It’s super exciting to graduate and leave the college world behind, but the scary reality of having to find a job can hit you pretty fast.
If you’re a recent graduate starting the job hunt, the process of giving your resume a more professional makeover can be intimidating. Where do you even start?
We can help. I spoke with Dana Leavy-Detrick of Brooklyn Resume Studio and Amanda Augustine of TopResume for some tips on how to polish yours for your upcoming job hunt. Read on for what to do — and what to avoid at all costs.
Use action verbs
When you list your responsibilities, make sure to incorporate plenty of strong action verbs. Don’t say “responsible for” — try “edited, created, managed, improved.” Avoid the passive voice, and use verbs to highlight your achievements.
Don’t use pronouns
It’s professional standard to avoid pronouns and referring to yourself in the third person. When listing your duties, don’t say “I designed a web page” or “Sam designed a web page.” Instead simply opt for “designed a web page.”
Don’t include references
Save space on your resume and leave your references off. If employers are interested, they’ll ask you to provide names during the hiring process.
List relevant skills
As an entry-level applicant, you may not have much applicable experience yet. It’s important, then, to highlight relevant skills — those specific to your industry as well as “soft skills,” such as communication, teamwork, and work ethic.
Leavy-Detrick says that listing skills that may not be directly applicable to your potential job — for instance, if you’ve done work in graphic design, have programming skills, or know foreign languages — helps to highlight your value and learning potential.
Augustine says to follow the age-old rule of “Show, Don’t Tell”: “It’s one thing to say you’re a team player; it’s much better if you can demonstrate how you’ve used this skill to produce results or contribute to the group.”
Providing concrete evidence of your skills in the other sections of your resume is a way to make yourself stand out.
You might wonder if it’s OK to include your love of hiking or travel. Leavy-Detrick says that “Outside interests can provide hiring managers with a more personal view of a candidate and the potential culture fit.” If you think your interests align with the company, don’t hesitate to include them.
Go beyond your email and phone number
Include relevant professional social media links: your customized LinkedIn, your branded Twitter/Instagram, your website. As for your address, it’s only necessary if the posting specifically requires local candidates.
Keep it professional
This seems basic, but some people hang onto their middle school email addresses forever. Um, go with michaelsmith95 instead of GatorsFan95. The same thing goes for social media. Employers are likely going to do a search on you if they’re interested, so do a sweep to make sure your public social media presence is clean and professional.
Ditch the “Objective Statement”
Nowadays, an elevator-pitch-like summary statement is more in line with what modern employers are looking for.
“An impactful summary statement talks about the value and qualifications to you bring to an employer.”
“[The Objective Statement] speaks more to your personal interests,” says Leavy-Detrick. “An impactful summary statement talks about the value and qualifications you bring to an employer.”
A strong summary statement is essentially your personal brand. It’s how you want employers to see you. Be sure to describe your background, relevant experience, and skill set. Avoid pronouns here, too. And don’t be afraid to customize this based on the position.
Augustine suggests adding a “core competencies” section to the summary: “Pair your professional summary with a professional title (just above the summary) that clearly defines your job goals (i.e. “Entry-Level Financial Analyst”) and a core competencies section (just below the summary) that incorporates the keywords for the hard skills and soft skills found in the job listings that interest you,” she says.
Do you include courses?
Internships and jobs will stand out far more than the courses you’ve taken. But you can list some upper-level courses, independent studies related to your field, or notable projects from classes if you need more substance. Never include introductory or general education classes.
List your GPA — if it’s above 3.0
If you earned less than a 3.0 grade point average, don’t include it. Be aware, however, that the question may arise during the interview process, because employers will know what’s up.
“As you progress in your field and gain professional experience, leave the GPA off, as your work history will weigh more heavily than your coursework,” advises Leavy-Detrick.
Additionally, keep your graduation year on your resume for the foreseeable future. It should stay there “until you’ve hit your 15-year graduation anniversary,” says Augustine.
Include your honors, awards, and any study abroad experience
“When you’re still new to the working world and you don’t have much experience to tout on your resume, it’s OK to use other details from your college career to promote your selling points,” says Augustine.
So, if you graduated with honors or won academic awards, list them in your education section. Likewise, if you studied abroad (and you have space), include that. A well-traveled candidate is seen as a plus, according to The Balance.
Get rid of anything from high school
Unless you did nothing in college, high school accomplishments are old news.
Highlight internships and relevant experience
Before anything else, list your internships and work experience in your field. Make sure to list “Internship” or “Fellowship” next to your job title. Include descriptions of the companies, especially if they’re not well-known.
Go ahead and list that part-time job
If you have space, include any part-time jobs you may have worked in college. Make sure to frame them in a way that fits with your career aspiration. For instance, being a cashier at a food chain includes “facilitating customer experience and order retention.” Find a way to make seemingly simple tasks stand out.
But don’t overload your resume. “It is not necessary to include everything you’ve done — and things like your babysitting jobs from high school or summer lifeguarding might be better left off in favor of discussing your academic projects in more depth,” says Leavy-Detrick.
Include your extracurriculars — but not all of them
Leavy-Detrick says that “hiring managers like to see well-rounded candidates,” so it’s definitely a good idea to list some extracurricular activities. But try to limit this to clubs where you held leadership positions, nationally recognized organizations, and organizations aligned with your desired field.
Augustine advises not to list religious or politically affiliated clubs, unless you’re applying somewhere religious or political. Greek life can be tricky. On one hand, many Greek organizations are prestigious and nationally ranked; on the other, they carry the negative connotation of partying. When in doubt, leave it off.
Keep it simple
It might be tempting to add photos and cool designs, but a crisp, simply formatted resume will do more than a jumbled, flashy one. In fact, graphics may confuse some of the scanning software that companies use.
Both experts that we spoke to advised against photos.
There’s definitely a use for colors and nice formatting, but keep the design consistent across the whole resume. Colors can be used for emphasis and lines can be used to break up sections. If you do use color, stick to just one.
“When it comes to your design,” says Augustine, “less is more. Let your qualifications speak for you,” instead of “the GIF you tried to embed.”
Check for typos and consistency
If possible, get another set of eyes to look over your resume. Someone else will be able to pick up things that you missed. And make sure your information presentation is consistent, from formatting years to bullet points.
“Nothing screams ‘unprofessional’ more than a resume that’s full of inconsistencies,” says Augustine.
Ah, the great debate. Some sources say putting your picture on your resume is the ultimate sin. Others say it doesn’t matter, because employers are just going to look for you on LinkedIn anyway. Some point out that it’s totally the norm in a lot of foreign countries, and times are changing here. Others say photos can be a cause for implicit bias.
So what’s the answer? Both experts advised against it.
“The standard for resumes in the United States is to not include certain personal information,” says Leavy-Detrick. “And that includes photographs.”
Augustine shared a TopResume study that reported headshots as one of the top 10 deal-breakers for employers.
To be safe, it’s probably best not to include a photo, but do make sure there’s one on your LinkedIn profile.
Good luck with your job hunt!