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Resume Writing Dos and Don’ts

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A well-crafted college resume is incredibly valuable. It’s often your first chance to make an impression on an admissions committee. It also provides a unique opportunity to tout your accomplishments, experience and differentiators against other highly qualified applicants. 

Writing a resume can be intimidating with so much riding on its contents, but the process can actually be exciting. If you follow some tried-and-true guidelines, creating an eye-catching resume that speaks to your talents can be easy, and will help you complete a critical step in the application process. 

1. Tout your experience

Do: Talk yourself up! Don’t be afraid to show off your experience. This is your chance to really showcase why you should be accepted into this exclusive program and emphasize what colleges look for in resumes. Not only will you need to highlight your experience, but you should also speak to the value you’ve added to your organizations, both institutions and employers, by highlighting the data points that demonstrate your achievements (e.g., increased students activities board membership by %, increased sales by x%).

Don’t: Include irrelevant information. Most resumes are typically one or two pages, so space is at a premium. Make sure you only are including experience pertaining to the subject at hand, such as your academic and professional accomplishments. For example, you should leave off extraneous information like unrelated hobbies or interests.

2. Customize it

Do: Research, research, research. Make sure you read up on the program and university to which you are applying and tailor your resume to speak to its requirements and expectations. Not only will this convey that you’ve done your due diligence, but it will give you the opportunity to really make the case as to why you’re a good fit.

Don’t: Use a one-size-fits-all approach. Admissions counselors can tell when you’re using a templated resume. When you customize your resume, it shows you’re willing to go that extra step and that you are invested in becoming a student.

3. Make it digestible

Do: Consider the resume’s design. Though related to resumes for jobs, one study found that most recruiters spend just 7.4 seconds scanning resumes, so you need to make sure yours is eye-catching, clean, and easy to follow. Additionally, the study highlights common reading patterns recruiters use when reviewing resumes, which includes reading in an “F-pattern” or “E-pattern.” Therefore, you’ll want to ensure fonts and sizing are consistent throughout and use elements like headers and bullets to make your resume not only legible but as scannable as possible.

“When I say design, I don’t mean crazy graphic design. I mean having a polished application,” Dana Leavy-Detrick, founder and director of Brooklyn Resume Studio, told the Wall Street Journal.

Don’t: Make your resume too cluttered. Of course, you want to make sure you include information that makes you stand out, but if you include too much it will be difficult to read and admissions counselors may gloss over it entirely. 

4. Make it personal

Do: Include personal accomplishments. You’ll want your resume to give a more robust picture of your life — not just your work and academic accomplishments. If you’ve done something of note, whether it be running a marathon, winning a championship or any other achievement, it is worth including to show off your soft skills or technical prowess.

Don’t: Include irrelevant hobbies or interests. You want your resume to be a showcase of what makes you unique and impressive. However, you’ll want to avoid including info such as your favorite sports team or the band you’ve seen live 15 times.

5. Review

Do: Ask someone else to look over your resume. In addition to proofreading it yourself, you should have another set of eyes — ideally a professor or manager — look it over. Not only will this ensure there is clean copy, but an outside proofreader might have a suggestion you would have otherwise missed.

Don’t: Submit a resume without reading it over (at least) several times. The last thing you want is to hand in a resume that has grammar or spelling errors.

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