As college seniors prepare to enter the real world in the next few weeks, they need to make sure their resume is up to par. Hiring managers usually decide if a candidate is worth pursuing after glancing at a resume for an average of 20 to 30 seconds research shows, so they need to be strong and concise.
Graduating seniors should have a tailored resume that effectively shows their real-world experience, says Cynthia Shapiro, career strategist and author of What Does Somebody Have To Do To Get A Job Around Here?
“Don’t just throw together what you have and imagine that an employer is just going to read between the lines to figure it out for you because they won’t,” she says. “You have to determine where you want to go and where you want to fit in and then tailor your resume accordingly.”
Here are four resume mistakes the experts say seniors should avoid and how they can effectively list their experiences to show they are the right fit for the position they want.
Mistake 1: Simply Listing Job Duties
While it’s important to be concise, soon-to-be grads should elaborate their responsibilities of past jobs to show how their learned skills translate to the open position.
Make sure the skills are highlighted prominently and show how they related to the job.
“Let’s say you want a marketing job and you worked painting houses during the summer, well maybe you were the person who was in charge of going out and meeting people and getting them to sign on the dotted line,” Shapiro says.
“That would be your first bullet point and anything related to marketing would be your first bullet point, even if it was only 1% of your job and then you would downplay the physical painting part.”
Mistake 2: Using Weak Verbs
In order to make limited experience stand out, choosing the right words and syntax can make all the difference.
“Someone might list ‘gave speeches as president of national association of Alpha Kappa,’ but a better way to phrase that would be, ‘elected to national association of Alpha Kappa as president and addressed audiences ranging from 50 to 100 people,’” says Laurie Brady, Ernst & Young's Americas Campus recruiting leader for assurance and global strategy.
“You can really see the difference that it’s somewhat the same thing, but how much stronger it is and how much better it will come across when you’re more quantifiable by using stronger action verbs.”
Seniors should cite specific figures to complement their accomplishments, because it shows value in their experience, says executive and career coach Meredith Haberfeld.
“As a fund raiser, if you know that you generated $50,000 for your school, you can say ‘increased collection amount by 17% year over year,’” she says. “Numbers speak far louder than words in a resume and they demonstrate the return on investment for the organizations you’ve worked for in the past and that you’re committed to bring that same return on investment to whomever you work for next.”
Mistake 3: Listing too Many Extracurricular Activities
Students and recent college graduates should only include experience garnered in college, says Brady.
“Having a one page resume demonstrates your ability to be concise and that’s so important in the professional working world,” she says.
By the same token, students should avoid including college extracurricular activities that aren’t relevant to the position, warns Shapiro.
“Companies are not going to really care about college activities such as being party master at Pi Theta Kappa, unless it’s something that’s directly related like if you were the head of the school engineering club and you’re going for an engineering job,” she says. “The other things that only mean something in the college world should all come off. “
Mistake 4: Omitting Valuable Coursework Experience
Including academic and course work can speak volumes to recruiters about a students’ experience and how they’ve been able to focus on a particular industry while in school.
“People who are just out of college should list all of the relevant courses they took that match the jobs they’re going after, they should list the projects they did that show how they can get a project done and what their work ethic is like,” says Shapiro.
Students should also include their graduation date, their degree they will earn and their GPA under the education section on their resume, suggests Brady.
“You always need to put your GPA on the resume because if it’s not there, a recruiter is going to assume that it’s below 3.0,” she says. “I would also suggest if your GPA is higher within your major, break it apart: put your GPA overall and then put your major GPA because you want to show that you can do well in your core classes, which are what you want to focus on upon graduation.”