How to teach resume writing to your high school students

If we are teaching our students how to write literary analysis essays about the symbolism of the green light in The Great Gatsby, then we also should be teaching our students how to write effective resumes that will get them jobs. In fact, I think the latter is more important, and I say this as a teacher who is obsessed with Gatsby. (Just stalk my Instagram.) But I’m not trying to call you out or shame you for not teaching resume writing in your English class. I actually never taught resumes until this year, when I was tasked with the responsibility of teaching a new senior English Elective, “Technical Communication.” After taking on this class and teaching resumes, I am wholeheartedly convinced that every single student should be required to create a resume before graduating high school.

How to teach resume writing to high school students

Teaching resume writing was not an easy task for me or my students, but we learned a lot in the process. Drafting a resume is about more than practicing “real life” writing or becoming an employable job candidate. It’s about growing as a human being. Writing a resume requires introspection, self-awareness, and reflection. Throughout the process, students wrestled with the questions “Who am I?” and “How can I represent what I have to offer on a mere piece of paper?” This unit was challenging but rewarding, for me and my students.

Initially, I was intimidated by teaching resumes, because unlike the Gatsby essay that would be turned in and graded by me, these resumes would be printed out and sent off into the “real world” someday. The thought of teaching students how to write and design a document that could end up on the desk…or in the paper shredder…of a hiring manager was a bit daunting. Although I was nervous, I was excited about empowering my students and teaching what I knew would be one of the most relevant and valuable units I’ve ever taught.

Thankfully, I was right. By the end of our resume writing unit, I was so proud of how much my students had grown as writers, future job candidates, and most importantly, human beings. If you’re hoping to implement the same kind of learning experience for your students, check out my resume writing unit, which contains editable versions of all of my mini-lessons and resources. Here’s everything I learned about how to structure a helpful resume writing unit for your students:

1. Expose the students to lots of resumes: the good, the bad, and the ugly

At first, I didn’t know how to start our resume writing unit. Jump in to the writing process and revise later? Start with a mini-lesson? Honestly, I was stressed out and doubting my ability to teach resumes. I hadn’t interviewed for a job or touched my resume in 5 years. I felt like I was in over my head. What did I know?

In an effort to begin my unit and lesson planning, I started researching resumes. I found myself searching examples and taking mental note of what I noticed. Then it hit me: That’s what my students needed to do! Like me, they would be overwhelmed with the daunting task of creating an appealing, modern resume. Suddenly, my lesson plan for the next day was simple: Find tons of examples: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Let students sift through them and record their observations about what makes an effective resume–student-centered, inquiry-based learning!

I quickly rounded up sample resumes from Google, pulled up my old (and ugly) resume, and asked friends on Facebook to share their resumes. Within 20 minutes, I had a nice collection of over 20 resumes to share with my students. I printed off a few copies of each and arranged them on the counter in the back of my classroom.

I found various examples of resumes, printed them out, and asked students to analyze what they noticed about the good, the bad, and everything in between.

Then, I created a worksheet where students simply recorded what they noticed about each resume. I gave them a few categories to focus on and asked them to critique each resume. I told students to pretend they were hiring managers going through stacks of resumes, deciding which candidates deserved an interview. After examining multiple resumes, students had to synthesize what they noticed about the most effective resumes. Finally, they reflected on what they already knew about resumes and what they wanted to learn and focus on throughout our mini unit.

This lesson was so simple, but so valuable. Some of them were harsh critics, which was great! Afterwards, I told them, “Gotcha! Now I have higher expectations because now you KNOW what to do! The only excuse is laziness!” If they critiqued the ugly fonts on the sample resumes…I could critic their font choice when I graded their final resumes with my rubrics. Mission accomplished!

2. Model the process with your own resume

My new-and-improved resume. It’s Michael Scott because I don’t want my students (or the entire internet) knowing my personal info!

After the results of the resume critique activity, I knew I needed to model the resume writing and design process by updating my own resume. My students were right. My resume was 2 pages long, filled with way too much text, and just plain ugly and uninspiring.

So before I began my mini-lessons on resume writing, I sat down to “teach myself” before I taught my students. I redesigned my entire resume, deleted irrelevant jobs, cut the fluff, and improved my word choice. This process gave me some confidence about teaching resumes for the first time, and it helped me realize what I should focus on during writing workshop with my students. During mini-lessons, I used my resume as an example. My students appreciated my transparency and learned a lot from my “before and after.”

Even though you might not need to update your resume, it’s a great exercise that will help you better understand the process and allow your students to see an “expert” model revision.

3. Scaffold the writing process with mini-lessons & a resume outline

Resume outline: Students drafted and revised on a Google doc.

When I revised and redesigned my own resume, I remembered how laborious it is to create an effective, visually-appealing resume. To make the resume writing process less daunting for my students, I broke up the different sections of the resume into different mini-lessons. I also created a resume outline on Google docs, and I required students to draft everything in the outline before they even touched a template. Students drafted and revised multiple times until I “approved” their working outline and allowed them to begin their final draft. This outline document scaffolded the structure and formatting of the resume, and it also helped me break down my mini-lessons. Here’s how I set up my mini-lessons during writing workshop:

I created mini-lessons for each major section of the resume.
  • Writing a Professional Profile (If you’re new to the resume writing game, this is what has taken the place of the “Objective” section).
  • Outlining Employment & Using Powerful Action Verbs
  • Listing Skills & Using Strong Adjectives

I also incorporated peer feedback and teacher feedback activities in addition to the above mini-lessons.

4. Provide resources and support throughout the process

Since all of my students were creating resumes for different types of jobs, I knew I needed to offer even more scaffolding and support. A resume for an aspiring esthetician is going to look a lot different from a resume for an automotive technician! To support students and give them access to even more resources and examples, I created a hyperdoc of resources and links. Some of these resources were my own, but others were links from helpful websites that provided samples of resumes for different careers! If you want more information on creating your own hyperdocs for your students, check out this blog post.

Another way I provided support throughout the writing process was by checking in with every student, every day. On most days, I was able to walk around the room and physically check in with each student, but on days when I ended up helping a handful of students for a while, I didn’t make it to everyone. To make sure that I had a way of checking in on every student, no matter what, I had students submit an exit ticket at the end of each day. Each exit ticket was the same: “What did you accomplish today? What questions do you have and how can I help you?” I did this through Google Classroom’s “question” feature, so I was able to respond to students’ questions and see what everyone needed during the next day of writing workshop.

Resume Workshop Exit Tickets in Google Classroom: A great way to check in with each student during the writing process!

5. Incorporate multiple opportunities for peer feedback

I incorporated peer feedback through a “personal sales pitch” activity early on in the writing process.

Here’s the way I see peer feedback: The more you can train your students to provide feedback, the more efficient you can be with your teacher feedback. During our resume writing unit, I incorporated peer feedback in a variety of ways. First, I had students “turn and talk” to each other to give a “personal sales pitch” that would then become their professional profile at the top of their resume. Then, once they had drafted their profile and posted it on Google Classroom, I asked them to provide feedback to 3 of their peers. That way, once I looked at their professional profile drafts, their peers had already addressed a lot of what I would have commented, anyways! This allowed me to give my students more specific, focused feedback (and it saved me time, too).

The writing process can feel time-consuming, tedious, and boring for students. Mixing it up with opportunities for them to talk about their writing helps with engagement, too.

6. Emphasize the process of revision

It’s important to emphasize the process of revision and how it’s different from proofreading and editing. Some of them wanted to crank out their resumes, click “Turn in,” and then cheerfully shout, “I’m done!” when they hadn’t taken the time to genuinely revise. Other students argued that their resumes were “good enough” because they had successfully used them when applying for their current jobs. It was difficult to convince some students to invest time in the revision and editing.

But I’ll let you in on a little secret: Some of the students who struggled or complained the most were the very same ones who thanked me later in their learning reflections. Here’s what one student said: “The resume unit was the most helpful because I was too lazy to write one on my own. Miss G, you’re killing it.” At least they’re honest.

By structuring the resume-writing process with step-by-step lessons, modeling my own revision, and incorporating lots of peer and teacher feedback and subsequent revision, I forced my students to revise. I demonstrated the value of revision and purposefully integrated revision in my mini-lessons. I even included a category titled “Evidence of Revision” on my final rubric, and I asked students to explicitly tell me (through Google docs comments) what they revised and why. The end result? Better resumes, but more importantly, better writers who finally valued the process of revision.

If you value revision, include it in your final rubric!

7. Provide templates to help your students create a visually appealing, modern resume

Canva.com is a great resource for students creating resumes.

It’s easy to let your students create the standard text-on-a-page resume, but it’s 2019, and those resumes are ancient! There are tons of options and templates available online, but my favorite resource for visually appealing resumes is Canva, a online graphic-design tool with many free templates. You can also search on Pinterest for more inspiration!

I designed two of my own templates and provided them to students, but I also linked up a few templates I found online. Most of my students used my templates or the ones from Canva, but I did have a few students who used other sources. I would recommend assessing how much structure your students need and then recommending different templates and/or websites. For example, for my ELL students, my pre-made template was especially helpful. I didn’t want them to be overwhelmed by the process of creatively designing a resume, because the process of writing was already challenging enough. Meet your students where they are, but use templates to help them create a visually appealing resume!

8. Make it meaningful & “publish” students’ final resumes!

English teachers know that one of the most important but often ignored parts of the writing process is the final phase: Publishing! When your students are finished, print their resumes out and celebrate their hard work in an authentic way. Here are a few ideas:

  • Facilitate a “gallery walk” or “exhibit hall” where students “network” with their peers, exchange resumes, and discuss their experiences and skills.
  • Facilitate mock interviews where students must discuss their resume and answer other common interview questions. (We did this & it was a hit with students!)
  • Send off the resumes to administration or an hiring manager (if you can find one) and ask them to provide realistic feedback.
  • Encourage students to use their new resumes to apply for a job, and then celebrate when they are successful!

I was so proud of my students’ final resumes and how much they grew during the writing process. The unit was not without its challenges, but it was so rewarding to end it with physical proof that students were one step closer to being “college and career ready.” If you’re interested in preparing your students for life after graduation, check out my Career Readiness Growing Bundle, which currently contains a career research project and this resume writing unit. (Cover letters and mock interviews are coming soon.)

Do you teach resume writing to your students? If so, what grade level and class? What other ideas or tips do you have? I would love to hear more in the comments!

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2 Comments

  1. Kathy
    March 10, 2019 / 10:10 pm

    Thanks for the great resources. I plan on beginning my employment package assignment in April and this will come in handy. However, there is something that I want to point out. As a business professor who teaches business classes and resume writing, I would suggest telling your students that creative and fun resumes are only appropriate in that type of field such as graphic designs, creative writing, art, etc. In fields such as marketing, medicine, engineering, management, etc., creative resumes with various designs is a no-no. Granted these are high school students, but what we teach them now as a foundation on what they need to know should be practical for future referencing. Yes, the resume is a boring looking document, but how you teach it can be the creative and exciting part!

    I will definitely be using these resources this year. Thank you for all you do.

    • writeonwithmissg
      Author
      May 25, 2019 / 10:58 pm

      Hi there,
      Thanks for your feedback. I do teach them about that. However, even the “boring” resumes look more professional with some fonts/lines/boxes/formatting/etc.

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