Let’s say you’re looking to land that ideal summer internship. You’re browsing job boards looking for open roles, and what looks like a dream opportunity pops up. You nod your head at every bullet on the posting, getting excited about what responsibilities you’ll get to take on—shadowing a senator! Writing columns for a local newspaper! Working with an engineering team to build a rocket for launch!—and fantasizing about one heck of a summer you’re going to have.
Then you look at the application: Please submit a resume.
OK, you have an idea what a resume is—a list of your professional skills and experiences. But from what you can gather, you don’t have much to offer in this realm. Maybe a couple summer jobs working as a server or camp counselor? A few relevant courses or class projects? A general understanding of Excel?
Don’t panic—first of all, it’s completely normal, and common, to find yourself with little to put on your resume as a student or recent graduate. Secondly, even the bit you have can make for a great resume! Here’s how to go about crafting yours from scratch—from coming up with what to put on it to organizing and editing it in a way that’ll impress a hiring manager.
Step 1: Brainstorm
The first thing you should do, once you’ve found a role (or several) you’d like to apply for, is to dig into the requirements and responsibilities. “Use the job description for the internship as your guide” to figure out what to include on your resume, advises Chelsea C. Williams, Founder and CEO of College Code and a career coach on The Muse. What skills are they highlighting—both hard skills, like Excel or Wordpress, or soft skills, like time management or written communication? What words are they using to describe the ideal candidate? What experiences, work history, or general background or interests are they looking for?
Then, separately, jot down what you bring to the table. A few things to consider including are:
- Your educational history (your major, your GPA, classes, research work, big projects, study abroad programs, honors, or awards)
- Summer, part-time, or on-campus jobs
- Volunteer work
- Student organizations, clubs, or sports
Start by creating a master list of everything you’ve done that could be relevant to a job—any job. Then, once you have that list, narrow down the items that feel most relevant and applicable.
The idea isn’t to nix stuff that is a far cry from what you’d like to do in a professional setting. Being a waitress, for example, may not seem relevant to a marketing internship at first glance. But if the role calls for someone who can multitask or be a team player, you may find that a lot of your experience in the service industry does apply.
“One time a student—an English major—I was working with got a paid remote internship in New York because the hiring manager was impressed she was a crew trainer at McDonald’s; they valued her leadership ability and hard work ethic,” says Muse career coach Eilis Wasserman.
The same thing goes for being an athlete or running the debate team—again, it’s not technically a “job,” but a lot of the soft skills you’ve developed could easily factor into an internship.
The key is to make sure whatever you’re including shows some sense of “involvement, work ethic, and accomplishments,” explains Wasserman. What wouldn’t fit into this category? Things like: vacations, non-educational school trips, or social events that were purely for fun. If they show a bit of your personality or come with a unique story related to your career ambitions, save sharing them for your cover letter instead.
Step 2: Create Your Sections
At the very top (and preferably in a bigger, bolder font) you’ll need to add your contact information—which should include your name, your phone number, your email address, and any relevant links, like your LinkedIn profile or personal website, if applicable.
“If you’re a student, include your .edu email instead of other emails,” Wasserman recommends. “School emails are often seen more favorably among employers.” Plus, it tends to be a more professional address than your personal one (email@example.com? Probably not ideal).
Wasserman suggests that anyone who’s still in school or recently graduated should have their education at the top of the page. You’ll likely organize your resume in this order:
- Education and Awards
- Work and Leadership Experience
- Skills and Interests
You have the option to remove or add sections of your own, too. If a lot of your past is filled with volunteer work, you might decide to break that out into its own category titled “Volunteer Experience.” Or maybe you aren’t involved in clubs and don’t need an entire section on “Activities.” Go ahead and cut or condense if it feels natural or saves you from going on to another page—no one will hold it against you.
By the way, templates will be your best friend in getting organized. Check out some of our favorite Google Docs resume templates that you can copy and start personalizing instantly.
Step 3: Fill in Your Information
When you start adding jobs and activities to your resume, you’ll want to put them in reverse chronological order—most recent to least recent. If some happened at the same time, put the most relevant one first.
Wasserman adds that “if you are beyond your first year in college, I would recommend not including any high school information unless [it’s] very relevant to the internship position” and boosts your reputation as a hard worker. Your high school grades? Not as relevant. Your senior summer job as a retail salesperson? Might be.
Let’s break down what to write in each section:
Besides the obvious—your school, your major, your degree, your graduation year, and your current GPA (note: if your GPA isn’t great, you may want to leave it off)—there are several other things you can add to your education, if you decide not to make them their own section.
Like, for example, your Dean’s list awards, or your study abroad program, or any other honors or honorable mentions you’ve received as a student. If you’re scraping the barrel for ideas, you could even add a bullet listing “Relevant Coursework,” where you provide the titles of classes you’ve taken or are taking that could be applicable to the internship. This is also a great option if you’re pursuing a role outside your major and want to highlight relevant skills.
“Having an experience section does not only mean ‘paid experience’—that is a common misconception among students,” says Wasserman. She explains that when you don’t have a lot of actual jobs to include, you can fill this section with anything from service opportunities to community or club involvement to independent studies. If you played a crucial role in an organization or initiative—maybe you had a leadership title or organized a bunch of events—that’s definitely worth including in this section versus in your activities section, because it’s more like a job than a hobby.
Don’t worry too much about how relevant your experience is—like I said earlier, paid jobs that are outside your dream field are almost always worth including, especially when applying for an internship. Whether you babysat for a professor, served drinks at a local bar, or swiped people into the library, just doing work for a paycheck shows work ethic, drive, and plenty of understanding of the working world and the soft skills needed to be successful.
A lot of school clubs and outside activities make for great resume material, and just as many don’t. It all depends on what’s already on your resume up until this point, what exactly your role was in these activities and what you got from them, and the kinds of internships or industries you’re looking to break into.
If a club or activity was a major part of your college experience (but you weren’t a leader in it), it’s important to include in this section not just to showcase your personality but to show commitment. Same goes for activities where you made a big impact or earned some sort of award or recognition. For example, being a member of a singing group for four years in a row says a lot about you, your values, and how you spend your time. Spending one semester on the intramural frisbee team doesn’t.
Also consider adding in activities that could help you relate to the company or team. If you’re involved with the theater scene, and you’re applying to a role where the hiring manager is a graduate of your school and also did theater, keeping that fact on your resume could spark conversation when you go to interview.
Your Skills and Interests
When you’re still in school, this part of your resume probably won’t be all that long. That’s OK! The hiring manager merely wants to see if you bring any skills to the table that aren’t highlighted or clear in the rest of your resume.
Do you speak a second (or third) language? Did you teach yourself to code? Are you surprisingly good at a specific application? It’s important to be honest about what skills you’re actually proficient in and could contribute effectively to an internship—taking one semester of Spanish doesn’t exactly qualify you to talk to clients in Madrid.
I’m also a fan of including a short “Interests” or “Hobbies” section if you have room. This is the place where you list the things that aren’t job-related experiences (things like crafting, hiking, or reading) but tell the hiring manager more about you and your personality.
Step 4: Put It All Together
What does all this look like? Take this sample resume for an internship and use it as an example for how you could write your own (or view it here). Tina Ford, hypothetically, is a sophomore applying for internships at nonprofit organizations.
Step 5: Edit and Refine It
Now that you’ve dumped everything onto paper, it’s time to look it over and make sure it’s in tip-top shape. First, is it truly tailored to the internship you’re applying for? “Try to look at your resume through their eyes—what information will be most relevant to a hiring manager? What will convince them that you are the best qualified candidate to fill their position?” says Wasserman.
Make sure everything fits on one page—it’s cleaner and neater this way, and realistically, you’re not experienced enough to have a lengthy resume.
Finally, give it one last review to clean up any stray errors. Proofread, spell check, ask a friend to read it through. Because yes, spelling a company’s name wrong or including the incorrect phone number can affect how a hiring manager reads your resume (not to mention whether they can properly contact you).
At the end of the day, you’re just starting out in your career, and hiring managers know that—so they don’t expect your resume to be gleaming with accomplishments or robust skills. If yours is well-organized, shows initiative and work ethic, and demonstrates some sort of passion for your desired industry, you’ll easily convince an employer to bring you in for an interview.
“While resumes are important and they should be flawless and professional, they are just one piece of the equation when it comes to internship hiring,” adds Wasserman. “It is the person behind the resume that matters the most.”
Photo of person on computer writing a resume courtesy of Constantine Johnny/Getty Images.
Previously an editor for The Muse, Alyse is proud to prove that yes, English majors can change the world. She’s written almost 500 articles for The Muse on anything from productivity tips to cover letters to bad bosses to cool career changers, many of which have been featured in Fast Company, Forbes, Inc., CNBC's Make It, USA Today College, Lifehacker, Mashable, and more. She calls many places home, including Illinois where she grew up and the small town of Hamilton where she attended Colgate University, but she was born to be a New Yorker. In addition to being an avid writer and reader, Alyse loves to dance, both professionally and while waiting for the subway.More from this Author