Jan 18, 2012

How to Write a High School Resume that Works

Although they bear similarities in purpose, a high school resume is quite unlike a document a job seeker might use to impress a Fortune 500 company. For one thing, there’s usually less content. For another, the audience is entirely different and doesn’t care much about the bells and whistles professionally-prepared resumes frequently feature.

In other words, if you want a resume that “works” for college admissions, forget the shadowing effects, the funky typeface, and the overuse of the bold function. Instead, put most of your effort into listing your accomplishments in a clear, concise, and easy to read document.

It’s really not all that hard. Begin the process of developing content for your resume by brainstorming your high school career. This may require help from your immediate support team like parents, mentors, or friends. Keep in mind that mom and dad tend to have a particular focus on you and everything you’ve done since you first toddled across the living room. They can be great resources for this project.

Start with the 9th grade and make note of all activities, honors, memberships, and enrichment programs by quarter. Don’t leave off summers especially if you did something other than sleep or sit in front of a computer for 3 months.

Next begin to organize the information into major categories: honors, extracurricular activities, community service, sports, enrichment, special skills, work experience. Use whatever categories work best for the information you’ve collected, but keep in mind the general blocks of information requested on college applications.

Then organize individual entries by category and date. Be specific about positions, titles, organizations and locations. For example, if you were a “pitcher” for the JV baseball team at Oakton High School in Vienna, VA, say so. If you were a “pitcher” for the FPYC, forget the acronym and say Fairfax Youth Police Club, Fairfax, VA. Acronyms can be really annoying.

Similarly, if you manned the cash register at the Clock Tower Thrift Shop in Centreville, you might want to list it as Volunteer Cashier, Clock Tower Thrift Shop, Northern Virginia Family Service, Centreville, VA.

Don’t overlook special skills and certifications. They not only show accomplishment but also suggest more than a passing interest in an activity. If you’re on the computer team, you may want to list under skills that you can program in Java, C++, Pearl, and HTML. If you are a swim instructor for the Oak Mar Adaptive Aquatics program, you may want to list your Red Cross Lifeguard certification.

In these cases, the activity, skill or certification show deeper interest—passion even—to use a trendy term. Also note that there’s no place on the Common Application to show these kinds of skills and certifications, yet they could be key to making your case about depth of involvement.

When you’re ready to transfer your raw data to a document, use a format you think accommodates your information well and looks attractive. At the top, establish a “letterhead” by listing your name, address, phone number (home and cell), and email address.

By the way, if you’ve been “BuggerPicker333” or “FoxyLady” since middle school, preparing your resume might be a good excuse to go to something a little more professional. And if you’ve been calling yourself “SoccerStar” and you don’t play soccer or you’ve been “HarvardMan2017” since your parents bought you the sweatshirt, you might want to rethink the handles.

The body of your resume should be grouped by category, and entries should be listed chronologically. Usually most recent to oldest is best. Feel free to use bullets or other tools to streamline your descriptions, particularly for employment or volunteer entries.

If space permits at the end, you may want to include a list of hobbies or special interests—like historic reenactments, guppy breeding, exotic bird watching, or fantasy football. Use your discretion and don’t include hobbies that make you seem strange—well not too strange. But if your interests paint a fuller portrait of who you are, go for it.

And finally, never ever go over two pages. Usually, one page will suffice. Students who have been heavily involved in competitions, sporting events, or performances may need extra space. But definitely keep it to two pages.

A resume is a marketing piece. It won’t work if there are spelling errors, the format is messy, and you’ve otherwise not taken care in the preparation of the document. Ask your parents, your counselor, or someone you trust to proofread and go over your content for accuracy and completeness.

Once you’ve finished, you may want to turn your resume into a PDF to attach to emails. But be sure to keep the original file for future editing and expansion.

Your resume should be a living document. Don’t just leave it as a dust-collecting file on your computer. Tweak it regularly by adding entries or updates. It should be ready for printing or email at a moment’s notice.

And now and again take a moment to appreciate all you've accomplished!

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