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Student Résumé/CV Checklist (Compiled from 500+ Advising Calls)

For the last two weeks, we've advised 500+ people on their résumés and CVs! Here's everything we told the people we worked with, in the hopes it'll make a difference for your documents.

We've organized this checklist by sections you may have in your CV or résumé, but each tip is relevant to other sections, as well.

General Content

☐ Arrange sections and experiences such that your most important things stand out: if you've got some really good stuff (e.g., started your own company making significant revenue, worked at McKinsey & Co. or the WHO or something), find a way to bring that to the top of a section. You don't have to be chronological - I'm often not, in my CVs

☐ Don't write in paragraphs. People want to get a quick understanding of what you can offer them, and paragraphs necessitate far too much effort. Stick to bullet points!

☐ Include maximally three bullet points per experience. This shows that you're considerate of your reader, and are aware that you haven't as yet amassed so much experience that you can't intelligently abridge it. When you're still an undergrad., you want to present yourself as modest and concise!

☐ Do provide at least a one-bullet descriptions of most of your experiences and awards! If you've described three experiences, don't leave the fourth as just a title and an organization

☐ Don't include intangible skills, like "great leader", "works well in a team and independently", "good work ethic". These things are difficult to prove, and if you include good experiences, they will come through in your resume without your explicitly mentioning them! Mentioning those kinds of soft skills is reserved for if you can back them up (e.g., "8+ years of teaching experience; overall rating: 5.88/6.00"), and even then, you shouldn't be outright mentioning how "great" you are - your numbers should be what conveys that, not you! Listing these kinds of soft skills makes it look like you don't have hard skills, just got out of a generic résumé-building workshop, or are a bit over-confident

☐ Don't include a profile or summary - almost no one does. That's reserved for people who have a lot to say that's unique, and a lot of qualifications (e.g., think Steve Jobs)

☐ Don't include "References can be made available upon request", or any variant thereof. This is obvious, wastes space, and again makes it seem as though you just stepped out of a generic résumé-building workshop

☐ Don't include an objective. The objective is obvious: to get whatever position you're applying for! I understand it can seem big-picture to describe your overall aspirations, but very few people are invested enough to care when they first see your CV

☐ Don't include every single thing you did. "Bagged groceries, cleaned up bathrooms and hallways, managed cash, credit, and debit transactions" could be condensed to "Operated point-of-sale (POS) system; cleaned premises"

☐ Quantify, quantify, and then quantify some more! I don't say "Taught students the MCAT" - I say "Taught 10,000+ students (ages 15 - 50+) biology, psychology, research methods, sociology, and critical and analytical reasoning (8-hr. sessions, 12 days in a row, up to 150 hrs/month); rated 5.88/6.00 overall". Include how many people you impacted overall, how many events you planned, how many people came to each event, how much money you raised, by how much you increased social media engagement, how your teaching was rated, whether you underwent any special sort of selection process, how many people were picked for the same thing you were picked for out of total applicants, et c.

General Writing (Usage, Style, Grammar, Punctuation, et c.)

☐ Try to be brief. Good English style involves writing as elegantly as possible, so do your best to be concise

☐ Try to avoid mentioning things that are already obvious given your title. If you're holding an Arabic teaching position, then of course you "Taught students Arabic"; if you're "Mathematics & Reading Comprehension Instructor at Kumon", then of course you "Taught math and reading comprehension at Kumon" - come up with some better things to mention

☐ Avoid prepositional phrases - they waste space, and cognitive resources! You're not the "President of the Association of Muslim Students of the University of Western Ontario" - you're the "Western University Muslim Students' Association President" 

☐ Avoid saying things like "Responsible for doing x" - instead, write "Did x", "Does x", or some variant thereof

☐ Don't write in first-person - it's long-winded, and somewhat unprofessional; it's also obvious you did this, as it's your CV

☐ Write out acronyms the first time you use them. People from other fields may not be familiar with "PCR", "CRM", or "POS"

☐ Use "e.g." and "i.e." appropriately. "e.g." is "exempli gratia", which basically means "for example"; "i.e." is "id est", which means "that is". If you're just giving some examples of what you did, use e.g.; if you're comprehensively writing out what you did, use i.e. If I were, for example, discussing this blog post in my résumé, I'd say "Authored blog post (i.e., short article on regularly updated website) on résumés (e.g., structuring, grammar)" - notice, the "i.e." part was an exact explanation of what a blog post is, while the second e.g. part featured only two examples of what I included in this post, not all of them - if you're mentioning everything you did, use i.e.

☐ Only capitalize "biology" or another discipline if you're talking about a specific course (e.g., "Adaptation and Biodiversity"). Disciplines as a whole shouldn't be capitalized, because they're common nouns rather than proper nouns

☐ Make sure any word in your title and organization with more than three letters is capitalized, as you're using title case

☐ Never put periods at the end of bullet points (ungrammatical)

☐ If you were featured in a publication, the name of the journal, newspaper, book, or anthology should be italicized

☐ Use "to present", not "to current" or "to ongoing". “Ongoing” and “current” are not times (not nouns) – they’re adjectives. So, you can’t say “from now to ongoing”, because “the ongoing” isn’t a time; nor is “the current”. We can say “from x to present” because “the present” is an actual time – a noun

☐ If you're including gene names in your résumé, they should be capitalized and italicized when you're talking about human genes

General Appearance and Structuring

☐ Include lines to clearly distinguish between different sections

☐ Keep your bullet points full lines long (overhang looks bad)

☐ Arrange sentences within each experience in order of length 

☐ Stay consistent on your dashes! Only one person, out of 500, managed to do this; while almost no one will care, a style stickler like me might. Pick an em dash (long one) or an en dash (short one), and put one space before and one space after the dash within your dates (e.g., Jan. – Aug. 2018, not "Jan.-Aug. 2018", "Jan. -Aug. 2018", or "Jan.-Aug. 2018"). Em dashes tend to look better, as they're a bit longer and slightly showy

☐ Keep your CV one to two pages max if you're in your undergrad. I ignore this tip in my own CV, largely because I've gotten away with it for some time, and because the things I've applied for have reacted positively to my longer (~7-8-page) CV, but I also have a lot of tangible stuff, so it actually completes occupies space, even if I try to compress it. It's ideal to stick to one page for now, as you'll need to do that for a bunch of internships anyway, and compressing things is hard

☐ Avoid Times New Roman - it looks clean, but everyone uses it

☐ Stick to one font for the entirety of your résumé, if you aren't a graphic designer - you might accidentally make things ugly

☐ Don't use a generic template - they're hard to edit, and lots of people will be using them (we ended up seeing two of the same résumé this time around alone)

☐ Unless you're in a highly creative or progressive field, or are already extremely well-qualified, stick to black, and don't get too graphic (in the visual sense of the word, haha). If a header takes up half of your résumé, that's not good! Most people reading your CV will be somewhat old-school in terms of what they look for 

Space-Saving Tips

☐ Clump all your awards together on one line at the bottom of your résumé or CV, and only write out the important ones with one-bullet descriptions in a separate section

☐ Use short-form dates (e.g., "Jul." rather than "July") to save space; abbreviate down to three letters, and include a period

☐ Alternatively, write "07/2017" instead of "July 2017"

☐ Left-indent bullet points, aligning them with your titles

☐ Experiment with different fonts - some will consume less space, even given the same amount of text and the same font size

☐ Narrow margins save space; don't worry about printing

☐ You can go as far down as ten-point font and be legible

☐ Keep your title and organization on the same line 

☐ Unless you have to fill space, or have taken some really unusual courses (e.g., graduate courses at an undergraduate level), coursework is unnecessary

Space-Taking Tips

☐ Allow your biographical information to consume two lines instead of one - put all your bio. info. under your name 

☐ Leave one blank line below and above your section headers (e.g., write your name and biographical line, then put a blank line, then "Education", then put another blank line, and then put the title and organization of your first experience)

☐ Make your main body font 12-point or 11-point rather than 10

☐ Use wide margins rather than narrow margins 

☐ Put each award, publication, certification, or skill on one line instead of clumping them; add a one-bullet description to each

☐ Instead of clumping together a bunch of related responsibilities in one bullet point, space them out across three bullet points

Biographical Information

☐ Make your name bigger than everything else, but not so big that it's overwhelming. If your body is 10-point font, your name should be 14-point font; if it's 12-point, your name should be 16-point

☐ Don't include your full address! It’s dangerous, first off - no one wants to live at 123 KillMeByNight Boulevard. It's also unnecessary, as we're in the Internet age. Finally, it's prone to prejudice, because if someone thinks you live far enough away that you may not accept a job, they may not give you an offer. If you’re applying to international positions, consider completely removing your address

☐ Don't include multiple e-mail addresses or phone numbers - direct people to the contact methods you use most. Diffusion of responsibility occurs when people have more than one choice

☐ Remove hyperlinks. People may accidentally click, and they print weirdly, so it's better to just right-click and remove them

☐ Don't have a whole section for biographical information - instead, put all your biographical information (i.e., phone number, e-mail address, LI profile URL, and city and province, if you like) on one line - the same line as your name, just all the way to the right side of the page! Make this information a bit smaller than your name, and than your main text (e.g., if your name is 14-point font, and your body is 12-point font, make your info. 10-point font)

☐ Parenthesize area codes

☐ Hyphenate phone numbers (e.g., (111)-111-1111)

☐ Don't preface number with "T" or "Cell" - it's obvious

☐ Don't preface e-mails with "E" - it's obvious


☐ If you're currently in school, don't include an end date! You never know when you'll finish, and you may make yourself ineligible for certain internships by alluding to your end year, as some organizations look for third-year students specifically. If you're not done school yet, just leave it as "until present" - that way, you also don't need to explain anything if you choose to take an extra year to secure an internship, or otherwise grow

☐ Always write out both your full degree and the abbreviation. A “Bachelor of Biochemistry” could be an H. B. Sc., B. H. Sc., B. Sc., or even a B. A. (e.g., in the States, there are B. A. options in biology). Telling people your actual degree helps clarify things. People can also easily read abbreviations, and people’s attention span is very short (approx. two seconds, these days)

☐ Include your cumulative GPA if it's at or above a 3.5/4.0. If it's lower than that, don't include it! If people need it, they'll ask

☐ If your annual GPA is very good, include it instead of your cumulative GPA. However, make sure you note it's your most recent aGPA - don't be dishonest, even if people won't check

☐ If you are including a GPA, make sure to indicate what it's out of! Some schools have a five-point scale; a 3.8/4.0 is impressive, a 3.8/5.0 less so, so make sure people know what you have

☐ If your school uses a different GPA scale, convert to the generic letter scale (e.g., A-, A, A+), or to percentages (e.g., 85%, 90%, 95%). This helps people understand things (11/12 doesn't)

☐ Unless you have to fill space, or have taken some really unusual courses (e.g., graduate courses at an undergraduate level), coursework is unnecessary, and wastes space

☐ If you're doing well at school, and are still getting started with your career, your education should come first - not solely in life, but on your CV. This applies unless you have tons of experience

☐ Don't tell people you're in "Level II", or are a "Candidate" - this is obvious, given that you're still in school, and your start date is included. Avoid giving yourself headlines

☐ Be very careful about correctly naming your school! I've seen lots of people write "Secondary Catholic School" when it's in fact a "Catholic Secondary School", or call their school the "Ted Rogers School of Business Management" when it's in fact the "Ted Rogers School of Management". Be aware! If your school isn't the most well-known, incorrectly stylizing it could mean that people - or softwares - aren't able to look it up easily 


☐ Always include a title! People want to know what you did, not necessarily just where you worked; if you didn't have a title, come up with one, "Okay!" it with your supervisor, and use it

☐ Put your title before the organization! People, again, care about what you contributed, not necessarily where you worked; even if your workplace is very prestigious, we need to know what you did first. People read left-to-right, so put your title first to guide them

☐ Don't put dates on the left-hand side of your résumé. Because people read left-to-right, the least important information should be to the right, not to the left; your title and organization go first

☐ Make sure any word in your title and organization with more than three letters is capitalized, as you're using title case

☐ Don't include workplace and institution locations unless they're very unique (e.g., you interned in France, and want that known)

☐ If your experience started and ended in the same year, don't repeat the year! Just write "Aug. - Nov. 2018", for example

☐ For present experience, write in present tense!

☐ In most cases, present things go first, unless you're making a functional résumé (i.e., one in which important things go first)

☐ Always include start and end dates, and try to be precise about them! If someone is doing a background check on you later, and you drastically misrepresented your dates, you could have an offer withdrawn (though this usually doesn't occur)

☐ People like seeing months on your dates. Otherwise, you could say you did something in 2016, and only do it for one month

☐ For now, combine all your experiences - do that until you've got a ton! Only segment volunteering and work once you have at least ten of each, and even then, sometimes segmenting draws attention to the fact that certain things were unpaid, and thus undervalues them. Lump all your experience to create the illusion that there's more of it, and to juxtapose different things

☐ Less important or older experiences can be given solely one-bullet descriptions, just to visually place less emphasis on them (e.g., extra-curriculars fall under this category)

☐ Properly stylize your organizations! If you worked at 99point9, and wrote "99Point9", that's not good! See how your organization stylizes itself, and follow that, as in the case of institutions

☐ You either "Raised $X", or "fundraised". "Fundraised" implies "money", so "fundraised $X" is redundant; avoid that

☐ If you held two positions within one organization, segment them into two experiences if they're very important, and lump them together if they're highly related. For example, if you fed and transported patients, and did administrative work, all at the same hospital at the same time, you can lump that all together! If, however, you were a team member at first, and then became Co-President of an organization, segment that into two experiences

Skills, Certifications, Awards, Honors, and Publications

☐ Don't include the Microsoft Office Suite unless you have some sort of advanced Excel certificate or something - everyone has this, and it again shows that you don't have many technical skills

☐ Contextualize your awards. Say how many people got the award out of total applicants, and what the award was for

☐ Unless you have a ton of each, make one section for awards, skills, and certifications. Only publications should be separate

☐ Somewhat interchangeably use "Honors" and "Awards", unless you've got a ton of each; they're loosely the same

☐ Make sure your publications are cited in a standardized format (e.g., Vancouver, MLA, APA, Harvard), and that you give credit to all your co-authors. Include links wherever possible

☐ Don't include pending publications unless they're completely 

finalized, have been submitted, or you've got tons of established, published publications already

☐ Get people to endorse you for your skills on LinkedIn, and then include the number of LinkedIn endorsements you've received per skill on your CV - easy way to quantify

Next Steps: Improving Your CV and Professional Branding

☐ When you're sending your CV out for edits, make it a .docx! Don't stick to Pages - not everyone has it. Don't make it a PDF - some people are good at editing these, but some people aren't

☐ Gain translatable skills, like foreign languages, coding, event-planning, writing, public speaking, teaching, editing, publishing, policy-making, operations, project management, graphic designing, and so on - these will help you everywhere

☐ Use informal experience to kick-start your experience in a given field. If you'd like to teach, start teaching pro bono, collect testimonials, and then start to find paid positions

☐ Make a LinkedIn, and make it good! You can add images, testimonials, and other cool media to your LI, and you can sometimes even get recruited via LinkedIn

☐ Make a personal website! This'll increase your search visibility, and can be used to accommodate material that can't go on a CV

☐ Reach out to us for more help - we offer it regularly! ☺

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