The College Graduation Benchmark
The people who most need resume guidance are those who have little or no experience preparing a resume. Many of those who find themselves in the market for their first “real” job belong in the college grad category, which includes the following:
First- and second-semester college seniors
College juniors, seniors, and others seeking internships
Campus career centers offer counseling and job-search coaching, and seniors are the most likely to take advantage of these services. First-semester seniors spend a lot of time on resumes for on-campus recruiting, career fairs, and other job-placement offerings. On-campus counseling usually produces resumes focused on what the recruiter expects, rather than the candidate's qualifications and focus.
In their urgency to create and update their resumes, first-semester seniors often overlook the assessment and research steps that lead to goal setting. Fear of focus often motivates them to avoid these critical steps to college resume-writing success.
New job candidates usually hope that a large quantity of data will overcome any issues of quality. Anxious about what recruiters want to see and hoping that something in their arsenal will get them interviews, they include everything. Myths about recruiters seeking well-rounded individuals inspire this kind of unfocused volume.
Ironically, candidates are actually screened with narrow, rather than diverse, criteria. Reviewers of college resumes are mostly on the lookout for field-focused majors, high grade-point averages, and pertinent internships.
An Internet poll of more than 500 top entry-level employers revealed that hiring employers ranked a student's major as most important (42.8 percent), followed by interviewing skills (25 percent), and internship experience (15.9 percent).
Second-semester seniors are either inspired by reactions of recruiters during the fall, or they become anxious and pessimistic because few recruiters responded favorably to their resumes. Those with goals matching the fields and functions that recruiters are looking for often use the same resume and reactive strategies through the spring semester and beyond.
Those whose goals do not match recruiters' needs, and those who cannot express their goals, get very anxious around commencement time. This anxiety often inspires unfocused, multipurpose resumes or leads to procrastination that lingers well past commencement day.
Approximately 30–50 percent of college graduates keep looking for a job after commencement. About 15–25 percent did not set goals or start their job search before graduation. For these candidates, like anyone else looking for a new job, it's important to work through the seven steps to resume success.
The assessment and research steps are particularly effective for gaining and projecting focus. This is critical; a complete, effective job search mirrors the candidate's knowledge of qualifications and field-specific competencies.
College graduates are commonly confused by misunderstood job-related data and statistics. Many feel that the top students take all the good jobs, with nothing left by commencement. In reality, recruiting seasons are on-campus anomalies. In the real world, the job search goes on well after June. Many, many candidates get their jobs three to six months after they graduate.
Here are a few common questions among recent or soon-to-be graduates:
How do I make my resume stand out? Flawless spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure. Use an appealing visual format. Emphasize professionalism. Write strong content that plays up work experience while in school, internships, coursework, and extracurricular activities, as well as any honors.
What if I don't have related experience or education? Emphasize the contributions and skills you can make or possess that are universal to all employers, and focus on transferable skills such as coordinating events, customer service, computer skills, or budget planning. Find the common thread between what you've done and what you want to do. Talk to a professor or mentor to see if they can help you bridge any relevancy gaps based on their knowledge of the workplace.
Should I include education or experiences from high school? If you are an entry-level grad, it is permissible to do so if you were a stellar student who received awards or scholarships or held officer titles in school clubs or community groups. Otherwise, focus on college experiences.
When and how do I present my most significant work experience? Lead it off directly under the “Employment” heading, but recent grads need to list education first. Use descriptive keywords that illustrate actions taken and any important on-the-job achievements.
If I had one very relevant course and project, how do I highlight both, or either? It can be set off under “Education” as “Thesis” or “Case Study.” Treat it like a work experience.
If I haven't been successful getting an interview, should I change my resume? Probably — or maybe your methodology. Ask for some critical feedback from any senior-level business professionals you know. See if anything strikes them as problematic. Compare your resume to others you can view on the Web. Assess whether you are being proactive enough in your approach or are just being a passive job seeker, waiting to be called.
My GPA in my major is higher than my cumulative average. Should I include it? Include a GPA in your major or overall GPA only if it is 3.5 or above. Otherwise, leave it for discussion at the interview should it come up.
More than any other kind of job candidate, if you are a soon-to-be or recent graduate, you must work hard on identifying and articulating your goals. Identify and analyze what you learned in the classroom and beyond. Pick out your most significant courses, labs, and projects, and present those in terms of their potential for making you valuable and effective on the job. Focus your resume and your search for a job or internship on your academic achievements, but don't forget to analyze what you've learned in terms of your personal exploration and your choice of a career field.