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The dos and don’ts of writing a student résumé

August 13, 2021
Author: Spenser Smith

How to market yourself effectively

Writing a résumé is tough work for even the most seasoned job seekers. When you’re a student or recent grad with limited work experience, it’s even tougher. It’s the classic conundrum: you need experience to get a job, but you need a job to get experience.

Guess what? As a human being who lives on Earth, you have loads of experience. On a student résumé, it’s important to leverage your life and educational experiences, from volunteer work to the classes you’ve taken. For example, not everyone has taken a political science class or organized a club. In the job search process, highlight your unique experiences.

Below, I cover three things to do and two things to avoid when writing a student resumé. Follow them, and you’ll be sure to impress hiring managers.

 

Do: Put your educational experiences first

On a typical résumé, work experience appears before education. But, on a student résumé without much work history, you can prioritize educational experiences by placing them first. Go beyond simply listing your school and program. Have you taken any classes relevant to the role you’re applying to? Have you completed any major projects that capture your skills and abilities? List them here!

Basically, you want to highlight experiences that are relevant to the position or that you’ve excelled in (or both), such as:

  • Classes
  • Projects
  • Clubs
  • Sports
  • Extracurricular activities

Don’t: Create a résumé template from scratch

Résumé are all about first impressions. When a hiring manager first looks at your résumé, the design does most of the talking, not the words. If the design is clunky or dated, it will reflect poorly on your skills and abilities. Unless your major is graphic design, leave résumé design to the pros (it will also save you time).

Luckily, there are thousands of professional, free templates available online, and there’s no need to tinker around with your own design in Word. If you’re looking for free templates, you can’t go wrong with Canva’s sleek, modern designs. If you’re able to spend a bit of money, Standard Resume is a great choice. Not only do the templates look amazing, but you also get a website with a customizable URL.

Do: Proofread

Typos and grammatical errors are some of the quickest ways to disqualify yourself. Before applying to a job, proofread your résumé. Then proofread again. Then again. It’s wise to get other eyes on your work, as well. Ask a friend or family member to review it. Also, Grammarly offers a free Chrome extension that can help eliminate mistakes.

Don’t: Exaggerate or lie about your experience

Job descriptions almost encourage us to lie. You’ve seen it before: the entry-level job that demands you have 10 years of experience and have travelled to the moon. Before you know it, you’re Googling “what does it feel like to travel to the moon” so you can sell the story in a potential interview.

However, honesty is the better choice. The last thing you want during an interview is to get caught in a lie. Plus, being true to yourself provides the greatest chance of standing out. You may not have experience flying to the moon, but maybe you’ve written a killer essay about the sociological story of space travel. Or maybe you have zero experience relating to the moon. That’s okay too. No candidate fits a job description 100%.

Do: Write a cover letter

Writing a cover letter for each job application is time consuming. You may be tempted to skip cover letters altogether. After all, your résumé says all that needs to be said, right? Wrong. Job searches are also about standing out, and, it turns out, cover letters are an effective way to do so.

While résumés cover the facts, cover letters allow you to get personal. On a cover letter, you can provide a taste of your personality and write explicitly about your interest in the role. A good cover letter can make the difference between getting and not getting an interview. To streamline cover letters, create a template with customizable sections for each job. ResumeGenius offers some great cover letter examples.

You can shine

Even if you don’t have tons of experience, there are many opportunities to shine in the résumé and job application process. Stay true to yourself, highlight your unique skills and experience, and you’ll be well on your way.

 

Good luck!

 

Have more questions? VIU’s Centre for Experiential Learning is here to help as well!

Portrait of spenser smith sitting with his back resting on a log

Spenser Smith graduated from VIU with a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing and Journalism in 2019. This spring, he graduated from UBC with an MFA in Creative Writing. He writes poetry, photographs owls and runs ResumeKitwhich offers writing and design services to help people market themselves.

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