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10 Ways for College Students and Recent Graduates to Improve Their Resume Right Now

Updated on February 22, 2010

How Can My Tips Help Your Resume?

I have been helping dozens of my friends and co-workers write and improve their resumes for several years now, as well as purchasing and reading some of the most popular resume advice books, so I am well-informed on the basics of good resume development. I have also seen many of the same mistakes over and over again, which shows that young adults are not learning some very valuable resume skills like they should be.

With employment reaching 10% in the US, the few places that are hiring are truly looking for every excuse to throw out resumes in order to whittle down the applications to their job openings to a more manageable number. Your goal will be to not get rejected based on your resume, make it to the interview round, and you'll need to take it from there, with a stunning personality and killer work experience.

Without further ado, I present to you 10 ways you can edit your resume right this very instant and improve it tenfold. These tips could very well be the advice you need to get a call from the human resources department of your desired employer this very week! How's that for instant gratification?

1. Remove outdated and unnecessary punctuation

Open up your resume file right now. I'll wait. Okay, everything that you underlined? Remove the underlining format and italicize it instead. Underlined text looks outdated and makes the text look more difficult to read.

If you are using any asterisks (*) or tildes (~) or any other punctuation for unordered lists, remove them and replace them with a simple, solid circle or square bullet. Every recent text editor should have a bullet option for unordered lists, and it will line up the margins neatly for you too, an added bonus.

You definitely should not be using ampersands (&) or plus signs (+) in your resume either, unless they're a part of the actual name of a place/company. Remove them and write out the word instead.

2. Take out any personal informaton

Your age, ethnicity, Social Security number, sex, religion, weight, height, marital status, number of children, and anything else not directly relevant to employment should be taken off your resume. This step is especially surprising for many foreign workers applying for American-based jobs, because this information is often included on job applications in other countries.

However, in the US, discrimination based on age/sex/religion/national origin/ethnicity and marital status (especially if you are a single mother) is a very real concern and is taken seriously by all prudent human resources departments. They will most often throw out your resume if they see any of this information on it, to avoid being accused of job discrimination later down the line. If you've included anything like this, take it off right now!

3. Order sections in the most advantageous way

Most people have similar resume sections, such as "Education," "Work History," "Volunteer Experience," "Organizations/Affiliations," etc. However, these sections should not be in the same order for everyone. Instead, they should be listed from strongest to weakest, in terms of how well they should you off in the best possible light. Make the person who reads your resume see the best things about you first.

For a student with little work experience, Education - Organizations - Volunteer Experience (if applicable) - Work Experience would be ideal. For a working student, still list education first, as long as it's post-high school education (even if you are still working on your degree), followed by work experience, then volunteer experience and/or organizations and leadership experience, if applicable.

The longer ago college and any post-bachelors education was for you, the farther down on your resume it should go, unless you are applying for an academic job. And as your career develops, the Work Experience section should take up more and more room on your resume.

4. Put your best GPA forward

No, I don't mean lie, but you do have some options on how to present your GPA, a choice that most people don't realize. Figure out your overall GPA (the one listed on your transcript), your major GPA (for only the classes directly relevant to your major), and your GPA for all classes within the same core subject (for example, all the business courses you took, if you are an accounting major, or all your theater classes if you are a scenic design major). Then, list your highest one on your resume.

The only thing you can't do is leave certain classes out of your calculation just because they lower your GPA, or calculate it in a way that's not representative of your cognitive ability (for example, computing your 100-level courses GPA and writing down that). Choose one of the three choices above, make sure it is correct, and be ready to explain which one it is during an interview. They will understand, but a higher GPA than you otherwise would have put down may just get you that interview.

Cubicles in corporate America
Cubicles in corporate America

5. When and how to include your GPA

If your highest GPA calculated using the three methods above is not a 3.0 or better (unless you have a non-4.0 grading system), leave it off, and be prepared to explain in an interview what it is and why it's not higher. However, leaving it off and the resume reviewer thinking it could be low is better than displaying your 2.5 and removing all doubt (and all hope of working for that company.)

If your GPA is not based on 4.0 scale, list it out of its whole scale to avoid confusion, such as 4.1/5.0, or 2.3/3.0. If your school only gave letter grades, show some initiative and compute it yourself. It can vary slightly, but an A is usually 4.0, an A- 3.7, a B+ 3.4, and so on.

Finally, GPAs can and should be rounded to the tenth place, or one number after the decimal. That means you can round up your GPA if the second digit after the decimal is 5 or higher. A 3.45 thus magically becomes a 3.5 on your resume. Congratulations!

6. Trim your resume to one page

Unless you are a corporate employee at the executive level (which you aren't, because then you wouldn't need to read this), your resume should only be one page long. This is doubly important for those applying to work in corporate America, where employers will be disgusted to see your triple-spaced, three-page-long resume and will throw it out without reading a word.

Now, there are some tricks to fitting more on one page. Change the margins on all sides to about half an inch to give you more text room. Everything can be single spaced, with two breaks between sections. The font size can be as small as 10 or 11, as long as it is still completely readable. Ideally, your resume should now fit on one page.

If it still doesn't fit, you're including too much or not being concise enough in your wording. Read on.

7. Streamline your work history

Think of your resume as a presentation, where every single element on that resume should sell your strengths, directly aimed at the needs of the company you are applying to. If something is not selling you, take it off.

In other words, this means that every job you ever worked does not need to go on your resume. Include only the ones that provided you the most experience and skills to aid you for your prospective new job. Note that this means list the most relevant jobs, not necessarily the most recent ones. The exception is if you have a very limited work history, in which case you will need to include most of your past jobs to show you have some sort of experience.

Take off any mundane job responsibilities, too, unless these tasks are all you did. No one will be impressed that you took out the trash or ran errands.

Don't ever lie about your former employment beginning and end dates (which are easy for a resume checker to verify, through a quick call to your former employer), but you can list them by just the year, such as 1999-2001, followed by 2001-2005, even though the actual dates might have been quitting on January 2, 2001, and not getting a new job until December 30, 2001.

8. Remove the references section

You do not need a section titled "References," "Personal Endorsements," or any similar heading. The person who reads your, and any person's resume, will assume you have references available on request, so you don't need to write that, either. If they want them, they will ask you for them, so take them off your resume. It takes up valuable space we could be using for better things, and no resume was ever turned down because it didn't have references listed on it.

9. No one cares what clubs you were in

No one cares that you were in the Chess Club or Future Farmers of America, or anything else - unless you held a leadership position. It's very easy to pay dues and join an organization, to the point where the information is meaningless to a potential employer. However, holding a leadership position means you took the time to possibly campaign, give a speech, and win the election. It also probably means you spent enough time with the organization that you learned a thing or two both about the club's purpose, and about leadership in general.

To sum it up, take off the clubs you weren't a leader in, but add back in all the ones you did hold a leadership position in, even if they were freshman year in college and you're about to graduate. Just be ready to explain the position and your responsibilities and accomplishments during your time there if you are asked about them in an interview.

10. Test scores do not belong on a resume

Remove your SAT/ACT/AP/GMAT/LSAT/MCAT and any other scores from your resume unless you were specifically asked to include them in the job application. Employers want to see what you accomplished over several years, not how well you performed on one Saturday morning. The only possible exception (other than the prospective employer saying to put them down) is if you are applying to a college or university, or for a job where your test scores are directly relevant (Kaplan tutor, anyone?)

Plus, including your scores when they are irrelevant an uncessary makes you look pretentious. And you don't want your possible employer to think that of you.


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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      loved this, are making changes to my resume as we speak. I'll also be sure to pass this information to my peers, it is greatly needed!

    • Dao Hoa profile image

      Dao Hoa 

      9 years ago

      Very good advice. I will forward to my children now because they are going to graduate this year. Thanks.

    • barryrutherford profile image

      Barry Rutherford 

      9 years ago from Queensland Australia

      good advice !


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