The title of this post is a misnomer. Your résumé will never be The Thing that lands you a job, but “How to Make Your College Resume Look Like It Belongs to a Grownup with Marketable Experience” seemed a little verbose. Regardless, that’s what we’ll be talking about today.
Most college students have terrible résumés. It’s not your fault. It’s mostly because it’s the first time you’re writing one and there are so many different templates and tutorials online. You try to combine all the advice you’ve read about, and the finished product is usually a dense, jumbled wall of text. Sure, there is a lot of good information there that might sum up your skills and experience accurately, but odds are no one will bother to wade through it all. If you’re a second semester college senior, please get out your résumé and follow along as we make changes.
1) Margins and fonts. Don’t even pay attention to how long or short your résumé is until after we’re done making changes to the content. First, before we do anything else, set your margins to 1″. If you reduce the margin size and thus the amount of white space, your résumé takes on the “wall of text” style that is such a visual turnoff. Now set your font size to 10-12 in either Arial or Times New Roman. Tiny or unusual fonts tend to annoy more people than they attract.
2) Name and contact information. Make your name slightly larger than everything else. I recommend somewhere around a size 16 font. Anything too big can prompt comments that you are an egomaniac (I know this seems too trivial to be true, but I’ve heard hiring managers draw this conclusion out loud). In a smaller font, include a street address, email address, and at least one phone number where you can be reached. Make sure the phone number and email address are accurate and that you check them daily.
3) Objective. Make your objective to get a job just like the one you’re applying for. Update it each time you submit your résumé. For more detail, read my blog post on “What to Say Is Your ‘Objective’ When You Really Just Want a Job.”
4) Education. Since this is your first “real” job, you want to keep your education near the top. This tells hiring managers, “I just graduated. That is why I have so little relevant experience.” Make sure to include your graduation month and year, your field of study, and your GPA if it was over a 3.0. This is also the place to list any associations you belonged to or student government roles you held, as well as awards and honors, if you aren’t including a separate “awards and honors” section.
5) Work experience. One of the best ways to make a college résumé look attractive to a hiring manager is to indicate that you worked consistently while going to school. Whether it was a part-time job waiting tables, a work-study job to help cover tuition, serving as an RA (resident assistant) in exchange for room and board, or tutoring for free, include it. If you only worked the job during the school year but it covered multiple school years, rather than list the actual dates of employment, just list the date your started the job and the last date you worked. So if you worked at a campus library for three school years, rather than say “September 2009 – May 2010, September 2010 – May 2011, September 2011 – present,” say “September 2009 – present.” No one is going to call you out for making the dates easier to read and comprehend, even if they call your previous employer to confirm the dates. Similarly, if you only worked the job during the summers, rather than include the actual dates of employment, say “Summer 2010″ or “Summers 2009-2011″ or whatever the years were. It gets the point across that you had a summer job, which looks good, as opposed to making it look like you quit or got fired after just three months, which looks bad.
Next take a look at the job you’re applying for. Go through the job description line by line. Any time part of the job sounds even remotely like something you’ve done before, add it to the appropriate part of the “work experience” section in your résumé. For more details on how to do this and why, check out my post on “Becoming the Ideal Candidate.” Include your job duties and accomplishments as bullet points rather than in paragraph form to make them even more eye catching and reader-friendly.
6) Skills. First be sure to include your typing speed (round up if you aren’t sure of it), any languages you speak, and any common computer programs or programming languages you know, regardless of how poorly you grasp them. Then take a look at the job description for which you’re applying and see what other skills it lists as required or recommended. Add them to your résumé, and then find free online tutorials and learn them. You’re not lying; you’re being proactive.
Now is the time to take a look at the length of your résumé and pare it down to one page. If you list a lot of job duties in your work experience that you aren’t seeing in descriptions of the jobs you want, delete them. DON’T change the margins or try to squeeze more information into the same amount of space. If you have questions or need more customized assistance, email me your résumé at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll help however I can. Happy job hunting, soon-to-be grads!