Wednesday, October 18th, 2017

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How to Write a Winning Resume

This article is part of our 52 week journey through Bill’s latest book, “The Graduate’s Guide to Life and Money.” Each week, a full excerpt from his book will be presented from beginning to end. To get your copy of his book, visit www.TheGraduatesGuide.com.

Last week we looked at a sample cover letter. This week we’ll put together a solid resume.

To write a good resume you must first know what to put into one. Your name is always a good start. You also need to provide at least two ways to contact you—preferably three. For example, your phone number, email address, and postal address would allow the prospective employer to contact you whichever way they prefer. Remember; don’t make anything too fancy, unless you are applying for a graphic design job. Otherwise, stick with something that looks professional.

Next, you should detail your education, your degree, and your GPA (unless it screams, “Study? You mean like after class?”). Also, include any salutations, such as Cum Laude, or Summa Cum Laude, etc. You should include both your major and your minor. You could even list your separate GPAs; just make sure you also include your overall GPA if you are going to do this. Another good idea is to show the GPA scale. For instance if your school uses a 4.0 scale, and you got a 3.5, list it as 3.5/4.0. Some schools still use different scales, such as 5.0. A 3.5 loses its entire luster in a 5.0 scale.

Next, identify your relevant work experience. If you don’t have any relevant work experience (sorry, but washing cars or babysitting doesn’t automatically qualify you to be a financial analyst), list your past three jobs. Be creative when referencing your responsibilities at those jobs and try to make them relevant to the job for which you are applying.


Being creative does not mean lying. It just means looking at your responsibilities through the eyes of someone who is making the hiring decision. For instance, if you worked at a car wash, one of your tasks may have been to “track weekly sales.” Or, perhaps you “organized the equipment and ordered new supplies as needed.” That indicates responsibility and organization skills. Both of which are important to almost any job.

Always use action verbs to describe what you did. In the previous paragraph I used the words “track” and “organized.” A bad example would be “kept track of weekly sales,” or “supply cabinet organizer.” Also, if you are currently still employed, you should use present tense (“Track weekly sales”). If you no longer have that job or those responsibilities, you should use past tense (“Organized the equipment”).

The best way for a recent college graduate to label their work experience is by simply using the word “Experience” as the header for one of the sections of your resume. This will allow you to include internships and volunteer work. Be sure to label them as such. You want to describe the responsibilities and accomplishments most relevant to the job for which you are applying.

Another section of your resume could include any specific courses or seminars you think the employer would find especially useful. For instance, if you had a business course that focused on computers, you may want to mention it. Also, if you attended a conference or seminar pertinent to the position you want, you should also list them. If the name of the course or seminar is not self-descriptive, list a few of the important topics that were covered.

Do not forget to list your accomplishments or achievements. If you have received any awards or special honors, list those also. It may be useful to describe the award. Winning the John Doe Achievement award may be great, but unless you tell your employer it was for your dedication to improving the efficiency of the student government, they could assume it was an award for holding onto a burning match the longest at a fraternity party.


While it may seem like a lot has to go on your resume, you must be succinct enough to fit it onto one page at this point in your career. As your career grows and you gain more experience with increasing responsibilities, you may have to expand your resume to two pages. Technology majors are an exception to this rule since they want to list all the programming languages and certifications they have accumulated. It is not uncommon for the resume of a new technology graduate to spill over onto a second page.

At the end of the resume, it is almost always a good idea to include the phrase “References available upon request.” Of course, you better have your references available upon request. If the company is seriously considering you as their next hire, they may very well want to check your references. They may ask for your references prior to an interview, but they will most likely wait until afterword.

You should already have three to five references available. You want at least one professional reference, such as a former employer, the director of wherever you volunteer, or whoever was in charge of you during your internship. You should also have a personal reference, which could be a coworker, teacher or clergy member. The dean of your school would also make an excellent choice. You want to make sure you let the person know you have listed them as a reference so they don’t hesitate when your potential employer calls and asks them about you. You also want to be confident they will give you good recommendations.

Sometimes if you do a good job on a project or you are a volunteer, your supervisor will say, “If you ever need a reference, feel free to use us.” Unless they said that with a sarcastic tone as they locked the door behind you, take them up on it. If it has been a few months, remind them of their offer, “Hello, this is Kent Werk… Yes, that’s right I interned for you this past summer. When I left, you said I could use you as a reference. With your permission I would like to take you up on your offer. I’m applying for [whatever the job title]. I’ll send you a copy of my resume so you can get an idea of what else I’ve been up to. Thank you again.”

Writing exercises and a resume wrap-up


Are you ready for your second assignment? (At least it’s not a pop quiz.)

1. Review your resume. Follow the rules you just read. Look for action verbs, check any misspellings, check for consistency (either you use periods at the end of each bullet point or you don’t). Update it to include your current job. Pretend that your dream job just became available and you will need to submit your resume tomorrow.

2. Write a cover letter. Make up a job opportunity if you have to. The important thing is to get experience writing a cover letter. Once you get the format and the wording correct, it may be quite easy to update it when a real job does come along.

3. Purchase some quality resume paper. This will become less important as you grow in your career, but right now your prospective employer has little to go on. You are asking them to take a risk and hire you.

Resume Wrap-up

  • You will need a good cover letter and resume.
  • Use the same quality and type of paper for both.
  • Your cover letter and resume should each be no more than one page with plenty of white space.
  • (If you are an information technology graduate with several certifications, then the one-page approach may not apply.)
  • Always check your resume for consistency, grammar, and spelling.
  • Check your resume again.
  • If you are going to use someone as a reference, let him or her know.

That wraps up our discussion on getting noticed. Next week we will look at what to do so you are prepared for your interview, whether it is in person or on the phone.

Bill Pratt is a former credit card executive turned student-advocate. He is the author of Extra Credit: The 7 Things Every College Student Needs to Know About Credit Debt & Ca$h and The Graduate’s Guide to Life and Money. Bill speaks at colleges to educate and entertain students about real-life issues in money, leadership, and success. His goal is to help students succeed personally and financially so they can improve the lives of those around them. You can learn more at www.ExtraCreditBook.com or www.TheGraduatesGuide.com.

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