Resume Advice for Recent College Graduates

You're just finishing up your bachelor's degree and are now ready to find that perfect job--as are hundreds of thousands of other fresh college graduates. Unfortunately, many of these recent grads will be competing for the same positions as you are. So how do you get a leg up on the competition? Where do you start?

The best place to start is at the beginning--your resume. Does your resume effectively communicate your value to prospective employers and hiring managers? Does your resume set you apart from the competition? Below we'll address the attributes of a winning resume for new graduates.

Resume Rules for Recent College Grads
As a general rule of thumb, a resume should never be longer than 1 to 2 pages. This is as true for aspiring CEO's as it is for entry-level job seekers. Hiring managers will expect a resume for a recent college grad to be no longer than one page. Consequently, a resume should only include information that is relevant and of interest to prospective employers and hiring managers. If a two page resume is necessary, make sure that the most important items you want seen are included on the first page.

Below we'll review the information--in order of importance--that a recent college graduate should include in their resume.

  • #1 Education - Not surprisingly, education is the number one item recent grads need to focus on--as it is their number one asset. Hiring managers evaluating recent grads for jobs want to know how their college education is going to benefit the company and is relevant to the position for which they're applying. Your resume should include degrees and certificates earned (including the name of the conferring University), GPAs (3.5 or above), special honors or awards (Deans list, valedictorian, graudate with honors, etc...). Place your college education toward the top of your resume. As you gain more professional experience, your education will move toward the bottom of your resume.

  • #2 Work Experience - There is no substitute for experience. The reality is, that as a recent college grad, you're at a disadvantage to job seekers with substantial work experience in your field. On your resume, list any experience (paid or unpaid) that relates to the job for which you're applying, including internships, assistant positions, apprenticeships, and work study. Now list any and all professional experience unrelated to the position (part-time job, summer employment, etc.) Just showing prospective employers that you have work experience (related or unrelated) is very important.

    If you're lacking professional experience, you can use any volunteer work you've completed to demonstrate your skills and abilities. Relevant volunteer work might include campaign work, event planning and coordination, teacher assisting, fundraising, newspaper editing, website development, etc.

  • #3 Skills - Provide a clearly displayed list of your technical and business skills. List all skills that you consider yourself proficient in, but don't exagerate. Place emphasis on any skills that uniquely qualify you for your career goal. Since recent college grads typically don't have a lot of real world experience, communicating the real world skills you've developed over the course of your college career is vital.

  • #4 Professional Associations - It's important early on in your college career to get involved with professional, trade and/or student associations. Participating in associations will not only provide you with relevant experience you can put on your resume, it communicates a level of interest and dedication to your long-term career goal.

  • #5 Langauge Proficiency - If you speak another language, you should include it on your resume in your "skills" section. If you're not fluent in the language, make sure to indicate that you're "proficient" in the language. Saying your fluent, when you're not, could lead to a very embarassing interview experience when your interviewer shows up speaking only Japanese.

  • #6 Honors & Recognitions - If you received any special honors or recognitions during your college career that set you apart from your colleagues, list these on your resume. Graduating with honors, Deans list, student government positions, and organization president are examples of recognitions you'll want to include on your resume.

  • #7 Presentations or Publications - Being published by a reputable source is a great way to set yourself apart from the other job seekers. While graduate students are more likely to have been published than undergrads, if you've even had the opportunity to make a presentation in a conference it's probably worth noting on your resume.

Things to Avoid
Above we've identified the most critical elements to include in your resume. Now we're going to list those things that you probably shouldn't include in your resume. These include:

  • High School Stuff - You may have been your high school's star athlete or valedictorian but that was a long time ago. What hiring managers are interested in is your college career. Focusing on your high school accomplishment only diminishes your college experiences and communicates that your college accomplishments are not noteworthy.

  • Personal Interests - Unless your personal interests and hobbies are directly relevant to the position you're applying for, it's probably not a good idea to list them on your resume. It's okay to talk about them if they come up during an interview, but leave them off your resume.

  • Personal Information Online - Be careful about what personal information you share on your resume. If you have a well developed linkedin page (see The Linkedin Strategy to Networking) it's okay to put a link to it on your resume. However, if you choose to do this, you'll want to make sure the information on your linkedin page corroborates what's on your resume--and vice versa. We also recommend taking the time to check all other social media sites that list your personal information (facebook, twitter, google+, etc...) to make sure there isn't any information that is inappropriate or conflicts with what's included on your resume.

General Resume Requirements
The following are additional items that should be added to your resume as it takes shape over the course of your career. These items may even be appropriate to include on your resume if you're a graduate student or you have substantial professional experience in your field.

  • Summary Statement - The summary statement communicates your career objective and value to the employer. The summary statement should be clear and concise, no longer than 3 to 4 lines. This section might include a title such as "Management Consultant" or "Accountant". When developing the summary statement, avoid using the person pronouns "I" or "my". It should be written with you as the subject.

  • Summary of Qualifications - The summary of qualifications quickly communicates your value as an employee. It usually include 3 to 5 bullets that list your most salient and relevant job qualifications. This is not a section to list basic competencies that you're expected to have (type 60 words a minute, proficient in MS Word, etc.)

  • List of Achievements - In our results driven world, it is becoming more and more important to show that you can achieve meaningful results. We recommend including a resume section where you list in bullet format your most relevant career-related achievements such as increased revenues, lowered costs, improved operations, or any other quantifiable contribution you made to success of a previous employer. Be honest, be specific, and provide numbers.

While a resume isn't the end all to your job search strategy, it is a first step. More importantly a poorly developed resume will close just as many doors as a good one will open. One final word of advise. Make sure your resume is customized for each and every prospective employer. Put yourself in their shoes. What type of skills are they looking for? What type of people join their firm? Make sure the resume you provide them speaks to why you're the perfect fit for their company and the right person for the job.

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