Writing the Right Resumé for Job and Scholarship Applications
Not much to report on your resumé just yet? No worries! Here's how to write a compelling resumé for your applications.
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A resumé (sometimes called a CV, from curriculum vitae) is one of the most important documents you'll need in life — from the start of your academic career all the way through to retirement! Some high-value scholarship admins will want a resumé as part of your application — not to mention a resumé is the first step towards getting a job.
Writing a resumé doesn't have to be difficult or time-consumuing, though it will take some effort. You'll also need to update it occasionally, as your circumstances change. But you can get started right away with a few tips.
Choosing a format
There are millions of resumé templates out there: you can probably find some nice free ones with a quick Google search. There are two main formats for a resumé:
- skills-based (also called a "functional" resumé)
In either case, your resumé should be easy to read — or better yet, easy to scan. Most readers spend only a few seconds with a given resumé, so making it easy to skim for the important info is key to capturing your reader's attention.
In fact, your resumé may not be read by a human at all: instead, it may go to an Applicant Tracking System (ATS). An ATS is a bot that looks for key phrases in your resumé. Read more about ATS bots here.
Finally, your resumé should be short: one page is probably all you'll need. Two is okay too, but do your best to limit your page count where possible.
Experience-based resumés are the "classic" format, with work history and experiences taking centre stage. This is what most people think of when they think "resumé." This type of resumé is great if you have plenty of good experiences to boast about. They're less ideal for students who don't have much work experience yet.
Basic experience-based resumé layout:
- Personal info
- Work experience
- List this in reverse-chronological order: most recent first
- For dates, just use years. Don't include months unless you were in a position less than a year
- Use a single "one-liner" for each job or role (more on one-liners below)
- Skills (if applicable; you can leave this out)
- Education (if applicable; you can leave this out)
- Other achievements
Click here to see an example template for an experience-based resumé.
Skills-based resumés are a more "modern" format, focusing on the skills you've acquired, not your work history, meaning a skills-based resumé is great for students and new grads who don't have much experience yet. The idea is to highlight your practical, transferrable skills. (Skills-based resumés are sometimes known as "functional" resumés.)
Basic skills-based resumé layout:
- Personal info
- Use a single "one-liner" for each skill, describing what the skill is and how you developed it (more on one-liners below)
- Put your most "marketable" skills at the top — you may want to customize the order depending on which job or scholarship you're applying for. The skills that are most related to your application should be at the top!
- Education (if applicable; you can leave this out)
- Work experience (if applicable; you can leave this out)
- Other achievements
Click here to see an example template for a skills-based resumé.
Writing a "one-liner"
No matter which format you choose, you'll have to write a few one-liners. No, not jokes (though they can be fun too), but a one-line summary of your skills or work experience.
Each one-liner starts with a verb (an action word). Use the past tense for previous experiences or accomplishments, and the present tense for your current position.
Each one-liner should be about a specific, particular accomplishment. If you've developed multiple skills in a single role, include each as its own one-liner. For example:
- Prepare quarterly reports on spending and income for the sales manager [2020-present]
- Created three separate triphop beats for local rap artist CV Resumé [2020-2022]
- Assisted our guild leader in organizing weekly 24-member raids in an MMO [2019-2021]
- Developed testing protocols for UV radiation in the lab of Dr. Jobsearch [2019-2020]
If you have data to back you up, it's a good idea to include it. Quantifying your experiences can help your reader assess exactly what you mean. For example:
- Prepare quarterly reports on spending and income for the sales manager, saving an average of three hours per week for the organization [2020-present]
- Created three separate triphop beats for local rap artist CV Resumé, including the viral hit "Skills and Experience," which received 250,000 YouTube views in 2021 [2020-2022]
- Assisted our guild leader in organizing weekly 24-member raids in an MMO, improving attendance rates by 25% [2019-2021]
- Developed testing protocols for UV radiation in the lab of Dr. Jobsearch, doubling the rate of conducted UV tests [2019-2020]
Including results like this isn't mandatory, but it can help convince your reader that your skills or experience really do have lasting, tangible effects. You can write about relationships you've built, money you've saved, costs you've cut, problems you've solved, clicks you've earned — whatever's relevant!
Including phrases from the job description / scholarship listing
One way to get noticed is to include key phrases from the job description or scholarship listing that you're applying for. Certain words may jump out at you: things unique to the listing that give it its specific identity. For example:
- Successful applicants will file patient records, analyze client metadata, and conduct follow-up phone calls
You can try to echo some of these terms and phrases in your own resumé. You may want to include "analyzed metadata" as one of your experiences, for example — assuming that's true! The basic idea is you want your resumé to match the listing as best as possible, but don't just copy and paste directly.
The Education section of your resumé may be short. Typically, you can leave out high school entirely, and include a single one-liner for your current school and program. If you've already got a diploma or degree, you can list that too — list your current education first, with the oldest at the bottom. For example:
- George Brown College: Financial planning (Post-grad diploma) [2022 to present]
- University of Toronto: Accounting (BCom) [2018 to 2022]
Resist the urge to include your grades here. You may want to elaborate a little, but remember the priciples of the one-liner: be quick and to-the-point. For example:
- George Brown College: Financial planning (Post-grad diploma), studying financial management, investment planning, and tax planning [2022 to present]
- University of Toronto: Accounting (BCom). Learned fundamentals of accountancy for personal and coporate entities [2018 to 2022]
If you include this supplemental info, be sure it aligns with the job or scholarship you're applying for. Adding superfluous material just makes your resumé harder to scan for the reader.
Extra-curriculars and other achievements
You may have received an award, or have some hobbies you'd like to share. You can collect these under a section near the end of your resumé, if you want to. Typically, awards and recognition are more "resumé-worthy" than hobbies and other interests, but you do you! For example:
- Received the Principal's Award in grade 12 for highest academic average 
- Published The Job Seeker's Dilemma: Resumé Writing the Right Way in CV Monthly magazine 
- Sketch daily in a battered moleskine notebook [2008-present]
This section is optional, though. Don't include it if you don't feel it's necessary.
Volunteer experience: where should it go?
Volunteer experiences are treated like work experience. If you've got some volunteer hours, it's good to list them on your resumé. You may want a separate "Volunteer" section on your resumé, if your accomplishments are substantial, or you may just want to include a one-liner under the "Other achivements" section.
Use the same one-liner format described above, but don't focus too much on hours volunteered. Instead, hit on what you learned and how you helped out, using action verbs and specific details wherever possible.
Things to include in your resumé
There's a handful of things you'll want to include in pretty much every resumé you produce, like:
- Basic personal info
- First and last name
- Mailing address
- Phone number (cell is fine; no need for a landline too, if you even have one!)
- Email (something semi-professional, please!)
- Skills and/or work experience
- Extra-curriculars, volunteering, and other achievements, if needed
- Lots of white space, with generous margins
- The truth, and nothing but! It's not okay to falsify info on your resumé. You have to be 100% honest!
Things to exclude from your resumé
There are also things to avoid in your resumé, like:
- Confidential personal info (marital status, social insurance number, date of birth, etc.)
- Objective or goal (these are out of fashion lately, and don't contribute much to your resumé anyway)
- Personal photo
- Lots of fancy graphics or fonts (this can make sense depending on the application, but generally, simple is better)
- Unexplained acronyms, abbreviations, or jargon (your resumé should be readable by pretty much anyone: not all hiring managers or scholarship admins will have technical expertise, for example)
- Personal pronouns (this means "I" statements)
- Exaggerations and half-truths. Again, it's important to be absolutely honest on your resumé. Don't spin half-truths or lies of omission
Next steps: proofreading and updating
Once you have a resumé you're happy with, be sure to give it a close look to catch any grammatical errors, typos, or usage mistakes. Spellcheck won't catch everything! You might find it helpful to print your resumé and review it with a pen in hand. Proofreading can be easier when you go from the screen to the page.
You may also want to share your resumé with someone you trust and get their input. A fresh perspective can help you identify spots that are unclear, confusing, or unnecessary. Teachers, coaches, and even employers may be willing to help you out!
Be sure to return to your resumé and update it when circumstances change. Most people only update their resumé when they're looking for a new job, but as a student, things change fast — you may want to update more frequently. Some experts recommend writing a new resumé for every application you submit. This might be overkill for you, but it's a good principle to keep in mind when you're making edits. Tailoring your resumé to a given application is a good idea.
I've got my resumé. Now what?
If you haven't got them already, there are a couple other aspects of a solid application that you'll want to tackle:
Once you have all of these assets, you're ready to start applying! Seek out the jobs and scholarships that interest you most, knowing you're well-equipped with the documents you need to make a positive impression.
Best of luck!
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