The College Student's Guide to a Winning Resume

by | March 23, 2011

  • My Vault

By Deborah Federico

Gone in sixty seconds. Recruiters spend less than a minute reviewing your resume. With a stack of resumes to review, recruiters naturally want to make their workload easier, tossing bad resumes right off the bat.  Reasons for your resume to be quickly tossed into the “No” pile: Typos, misspellings, mismatched fonts, a sloppy appearance.  Even a resume that’s too text heavy or runs onto two pages will get thrown into the discard pile.

Every time I teach my class on resume writing, I always start the lecture with the question, What is the goal of a resume?  Is it “to get a job?” as most students will answer? To them, I say, “No, that’s not it. Eventually, someone guesses the real goal of a resume: to get an interview.  I make the marketing analogy that the resume is an advertisement about you, and you need to make the most of that 8.5-by-11-inch sheet of paper. Sell yourself to the employer by convincing them that you’re the best candidate to bring in for the interview.

So, what can you do to increase the chances that your resume will be read by the recruiter?  Follow my “lucky 13” tips outlined below, and you will produce a winning resume that not only gains the attention of the recruiter, but also garners his or her admiration.  Pretty soon your phone will be ringing with calls from recruiters inviting you in for an interview. 

Length:  Keep your resume to one page. No exceptions. 

Formatting:  Your resume should look clean and readable with plenty of white space to make it inviting.  Keep the font size consistent and use bolding or italicization for effect.  Stay away from cutesy fonts or graphics.  Some students will tell me that they want to get attention that way.  I tell them that the only attention they get will be the negative kind.  Put your energies into the content.

Contact information:   Make sure your email address is professional.  Sticking with your name is the best bet.  Again, this is not the place to be creative by using addresses like “surferdude87” or “hotchick143.”  

Put both your permanent address and school address on your resume.  If you have room for only one, put the address on that’s closest to the job location. I worked with a student once who wasn’t getting any interviews despite having a terrific resume.  The problem?  She had put her home address in New Jersey down while applying for full-time positions in Boston.

Use bullet points:  I highly recommend using bullet points on your resume.  Stick with the standard kind of bullets.  If you decide to use paragraphs, make sure you write concise readable prose. 

(Okay, by now you’re probably thinking, “How will I get my resume to stand out if it’s just like everyone else’s?”  Just keep reading…)

Use action statements:  That means starting each bullet point with an active verb (avoid words like “assisted,” “helped,” “worked” or “aided”).  Use verbs that are relevant to your industry, e.g. “design” or “create” for the fashion industry or “calculate” or “audit” for the accounting field.

Avoid laundry lists:  Don’t use phrases like “responsibilities or duties included,” then proceed to list everything you did at a particular job in one long bullet point.  First of all, this is boring to read and, secondly, you’re shortchanging yourself.  When I work with students on dissecting these long statements, we very often break them into two or three active statements , highlighting accomplishments, results and purpose.

Quantify when possible.  Numbers always make a point stronger.  For example, instead of saying something like, “service customers by answering questions, selecting appropriate merchandise and processing sales on register in order to meet sales goals,” try, “service 50 customers per shift by answering questions, selecting appropriate merchandise and processing sales on register in order to consistently meet and surpass daily sales goal of $500. 

Highlight accomplishments and results:  In the example above, the accomplishment is that this student consistently met the sales goal of $500.  When writing your bullet points, think about what you accomplished or achieved.  If you were a tutor, did you help students improve their test scores?  If you were a server in a restaurant, did your persuasive upselling techniques result in increased profits for the restaurant?  To make your statements even more powerful, start with the accomplishment, e.g., “Achieved highest monthly sales out of 10 salespeople by….”

State the purpose of what you did:  Whenever I show students how to do this, their statements always end up being so much stronger.  Think about what the purpose was of what you did, and put that at the end of your point.  Sometimes students think that what they did was insignificant, but by adding the purpose to the statement, it makes them realize that it wasn’t.  Which is better: “Researched demographic variables and environment factors in the children’s toy market”? Or “Researched demographic variables and environment factors in the children’s toy market for client’s use in new product development.”?

Prioritize your bullets:  When ordering your bullet points, always think, “If the recruiter only had time to read my first or perhaps second bullet, what would I want him or her to read?” Most students think that they have to list their bullet points based on what they did the most.  If 75% of their job involved cold-calling prospective clients, they will want to list that first.  However, if they worked on a project that was presented to the CEO of the company, then by all means, that should come first!

Categorize your Experience section:  Because work experience needs to be presented in reverse chronological order, many students are faced with the problem of having to put their current job first, which is often a part-time job unrelated to what they want to do, while they did a terrific  internship last summer and want to showcase that.  What to do?  Simply break your experience section in two:  Relevant Experience and Other Experience.

Target your resume:  Many students will have a master resume from which they create more specific, targeted resumes for the different industries they want to work in.  If a student is simultaneously pursuing internships in marketing and finance, he will have a marketing resume that has his marketing-related team projects, which uses lost of marketing keywords, while his finance resume will do just the opposite. Tip:  Look at the job description for key words to incorporate into your resume.

What to include on your resume:  In addition to your education, include work experience, both relevant and not, volunteer experience, college activities/clubs/organizations, leadership roles, team projects, skills and interests.  Interests are great conversation starters in an interview.  So often students will tell me they made a connection with their interviewer by talking about a mutual interest.  In short, your resume should provide a picture of a student who is well rounded.   A word about GPA:  the standard rule of thumb is to put it on your resume if it is greater than 3.0.

 

Deborah Federico is an Assistant Director of Undergraduate Career Services in the School of Management at Boston University. Prior to her career in higher education, Deborah worked in the corporate world, primarily doing marketing and market research. She blogs about career advice here and her LinkedIn profile is here.

Filed Under: Resumes & Cover Letters

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