Now you are probably looking at the title of this post thinking, “he is an intern, this is probably his first full-time job ever, he has never had to hire someone before in his life. So what makes him qualified to know what works and what does not work on a resume?” Yes, I am only a month out of college, and yes, I have never had to hire someone to do anything (that is unless you count paying my little brother to do my chores when I was little to get out of them). But even though I am only about a month out of college, I have been applying to everything from scholarships to academic programs to part-time summer jobs to full-time internships since high school. So it is safe to say that I have had some time to perfect my craft and see what works and what doesn’t work, and trust me it took me years of practice to discover how to effectively write a resume. For some people, just like playing a sport, writing a resume will come naturally. They will find a design that they like and simply copy and paste. For others, they will spend hours and hours trying to craft a perfect document in fear that the fate of their entire professional future rests in the perfection of their resume. Well I am here to say that the process of crafting a resume is a little bit of both. When you find a particular style or format for a resume that you like and that fits your personality, run with it; don’t hesitate to throw something on the metaphorical wall and see what sticks. But also spend some time tailoring and perfecting your resume, and by that I do not mean to pull a 48 hour, no sleep marathon stressing over whether or not to bold the education section of your resume or not. In this post I hope to give all who may need it some help creating or even improving their resume, including some tips on how to make it stand out from the rest of the pile and not simply blend in with the rest.
Live In the Now
I can’t stress this enough to you, I don’t care if you won the citizenship award in elementary school or if you were a varsity athlete for your junior high school. Your parents are probably still proud of you for those achievements and rightfully so because those are big achievements during that stage of your life, but chances are your future employer will overlook these past accomplishments. We live in a world that follows the phrase “what have you done for me lately?” It took me a while to give up those awards because to me I am proud of my accomplishments, but four years playing varsity tennis or that I was won the 21stcentury leadership award at my high school doesn’t show I have experience writing press releases or have the ability to come up with an effective game plan to satisfy a client’s needs.
Basically for me, I think that including high school information on your resume takes up too much valuable real estate. It is great that you did so well at your high school, that you got a certain GPA, graduated with honors, etc. but that isn’t going to make you stand out from everyone else (unless they went to the same high school, but how can you predict that?). Making sure you stay current on whatever you put onto your resume is essential and could be the deciding factor between you and your competition getting a job.
Know Your Audience
To truly get the most out of your resume, you have to get into the mindset of who you think will be reading it. I know you won’t be able to tell me their favorite color, but you know where they work and what that business or government bureaucracy does, so play to those strengths. For example, if you are applying to work for a United States Congressman, emphasize your experience in government or in dealing with everyday people in helping to resolve problems. If you are applying to become a college basketball coach, your coaching experience is what is going to stand out more than the one summer that you waited tables at a yacht club. You hear a lot from people that business and finding a job in a tough job market is all about who you know, and I agree with that to a certain point. That will certainly help get you in the door. But it will be your experience and how you can best sell your experience in the areas that your future employers are looking for that will land you the job. One helpful way of doing this would be to look at your competition! Do they have anything advantageous that you don’t have? Try using social media sites such as LinkedIn to see how other people with the same job description have detailed their roles.
The Technical Aspect of a Resume
There are little things that can help to make your resume more current and up to date compared to your competition. For example, go ahead and leave off the part at the bottom about how you are qualified in Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint, etc. If you are a recent college graduate it is pretty much assumed that you are qualified in those programs. This is a part of the resume that is, in my opinion, starting to become out of date and becoming only relevant to the baby boomer generation that might be changing careers or looking for a part-time job in retirement since they grew up with typewriters. People in their 20’s and 30’s have had decades of familiarity with Microsoft programs and how they work, or at least are familiar with the basics. I know at least for me, I can’t even remember not using computers to complete assignments. This section has evolved into more of if you have technical program experience that could help you stick out from the rest of the crowd that just knows how to input data into a spread sheet. Knowing how to use programs like Adobe Dreamweaver (a program that allows you to build websites from scratch) could be the determining factor between someone hiring you or John Doe.
I am also personally not a big believer in an objective. Your clear objective is to work for the company or industry that you’re applying to. In my opinion, this section takes up some valuable space if your goal is to keep your resume to a page (that should always be the goal, if you’re hitting three pages you’ve gone too far!).
Do you include references or not? My general rule of thumb is if they are not asking for it, I am not going to include it. All I can say though is that you want to watch out for one major issue that is sometimes forgotten, especially by those who are writing a resume for the first time. DO NOT INCLUDE YOUR FRIENDS AS REFERENCES!!! Yes, common logic would be who can speak the best about you then those closest to you, but employers are looking for professional references. They want those who can attest to your abilities in an office and not those who can describe your Saturday afternoon watching the Flyers game. My general rule of thumb is to shoot for your direct superiors. If you work for Microsoft it would be great to get a recommendation from Bill Gates, but he probably won’t know who you are in the slightest and will write you a generic, form recommendation. You want someone who is willing to praise you more than your parents would; someone who could tell stories about you that you wouldn’t even remember from your time at that job. Also, don’t ask someone who is on the same level of employment as you. I had a friend once who did that, the company contacted him and liked him so much more when they were on the phone talking that they hired him instead of my friend. Just a warning!
Tips from the Pros
I know this is not everything, but hopefully this section will fill in the gaps:
Rhett Hintze: “Put that you went to BYU on your resume (even if you didn’t)”
Craft a compelling objective and customize it for each position to which you are applying (don’t make it generic).
Use action-oriented verbs to demonstrate your experience (E.g., Developed, Generated, Created, etc.)
When possible, demonstrate tangible outcomes with numbers/results (not just what you did).
Keep your resume to one page (less is more!).
Don’t waste valuable space by adding “References available upon request.” HR people know this and will make a request if needed.
Proofread, proofread, and proofread (if you haven’t taken time to make your resume error free it doesn’t give a very good first impression to potential employers)
Ali McFadden: “My college career center told me that there are certain things that jobs look for: leadership skills, ability to work independently and as a team, written and oral communication skills and a strong work ethic.”
Lauren Manelius: “Get at least 3 different people to edit it”
Make your contact information easy to find
If you have an online portfolio, put the link where you can find it easily
Use the journalism inverted pyramid idea – most important information should be the first thing they read.
Use modern layouts and formatting
Use the same tense (past or present) throughout the whole resume
Use active verbs to describe what you’ve done