A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a resume is worth so much more. Your resume is often your first introduction to a potential employer, and the difference between a stellar resume and a lackluster one could make or break your chances at landing that killer job or internship. Whether you’re putting together your first resume or trying to polish up one you already have, HC is here to help your resume land in the “yes” pile. We’ve talked to college career counselors who know what employers want from applicants’ resumes and gathered the best tips to make yours stand out from the crowd.
1. Make a different resume for each job or internship you apply for.
We know what you’re thinking—you already have to fill out separate applications and write separate cover letters for jobs and internships; do you really have to write separate resumes, too? Christy Walker, assistant director of University Career Services at UNC-Chapel Hill, says yes.
“The best resumes…are written specifically towards the job they are applying for,” Walker says. Your stint on the school newspaper isn’t going to look as impressive as your work in a lab if you’re applying for an engineering internship, so don’t include the newspaper experience just to fill up space—stick to related experiences and save the newspaper gig for if you decide to apply for a media internship, or at least put it further down on the page.
Tim Stiles, an associate director of University Career Services at UNC-Chapel Hill, suggests creating a master resume of everything you’ve done. Then, you can take a look at the description listed for each job or internship you’re applying for and copy and paste your most relevant experiences into a new resume specifically for that position. When you tailor your resume specifically towards one job, “you’re always going to grab someone’s attention that much more,” Stiles says.
2. Don’t get too fancy with the layout.
It seems impossible to stand out from the crowd when everyone’s resume looks exactly the same, but having too many complicated graphics or fonts could make your resume stand out in a bad way. Most employers just want to see a clean, readable summary of your experience.
If you’re majoring in a creative field such as graphic design, it’s okay to show a little bit of your creativity with your resume layout, but keep it simple—save displaying all your artistic skills for your portfolio.
“I’ve talked to people in the creative fields a lot of times and they said, ‘I still want that kind of one-page summary,’” Stiles says. “Most people want to size somebody up quickly, and then if they bring them in for an interview they say, ‘Bring your creative stuff. But I want to know what you did first before I can make a judgment on that.’”
Not to mention, many companies use a program to scan resumes into their computer system. Not all complicated fonts and graphics will translate into the program, which could potentially make your design look more jumbled and illegible than aesthetically pleasing. “It can be a bit of a mess,” Stiles says.
For collegiettes applying for positions in creative fields, Stiles suggests creating a website or online portfolio to show off your design skills and including a link or a QR code to that website on your resume. That way, you can keep your resume simple but still offer the employer a view of your artistic side.
3. Make it one page—that’s it.
Hiring managers are busy people; they don’t have time to read pages and pages about someone’s work experience, particularly if certain items in it aren’t relevant to the job description. “Don’t put your whole life story on your resume,” Walker says. “Keep it to one page on one side.”
Not sure what to cut out to make your resume fit on one page? Start by getting rid of information about what you did in high school, especially if you’re a junior or senior in college (that was three or four years ago—it’s time to move on). “Employers want to know: ‘What have you done since then?’” Stiles says. “There might be something so stellar [you] did in high school that we want to keep it on, but for the most part people are more interested in… what’s happened over the last two or three years.”
4. Include your jobs that “weren’t important” (if you need to).
Good news: that waitressing gig you had last summer could have been worth more than just some extra cash! If you don’t have enough related experience to make your resume last an entire page, start by looking back on the part-time jobs and other activities you’ve done that might not seem relevant to the position you’re applying for.
Sure, maybe your summer as a barista didn’t lend itself to any hard skills relating to the public relations internship you’re applying for. But, for example, if you were so good at your job that you were sent to other cafes to train new employees, including that information will show the employer that you have a great work ethic, you rose above your standard responsibilities, and you’re good at communicating with others.
“Often I find when I start digging in with students, there’s always interesting stories like special projects people took on, things they do over and above just because they get bored and want some stimulation, some challenge,” Stiles says. “Showing that you can accomplish things and make things happen—people want to hire people like that. They want to know that somebody can run with something and get it done and do a good job at it.” Get brainstorming and remind yourself about how awesome you were that summer you worked at the mall!
5. Arrange descriptions into concise bullet points that still pack a punch.
Once upon a time, you may have taken a literature class that taught you about the power of lengthy, flowing descriptions. Now, take all of that information… and forget about it. When it comes to your resume, “complete sentences can go out the window,” Stiles says. Again, employers don’t have time to read through long paragraph descriptions in your resume, so use bullet points with short sentences to describe your experiences.
“The critical piece to remember is to be able to say what you want to say in those bullet points…in as few words as possible without losing syntax, the meaning, and without losing the power and relevancy to the reader,” he says.
Although you need to be concise with your bullet points, make sure you’re still thoroughly presenting what exactly you did in your jobs, internships, or leadership positions. “We like to see built into the bullet itself not only what the person did, but put it in context,” Stiles says. “Who were they doing it for? Why were they doing it? Whoever they handed it off to, how was it used? Did they produce any kind of results because of their actions they took?”
To make sure your sentences have the most impact, start them with action verbs, such as “managed” or “supervised,” instead of personal pronouns (e.g. “I managed” or “I supervised”). “(Action verbs) grab the reader’s attention,” Stiles says. It’s also important to quantify things you did whenever possible. For example, if you’re an engineering student who worked on a production line in a factory, including that you “increased line efficiency by 25 percent” is more impressive than just saying you “increased line efficiency.”
So instead of doing this for your descriptions:
- For my internship at Her Campus, I wrote interesting articles. I also wrote posts for a few blogs. I also helped out by working with social media.
- Wrote two articles a week.
- Wrote “The Best Resume Ever: 8 Tips on How to Write It,” which was the most-read article in March 2013.
- Wrote three posts a week for Her Campus’s News Blog and Pop Campus blog.
- Managed the company’s Pinterest account (under the supervision of the Manager of Operations) in order to drive traffic to the site.
6. Don’t just write job descriptions; write about what you accomplished.
In the “Experience” section of your resume, it may seem like you should just list your daily tasks under each position you’ve held. However, Stiles says that “that’s what we don’t want.” Your daily tasks are important to include, but if you don’t write about what you specifically did, you’re just listing the same things that every other intern did… and definitely not standing out from the crowd.
Instead, concentrate on what you accomplished in those past positions that sets you apart from all of the other former interns, employees, or club officers. For example, Stiles says, if you talk about your position as treasurer for your sorority, don’t just talk about what a treasurer does; talk about what you did as treasurer. “What happened on your watch? How did you make life better for the next treasurer?” he says. “That’s really important: to say how I take something and run with it when someone gives me that opportunity.”
So instead of writing this:
Fundraising Chair, Sigma Sigma Sigma Sorority (Aug. 2012-present)
- Organized fundraisers throughout the school year.
Fundraising Chair, Sigma Sigma Sigma Sorority (Aug. 2012-present)
- Exceeded the chapter’s yearly fundraising goal by 50 percent.
- Organized the chapter’s first ever charity 5k, which raised $5,000.
- Managed a team of 10 committee members.
7. ALWAYS use correct spelling and grammar.
We don’t want to patronize you—you’re a smart, savvy collegiette, so of course you know how to spell and use correct grammar! But mistakes can happen to the best of us, so don’t get careless and forget to double check for language slip-ups—employers won’t be too impressed by a lack of attention to detail. “I still see spelling errors and grammatical errors on resumes much more than I’d like to see, especially even from some juniors and seniors,” Stiles stays.
Make sure your exceptional grammar compliments your exceptional experience. Did you catch the error in that sentence? Spell check didn’t. Don’t rely on spell check to correct every mistake in your resume (like using “compliment” instead of “complement”), because it doesn’t catch everything. And don’t rely on your own editing, either—enlist the help of a friend (or two, or three!) or a career counselor to double check your resume for errors. “You just get too close to the document sometimes that you can’t see [errors],” Stiles says. “That second set of eyes, third set of eyes are going to catch things like that.”
8. Stop by your school’s career center.
There’s no such thing as a “one-size-fits-all” resume. A resume for someone applying to an internship at an art museum will look very different from one for someone applying to a chemical engineering job. Ultimately, what you put on your resume and how you format it depends on the job or internship you’re applying for. If you have a career counselor look over your resume, he or she will be able to offer more advice about resumes for your specific field, including which experiences to include and which to leave off. The career counselors know what they’re doing—they did get hired to offer career advice, after all!
Perfecting your resume may seem like a daunting task, but with HC’s tried-and-true resume tips, yours is sure to stand out from the pile. Be sure to check out our sample resume for even more tips! Happy job/internship hunting!