Take advice from me … why wouldn’t you?
Recruiters spend an average of six seconds looking at your resume, according to an eye-tracking study by online job-matching service, TheLadders.
Gulp, I know. You spent days, maybe weeks, painstakingly formatting the overview of your background, skills and experience. I can’t change the harsh realities of the application process, but I can offer some tips to make the most of those six seconds and maybe even draw them in for 10.
Each semester, I review about 150 resumes, and I have come to geek out on helping students transform a jumble of passive, unorganized lists into a persuasive document that demonstrates their expertise and connections.
Disclaimer: As with most writing, though, show a resume to five people, and you’ll get five different answers. Take it my suggestions below, sit with them and then DO YOU.
Read the job description, then read it again: Before you write your cover letter and resume, read the job description (or a sample job description for a role you might apply for after graduation) to get a sense of the skills and wording used.
Can you hear that? It’s the crumpling of all the application materials addressed to the wrong person, without the correct job title, and/or not tailor to the desired skills listed on the job description.
Give them what they want, in that order: You are far more than a bullet list, but employers look first for the following: name, education, current title/company (and start/end dates), and previous titles/companies (and start/end dates). Make these aspects of your resume stand out in a logical progression, and don’t forget to list experiences from newest (most relevant) to oldest (lease relevant).
Employers scan for these elements first to spot job hoppers and assess whether you meet minimum educational requirements and show a desired career progression. Don’t make recruiters work for this information with overly designed or oddly ordered resumes; it puts you at a disadvantage.
Name, contact information (address, email, phone and portfolio url) should appear at the top of your resume, followed by headings for various sections (titles vary), but they include your education, work experience, involvement (or activities), honors and skills. If you list any web addresses, you do not need “http://” or “www,” so listing samsmith.com works.
You can add social media icons, but employers will often search for you on those platforms anyway (muhaha, or maybe that’s just me :). Either way, make sure you Google yourself prior to applying for jobs to see what pops up and get a handle on your privacy settings. Oh, don’t include Snapchat, please and thank you.
Reading about resumes is boring, so I’m adding random photos. This one, from Muncie’s Goodwill. Fail on the name here, folks.
Strike your objective: I have read dozens of resume objective statements, and nearly every time, I walk away thinking, “duh, you want to be a successful public relations professional. That’s why you’re applying for this job.” Some that are longer have a bit more personality and purpose, but to them, I react: “This is great cover letter fodder.” Instead of fluffy or vapid prose about career goal, I’d rather you dedicate that space to more bullets that demonstrate relevant work experience.
Don’t box your skills: I encourage students to indicate skills within bullets below each listed work experience because it gives context to those skills. For instance, listing “InDesign” or “customer service” as skills in a random box doesn’t show me HOW you applied those skills. I’d rather read “Designed weekly newsletters using InDesign” as a bullet below a past job experience. “Microsoft Office” should never be listed as a skill, as everyone who graduates from college should have a command of Word. Also, phrases like, “team player” and such are wonderful, but again, I’d rather you demonstrate that you worked in teams within your bullets, which gives those phrases context.
A trend is to present skills graphically, so “InDesign ++++, Photoshop +++, etc.” in a neat graphic (often with colorful dots) to represent how well you know the platforms. I admit it looks cool, but what does four dots mean? And then I start to wonder, why would you list a skill with one or two bullets? These graphics often leave me with more questions than answers.
Also, don’t list classes. If you’re a photojournalism major, I assume you’ve engaged in various photojournalism courses.
Goodbye, GPA: Unless your college GPA is stellar (3.7 or above), leave it off. If it’s not there, nobody will miss it. If it is there and it’s so-so or poor, then people will notice it and wonder why you put it on there. If it’s low, employers might question your competence.
Pair action verbs with data-driven evidence: Prior to or as you write your resume, open up a web pages dedicated to action verbs. Plug in strong action verbs like develop, guide and produce to kick off each bullet with gusto. Pair those action verbs with data to demonstrate your impact. Enhance the bullet, “Led the sorority’s Kickball for Cancer fundraiser,” with data: “Led the sorority’s Kickball for Cancer fundraiser, which raised more than $50,000 for the American Cancer Society.”
If you managed a company’s Facebook page, instead of writing, “Managed the Facebook page,” you could break that down into several posts: “Developed a comprehensive social media content calendar and increased engagement from 50 likes to 300 likes in three months” (these show a dedication to planning/strategy and data-driven results). If you’re in sales, “increased sales by 30 percent” is more powerful than simply “increased sales.” Get as specific as you can.
Some Amish life advice. Sure.
Heck yes, list your job at the pizza joint: Many students put off creating resumes because they don’t have industry experience. Or, they don’t list past work experiences like lifeguarding and babysitting (because they think it looks childish), and then their resumes looks empty. Yes, you do need to seek internships and other career experience as soon as possible, but employers are looking for people with transferable skills (teamwork, critical thinking, responsible, eagerness to learn, etc.). I say, list past work experiences and tailor the bullets to be relevant to the job at hand. Working at the same pizza joint through high school demonstrates loyalty, an ability to work in a fast-paced environment, manage money, and work in teams and with the public. Sell those experiences until you can replace them with industry-driven work.
Consistency is key: I review resumes using AP Style, which you can find in an AP Stylebook or easily online. Determining a style and sticking to it ensures you are consistent in wording and punctuation. Regardless of your preferred style, I offer a few suggestions related to consistency:
- Remove excess years: Shorten August 2017-September 2017 to August-September 2017. Do add both years if the timeframe spans more than a year, so August 2016-September 2018.
- List job title, company, location and dates of employment followed by bullets. I do this for every listing, even activities, to keep the resume consistent. So, “Philanthropy chair, Delta Sigma Chi, Ball State University, August 2017-present.” For clubs, your “job title” can be “member” or the office you hold.
- Be consistent with heading sizes, dash sizes/spacing, italics and other formatting and punctuation. One space after a period, please and thank you.
- Give sections breathing room: If your resume seems crowded, it is.
- Be mindful of orphans: Don’t leave one word dangling on a second or third line. Find a way to trim the sentence to fit it on the previous line, break the line sooner or mess with the margins to make it fit.
- Spell out acronyms on first reference: You know what the NCAPCMA is, but we don’t, so please spell it out on first reference. You don’t need to include the acronym in parentheses after the full name, but you can use the acronym, if needed, on subsequent references. It’s clear what you’re referencing.
References: If you have the space, include them, but you can also submit a separate sheet of references. I’ve always done that. Also, please list how you know the person if it’s not obvious. I’ve seen references that list people not associated with the job experience listed on the resume. Keep references to about three people. Four is pushing it, and the employer often specifies the number of references required.
Send it as a PDF, titled with your name: It’s a bummer when you open up a resume (created in Microsoft Word) that looks like a 3-year-old got ahold of the keyboard. You know it’s because your Word setting are different than those of the sender, but the awful formatting makes the resume nearly illegible. Save your resume as a PDF to ensure the employer sees the correct version, and please save it with your name, “NAME_Resume” or something. Recruiters are juggling so many resumes and so many files. Titling it “resume1” makes it easier to get lost or more difficult for them to search for you.
I love dogs. Are you asleep yet?
Print it in black and white: You may send your resume in color, but some companies print off the resumes for those interviewing you. Colorful resumes might not print so well in black and white, so if you choose to add color and graphics, make sure they are easy to read/not distracting when printed in black and white.
Ditch the glamor shots: I am seeing lots of selfies and head shots on resumes. At best, they are distracting and give off the vibe that you think your appearance is important to the position. At worst, the photos are inappropriate (and I’ve seen the gamut — from low-res, poor photos to racy shots that make me blush).
Question graphics: If you are dead-set on adding a graphic or personal logo, then I would consider hiring a professional to design the mark for you. Graphic designers, you can pull off a self-created logo, but even still, I’d challenge you to let your clips/portfolio demonstrate your skills. If you’re not a designer and you add a self-created mark, it often looks bad (sorry, harsh, I know), but worse, it says to the designers in the room that you might fancy yourself a designer. I have been in interview sessions where a designer sees such a mark and is concerned the person (interviewing for a writing position) will try to insert himself in that process as an employee.
Ask your grandma to read it: You will likely work on multi-generational teams, and thus, you will likely interview with one. Ask your grandma, mom, a friend and a professor to read your resume. Especially if you are adding graphics and photos, it’s valuable to see how those “hip, trendy approaches” play with a range of audiences. The Ball State Career Center also offers one-on-one resume help and other resources.
Lastly, don’t use comic sans of papyrus.
It’s been fun. Until next time!