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Writing Your First Resume

You should be willing to tweak your resume for each position that you plan to apply for, especially if they are in radically different fields.

Samantha Starkey

November 07, 2014

Writing Your First Resume
Writing your first resume can be intimidating, especially as a college student transitioning from high school into the "real" working world. Maybe you're worried that you lack enough professional experience to fill an entire page, or maybe you're unsure about how to format it. Here are some tips to help you nail your first resume.

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Resume Basics

Employers won't spend very long looking at any one individual resume, especially if they have a stack of fifty or a hundred (or more!) resumes to sift through to fill one or two positions. This is why it is important to condense your resume into a single page, to use headings for easy skimming (e.g. "Education," "Experience," "Skills," etc.), and to present your most relevant experience first.

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While you should try to keep your experience history in reverse chronological order, you can certainly divide it up into "Relevant Experience" and "Other Experience." My resume, which I've tailored to the publishing industry, contains proofreading and editing work under "Relevant Experience" and unrelated office jobs under "Other Experience." Bullet points are your friends, and consistency is pertinent. Use bullet points to describe each of your work experiences, and start them with strong present-tense action verbs such as "perform," "assist," "contribute," and "manage."

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Use verbs that are relevant to your field of work. For example, my resume includes verbs such as "edit," "copyedit," "proofread," and "type." You want to clearly, yet concisely indicate the duties and responsibilities that describe your professional experiences. Employers also want to see start and end dates. In college, these dates probably are not as critical because you have yet to settle into a steady nine-to-five job, but you should make sure that your start and end dates are easy to spot. My resume, for example, has all of my information flush left, while my start and end dates are flush right. It is also good to include all of your contact information at the top of your resume, and to include a "Skills" section somewhere (mine is at the very bottom). Skills can include anything from "strong writing skills" to "proficient in Photoshop." Lastly, if you've done excess volunteer work, you might want to consider a separate "Volunteer Activities" section.

What to Include – or - How Do I Fill an Entire Page?

As a college student, it's very likely that your job experience is limited to that one summer you spent working at Dunkin' Donuts and the handful of campus clubs that you've participated in since freshman year. These are all good to include on your resume, particularly by indicating what it was you learned from each experience. Dunkin' Donuts might have taught you valuable customer service skills, while you may have learned leadership, time management, and interpersonal skills from club activities. While it is tempting to include high school activities on your resume, these types of experiences aren't as important in the professional world as are your college experiences and, after sophomore year, you should probably consider cutting them out. If you are working towards a college degree, it is better to include that on your resume than your high school GPA and graduation date. You want your resume to look full but not too overcrowded. Make sure there is enough white space on the page by using blank lines between experience entries and section headings. Conversely, make sure there isn't too much white space by tweaking the margins and selecting an appropriate font size—not too big, not too small.

Tailor Your Resume to Your Field

I've already mentioned how you can use "Relevant Experience" and "Additional Experience" to tailor your resume to the job. This is important. You should be willing to tweak your resume for each position that you plan to apply for, especially if they are in radically different fields (after all, as a college student or a recent graduate, you have to be willing to try new things). You may also have different resumes all together. Maybe you have a "creative" resume and a "professional" resume. A creative resume can feature color and design elements, useful if plan on going into a field such as graphic design. However, a professional resume should be black-and-white and traditionally formatted. Mine is the latter, while my roommate's—she's a filmmaker—is radically different, with color and floating boxes for each of her experiences.

Take an Early Draft to the Career Services Center

Chances are that there is an office at your school dedicated to helping students with this type of thing. It could be the writing center or career services. This is where I took my resume when I first composed it freshman year, and they were the people who made the helpful suggestion that I add a section for relevant experience. Your school may also offer resume workshops throughout the course of the semester. It's a very, very good idea to have at least one other person look over your resume for you. You may have made an egregious spelling error—proofread, proofread, proofread!—or simply there's something awkward about your formatting that could be tweaked to make it stronger. Your resume is your first chance to make a positive impression on your future employee. You want it to be the strongest, cleanest, most professional impression possible.

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