The Two-Column Resume

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You’re reading an excerpt of Admitted by Soundarya Balasubramani. Written by an Ivy League graduate from India, this is the proven guide for students worldwide looking to pursue undergraduate or graduate study abroad in the U.S., Canada, or Europe. Purchase for instant access to the guide and other exclusive resources—including sample SOPs, sample resumes, scholarship lists, and a private community with other readers.

Let’s begin constructing a two-column resume from scratch. If you choose to go for a one-column resume, you can still use all the best practices provided below, since the difference between the two is more structural than functional. We’re going to pick a two-column resume format created by Debarghya Das* and taken from Overleaf, a website that lets you use ready-made templates and customize them in LaTeX (pronounced lay-tech).

LaTeX* is a document preparation system that is generally used for technical or scientific documentation writing. Unlike a word processor, it lets you focus more on the content of a document and less on its appearance, which is taken care of by it by assigning default values.

You can either pick the template we chose, or pick something else to your liking, and follow along. The following are the five major sections of the resume.

  • Contact

  • Education

  • Work experience

  • Skills

  • Extracurriculars/Volunteering

actionAre you ready with a fresh template opened up in front of you? Let’s begin!

Contact Section

In my junior year, I used to think contact details meant I needed to include my name, date of birth, sex, full address, father’s name, mother’s name, and more. These were the days when I was still under the presumption that a resume spans four pages.

I’ve grown up a lot since.

danger Contact details only mean five things: your full name, professional email address (no more poojavictory or iamcoolguy), phone number (with the appropriate country and area code), short address, and a link to your LinkedIn profile.

After you’re done, it should look something like the following:

Although LinkedIn has become the Facebook of professional networking, you can go above and beyond by adding profiles from other reputed websites such as GitHub, Research Gate, or link your personal website, which can act as a hub for all of the other sites. Tools like Squarespace and Wix have made website creation downright simple. If you plan to limit it to just your LinkedIn profile, ensure that it is up-to-date and complete (which we’ll help you with in the chapter on networking).

It might also be time to clean up your social media in general, seeing how the U.S. has made it a mandate to screen all applicants based on their online history.*

Education Section

We’ve noticed that people outside India tend to have a narrow view of the universities in India. They have heard of the IITs… and that’s pretty much it. However, don’t be alarmed if it’s the same for universities in your country. The people who read your applications are used to viewing and admitting students from colleges belonging to all tiers, as visible from the undergraduate institutions represented at Harvard Business School.*

This section is to give the admissions committee an idea of not just where you come from, but also how well you’ve done academically. To do that, include the following fields:

  • university name

  • degree and major (mention minor if any)

  • graduation month and year

  • location (Follow city, state if it was in the U.S. or the country that you’re applying to. For places outside, it’s best to mention city, country since the admission committee wouldn’t be familiar with your state.)

  • CGPA (Optional: some students also mention a major GPA for subjects that are directly related to the major.)

  • other distinctions (For example, Top 5% in class, Top Ranker, other department specific awards.)

  • relevant coursework (Don’t mention all, but only the top 5–10 relevant types of coursework.)

Below is an example of education and coursework:

As you can see, the same format can be followed for details of your high school.

Work Experience Section

So far, you gave the reader an idea of where you studied and your tactfulness in creating email addresses (among other things). Now we come to the crux of the resume: your experience.

Experience should take up about 30-40% of your resume’s real estate, for good reason. This is where you compress many months (or even years) into a few inches of paper.

For those of you who are applying right after your bachelor’s, ensure to list all your internships and relevant academic projects. For those of you who have a few years of experience under your belt, use your best judgement in cherry-picking the internships and projects you want to include. Relevance is key here.

Each experience should have the following fields:

  • company/university where you work

  • title

  • duration of internship/work

  • location (with the same state and country rule as the Education section)

  • three to four bullet points of the amazing work you did.

    • Include action verbs: Spearheaded, Researched, Developed, Built, Streamlined, Improved, Lead, Served, etc.

    • Include numbers to show impact: time, money, or other valuable resources saved.

    • Include any programming language or software you used and learned.

    • Finally, include the end-result of the internship if it resulted in a form of recognition, such as writing a paper, presenting at a conference, winning a hackathon, etc.

Below is an example of a university experience:

If you interned at a university (or company) for more than three months and have a lot to show, it’s OK to extend beyond 3 bullet points. As a general rule of thumb, though, we recommend you follow the rule of three whenever possible.

Use the same principles mentioned before, but make sure to include keywords that are relevant to the degree you’re applying for. If you’re aiming to get into an engineering management program, having a product management background helps, since many of the alumni have gone that route (including yours truly). Even otherwise, it shows them that you’ve worked with people to solve problems in a manufacturing or management setting.

For any papers you mention in this section (or under relevant projects), ensure to cite it at the end of the resume using the APA format* (below is the apalike format from LaTeX).

actionFill out the rest of this section with your experiences before moving on to the next.

Skills Section

It’s time to put to paper all those sleepless nights spent on Coursera learning to code and on studying to get the Agile certification.

In this section, include all the software, languages, and certifications you have earned over the past few years.

Once again, the skills you put down need to somehow relate to the degree you’re applying to. While getting an Agile certification is helpful if you’re going the program manager/project manager route, it doesn’t seem too relevant for a master’s degree in robotics. For programming languages (and skills in general), it’s useful to mention the proficiency level along with the skill. It is near impossible to know multiple skills with the same level of proficiency (kudos to you if you do!). So use one of the following ways to distinguish between your skills.

  • Proficient / Intermediate / Beginner

  • Lines of code: >5000 / >1000 / <1000

  • Programming Languages / Software / Certifications (if you have skills in all three areas)

Below is an example:

Do not fret if you don’t have enough skills to mention. For non-coders, it’s worth mentioning proficiency in languages (German, French, etc.), soft skills (project management, Agile methodology, Scrum certification, etc.), and other interests (non-fiction writer, district level chess player, touch typing 80 wpm, etc.). These skills are in no way trivial or irrelevant. In fact, I still have non-fiction writer and badminton player on my resume.

Maybe it’s time to remove the latter.

So, dig deep into all the activities you did over the past 4+ years, and we can assure you that things will begin surfacing.

Extracurriculars Section

Ah, finally we arrive at the fun part! This is where you get to include all the clubs, organizations, and festivals you were a part of. This is an important section of the resume. Why?

Extracurriculars signify that you actively took time out of an already busy schedule to contribute towards societal good.

Even if you were part of half a dozen communities, limit this section to a maximum of three experiences. In terms of things to include, this follows a very similar approach as your Experience section.

It’s still advisable to use action verbs, mention numbers, and any competitions that you were a part of, or events that you organized for the wider community.

One section that we didn’t explicitly mention above is the Awards. This is optional based on whether or not you’ve received them. For those who have bagged awards academically and/or otherwise, ensure to include a maximum of five either on the right or left (depending on the space left over and assuming you’re using a two-column format).

More often than not, the admissions committee wouldn’t have heard of the country-specific or state-specific awards. So ensure to include the integrity of your award by mentioning the number of total participants or the level of locality of the award (national vs. international).

With that, we’re done with building the resume. Now, there’s one final task before you can call this complete: making it ATS friendly.

ATS Best Practices

Given how pervasive ATS software has become, it’s highly recommended that you follow the do’s and don’ts laid out below:*

  • Do have long-form and acronym versions of keywords (e.g., Master of Science [MS] or Machine Learning (ML] for maximum searchability).

  • Do use traditional resume fonts such as Helvetica, Arial, or Georgia.

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