How to Create a Winning First Job / Student Resume

Tools and plans for creating a a Winning First Job / Student Resume


The first 30 seconds are crucial when trying to convince a potential employer to read your resume. So your resume needs to be clear and concise. It should summarize your skill sets, accomplishments, work experience and credentials that are important to the potential employer – all in one or two pages.


Location differences

Where the job is located and the class of job is important when creating a resume. The location and class determines whether you use the resume format or the Curriculum Vitae (CV) format. They are quite different. (See Comparison between Professional Resumes & Curriculum Vitae (CVs).)

  • In North America
    • A CV is used when applying for academic, educational, scientific-research positions, fellowships and grants. It includes a summary of your educational and academic backgrounds as well as teaching and research experience, publications, presentations, awards, honours, affiliations and other details.

    • A resume is used for professional positions outside of academia and research. For a first job, give some details on your academic background, including schools, degrees or highest educational level, and awards like Summa Cum Laude. If you are in the top 25% or higher in your class, you can mention this. Also, if you are in a co-op program that combines work and academics, it may benefit you to use the functional resume since you have some experience.

      If you are not a student seeking a job, many of these ideas still apply. For example, if you have been out of the job market for many years, your experience may include child management, budget control, and time management.

      If you have little or no job experience, you need to emphasis three things:

      • Your skill set that is relevant to the position for which you are applying.
      • Your accomplishments, including those that do not directly relate to the job position.
      • Your extra-curricular activities, both in school and in the community. Mention things that you have done that get you noticed. For example, editor of paper, school sports announcer, blogger with number of followers, member of champion hockey team, help with the homeless.
  • Outside of North America
    • CVs are used for both academic and professionals positions and the resume format is not used.

Your Resume will not get you a Job

Your resume is meant help get you to the next step in the hiring process, the interview. The next step could be a telephone interview, a screening interview, or a series of interviews with different managers, or any the the preceding.

In this era of technology and the need for new working skills, a generic resume will be ineffective — you must customize your resume to the position you seek.
Improving Your Chances

There are a number of things that can help you create a successful resume. Keep this list of items in mind when writing your resume. No resume will satisfy all of these points, but tailoring you resume to include as many of them as you can will improve your chances of getting that interview. 

  • Depending on how many people apply, scanning software may be used to focus on certain words and phrases, skill sets and experience. To increase your chances of getting through this filter, you may wish to add keywords associated with the position or industry.
  • Write the same way that you speak so that if you meet your potential employer, they will recognize that you are the same person who wrote the resume. This is a real consideration when asking others to write your resume. Make sure that they use language that reflects your use of vocabulary and grammar.
  • Be clear and concise
  • Avoid run-on sentences and those longer than 20-25 words
  • As a rule, use the active voice (the cat ate the mouse) and avoid using the passive voice (the mouse was eaten by the cat) as it is longer and less forceful. Apply appropriate (business) action phrases & verbs but don't be excessive
  • Use bullet points to list things or numbered points for sequences
  • Spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors are killers
  • Sans-serif fonts (Arial, Tahoma, Verdana) are most often used for on-screen reading while Times New Roman is the business font for paper-based communications
  • Uses a vocabulary suited to the position, industry, and company
  • Formatting matters. So does feel of the paper when mailing in a resume. Your resume should impress your potential employer, so use good quality paper.
  • Contact info - Be instantly accessible: provide your cell phone, primary and secondary email addresses, and physical address.
  • For emailed resumes, use sans-serif fonts (Arial, Tahoma, Verdana) in font sizes of 10-12 point as they are most often used for on-screen reading. If you remain unsure, check out what fonts the employer uses on-line.
  • Space your sentences and indent your paragraphs so that information is easy to skim and read
  • If you are multi-lingual, be sure to list all those in which you are fluent.
  • Social Media involvement
    • List a blog - yours or others, to which you have contributed, especially if the blog and blog posts demonstrate a relevant skill set, an interest in, or discussion of, a subject related to the position sought. In any or all cases, your reasoning and communications abilities are on display; more so, if your posts have provoked comments
    • List your Twitter Id if you feel your tweets add value to your resume presentation
    • Try to ensure that nothing embarrassing is posted about you on-line.

Your First Resume

This type of resume is suitable for those with little or no work experience or for those who have been out of the job market for an extended period of time.

In such a case, directly referencing work experience may not be possible. However, almost everyone has a set of skills and accomplishments. The issue then is to present these skills in a way that is meaningful to a potential employer. Also, by emphasizing your skill sets related to the position's requirements, you save your prospective employer's time. You will be more memorable if you provide employers with the information for which they are looking. They will appreciate your consideration.

Review Criteria

The following are the current review criteria used to judge professional resumes:

  • Clear and well formatted
  • Impact on audience
  • Clearly state the objective of the resume, if needed
  • Highlights relevant skills and experience
  • Appropriate vocabulary
  • Accomplishments listed and described
  • Concise and to the point
  • All major sections covered
  • Use of active verbs
  • Spelling and grammar
  • Effective use of social networking (score 5 if not applicable and add comment)
  • Scannable


Large, well-known companies may get hundreds, if not thousands, of resumes a month. They use resume-scanning software to go through all these submissions. There are two main things to keep in mind about making your resume scannable:

  • The format of a resume should be simple, clear and somewhat standardized. Avoid things such as fancy fonts, italics, underlining, embedded graphics, and most things that are not textual in nature.
  • Scanning software looks for keywords in your resume. These keywords take 2 forms:
    • General category keywords such as chemist/chemistry, programmer/programming, sales/account executive, video/movie producer, etc.
    • Specific keywords such as bioluminescence , C++/Java, medical devices, documentary, etc.

These keywords should be used in context so the resume reads as a coherent document. Typically, there should be one or more specific keywords for each general keyword. When you use general and specific keywords together, they back each other up and make you seem "more real".

Historically, there used to be a section called "Keywords". It is no longer needed and only clutters up your resume. This section is often ignored since it is too easy to "pack" irrelevant words into this section.

Legal issues

In North America, the resume should not mention age, race, gender, disabilities, family status, or anything else not relevant to your fulfilling the employer's needs. For example, your date of birth, or the date of your graduation need not be given. For this reason also, you may choose not to include a photo or video. In some cases, you may need to mention one of these attributes. For example, applying for the government's small business loans to minorities may require that you mention your race to qualify.