Thousands of college grads are about to dive headfirst into the job market. While hiring for the class of 2016 is supposed to be up 5% this year over last, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, competition for entry-level jobs is still fierce, and a killer resume can be key to getting your foot in the door. But when your previous work experience is slim, how can you craft a document that convinces would-be employers you’ve got the goods?
Even if you’re still green professionally, your resume should make it clear what kind of job you want and how your skills will help you succeed in that role. “Ask yourself: If I handed the resume to someone who knew nothing about my college major or career direction, could they easily identify the type of role I’m targeting and why within the first 30 seconds?” Amanda Augustine, now a career advice expert for TopResume, told Business Insider.
Having a resume that clearly highlights your relevant skills and leaves off the fluff is sound advice, but recent grads and other entry-level job seekers may struggle to put it into practice. When your experience consists of a mix of part-time jobs, class projects, and extracurricular activities, how do you cram it all into a coherent resume that will land you the job? For more advice on things you must have on your entry-level resume, as well as what you should leave out, read on.
1. The right contact information
Screwing up the contact information portion of your resume is surprisingly easy to do. In addition to triple-checking phone numbers and other details, you also want to make sure the information shared presents you in a positive light. Your email address should be professional – not something like “2poopy4mypants,” a real email username encountered by a hiring manager surveyed by CareerBuilder.
2. Links to your professional profiles
Include a link to your LinkedIn profile at the top of your resume, near your other contact information. If you’ve set up an online portfolio, include a link to it here as well.
If you don’t yet have a LinkedIn profile, now is the time to create one. Nearly 90% of recruiters surveyed by Jobvite said they used the professional networking site when researching candidates. But be sure to double-check all those resume links before you hit send. One hiring manager surveyed by CareerBuilder said they’d received a resume where the link to candidate’s personal website went to a porn site.
3. A summary statement
Because you haven’t been in the workforce for decades, it’s not as obvious to employers who you are and what you bring to the table. A brief and focused summary statement puts your experience in context and explains what you have to offer the company. Consider giving yourself a title, like Marketing Specialist or Project Manager, to better convey your professional identity, suggested Pamela Skillings of Big Interview. Then, write three or four lines expanding on your skills and experience.
“A summary section helps portray you as a professional, a specialist, and an expert. By writing a lengthier summary section you are saying: ‘I am a qualified expert in industry X and I have skill and knowledge to offer you,’” Howard Davies, a professional resume writer, wrote in an article for Undercover Recruiter.
4. Your education and relevant coursework
Just after graduating is likely the only time in your career when you’ll want to put your education before your work experience on your resume (otherwise, it should go at the bottom). You may also want to include information about any relevant coursework. But don’t overload this section with a laundry list of every class you’ve completed.
“Only keep that subheading if the classes you list are, in fact, relevant or send a message to the recruiter,” Lily Zhang, a career development specialist at MIT, wrote for The Muse. In other words, a brief explanation of your senior capstone project might help a hiring manager understand what you can do, but a list of every class required for your major is probably not useful. Another option is to share links to relevant school-related projects on your LinkedIn profile or professional website, rather than including them on your resume.
Should you include your GPA? Opinions differ. In certain industries, especially technical fields, employers may use GPA to screen entry-level candidates. But in other fields, like graphic design and marketing, your GPA probably isn’t as relevant, according to Simply Hired. Another option is to simply note if you graduated with honors, rather than listing a specific GPA.
5. Your extracurricular activities
Listing relevant extracurricular activities can be a great way for a recent grad to flesh out a thin resume. Someone who’s looking for a job in journalism would certainly want to note that they were on the staff of their college’s daily newspaper. An active role in the student chapter of your industry’s professional society demonstrates your interest in the field. Leadership roles in Greek organizations or other campus groups are another way to highlight your skills, and may also spark a connection with a recruiter or hiring manager. Just don’t pack your resume with fluff. You can probably leave off your membership in the Harry Potter Appreciation Society (a real club at Australia’s University of Adelaide).
Many employers also like to see volunteer work on a recent grad’s resume. “I’m impressed with individuals that have some volunteer experience,” Khalil Robinson, a regional recruiter with Asbury Automotive Group, told Career Builder. “I think it tells you a lot about their character.”
6. Your previous work experience
If you have relevant work experience, like an internship in your field, you obviously want to highlight it on your resume. But even if your only job experience is working the checkout desk at the college library, consider including it on your resume. Some experience is better than no experience, even if it’s not directly connected to the job you’re applying for, since it shows employers you’re responsible and dependable. But don’t feel the need to list every part-time job you’ve had since age 16. Instead, highlight those jobs where your responsibilities in some way align with your career goals.
“For example, if an ad states that communication skills are important, think about times when your communication skills came into play,” Sue Campbell, a professional resume writer, told Monster. “If you worked in any customer service-related position, you definitely used communication skills.”