By Mary Bloomer
Don’t let your resume make a poor first impression and ruin the party for you! There are a multitude of online and offline resume building resources that can provide guidance. Beyond the standard tips (i.e. consistent formatting, no typos, a one page format, using action verbs, etc.) the following pointers can help most current college students make a GREAT first resume impression:
1. Skip the “Summary” or “Objective” statement. This just takes up valued real estate on your one page resume, and your career experiences at this point in time generally aren’t vast enough to require a summary! Often, the “summary” is so generic that it makes for a weak ‘start’ for your resume. A well-written cover letter that includes your tailored reasons for applying to that specific position is far more effective.
2. Lead off with your “Education” section. Let’s face it, at this point in your career, you’ve spent more time in school than anywhere else. You want to lead with your strengths, so use the space to demonstrate that you are an active and engaged member of your school community.
- Work backwards chronologically and include any study abroad programs.
- List your major(s), minor(s), and GPA (as long as it’s above 3.0).
- Include any academic award(s), and 3-5 courses relevant to the positions you are targeting and/or which demonstrate some transferable skills (i.e. writing and communications, technical (computer science, accounting, engineering), etc.
- Include sports, clubs, and other activities that demonstrate leadership abilities.
- Present the content for each school in a consistent way.
3. Include “High school Education” – until your Senior Year. When your college and professional experiences give you enough content to fill the page, it’s time to limit the high school stories. Most Freshmen and Sophomores will need to include High School experiences; for Juniors, it will depend on individual content. Seniors should generally omit detailed high school information (unless you won the Westinghouse Science Competition or a year’s tuition on ‘Jeopardy’).
- Put “Graduated, Month, Year” (Graduated, June 2010) after the name of your school, unless you graduated as a particular type of scholar, i.e. a Classics Scholar.
- The same rules apply for GPA and awards as listed in Point #2.
- Skip coursework, except for AP classes.
- Include sports and other leadership activities.
- Only include your SAT/ACT scores if they were outstanding.
4. Format “Professional Experiences” in a consistent and chronological order. Employers like this format because they can quickly see if there are “holes” in your resume. Students who consistently kept busy most summers with jobs or other enriching experiences are highly valued by employers.
- Make it easy for Employers to see that you managed your time well by formatting all dates as right-margin adjusted. (Many recruiters won’t even look at a poorly formatted, “messy” looking resume. Good resume writing means developing a good format and sticking with it!)
- If you have large gaps in your work/educational experiences, you may want to consider a functional/ transferable skills resume format. (More on that at a later date!)
5. Employers value “Regular Summer Jobs” and Part-time experiences. Employers understand that “professional” experiences for many younger students include summer jobs like life-guarding, camp counselor, retail sales, community service, babysitting, etc. These jobs teach valuable life skills and can be resume building blocks for any career development plan.
- Employers value students who consistently keep busy over summers with jobs and/or other enriching experiences.
- Students who work part-time while in school impress employers; it highlights your time management skills.
- Describe your experiences in these jobs using a transferable skills/ business-oriented vocabulary. For example, “Successfully interacted with a broad range of customers, ranging from infants to senior citizens,” or “Weekly two hour tutoring sessions resulted in a marked improvement in grades for my student mentee.”
6. “Real” internships trump classic Summer/Part-time jobs. Once you’ve had your first 1-2 “professional” or “career development” internships, it’s time to focus on these and decrease any content dedicated to typical student summer jobs. (Employers still want to see that you consistently worked and sought out enriching experiences during your ‘younger’ years, so don’t delete those jobs, just be brief describing them.) Strong professional internships show that you care about career development and have given some thought to resume building.
- List the name of the organization, your specific role, and the related dates for all pre-professional jobs or internships.
7. Focus on results achieved, not just tasks performed. Effective resume writing uses industry appropriate action verbs to describe the content of all your work and demonstrate the results of your actions, ideally in a quantifiable way.
- If you worked as a Sales Associate at Gap, rather than stating “Waited on customers, try stating “Increased store revenues by proactively engaging with customers”. The goal is to make yourself sound focused on delivering results and developing transferable skills – not just performing a minimum wage job.
8. “Other Information” can be a great hook. Employers are people too – and many of them say the last section of your resume is the first thing they read. This is the fun part of resume writing! It’s your opportunity to connect with and intrigue the reader, as well as to highlight some unique skills. Be creative!! Everyone is “proficient in Microsoft Office” — try more interesting and unique! I’ve seen entries as varied as “Enjoy BBQ,” “European History,” “Cats,” “Lasagna Making,” and “Country Music” all work effectively. Just be prepared to talk passionately and as an expert about your choices!
9. Always send your resume in PDF form! I can tell you horror stories about non-PDF resumes that looked fine when sent out, but ended up in horribly mutilated forms. Sending an effective resume absolutely requires a PDF format!