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Blog/Guides/The College Student's Guide to Writing a Resume

The College Student's Guide to Writing a Resume

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If you're the kind of student who strives to be ahead of the game, finding a job while you're still attending university has probably crossed your mind. You have student loans to pay, cars to buy, and dreams to achieve. No one blames you for wanting to get started. But if you're short on work experience, where do you start?

We're mapping out everything you need to know to set yourself up for success before you check off the long-awaited milestone of graduation. At a glance, your resume should include your:

  • Contact information
  • Mission statement
  • Relevant skills
  • Work experience
  • Educational background

It all sounds so easy, right? But if you're not sure what to write in each section of this critical document, we can help. Let's dive into the details.

What Makes Up the Contact Information Section?

This portion of your resume tells employers who you are and how to reach you. Arguably, it's the most important part of the document. Get these details wrong, and hiring managers won't know where to turn to set up the interview.

Pack this resume section with:

  • Your name. Include both your first and last names.
  • Your mailing address. If you're planning to move within the next two months, pick an address you monitor regularly. Perhaps your parents, or a sibling, will accept mail for you during your job hunt.
    If you can, list an address in the same city as the one you're applying to. If you can't, address that in your mission statement.
  • Email address. If you're using a joke-based email account (such as or for example), it's time to make a change. Keep things as simple and professional as possible.
  • Phone number. If you can't answer right away, what will your caller hear? Make sure your automated system is professional. Better yet,be sure to answer when you hear the ring.
  • LinkedIn account information. Experts say about 40 million college students have LinkedIn accounts. If you're not one of them, it's time to get started. Upload the data we're outlining below to LinkedIn as your online resume. Recruiters might like to hop on and check you out before committing to an interview. Add a link to your profile in this section of your resume.

What Should You Say in a Mission Statement?

By the time graduation arrives, two-thirds of college students have written papers 10 pages or longer, experts say. Thankfully, your mission statement isn't nearly that long. Instead, it's a paragraph or two that helps explain who you are, what you're looking for, and why you're a good hire.

To make your mission statement as powerful as it can be, follow these helpful tips:

  • Pack it with keywords. Use language from your industry. If you're hoping to work in marketing, make sure that word appears in the graph somewhere. If you'd like to work in health care, the term patients or hospitals should show up.
  • Focus on accomplishments. It's easy to pack this section with fluff terms about what a hard worker you are. Instead, pluck out one or two concrete examples of what you've done recently to prove you're a solid hire.
    Did you lead a class project that won a competition? Did you complete a two-year internship with glowing reviews? These are things that deserve to be mentioned.
  • Explain your goals. As a college student, you don't have a lot of experience. You know you're entering at the ground floor, so explain that. Identify why this job means so much to you as a professional just embarking on a meaningful career that you are passionate about.

Your sample mission statement might sound like this:

I'm about to graduate from Washington State University with a Bachelor's Degree in Biology. I'm searching for an entry-level laboratory job where I can hone my research skills and make a difference in the lives of patients.

During my two-year internship at Smith Research, I helped the team develop a breakthrough treatment for tuberculosis. My contributions, my mentor said, were key to the project's success. I'd love to continue that work as an employee.

I work hard, I am familiar with all standard laboratory equipment, and I'm able to start full-time work in May.

Here's another example:

Hard working, detail oriented marketing major seeks long-term employment with an up-and-coming advertising agency.

I've completed three internships with similar organizations during my college career. In my last position, I was responsible for a campaign that led to a 40% increase in sales.

What Skills Should You List?

In the next section of your resume, you'll identify what skills and talents you can devote to your new employer.

Since you won't have many job opportunities to round out this document, your skills section is critical. As your career deepens and you have more employers, you won't need to list skills in such detail. For now, they will work to your advantage.

Research from Microsoft says employers are looking for workers with:

  • Oral and written communication skills
  • Problem solving skills
  • Integrity
  • Microsoft Office proficiency
  • Strong attention to detail

Researchers writing for Inside Higher Ed say employers can smell fluff from a mile away. If you say you have all these skills, but you don't have work experience that proves you have put it to good use, they aren't likely to believe you. Chances are, you won't get the interview.

Stick with skills you can prove. Outline:

  • Computer programs you've mastered
  • Equipment you can operate
  • Licenses you hold
  • Certifications you've acquired
  • Skills you've developed from running projects

If you're asked to talk about why a skill appears on your resume, be prepared to give hard examples. If you can't explain a moment in which you personified or used that skill, it shouldn’t be in your resume.

bunch of people with hands together

What’s Defined as Work Experience?

It's not uncommon for college students to work. A survey of students at Cal State Fresno found, for example, that 47% worked 20 or more hours per week while they were in school.

Any job you've held should appear on your resume, but if you've never worked for an employer, you'll need to dig a bit for examples.

Pad your work experience with:

  • Volunteer opportunities. Did you help to recruit students for your school? Did you donate your time to a local hospital?
    You didn’t get paid for this work, but if you were a registered volunteer, it counts as experience.
  • Internships. Students with internships are 13% more likely to find a full-time job than those who did no such work, researchers say.
    Outline what you did as an intern. Focus on goals met and achievements recognized.
  • Senior projects. Did you complete a major research project? Did you help to solve a community problem?
    Whether you did this work alone or in a group, it could count as an experience that prepared you for work. If you have nothing else to put in this section, include your projects.

What Should You Say About Your Education?

You should mention that you're in school in your mission statement. That will help your future employer understand the goal you're working towards, but you'll want to include a little more data in this section.

List your major, your minor, and any other identifying information about your degree. Also include the school you're attending.

Consider listing your GPA. Experts say the average GPA at four-year colleges hovers at 3.11, so if yours is higher, write that down.

What Should Your Resume Look Like?

You might be tempted to beef up a thin document with plenty of graphics, photos, and interesting font choices. Resist the temptation.

Most companies use computers to perform a first pass on resumes. Scanners flip through your document and pluck out relevant terms and phrases. Match closely enough, and you're likely to get the interview.

Add too many graphics, and you'll confuse the computer you rely on. Those images aren't read, and that can get your resume tossed.

Look for ways to present your information in a crisp, clean, professional manner. Start with a template from Google Docs, or use a version from Microsoft.

Keep things simple, and remember to save your work. You'll send out this document plenty of times as you hunt for the perfect job.

If you're not sure where to start your job hunt, we can help. We have plenty of entry-level jobs for people just like you. Chances are, we even have some listed in the community where you hope to live.

Visit our website and search for openings by discipline. You'll be applying for jobs in no time. Good luck!


Why College Students Aren't Joining LinkedIn. (January 2018). LinkedIn.

Minimal Writing? No Problem. (July 2018). Inside Higher Ed.

New Research Highlights Most In-Demand Job Skills. (June 2016). Microsoft.

Overconfident Students, Dubious Employers. (February 2018). Inside Higher Ed.

New Warnings About California Students Juggling College and Jobs. (October 2018). EdSource.

What Job Statistics Say About the Value of College Internships. (December 2017). The Huffington Post.

College Grade Inflation: Does A Stand for Average? (November 2013). USA Today.

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