Around this time of year, students begin applying for internships during the summer. And as we get closer to graduation in Spring, seniors will start sending out resumes, looking for their first jobs. Over the years, I've provided resume, cover letter, and interview coaching for many students—I started doing this career coaching during my role as adviser to Triangle Fraternity and ΑΣΚ Sorority, but I've also enjoyed helping students at Morris take that next big step. It's one more way I can serve the campus.
Having been a hiring manager for many years, I've seen some great resumes, and some that are not so great. This perspective helps me suggest what other hiring managers are likely to look for in a resume. Last year, I shared recommendations to make your resume stand out, but I'd like to address common mistakes most people make on their first resume, and ways to make your resume even better.
First, let's start with an example student: Jane Q. Student is a physics major, math minor, with a 3.355 GPA. She worked at an internship during her junior-senior break, where she did research in the field of photo-voltaic (solar) cells. During her time at Morris, she found student employment writing web pages in Computing Services. And she has some additional background in the R statistical program.
Many students write very plain resumes with very little formatting. Along those lines, here's how Jane might write her first resume: (apologies if you are reading this on a mobile device—the limited screen size might make the resume hard to read)
Let's look at this resume from the perspective of a hiring manager. In this economy, the reality is that when an organization posts an open position, many qualified candidates apply for that position. Your resume not only has to communicate your skills and qualifications, but it has to do so in a way that makes it easy for the hiring manager to find the important information. In the above example, very few visual cues call out interesting information, everything has equal weight, so hiring managers will have a hard time reading the resume.
Many candidates instead organize their resume in the form of of a table (section headings down the left column and content on the right) with the goal of making information easier to find. But it doesn't really help. Here is how the same resume might be formatted as a table:
That's still pretty hard to read.
A better way is to apply selective formatting, to emphasize the important information. For example, by organizing the resume linearly instead of in a table, you can allow for extra spacing so things don't feel so squished. Using a border around headings makes it easy for a hiring manager to skim the resume for relevant skills and background. Bold, italics, and indenting help to identify where Jane worked and what she did. Here's the same resume with the new formatting
In resumes, style matters just as much as content. Simply re-formatting the resume makes it really easy to pick out important details. Any hiring manager can quickly skim the resume to see where Jane attended university and where she worked previously. Granted, styling the resume in this way may add length, but it doesn't feel padded.
Also note that the "References available upon request" has been dropped. Hiring managers assume that if they need references, you will provide them if asked. And Jane's GPA has been shortened to simply "3.3" to make it easier to parse, instead of the longer "3.355" (hiring managers don't make much distinction between a 3.355 GPA versus a 3.3 GPA). This isn't rounding the number like you usually do in math class. (On a resume, rounding up is considered dishonest.) Rather, simply drop the portion after the first decimal place. You can talk about the slightly higher GPA during the interview.
Missing from this resume is a short description of each job in the work history, so Jane should add that. When describing your work history, use short incomplete sentences, not full prose. Hiring managers understand that you are the person described in the resume; you don't have to write full sentences such as "I did this thing" or "I wrote this program." You are assumed to be the subject.
Jane might also add some extra formatting to her resume to make it look sharp. Perhaps Jane prefers a sans serif font for the body—but for readability, my preference is to use the opposite font style for the headings (sans serif instead of serif, or vice versa). Jane might also prefer a single bottom border or uppercase text in the headings. Also, consider moving dates worked to the same line as the place worked.
Some candidates prefer to use color for the headings, but for most resumes, I advise against using colors. Remember that many hiring managers will opt to print your resume instead of viewing it online—and of those who print, many will print to black & white printers. If you choose to use colors, make sure they look okay in black & white.
Also, I'll add that if you have the option to upload a resume, and you can do it in either Word or PDF, always choose PDF. Word might change formatting very slightly in different versions of Word, leading to some things spilling to another page when you don't want them to. But PDF will always look the way you want it to, no matter the platform.
Finally: before you submit your resume, proof-read it. Then proof-read it again. And ask someone else to proof-read it for you. After they are done, proof-read it one more time before you send it in. (As a hiring manager, I can't tell you the number of times I've seen huge mistakes on resumes, spelling errors, etc … your resume is an important introduction to a new employer, make it a good one.)