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!