So you’re ready to start a new career, and suddenly realize that your professors didn’t teach you something really important: how to apply to your first job. Because of sites like LinkedIn, AngelList, and Craigslist, it’s easy to find job listings, but it’s harder to stand out when so other applicants can easily find the same positions.
So here are 10 basic rules-of-thumb when writing an entry-level resume. You’d be surprised how many college graduates don’t even proofread their resumes, so following these simple steps will make you look really professional in the eyes of your potential employers.
1. Keep it to one page
The multi-page resumes are for working professionals with more than a decade of experience. Now that it’s graduation season, HR departments are getting tons and tons of entry-level applicants, and only have the time to quickly skim your resume, if that. So keep it to one page.
2. Customize your resume for each job
This may be time consuming, but it’s worth it. For example, if you’re applying for a research position at a pharmaceutical company, you might want to leave out the experience you had as a graphic design intern one summer. It’s irrelevant, and a waste of space on the only page you have to work with. However, if the job description calls for you to make brochures using InDesign, it would make sense to include your design experience.
3. Keep it chronological
There are two main resume formats. Chronological is when you list your work experience in reverse order, so that’s from most recent backwards. Functional is when you list your experience by relevance to the job you’re applying to. It’s best for a college grad to list their internships/jobs in reverse order of dates, because it’s easier for the HR recruiter to follow your work timeline. You may not have developed specific skills sets yet, such as sales AND marketing AND account management, so a functional format wouldn’t work unless you’ve been working for years.
4. Highlight your accomplishments, rather than day-to-day tasks
This one’s important. Let’s face it: you thought answering phones and filing were the most boring tasks imaginable. Well so do the HR recruiters, if you write it that way. Instead, say something like “Created a filing system that increased the company’s research efficiency.” Never lie, but think big picture. Even though you didn’t realize it at the time, all that filing and organizing you did made it easier for your superiors to access files and get their jobs done more quickly. But you probably never thought of it that way.
5. Bullet point those accomplishments
You want to make your resume as easy to read as possible. Bullet point each accomplishment under each job instead of writing one large paragraph. Again, an HR person will only have the time to skim your resume if you weren’t referred to them internally, so big blocks of text will not make it easy for them to put you in the “yes” pile.
6. Spelling errors are a BIG NO NO
I’ve spoken to several HR people and read a lot of books that included quotes from recruiters, and they all say the same thing. Resumes with typos will go straight into the trash. Attention to detail is a skill that many jobs require, and if you couldn’t make time to reread your resume, how are you going to make time to reread that press release on the job?
7. Your educational experience goes at the BOTTOM
Yeah, your education was the last four years of your life, so it seems important to you. But employers typically want to know what your work experience is first, so put that way up top. If you’re writing a CV, that’s different, and is more focused on research and educational experiences. But since I’ve never written a CV, I’m not going to get into that here.
8. Have a “skills” section
Since it’s best to list accomplishments rather than day-to-day tasks at each job you’ve had, a section on your skills would help to include what you couldn’t fit in your bullet points. So if you know how to use HTML, Excel, and PowerPoint, and you are fluent in Spanish and French, this is where to fit in that information.
9. Don’t have an “objective” section
As an entry-level college grad, you don’t want to box yourself into a corner, and an objective statement is the first way to do just that. Say you’re applying for a position that filled up yesterday, but the position is still listed as open on the website. If there’s a position open in sales that your skills would qualify you for, but you had the objective of being a “media planner,” your resume will probably go in the trash instead of being forwarded to the sales department.
10. DON’T LIE
I’ve already spoken to people who are listing things that are better or a severe exaggeration from what they really did, with the excuse that a “resume is just a conversation starter.” Wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. You will get caught in the interview when you can’t answer a question about something you included in your resume. You will be embarrassed. And you will have wasted your time as well as the employer’s time, so you’ll probably never be hired there in the future.