I recently read an excellent article about how to format resumes. It was by Wendy Enelow, a certified master resume writer. The article was written for an audience of HR professionals, so I reached out to Wendy to ask for her advice on how a student should go about preparing a resume. I’m so excited to present Wendy’s recommendations to my School-to-Work class before the course ends in May, and share them here, too, in the hopes that you’ll pass the advice along to all the students you know who are in need of help when it comes to this VERY stressful task.

What are the top characteristics of an outstanding student resume?

The resume should focus on each student’s outstanding characteristics — academic, employment, athletic, volunteer, internships, leadership, and more. It will differ from student to student, depending upon their specific experiences and qualifications.

Someone with outstanding academic qualifications will focus their resume on GPA, academic honors and awards, advanced placement courses, and more.

Conversely, someone whose academic record isn’t strong might focus their resume on their practical experience, such as volunteering, working, and internships.

There is no one-size-fits-all in resume writing.

I’ve been taught to populate my resume’s work history section with short bullets that list my job duties. Is this the best approach? Are there specific buzzwords to use that would make this section stand out?

Using bullet points can be a good way to highlight job responsibilities and achievements (which are most important).

Bullets are good when each item is about a different topic, function, success, etc. Other times, a short, 3-4 line paragraph might be a better way to “tell the story” of a job.

In terms if buzzwords (now known as keywords), they differ from person to person. Suppose you had a job at a fast-food restaurant and wanted to highlight related skills. Those keywords would be customer service, sales, products, inventory control, cash management, and more. Soft-skill keywords would be communications, interpersonal relations, efficiency, productivity, and more.

Now, think about someone who had an internship in accounting. Those keywords would be all about accounting, finance, analysis, reporting, etc. Keywords depend upon the job and function.

Sometimes honors and awards that I received in high school don’t seem relevant to a job I’m applying for. Should I include a complete list to come across as impressive? If not, would you suggest that I summarize them in some way?

Yes, include all of your academic achievements as they attest to the quality of your performance and work ethic, which are transferrable from school to work.

If there are multiple awards with the same name and you won them in different years, then I would write something like: “6 Academic Achievement Awards” to easily summarize them.

I was taught a resume should be able to fit on one page. What is the best “standard” formatting for a student resume?

For graduating high-school students, a 1-page resume should be more than sufficient. It would be extremely rare that it would be any longer. Same is true for graduating college students.

Next year, when I’m in college and I’m applying for internships, will it still be appropriate to list my high school jobs on my resume?

Yes. In a few years, you’ll have internships and other experiences during college, which will replace the things from high school, but keep them on for the first few years of college.

Should I include references on my resume?

No, it’s understood. Including references or a line at the bottom (“References Available Upon Request”) is old-school. Don’t do that.

What should I really be showcasing in my cover letter? If I were to be applying for a marketing position, but my only real experience is my high school internship in the marketing department of a local company, should I only include this experience?

In this situation, probably half of your letter (2 short paragraphs or a paragraph a few bullet points) would be about your internship.

Another short section would be about your transferable skills and soft skills that are relevant.

The other 2 short components would be a 1-2 sentence introductory paragraph and a very short closing (stating that you’ll follow up – if possible).

About Wendy Enelow

Wendy Enelow is a certified master resume writer, job and career transition coach, and professional resume writer who has worked with professionals and executives worldwide for the past 30 years. She has written more than 20 books on resumes, cover letters, keywords and career management, including Modernize Your Resume: Get Noticed … Get Hired (Emerald Career Publishing, 2016) and is the Job Front columnist for the American Legion Magazine. She can be reached at wendy@wendyenelow.com. Her website is www.wendyenelow.com.