If you’re a college student or recent graduate, you’ve likely already heard all the generic resume tips, such as using a standard font, creating consistent formatting and avoiding fluff words. But what should you do if you’ve tried the obvious and still aren’t getting any bites?
We asked career experts to shed light on easy ways for those new to the job market to take their resume from average to eye-catching. Make some of these simple but powerful resume adjustments to improve your chances of scoring an interview.
1. Go beyond spellcheck to catch errors.
Running a spellcheck on your resume simply won’t cut it, according to Jennifer Dillenger, director of The Space in the Mungo Center at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Dillenger says spellcheck tools aren’t foolproof because a word may be spelled correctly but used improperly.
“Get someone else, maybe a friend who was an English or journalism major, to carefully read your resume word by word and sentence by sentence to make sure it makes sense and is grammatically correct,” she recommends.
Dillenger also suggests asking your proofreader to read the resume as if she doesn’t know you and alert you to missing information or context.
2. Use keywords that employers will search for.
Businesses use specific keywords on their websites so people searching for those words on Google will find their content. It helps to have targeted keywords like this in your resume, too. Kelly Graham, director in the Office of Academic and Career Services at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia, says many companies now use digital applicant tracking systems to streamline the recruitment process.
“This means that a computer, not a person, may be determining whether or not your resume qualifies to be reviewed by a person,” Graham explains. “If you do not use the right keywords or phrases on your resume, you won’t make it past the first screening process.”
Graham says it’s key to carefully read the job posting and understand the terminology and common skills for that industry or position, so you know which keywords to use in your resume. If you’re struggling, she recommends asking career advisors, faculty or even your school’s alumni who are working in the field to help you identify the best keywords.
[Check out 8 Tips for Writing a Standout Cover Letter]
3. Focus on the skills you bring to the table.
During your job hunt, keep in mind that it’s not about what you want in a job, but what you can offer the employer.
“Some students have the tendency to describe what they want from an employer — position, experience, growth — instead of the abilities, skills and knowledge they can contribute,” says Dina Wulinsky, assistant director of career education and assessment at the University of New Haven in West Haven, Connecticut.
Wulinsky says instead of putting an objective statement at the top of your resume, create a summary of skills or a profile that highlights the skills you can offer the employer.
“Stating the skills that are pertinent to the position can help the hiring manager make the determination that the applicant is qualified for an interview,” she explains. Wulinsky adds that you should make sure the skills and qualifications stated in the job description are incorporated into your resume.
4. Use separate sections for key experiences.
Not having much real-world experience yet won’t necessarily hurt you, but you’re doing yourself a disservice if you put everything you’ve done in one section.
“If you lump all of your work experience under one ‘experience’ section heading, it makes it harder for an employer to recognize those positions or experiences relevant to that particular job,” says Emily Vees, associate director of the career center at The University of Akron in Akron, Ohio.
Rather than making one “experience” section, Vees recommends students create separate section headers for internships, volunteering, field work, co-op, clinical, practicum and any other relevant categories.
“This way, you can call better visual attention to the experiences relevant to the job, making them easier for the reader to spot as opposed to listing them all in a singular section heading,” Vees says.
Illustration by Dora Pintek.