Wow. This is really it. You’re graduating from college and heading out into the job market for keeps. You’re not looking for a summer job or an internship. You’re looking for the first step in your career.
Daunted? Don’t be. Everybody goes through it and everybody survives the experience. The key is knowing how to present yourself in the best possible light to impress a great future employer.
Here are some tips on how to write an effective first resume:
Choose the Right Format
There are plenty of online resources that will show you how to format a resume. The thing to be mindful of is that you select the right basic type, be it chronological or what is called functional. A chronological format lays out your experience in reverse date order (most recent job first), while a functional format is organized according to skills. As a relative newbie to the working world, you’d probably do best with a combination format that highlights your abilities as well as gives the basics of your employment history.
Write in Plain, Clear Language
Putting something in writing is more formal than simply saying it, but it doesn’t require you to be stilted or use $50 words when simple ones will suffice. You’re not going to fool anyone if you write that you manipulated essential components of correspondence in a timely fashion instead of writing that one of your tasks was to deliver the inter-office mail twice a day. If that’s what you did, own it. Better, of course, if you can say that you were named employee of the month because you created a more efficient way to do it.
Don’t fib about your experience or what you did on previous jobs. Hiring managers have read just about all the legitimate as well as over-hyped descriptions that there are, so it’s counter-productive to burn up thesaurus.com finding ways to describe a job you had at an ice cream shop one summer.
Being honest doesn’t mean being negative, however. State your experience in positive terms and don’t say something like, “all I basically did was scoop cones.” Say you opened and closed the shop, did inventory, or whatever is appropriate and makes your experience relevant.
Include Outside Accomplishments
If you’ve done anything not especially job-related that nonetheless contributed to your knowledge and added to your skills, absolutely include it. Did you hold a position in student government? Work on the college newspaper or yearbook where you were responsible for organizing material and meeting firm deadlines? Volunteer at a nonprofit where you were a team leader? By all means mention it.
On the other hand, don’t knock yourself out trying to describe the multitasking you did while simultaneously studying, putting on your shoes, and eating a grilled cheese sandwich as somehow related to how well you’ll do on the job.
Remember It Isn’t All About You
Your resume tells your story, true, but the potential employer reading it wants to know what you can do for the company rather than what the company can do for you. It’s great that you’re looking for a position that will allow you to fulfill your loftiest career objectives, but it’s what you bring to the table that will get you hired.
Make Your Resume Shine
With little history to go on, a future employer will be looking for clues to your work habits in how your resume is written. That’s why even though you’re not perfect, your resume should be. That means no typos, no grammatical errors, no wonky spacing, no unfamiliar words you used because they sounded good and you didn’t bother checking the dictionary. Do not rely on spellcheck unless you want to be represented by a resume that tells the world you don’t know the difference between there and their, or for that matter, they’re; they’re all real words your spellchecker will love, but obviously mean different things.
Then Do a Final Polish
Have someone else you trust read your resume carefully. Even better, consider getting a resume review from an experienced professional who will evaluate what you’ve written to make the most of what you’ve accomplished and what you have to offer. Surveys have shown that, on average, most hiring managers and executives spend a bare fifteen or twenty seconds looking at a resume. They won’t dig into the details unless you’ve made your case and interested them. You’ve just got that one chance, so make the best of it. Now go get ‘em.