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9 Resume Tips for College Graduates

Updated on June 17, 2012

Thousands of well-qualified recent college graduates pass out resumes to employers that significantly undersell their true capabilities. I know, because I was one of them just a few short months ago…

I worked hard in college to get good grades. I was involved in all the stuff I was supposed to be involved in and had held a few leadership positions. I had internships, relevant job experience, and had even started my own business. To top it all off, I had boo-ku’s of volunteer hours. Everything an employer could ask for, right? Application after application went out the door with no success.

At a Fortune 500 company resume-building conference, 5 corporate recruiters gave us insights on what they look for when reviewing a resume. The insight I gained through that workshop (and shared in this article) helped transform my resume and triple the number of responses I received from employers.

Purpose of Your Resume

My resume woes ultimately stemmed from a misunderstanding of a resume’s true purpose. The goal of your resume is not to get you a job, it’s to impress the recruiter enough that they invite you back for an interview. That’s where you get the job. The resume is to get you an interview. No more, no less.

Reality Check: You Have 10 Seconds

One of the most useful exercises you can do when crafting your resume is to step back and think about the human being that is going to read it. I somehow believed that my resume would receive 10 minutes of careful attentive reading through every single word.

Reality check: Every day, recruiters wake up at 6:30 am (just like you) to be greeted at their office by hundreds of job applications. They are going to spend 10 seconds (if that) looking over your resume. If they haven’t had coffee in a couple hours, they may be a little sleepy. You have a few precious seconds to make an impression on them before your resume finds its way to the trashcan.

Here’s some ways to help keep your resume out of the trash and keep you in the job hunt:

1. Accomplishments > Duties

Imagine you’re the hiring director for an NFL team. You’ve been tasked to hire a new employee. It’s Monday morning and you have 2 resumes on your desk. Who are you calling back?

Resume #1: Joe Quarterback

Takes the snap from the center. Throws ball to receivers, running backs, and tight ends. Hands off ball to running back. Calls plays in the huddle. Captain of the team. Answers questions and makes statements during post-game press conferences.

Resume #2: Peyton Manning

1st pick in 1998 NFL Draft. Elected to 11 NFL Pro Bowls. Led his team to an NFL Super Bowl championship and won Super Bowl MVP. Has thrown for 54,828 yards and 399 touchdowns with a 94.9 career passer rating. Holds an NFL record 4 MVP awards. Fastest NFL player to reach 50,000 passing yards and 4,000 completions.

You get the point. Employers don’t care what your job description was. They want to know what you accomplished. Give them concrete evidence that you were an asset to your company and how you can be an asset to theirs. If possible, give them specific numbers such as, “Surpassed first year sales goal by 27%.” That will grab their attention and get you into an interview.

2. Make It Easy to Read

No matter how impressive the content of your resume is, if it’s difficult to look at or hard to follow, it’s not getting read. Lay it out for them on a silver platter: here’s who I am, here’s what I’ve done, and here’s how I can help your business. Boom, boom, boom. Go with bullet points containing sentences that are short, concise, and to-the-point. Headings that clearly show the reader where to look for your “Experience”, “Education”, and “Skills”. The person looking at your resume should be able to instantly find exactly what they are looking for in 10 seconds or less.

3. Take Advantage of Prime Real Estate

For years, I have always had an “Objective” at the very top of my resume. Why do you need to tell the recruiter what your objective is? You are applying for the job, so your objective is already pretty obvious. You do not want the first thing the recruiter reads to be “Objective: Full-time position in finance industry.” Yawn.

The top of your resume is prime real estate and should grab the attention of the reader. Put a summary section here where you highlight key accomplishments that you want to draw attention to. Use action words and powerful sentences that directly relate to specific characteristics needed for the job you are applying for. Things like: “Award-winning college graduate with 3 years of leadership experience and demonstrated interpersonal skills.” or “Started own business that generated over $1,000 per month in net income at age 16.” Things like that catch the readers’ attention and entices them to read the rest more closely.

4. Don't Cram It on 1 Page

One of the biggest surprises for me was to hear that your resume can be more than 1 page. In the past, I’ve left off some relevant information for the sake of getting it all onto a single sheet of paper. Don’t do that. If it’s relevant to the job you are applying for, the recruiter wants to know about it. Just be sure to impress them enough on the 1st page so that they’ll actually want to flip to the next.

5. Customize Each Resume

Each position you apply for has different qualifications and skills needed to do the job. Ask yourself, what would the ideal candidate for this position look like? What kind of skills, experience or personality traits would her or she have?

Now, ask yourself how many of those skills, experiences or traits do you have? If outstanding interpersonal skills are important, highlight your work with incoming freshman students and their parents. Analytical skills? How about that data analysis you did during your internship last summer? Focus on career highlights, achievements and skills specific to the job you are writing on. It may take you a little longer, but your results will be well worth your time!

6. Look It Over

If you had a stack of 100 resumes on your desk and you were tasked to get them down to 5, would you look for reasons to keep them? No. And neither does the HR person reading your resume. It doesn’t matter if you were the Emperor of China – if you misspell a word, you’re toast. Trash can. Moral of the story: read over your resume before you send it. Even better: have a couple different people read it over for you to clarify things that don’t make sense and catch errors you may be reading over.

7. Send in Multiple Formats

If you send your resume electronically and it doesn’t open up nicely as a Word, text or PDF file, you can kiss your interview chances good-bye. I can 100% guarantee they aren’t going to spend 5 minutes converting the file or incoherent Wingdings hieroglyphics into Times New Roman. It’s getting deleted. Make sure you send it in .doc format (not .docx, which will not open on pre-2007 Office software). Just to be on the safe side, it’s not a bad idea to send multiple attachments in .pdf, .doc, and .txt. This gives the recruiter the option to open it in whichever formthey prefer.

8. Be Truthful

The recruiters told us a story of a guy who had lied about having a Master’s degree. It was enough to get him an interview. In fact, they were impressed enough with him that they were going to offer him the job. However, a background check (they always do background checks) revealed that he did not have the education he claimed. The saddest part was they were going to offer him the position even without the degree.

As tempting as it may be to stretch the truth or claim you did something a little better than you really did, the employer is going to find out about it. Even if they don’t, the last thing you want is to be put into a position you are not qualified for. Sell yourself, but don’t be untruthful. It’s bad for you and the employer.

9. Have Fun with It!

If your experience, education, GPA, and extracurricular activities were very similar to someone else’s, what is going to separate your resume from theirs? Personality. People want to hire people they like. Give your resume some flavor. Chris Spurlock’s one-of-a-kind resume (see below) got him a job at the Huffington Post. His resume may be a little extreme, but you get the picture. Stand out from the crowd. Don’t be afraid to break the cookie-cutter resume mold and jump outside the box.

Chris Spurlock's resume
Chris Spurlock's resume

It's Your Turn!

Have any of these tips worked well for you in the past? What additions to your resume have helped you land a job? Leave comments below!

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