How to Build Your Resume in College

Building a resume is a tedious task, especially when you’re still in college. But a solid resume can help you score a great internship or land your dream job (and help you start paying back those student loans).

Even though you might still be in school, with barely any experience to speak of, you can start building your resume today. Here’s how.

How Can I Get Experience?

Do an Internship

An internship is the ideal way to build “real-world” experience in your intended field before graduation. Even if that internship doesn’t lead to a job offer from the same company, you’ll have gained that experience for yourself and your resume.

You can find an internship by visiting your college’s career office, looking on job search sites, visiting companies’ websites, and looking on internship-specific search sites, such as Internships.com.

It’s never too early or too late to do an internship. If you can’t find an internship, try to create your own. Pitch the idea of you being an intern to a company you’d like to learn from. Explain why you want to intern there, what you have to offer, and what you can do for the company.

Get a Job

Working while you’re still in college is a great experience builder. Since you’re juggling classes and studying, you’ll be learning time management skills, plus responsibility and organizational skills to match. Not to mention that earning money while in school can help reduce your student loans while you’re still in college.

Besides the benefit of experience and money, a job will add to your resume. If possible, try to find a job that is somewhat related to your ideal job or industry. For example, if you want to be a teacher, try to find a job at a childcare center, day camp, children’s bookstore, or anything involving kids or education.

But even if you can’t find a job that is similar to what you want to be doing, any job is valuable experience. You can spin skills at any job. Working retail at a clothing store can show an employer you have excellent communication and customer service skills, and that you’re trustworthy and comfortable working with money and have good math skills.

Join Clubs

Get active on campus by joining clubs, ideally related to your major or industry. Check with your major’s department on what related clubs they offer. These organizations offer events, volunteer experiences, speakers, and other related activities — sometimes even actual work experience. For instance, if you’re interested in writing, graphic design, or advertising, get involved with your school newspaper.

You don’t need to limit yourself to only a club in your field. If one isn’t offered or you have a strong interest in something else, go for that, too. Any involvement shows you’re a go-getter, passionate, responsible, and good with time management.

To amp it up even more, take on a leadership role within the club.

Volunteer

Volunteering allows you to give back to the community and help those in need. In addition to making a positive impact, volunteer experience can help you when applying for scholarships — and, of course, it looks great on a resume.

To take it up a notch, volunteer for a cause related to your industry. Visit the website of a professional organization in your intended field to see if there are any programs or events you could help out with, or use volunteermatch.org to find specific volunteer opportunities in your field of interest.

If you want to work with animals, volunteer at a pet shelter. If you’re thinking of being a librarian, shelve books at the local library. If you’re going into the health care industry, volunteer at a hospital or other medical facility.

If you can’t find a volunteer opportunity in your field, consider one where you are doing a specific skill that could be useful on your resume. Take a second to think about what you want to do in your career and what skills would be vital to showcase on a resume. Many organizations would love to have someone help them with their social media, for example.

Do you want to be a photographer or writer? Offer to take photos or write blog posts for a nonprofit or small company. Are you interested in marketing or public relations? Offer to help promote fundraising events for a charitable organization.

Become a Tutor

One surefire way to prove you know your subject is to tutor someone else in it. Whatever your major is, offer to tutor. You can find both paid and volunteer opportunities, so it could be an opportunity to make some extra money as well.

Check out what tutoring opportunities are available at your college. If you can’t find any that would go along with your major or career, talk with your professors in that field as well as academic advisors in that department. Let them know you would like to tutor and why you’re qualified. They may be able to put you in touch with someone who is looking for extra help.

Even if you can’t find tutoring options at your college, check at other nearby colleges or high schools. You can also turn to websites such as WyzAnt, Tutor.com, and Care.com to find people to tutor.

Learn New Skills

What skills are vital in your future career? Which skills and qualifications are beneficial in your industry?

To find out, search open job descriptions for your dream job. You can find these position descriptions anywhere you’d search for a job – on a company’s website or on job search engines, for example. Read these job descriptions to get an idea of what you’ll need to know, and any specific skills employers are looking for.

What skills are listed in some or all of the job descriptions? There may be specific computer programs or other qualifications required. Learn that skill so you can add it to your resume.

In journalism, for instance, you might need to know a particular writing style, such as AP style or Chicago style. Learn it.

Planning to get into social work or travel? You may be required to speak a second language — start taking classes, or teach yourself with a free online course such as Duolingo.

If you’re going into personal fitness or education, you might be required to know CPR. Sign up for a class — they may even offer it for free at your school.

Start a Blog

Regardless of what you want to do, writing a blog is a simple way to show off your skills. With many fields, a blog is very fitting. If you want to be a writer or journalist, it’s ideal. A blog is also a great outlet to showcase any visual work, such as graphic design, painting and other artwork, fashion design, or photography.

But even if you’re future career isn’t necessarily something visual or a writer, a blog can still be beneficial. If you want to go into a specific industry, such as music, or software, or the restaurant industry, devote your blog to those topics. Write your take on the big news and events in your industry, or about your experience learning the ins and outs of the business.

When it comes time for an interview, you’ll be well-versed in the various issues that impact your industry, and you may even gain valuable real-world exposure and connections through your blog.

Raise Your GPA

Perhaps you’ve heard the unfortunate saying, “Cs and Ds get degrees,” during your college career. There’s a pretty terrible school of thought that says your grades and education really don’t matter, and only the degree does. While there can sometimes be a little bit of truth to that statement, it’s a horrible way to look at college.

Good academic achievement can help you score scholarships, get you into graduate school down the road, and secure letters of recommendations and good references from your teachers. Not to mention, your former teachers may be able to put you in touch with internship and job opportunities.

But in this case, good grades can also add to your resume. Highlighting a high grade point average shows that you’re intelligent, you grasp the material, you have a good work ethic, and you’re organized and responsible.

Good grades can also lead to achievements and awards you can put on your resume, such as the National Honors Society or National Society of Collegiate Scholars.

Your college may also offer specific projects or classes that require faculty approval or a specific grade point average. For example, working on the newspaper, something that can be quite valuable to your resume, may require a certain GPA.

Where Do I Start?

Now that you know what you could be doing to beef up your resume, it’s time to figure out your next step — which will vary based on your current situation. But here’s a general idea of how to get things rolling:

Brainstorm

The first step is sitting down with a blank computer screen or piece of paper to brainstorm.

  • What can you already put on your resume? Reflect on your experience thus far to jot down anything you can add to your resume right now. Think back to volunteer experience, extracurricular activities, skills, other languages, college projects and other valuable academic experiences, scholarships, honors and awards, and any work or internship experience.
  • What can you do now? Whether it is freshman or senior year, there is something you can do to continue to add to your resume. Of the many experience builders we explored above, which can you do this semester or next?

Visit Your Career Center

Pay a visit to your college’s career center. Chances are, they’ll offer valuable advice on resume building and possibly offer services to help you write your resume. If they can’t, ask if they can point you in the direction of someone who can help.

Find Other Resumes You Like

A good starting point for writing your own resume is checking out other people’s first. Create a LinkedIn profile. Connect with other students from your program, professors, any tutors or teaching assistants you may have worked with, and anyone you may have worked or interned with.

Besides getting your networking off to a good start and being able to search for jobs on LinkedIn, this will also help you scour other resumes as a reference. You might see a specific skill and say, “I can add that to my resume, too.”

You can also check out resume templates and samples online for your intended field as well.

Seek Additional Advice

Whether your career services department is helpful with your resume or not, you should seek additional resume advice as well. Reach out to your academic advisor for your college major or professors in your program that could help. Consider reaching out to family and friends that may know someone in your industry that would be willing to take a look at your resume and offer feedback.

Resume Writing Tips

  • Customize your resume for the job: Don’t just send the same resume for each job you apply for. Tailor each resume to better fit the job you’re applying to. For example, place your volunteer work more prominently when applying to a nonprofit, or highlight your customer service experience when applying for a sales job.
  • Continue to update your resume regularly: Each semester, you’re gaining new experiences and skills. Update your resume so you can keep track of all your accomplishments. On the other hand, if you’re not adding much, this could be the motivation you need to start doing something worthy of adding to your resume.
  • Use common sense: You’d be surprised at how many people work so hard on filling their resume with these stand-out skills and experiences but throw the basics to the wayside. Don’t rely just on your computer for spell-check — thoroughly go through it yourself. Read your resume aloud so you can better correct your grammar or phrasing. Use up-to-date contact information, and an e-mail address that you actually check often. Make your e-mail address is professional and easy to read.
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