each job.

2. Your academic work counts on a college student resume

Your Coursework: One of the things that students tend to neglect is coursework that directly relates to an open position. This is one of those instances where you want to tweak the emphasis in your education section. If computer skills are required, list relevant coursework, and if your grades were great, list those too.

Awards: If you have received any academic awards, it will be critical to include them. After all, candidates with more work experience still include their awards and achievements.

Internships: How about any internships, project work, or assistantships you have had? All of these things point to your growth and experience. If you can get statements from professors or internship supervisors about your great work, do so. These statements can be placed on your personal website or in your LinkedIn profile.

Research: In many courses, you will have produced research papers that show your mastery of specific topic areas. Place these papers on a personal website or portfolio and refer hiring managers to them through links on your resume or cover letter. Even if a recruiter or hiring manager doesn’t read your related papers, they might take note of the topics and the grades you received.

3. Your experience is transferrable

Don’t discount the skills you develop in typical part-time college jobs in retail, fast food, or labor. Consider what this work experience has provided you:

  • Sales – In many positions, you develop skills in closing sales with customers. “Sales” is the fifth-most common skill listed on job descriptions. Whether you worked in retail or telemarketing, each successful sale improves those skills.
  • Work Ethic – You have demonstrated this trait by being on time, going above and beyond the minimum requirements, and taking initiative.
  • Customer Service and Relationships – In the service industry you deal with angry, irate customers. Your ability to handle these difficult situations is a valuable soft skill.

There are many other skills you have developed during your college life too.

  • Have you collaborated on major projects with your peers? This translates to teamwork and project management experience
  • Have you had leadership roles in clubs or other campus organizations? “Leadership” is the most coveted soft skill on job descriptions
  • In your coursework assignments, have you mastered Word, Excel, Photoshop, graphic design, or other software? These are impactful hard skills

4. Lead off with a great summary statement

One of the ways to keep your resume from being ignored is to begin with a bang.

A summary statement at the top of your college student resume will be an employer’s first impression of you. It needs to be amazing.

One cardinal principle is to never focus on your career goals and what you want. Based upon the position opening, your personal statement must focus on what you bring to the table and how you can meet the employer’s needs, not yours. Learn more about resume summary statements and read examples here.

5. Use strategic formatting and keywords to stay in the running

If a recruiter looks at your college student resume, you might only get 6 seconds to make a strong impression. Think about these factors:

Your Format: Many resumes from established candidates use the “chronological” format – a complete listing of relevant job history. For your college student resume with limited or no work experience, a “functional” or “hybrid” resume format might be more appropriate. These resume formats allow you to creatively structure your resume sections when you don’t have much work experience. For example, you might divide your resume into skill sets (e.g. “design” or “customer service”) and then list various experiences that relate to those skills.

Keywords: If a recruiter physically reviews your resume, they’re skimming for the experience, skills, and keywords that show you meet their qualifications. But oftentimes resume scanning software takes the first crack at your college student resume. Rather than reading every application, recruiters can search applicant tracking systems for the candidates with matching resume keywords. Some systems even automatically score and rank applicants based on how well their resume matches the job description.

To find the right keywords, carefully review the job posting and take note of the skills and responsibilities that seem most important. If applicable, these words should appear throughout your resume (naturally, not “stuffed” in).

Jobscan automates this process. Just paste your resume in on the left and the job description on the right.

Make Your Resume Skimmable: Recruiters and hiring managers are busy people and may be reviewing resumes quickly or even while on the move. Rather than struggle to read your resume, they’ll just move on. Make your college student resume more readable by leaving white space around your text, choosing a classic resume font, and grouping information into bullet points and short sentences.

6. Merge your college student resume with your social media

It’s time to get “professional” with your social media presence. Clean up your act so that your social media accounts don’t cost you a job.

Get a LinkedIn account and craft a strong profile. Check out these resources:

Once on LinkedIn, join groups related to your career field and begin to strategically grow your network.

Create a simple website where you can house a blog and a portfolio of your academic work. Link this on your resume and LinkedIn profiles. Post links to your portfolio or LinkedIn page on other social media profiles.

Wrapping it up

Crafting an effective resume with little-to-no directly relevant experience is challenging. But it can be done. You have to think creatively about how your academic and employment background can be massaged into the skills that a position opening requires.

Does your college student resume pass the test?


Daniela McVicker is an editor with the writing review website, Top Writers Review. As a former HR professional, she is also a frequent contributor to a number of blogs related to writing resumes, CV’s, and cover letters, as well as advice on interviewing preparation. In her “off-duty” time, Daniela works on her “bucket list,” including her current quest to learn to sail.

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