Why Should I Care about My Resume?

Whether you’re gearing up to write a first draft of your resume or sitting down to tweak one that you’ve had for ages, editing the document that supposedly sums up all of your professional and life experiences on a single page can feel daunting. And yet, as a high school student, future college applicant, and potential job seeker, you’ll find that having a well-crafted resume is a necessity.

Even so, not all resumes are created equal. If you want to differentiate yourself from your peers, the best way to do that is by making your resume an unmistakable standout.

The Tips

Limit yourself to one page—and don’t try to cheat the formatting.

A resume is meant to serve as a quick, legible rundown of your experiences and qualifications. As such, it should not usually exceed one page in length. Not only does anything longer than this become unwieldy, but it also may be unexpected, and potential employers may not even notice an additional page.thus go unnoticed.

We can appreciate that this is easier said than done. Once you’ve spent a few years participating in summer programs, working day jobs, or carrying out internships, your resume will quickly fill up. That said, a resume that is written in minuscule font or that features ridiculously narrow margins will look silly and unprofessional.

To strike a balance between giving yourself enough room to fit all of your impressive experiences while also remaining readable, we suggest making your page margins. 0.6” on all sides and keeping your font size between 12 and 10 points.

Be picky about what you include

In continuation of the above point, don’t be afraid to delete things that aren’t directly relevant to the opportunity at hand.  As you are preparing your resume for a specific application—be it to a job, summer program, or college application—think carefully about what is relevant and what isn’t. Especially if you find that your resume is many pages too long, you’ll need to be comfortable with deleting sections that don’t seem relevant.

Before we launch into a (brief) guide of how to decide which things should remain on your resume and which can safely be eliminated in a given situation, we’d like to clarify that your resume should reflect unique you. If you are a person who is exceptionally passionate about dancing and biology, and you feel that your study of each helps the other, you should by all means keep traces of both of these passions on your resume regardless of what type of job you’re applying for if you can. There is no “key” to being selected for any job or internship, and an eclectic and carefully curated series of experiences on your resume can only look positive.

That said, there are often cases in which it is easy to remove unnecessary sections from your resume. In these scenarios, your resume will actually be strengthened by nature of becoming more succinct.

One such scenario has to do with timing: You should think carefully about including any experience on your resume that took place more than 5 years ago. Unless such an experience is still fresh in your mind, is impressive even in comparison with more recent experiences, or is directly and explicitly related to the position you desire, it will likely look out of place on your resume.

Though it can often feel like every experience you’ve had was productive and worth putting on your resume, you should refrain from including everything you’ve ever done on your resume. Beyond the obvious logistical limitation—indeed, one sheet of paper will never be big enough to cover your whole life—this is not an intelligent approach to writing your resume because it is undiscerning.

In fact, this is the heart of the difference between a resume and a CV. While your CV should be a comprehensive list of all your accomplishments, your resume should be a redacted version of that document. This is important to keep in mind as you continually cull new experiences and achievements. To stay organized, you can keep a CV that grows as your list of achievements does; this document will serve to keep track of everything you’ve done in a centralized location. Then, as you find yourself applying to different jobs or programs, you can create a resume for each of these by trimming your CV.

Your resume should only feature information about you that would interest your potential employer in a given situation. Remember, your resume is not you—it’s more like an advertisement for you. It should list the “greatest hits” of your work and scholarly experiences thus far, but it need not—and, in fact, should not—describe them all in detail. You want to craft your resume with care. In this case, more is not always merrier, and it is better to describe three substantive experiences in detail than to list nine jobs that are only tangentially related to the opportunity at stake.

Think carefully about how you split the content of your resume into sections

With a good resume, someone could spend a minute or so glancing at it and get a good sense of who you are, what you’ve done, and why you’re worth interviewing. You can accomplish this by making the content of your resume as digestible as possible. This means splitting everything on it into small sections, each labeled with an overarching theme or section heading that will catch your reader’s eye.

Writers, journalists, and bloggers—not to mention, any avid reader—will attest to the fact that small paragraphs are quicker to skim and thus easier to read in short period of time. For this reason, you should think about keeping the descriptions of each activity on your resume short and sweet. Avoid using full sentences, so instead of writing “I supervised a class of 12 kindergarten students and taught them what music notes look like, how to carry a tune, and how to identify different instruments,” write, “Taught music classes to group of 12 kindergartners.”

Another thing that helps readers get a macro sense of your career and accomplishments is to separate the experiences you have had into different categories. Though there is no correct or incorrect way of separating your resume into subheadings, standard subheadings include “Education” followed by a series of sections that include “Experience” (for relevant work experience) and “Activities” (for delineating the relevant clubs or organizations in which you participate). At the bottom, you’ll want to create a “Skills” section in which you’ll describe what skills you possess that make you a potentially valuable employee; if you want, you can further split this section into smaller parts like “Computer Skills” or “Language Skills.” Finally, if you have the space, you can close your resume with a section about your interests, though this should be the first thing to go if your resume is longer than one page.

Quantify anything when possible

Be as specific as possible when describing what you learned, did, were held responsible for, or produced when elaborating on jobs. This includes not only specific descriptions of the software used or actions undertaken, but quantifiable measures of your accomplishments when possible.Instead of saying, “Collected marketing data,” write, “Used Google Analytics to quantify marketing email bounce rates three times per week.”

Use action verbs

Each of the experiences enumerated on your resume should be accompanied by a short description. This need only be a few sentences, but these phrases should communicate as much as possible about what you learned, what skills you gained, and what work you produced at a given job or during a specific experience.

One of the best ways to write efficiently, evocatively, and communicatively is to use action verbs to describe what you did. The logic of this is twofold. First, it is repetitive and thus an inefficient use of space to use the same nondescriptive verb, like “did”, to describe everything you accomplished at a job, internship, or during a program. Secondly, by using descriptive action verbs, you force yourself to be more precise as you describe your experiences, delineating clearly what you’ve learned, pointing out how the experience made you a valuable potential employee, and putting the emphasis on things you did rather than observed or were taught by someone else.

Though we can’t give you an exhaustive list here of the types of “action verbs” that spice up a resume, we’ll try to teach you by means of a few examples how you should think about this as you’re crafting your resume.

Ex. Instead of “Made spreadsheets” try “Tabulated marketing data” or “Performed data collection”

Ex. Instead of “Supervisor explained lesson plans for me to carry out” try “Implemented lesson plans designed by supervisor” or “Adapted supervisor’s lesson plans for my own class of students”

Ex. Instead of “Made calls and wrote emails to potential clients” try “Corresponded by phone and email with potential clients” or “Maintained contact with potential clients by phone and email” or even “Managed relationships with potential clients by phone and email”

In all of the above, the best examples of resume-worthy material use verbs that describe the specific jobs carried out in each scenario. They avoid using verbs like “made,” “wrote,” “spoke,” and others that could apply to any number of occasions.

  When in Doubt…

Ask a teacher to read your resume and give you feedback on it! Rest assured that any teacher or guidance counselor  at your school has a resume of his or her own and can give you feedback on yours. While there is no correct way to approach writing and updating your resume, someone who has successfully procured a job with theirs will certainly have worthwhile advice for you.

In addition, there are plenty of books and websites available to you if you feel that you want more in-depth help or a step-by-step guide to drafting your resume. A particularly great resource is The Damn Good Resume Guide by Yana Parker, but you’ll find many similar books to this one at a range of prices online or at your bookstore.

And finally, don’t be daunted by the idea of editing your resume. A resume is by definition a living, breathing, ever-changing document that grows as you do. Be prepared to revise it constantly or tweak it depending on how you plan to use it. Remember, if your resume is to be an accurate and positive reflection on you, you’ll want to reinvent it as often as you reinvent yourself.

Lily Calcagnini

Lily Calcagnini

Lily is a History and Literature concentrator at Harvard University who is doing her darnedest to write a thesis about all of her favorite things at once: fashion, contemporary culture, art journalism, and Europe. A passionate learner, she cares deeply about helping high school students navigate the process of college admissions, whether it be through private essay tutoring or sharing advice on the CollegeVine blog.
Lily Calcagnini