How to Write a Resume

…and/or how to teach Resume writing to high school students.

I have been teaching teenagers to write resumes since my first year as a teacher (about to be a year-eight teacher). I have definitely-fine tuned my lessons and gotten better at explaining things since I started. In those first couple years, I even brought in people who worked in HR to work with my students. They taught students what they’re looking for in applications and actually loved the format I had been teaching (I teach that format even better now). In recent years, I’ve sat in on interviews for my school and have been shocked at some of the resumes we’ve gotten. Like, a two-page resume? Using the Google Docs Template??? What are people thinking?? 

I’m kidding, but also not really. Interview committees do judge and pick apart resumes. So you want yours to be professional, perfect, and stand out.

With all those experiences, I have certainly become a go-to person for friends when they need a resume or cover letter, and I actually love helping out. So this post is a written version of the lessons I use in class. I’ll link in Google docs for directions and examples so if you are ever in a position to teach these skills, feel free to use these documents with students.

If you are someone who learns better from videos, I’ve got some videos explaining how to write a resume. In the video, I use my Google Doc that I’m linking here. If you’d rather watch an explanation for how to write a resume, these should do the trick. Just keep in mind that it is targeted toward high school students, so you might have a little more work experience and a little less ‘extracurricular activities’. I made these during COVID for my juniors who didn’t get to do the end of the year assignments. A lot of students and parents said they wanted this information and were looking forward to the resume assignment–and then I made these videos and literally two of them maybe did it. Oh well lol. Go ahead and speed forward to 1:30 in the first video and you can skip over my explanation of the assignment not being a grade.

Part One:

Part Two:

A resume is a one page summary of your educational and career experiences that is submitted to potential future employers. Employers will potentially have a whole stack of resumes, so we want something professional that really highlights all of your experiences so you can stick out. We also want it to be as perfect as we can get it. Mistakes show your future employer that you don’t pay attention or take your time. We don’t want that, so take your time and make it perfect. This is what it will kind of look like:

There are many correct ways to write a resume, so there is a lot of flexibility in how to write them. But there are also some big, common mistakes in resume writing that we want to avoid. So, how to write a resume. Here is the document that I use with students, it includes directions, an example, a template, and a list of power verbs.

We start with a blank Google Doc. Doing it in Google Docs is my preferred approach because it automatically saves and is accessible from any computer. It also will stay with your email, so even if you get a new computer, you can keep accessing, editing, and using your document. We start with a Google Doc that is blank, we don’t use the resume template that Docs offers. That template is immediately recognizable to the interview committee (and if someone like me is on the committee, they’re already judging you), and also leaves too much white space making it hard to customize and format.

At the top of the document (in the header or just directly at the top of the document), you need your name and contact information. Here are a couple options of how you could do it. I do mine in the header and use the same header for my Cover Letter and References Page. I think that’s great for consistency and clarity. To get the name and contact information to move independently of one another, I inserted a table in the header that is two columns and one row. Then I can make the name in the left column huge and pretty. And then the font in the right column can be small and professional. To get rid of the lines, just right click in the table, go to table properties, and change the line color to white. Basically there are many options for formatting your name at the top.

The top image is what I use–all the information is in the header. The bottom image is just written at the top of the page and centered.

Your name should be bigger. Feel free to use a fun font with your name. I always like to find a script font, because I’m a little bougie and love cursive. I tell students to aim somewhere between 18 and 26 for the font-size of their name. Contact information should be Arial or Times New Roman, size 10, 11, or 12. Whatever font you choose for your contact information (at least phone number and email, but also address can be included) will be the font that you use throughout the entire resume. We want things to look professional and consistent.

You then need to decide on what headings you want to use. You’ll definitely want to include Education and Work Experience. Other options include Extracurricular Activities (if you’re in high school or college), Community Service, Community Involvement, Leadership, Memberships, Volunteer Work, Certifications, Skills, Interests. Only choose the headings that actually apply to you. Remember we’re trying to make the best impression we can on our future employers.

Quick note, often people will include an “Objective” as the first heading and include about 2-3 sentences identifying their goal in submitting this resume (e.g. obtain employment at an organization who benefits the community, blah, blah, blah). I think this could be great, IF you are very intentional about what you include. What you do not want is a generic “Objective” section where you say “to obtain a job in nursing”. Like, yes. Obviously. You submitted the resume, of course you want to get a job in that field. If you have an objective, you need to tailor those three sentences to the specific company you are applying to and identify specific reasons you want to work for that company. Personally, I prefer having a “Career Profile” section at the top where I can detail my skills in my field that make me an ideal candidate (see below). If you’re in high school or just graduating college, you can also just leave this section off. 

Under your headings, you are going to identify your experiences. Organize your experiences with the most recent ones and most applicable ones first. Include dates and keep all of your formatting consistent (see image below). Under each experience, you will include 2-4 bullet points that detail your responsibilities in that role. Start each bullet point with a past tense verb. Try to vary your verb choice (don’t always use ‘executed’, use some synonyms) and make sure you use strong verbs. In resume writing, we call those ‘power verbs’. You can find lists all over Google by googling ‘power verbs’, but I included a list on the last page of the document I shared above. 

Notice how all of the formatting and spacing is consistent. The headers are all bolded and capitalized. You don’t need to bold and capitalize your headers, but make them stick out and keep it consistent.

When you “finish” your resume, realize that you are never done with it. A resume is a constantly evolving and changing document–because you’re constantly earning more experiences and skills. Many people will recommend that you edit it every year, but honestly, I just edit mine anytime I want to apply for another side hustle. When you’re done though, you need to start editing. Look for consistent formatting, grammar or spelling errors, consistent spacing, consistent punctuation–you want to find any mistake and get this document looking perfect. It often helps to zoom out your view so you can see the whole page all at once–this will help you see if there are any spacing issues to address. 

It is also helpful to send your resume to a trusted, English or business-minded friend for a proof-read. Having someone else’s eyes on your document can help you identify other mistakes. I can’t count the number of friends and family members and past students who have sent me resumes or cover letters to proofread. You want your resume to be perfect so it’ll only benefit you to have someone else go through and edit for you.

Lately, there is a slightly different approach to resume formatting that uses columns, kind of like this image from a quick Google search.

I LOVE this approach. It uses space better and still looks very clean. This is what I use. My resume has my name and contact information in a header, then there is a horizontal line (insert>horizontal line), then my career profile, and beneath that, two columns of information. The left column is smaller and more of a sidebar which is where I include my education and volunteer work. On the right is a larger column that includes my work experience. If you want to try something like this, on Google Docs, it works really well to insert a table with two columns and one row. You can make the columns as wide or narrow as you want and write in them independently of one another. To get the lines to disappear, just right click and go to table properties. Then make the line color white. It’s like magic 🙂 

When you are ready to submit it with your application, download your doc as a pdf. Pdf ensures that no matter what kind of computer a person is using, none of your spacing or fonts will get messed up. Always use a pdf. (file>download>pdf). Before downloading, make sure that your file name is titled something along the lines of FirstName LastName Resume. Your document title will become your pdf file name when it downloads. Including your first and last name will help employers when they are receiving documents to keep your resume with your application. And also, just be sure there is nothing embarrassing in your document title–if I had a dollar for every “Dumb English Thing” that’s gotten turned in to me on Google Classroom, I’d probably be able to afford a very nice vacation.

And that’s it! Hopefully those resources help you write your resume, or help you teach teenagers how to write their own. If you have questions or need a proof read, please ask!