Tips for Building Your Resume as a Student

You don't need to wait until you've graduated to start adding accomplishments to your resume.


To me it's obvious why students are interested in summer jobs or part-time work during the school year: pocket money, real-life work experience, new professional contacts or, even better, to discover new career pathways. Like many students, I did not have a job prior to starting my degree. My only experience was that I shadowed a Senior Attorney for two weeks. It was only after my first year that I realized just how hard it is to secure a job. Bored at home, I randomly decided to join a club — and that ended up being instrumental in landing my first job after second year!

After some years of figuring out what works and what doesn’t, here are a few initiatives that I find increase a student’s chances of securing work after their first year of university:

Polish that Resume and Cover Letter

I came across my old resumes and cover letters the other day and, well, they looked terrible! If you feel the same way, here’s what I did to revamp my portfolio:

Book a Career Advising appointment with the Career Centre. They offer other resources such as the LinkedIn Profile Critique and Mock Interviews. But don’t stop there: look for examples of resumes online. Check what other professionals are saying. Ask your friends for advice. Resumes, like first impressions, are subjective. Explore different options and go with your gut.

During my job search, I quickly learned that quality takes precedence over quantity. Sending 25 good applications is better than sending 100 bad ones. So what makes a "good" resume? Take your time to tailor every cover letter to the specific job posting. Obviously, you don’t have to rewrite everything — modify a paragraph or two. At times, even resumes need some tweaks here and there to make sure they're up to date and relevant to the jobs you're applying to.

When you receive an invitation for a job interview, revisit the resume and cover letter you used to apply for that job. Now you know one formula that worked!

Join Clubs

During my second year, I was the Co-President of The Piggy Bankers, U of A’s financial literacy club. This role definitely won me some bonus points when I successfully interviewed for my first job as a Student Group Services Coordinator with the Students’ Union. It was only while preparing for the role that it struck me that the U of A has over 500 clubs! Chances are you’ll find at least one club that interests you. If you’re not sure how to proceed — look no further:

Read the weekly Students Digest and similar emails to look out for club announcements. Clubs often have their membership intake at the beginning of each semester. Once you spot a club that you like, apply to be an executive member. This will help boost your communication and interpersonal skills and encourage good leadership qualities. Being an executive also increases your prospects of winning a Students’ Union Award and that would definitely look great on your resume.

Reach out to existing group members. If you still have some reservations, find more info on the Student Group Services (SGS) website. SGS supports student-run organizations on campus and even helps mediate conflicts between student group members. Subscribe to their newsletter for the latest updates. Refer to this page for additional resources on student group policies or this story for how to create your own club!

Start Small, Grow Big

Focus on applying for jobs that you’re more likely to get. Don’t send applications for highly competitive jobs when you know you still lack the experience. Spend that time building your skills instead. Your first job is closer than you think:

Are you looking for part-time jobs that are flexible and close to university residence? The Students’ Union posts a number of jobs throughout the year. They’re part-time, full-time, or volunteer positions that are flexible and work around your school schedule. My first professional work experience was with the SU where I worked part-time for nine months. Little did I know that my first job was going to be in SUB! Albeit, I never worked in-person because of COVID-19, but it still gave me a sense of what it was like to navigate work life.

For other flexible placements, check out Campus & Community Recreation jobs. Non Profit Board Student Internship (NPBI), CSL Internships, and Pathways Program are all work opportunities within Community Service-Learning that aim to make a difference. Don’t forget to visit the Centre Centre Job posting as well.

Be Proactive

Besides your faculty’s co-op program and clubs, there are other initiatives that will help enrich your university experience. If you’re like me and missed out on those opportunities, either because you didn’t know or you forgot about them, bookmark these pages and keep their deadlines in a calendar. 

Did you know that you can add certificates to your degree? Often, you’re already fulfilling some of their requirements. For example, being an international student ticks off the “Intercultural Experience” condition for the Certificate in International Learning

If you’re curious about undergraduate research and wish to add a cool skill to your resume, volunteer with Undergraduate Research Initiative (URI) to be a peer reviewer or research liaison for their journal, Spectrum. Or undertake a research opportunity yourself. Sometimes, you can also approach your teacher to discuss shadowing them as research assistants over the break.

Sometimes you can find volunteer opportunities that are suited to your program of study or career goals. Go through the SU Volunteer Registry or U of A Alumni volunteer website (not just for alumni) regularly. With their different time commitments, you get to choose which volunteering works best for your schedule. Sign up for the volunteer e-newsletter to stay up-to-date.

If none of these work out — use the internet! Learn a new foreign language by yourself. Learn a new programming language. Try out courses on Coursera or LinkedIn. Master public speaking. Most of these are cost-free alternatives that you can do at home to build on your competencies. Good luck!

About Shars

Shars is a third-year Economics and Psychology student. She's currently interning with External Relations at the U of A — although she believes her true vocation to be pro-binge watcher or foodie (just kidding!) A quote that she always comes back to: "If I work hard, I can eat delicious things!"