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7 ways to write a strong résumé

Applying to college? Fighting for competitive scholarships? Be prepared! Recruiters and employers look at your résumé for an average of only six seconds. Here are some tips to make every second count.

1) Can I have your number?

There are a lot of do’s and don’ts for résumés. One of the most important do’s of all is to list your contact information at the top. (How else can they contact you to let you know they’re interested?) Include your first and last name, street address, city, state, zip code, home and/or cell phone number and your email address.

2) Keep the look simple.

Recruiters only look at your résumé for an average of six seconds. Your goal is to make sure that yours stands out (in a good way). Some simple ideas:
  • Organize your résumé with bold typeface.
  • Add a gray background behind the different sections to distinguish them. 
  • Keep it black and white. Unless you are applying for a position or program that involves graphic design, there are very few times where adding color is appropriate. 
  • Don’t include a photo. Even if you have an award-winning smile, it’s still not a good idea to add your photo to the résumé. (The reason why: It’s illegal to take factors such as age, race, gender, religion, national origin, sexual orientation or disability status into consideration for hiring. Sometimes a photo may give away too much information in some of these categories, so many employers will just throw out résumés with photos to prevent possible lawsuits about discrimination.)

Not sure how to lay out your résumé? Just Google “great résumés” and click on images. Or check out Microsoft Word’s free résumé templates to get started.

3) Stick to what’s important.

It’s awesome that you were the MVP of your pee-wee baseball team back in the day, but unless you’re applying to be a baseball coach, it’s not necessary to list it on your résumé. (Even then, it’s still questionable.) If you’ve had a lot of noteworthy accomplishments, only include the ones that are relevant to what you’re applying for. And don’t forget to add your community service work with Key Club! Volunteering is a perfect activity for any résumé. Add what’s important to you, but do your best to keep all information on one page.

4) Let’s talk grades.

Hopefully, you’ve been spending your time wisely—and have some good grades to show for it. If your GPA is 3.0 or higher, definitely include it on your résumé. Some tips:
  • Always be completely honest about your grades. 
  • When writing your GPA, extend out two decimal places. 
  • Never round numbers up. A 3.47 is not the same as a 3.5. 
  • Include the scale your school calculates grades with. Most schools grade on a 4.0 scale, but some use a 4.33 or 12.0 scale. So you would write 3.47/4.0 for your GPA.
If your GPA is lower than a 3.0 (on a 4.0 scale), it may be best to leave it off. Devote the time you have left in school to building up your grades; this is one of the first things colleges and employers will look for.

5) Build up your references.

It’s rarely necessary to add references directly to your résumé. In most cases, you can just include “References available upon request.” If references are requested, however, list them on the second page of your résumé. (Remember to type your contact information at the top of the second page, too!) Tip: Ask potential references for permission to list them and let them know what you’re applying for so they’re not surprised when they get a phone call or email.

6) Tailor your résumé for the right person.

It’s always a good idea to adjust your résumé to fit specific job, school or scholarship requirements. Sometimes the easiest way to accomplish that is to include an objective statement, which is a one-to-three-sentence explanation why you should be chosen. Your statement should lead with “OBJECTIVE” in bold font at the beginning of your résumé (below your contact information). Keep in mind that writing objectives can be tricky. When in doubt, leave it out.

When writing your statement, avoid beginning with words such as “want” or “hope.” Use action verbs and avoid passive voice. Even though it sounds crazy, it’s OK if your sentences are actually sentence fragments. Choose keywords from the application criteria or description. Of all of the listed requirements, pick only the top one or two that you are especially skilled in.

7) Reading out loud never sounded so good.

It’s easy to make grammatical errors when you’re “in the zone.” That’s why it helps to first read your résumé out loud to yourself, then ask someone else—maybe a teacher or one of your parents—to proofread it. Take the time to make it perfect. Having a typo on your résumé is another quick way to get it thrown into the trash. Once your résumé is the way you like it, it’s easy just to update it here and there as you accomplish more.

There are plenty of résumé tips out there in the world of Google, so don’t be afraid to do a little more research. Make your résumé as perfect as possible—and keep it on a recruiter’s desk instead of his or her trash can.
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