7 Resume Best Practices for College Students
For most college students, writing a resume seems to come with an immediate and obvious challenge: How do you position yourself as a great candidate for a given role when you don't have previous professional experience in the field—or previous professional experience, period?
Whatever your background might be, the good news is that writing a compelling resume doesn't have to be so hard. Here are seven tips from two of our talent experts at Johnson & Johnson: Krystal Brindley, North America University Recruiting Lead, and Jamil Price, HR Leader - University Relations Manager.
Ready to put together a killer resume? We've covered all your pain points to help you launch your career on the right foot.
Select Your Format
This may seem like an exciting step, but it's probably the least important one in the process. And since there are any number of different layouts to choose from, to avoid potential decision-paralysis—and stay focused on results—you might simply check in with Career Services at your school. Most colleges have their own preferences about what format you should use.
Pro tip: Unless you're going for certain graphic design jobs, razzle-dazzle isn't going to advance your candidacy, and might even hold you back. Instead, aim for simplicity of format and clarity of presentation—you'll be in a good place.
Lead With an Objective
Leading with a short (one-to-two sentences in length) objective right at the top of your resume is a strong way to start. Why? Think of your candidacy as a kind of narrative or story, and this is your chance to take control of it.
To use my political science background and demonstrated written and verbal communication skills in an analytical role where I can grow in my careerShare
To continue to learn and take on challenges by applying my expertise executing technical projects in multiple programming languagesShare
The goal here should be to frame your experience and background in a way that makes you the right fit for the role.
Pro tip: It's fine to use the first person, as in the examples above, since that feels more natural for most people. Just try to be as specific as possible when you connect your skills and experience to the opportunity. It's not a bad idea to slightly tweak your objective for each role that you apply for.
As you gain experience, you can swap your objective for a summary statement. But until you get experience, an objective is your best bet.
Always Keep Your Resume Up to Date
Maintaining a working, clean, up-to-date document is a simple best practice to follow. And when making updates, don't worry so much about getting the language perfect. Just try to get the vital information down. You can always finesse your messaging later on.
Pro tip: "Always keep your resume up to date, simple and precise," Jamil advised. "That's one best practice." Noting achievements as they occur will also ensure you don't omit something later on—plus, you'll be ready to take advantage and move quickly when opportunities present themselves.
Sure, you don't have an extensive work history, but you've certainly been busy—and including your extracurriculars on your resume can help speak to that fact. Sports, clubs, groups, volunteer work or community service show initiative, so whatever the case may be for you, you should definitely keep the extracurriculars on your resume.
Pro tip: "We're always looking for candidates with demonstrated leadership capabilities at Johnson & Johnson," Krystal said. So if you were elected to (or even simply ran for) leadership roles in any of your extracurricular activities, that's something to highlight on the resume, as leadership development is a big part of our workplace culture at Johnson & Johnson.
Quantify As Much As Possible
Recruiters today are busy, busy, busy. In some cases, they may only dedicate seven seconds or so to each resume. That's less time than it takes Usain Bolt to cross the finish line—and less time than is probably ideal for presenting your candidacy to a stranger. And that's why numbers can help.
Numbers tend to stand out from text and catch the eye. Here are a few examples of how you can quantify your achievements:
- Captained three-person team in software lab, securing #1 prize for innovation in a semester-long (75-day) project.
- Oversaw and ensured safe use of $100,000 equipment as a lab assistant.
- Balanced intensive, six-class course load while maintaining a 3.6 GPA throughout the academic year.
Pro tip: Be consistent about how you format your numbers. For example, AP Style guidelines dictate spelling out numbers one through nine, and using numerals for 10 and above.
Don't Shortchange the Work Experience You Do Have
For undergrads who do have some work experience, even if it's only a summer job or two, you should be sure to include it on your resume. Just try to frame that experience in terms of challenges and goals that could be applicable to the companies you're interested in. Waiters are great at fast-paced financial calculations, retail salespeople are masters of customer interactions and lifeguards know more than a little bit about collaboration and teamwork, right? It's all in how you frame it.
Pro tip: Previous work experience demonstrates to potential employers positive traits—time management, discipline, the ability to prioritize, to name just a few—that may help you stand out from the competition.
Try Not to Go Overboard When Listing Coursework
For many college students, classroom experience is the closest they've come to the kind of collaborative, outcome-oriented work that goes on each day at Johnson & Johnson. And that's okay—presenting your academic credentials in lieu of professional experience is the norm on most undergrad resumes. Just be sure you're limiting yourself to those classes that are the most directly relevant, both to the opportunity and to your career goals.
Pro tip: "While incorporating some language from the job description is a good idea," Jamil said, "be sure to put it in your own words." Likewise, you should avoid copying and pasting course information directly from the official course catalog—it'll be obvious (and potentially alienating) to your reader. Instead, tell that story in your own words. Call attention to any continuities or areas of overlap between what you've encountered in the classroom and what you're likely going to encounter in the role.
Join Us Today
Whether you're here for a day, a month or a decade, you'll discover countless opportunities to grow, explore your interests and make real-world impact when you launch your career with Johnson & Johnson. And to help you out, we've also put together some advice to help you find a great internship and succeed once you get there.
Have other resume questions? Keep our resume do's and don'ts checklist handy. And if you're ready to accelerate your growth and find your career path, check out all of the great opportunities for students at the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies today.