Resume Tips for College Students and Recent Grads

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When you are a college student seeking an internship or a job, your resume can look just like everyone else's and that can make your job search a challenge.

How can you get your resume noticed when all the candidates are basically equal when it comes to their educational background? It's important, in this competitive job market, to have more than your education on your resume. A college degree in and of itself isn't enough.

What to Include on Your Resume

Even though time can be hard to find, every college student should do as many internships as possible, volunteer, work on college projects, participate in clubs and organizations on campus, and participate in activities which will not only help your resume stand out from the crowd, but will provide you with the opportunity to explore options and career paths for the future.

How to Get Your Resume Noticed

The next step is to make your resume shine. The time you spend on extra-curricular activities will be time well spent. You'll have more information to include on your resume than just your education.

The key to success is to properly present your experience so it will impress your prospective employers and help you get invited for an interview.

Helen Zucchini, Director, Career Connections at Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado at Boulder, share her tips for how to create a resume that will distinguish you from the competition:

Details Count—and Your Gut Is Usually Right

In a competitive job market, accuracy and details count. If there are misspellings, formatting errors, or grammatical errors on your resume, employers may construe this as a sign that your work habits would be equally sloppy … and immediately dismiss you from consideration. As Zucchini explains,

Make sure the formatting is consistent and text is aligned. I've seen resumes where the formatting was all over the place. Or fonts that just don't look right, colors that are off. Check grammar and spelling (the kind of stuff that spell check doesn't catch)—"they're" vs. "their"—"herd" vs. "heard" - I see this all the time.

Most of the time, you know it in your gut. So listen to your gut, and also run it by friends and tell them they HAVE to be brutally honest with you, to look at it from the perspective of hiring you—not the perspective of going out for drinks with you later!

Maybe You're Special, but Make Yourself Extra Special! 

Here’s how Helen Zucchini suggests you can rise above your competition:

“Despite what your friends and family say—you're not that special. Or maybe you are, but you're competing with a lot of other special people. Tough love? Absolutely. So when preparing a resume, highlight specific results you achieved. And make sure those are the results that matter to the person who's going to be interviewing you. And show that you understand the job is about doing something for the company, not the company doing something for you. Your passionate interest in becoming an ad executive isn't enough to make you a great candidate for the job.”

Solve Problems and Set up Some Stories

“Employers want to hire people who can demonstrate they are problem solvers. Create your resume with specific scenarios that demonstrate how you solved a problem, whether it's with internships or college projects. Don't just write what you did; transform that into how you did it and show how the way you think can help the organization with which you're interviewing.

Another tip: setting up your resume like this will give you interesting, compelling things to talk about with the interviewer. Stories and projects are way more engaging than a list of duties. It will make you feel more comfortable, and it will make the interviewer more interested.”

Emphasize Your Accomplishments

If you’re wondering how to implement this advice on your resume, a great strategy is to incorporate a resume summary statement at the beginning of your resume where you showcase your greatest accomplishments in college, as a community volunteer, or in an internships or jobs you have held.

A second opportunity to emphasize your achievements is in the “Experience” section of your resume. Use a brief narrative paragraph to describe the responsibilities you held in your work experiences, but then follow this paragraph with a bulleted list of two or three contributions you provided or problems you solved as an employee.

The Critical Element of Resume-Writing: Getting It Read

Communications are essential when it comes to landing your first “real” job, according to Zucchini:

“You can have the best resume, but when it's stacked with hundreds of others it needs to get noticed. In other words, your resume, no matter how good, won't do all the work on its own. You put the time in to make it great, now make sure you also make it seen. So network. Networking also takes work - but it's much easier than most people think. People are always surprised at how many friends and neighbors have great contacts, and how many of those contacts are perfectly happy to chat with you.

Also ask your career or alumni office, friends, parents, and professors to introduce you to people in your area of interest (marketing, banking, energy, etc.) and tell them you are a student wanting to learn more about what they do, how they got into their industry. Offer to buy them a coffee — people love talking about themselves, and this is a great way to get in front of key decision makers while also learning about the industry or career.”

Other good ways to network include attending job fairs (resume in hand) and setting up a professional LinkedIn account.

Key Takeaways

STRIVE FOR PERFECTION: Take the time to ensure that the content of your resume and its accompanying cover letter is perfect, free of grammatical, spelling, and formatting errors.

SHOW AS WELL AS TELL: Rather than simply listing your educational and internship / work background, include descriptions of your most important achievements to date – whether in the classroom, as a volunteer, or as an employee. Quantify these achievements with numbers or percentages if possible.

NETWORK: Tell everyone you know that you are officially on the job market, just in case they know of interview opportunities. Actively attend job fairs, set up a LinkedIn account, and reach out to professionals in your industry for advice.