Dear Matt: I’m a recent college graduate who is struggling to get interviews. I have sent in over 30 resumes and applications but haven’t received one call for an interview. What am I doing wrong?
Matt: I still remember the very first resume I ever sent after graduating from college. I applied for a research position with a local business publication. I never got a call. And I know exactly why. In fact, I am 100 percent certain the person never read past the first sentence of my resume. Why?
Because my opening statement included this language: “Seeking entry-level opportunity that will help me advance my career.”
What’s wrong with that?
First, it made it about me. I get it. You are excited. You worked hard to graduate from college and are now eager to start your career. But if you learn one thing from this article learn this:
A resume is never about you!
How so? Isn’t a resume my career biography? The document that tells employers why they should hire me?
A resume is not about you. It’s also not a career biography. It’s a marketing document that quickly tells the employer that you may have the skills and background that fit their needs. For that research position, a more appropriate summary statement should have been:
Recent college graduate with 3 years of award-winning college newspaper leadership experience seeking opportunity as research coordinator for business publication.
In that summary I would have showed them:
- I had college newspaper experience.
- I had leadership experience (resume would show I worked as an assistant editor)
- I was part of a team that won a few college newspaper awards.
- And that I am directing this resume exactly to this position.
The reality is this:
A resume should show that you have skills, experiences and a background that would fit a specific job opening – their job opening! It’s about how you can help the next employer fill their needs and solve their problems. Their problem is they have a job opening. They need someone to fill it. That person, whether it’s you, or someone else, should use the resume to show the employer that you have the skills, achievements and combination of soft and hard skills that would entice them to bring you in for an interview. Then in the interview, the employer can learn more about you, see if you truly are who you say you are, and most of all, find out if you are the right fit for the position, with the team you would be working with, and within the company culture.
The second thing to remember is this: The resume doesn’t get you hired. It does though, help you get you an interview.
“Recruiters view the resume as the trailer to the movie, with the movie being the interview to learn more about a candidate’s skills and personality,” says Stephen Patchin, director of Career Services at Michigan Technological University.
When Patchin and other career services professionals work with college students to create their resume they first have them watch a video of Michigan Tech Career Services Advisory Board recruiters discussing what they look for in a resume.
“Students get a feel for the content and presentation style recruiters are looking for,” says Patchin. “Corporate recruiters want them brief (one page), filled with meaningful information and not wordy, with specific information they need to move them to the next step – the interview where they can show their full length movie,” says Patchin.
Let’s focus on how recent college grads can market their skills on an entry-level resume.
“For new college graduates, creating a winning resume can be a huge hurdle, especially since many first-time job seekers lack real-world experience,” says James Clift, CEO of VisualCV, an online resume building platform. “The good news is that when hiring managers are looking at entry-level job candidates, they’re looking for talent, not necessarily proven work performance.”
A recent college grads resume should go back to freshman year of college, not before, says Julie Desmond, Career Architect with Human Capital Partners LLC, a career transition and talent acquisition services firm.
In addition to education and any internship information, an entry-level resume should also include all those jobs worked while in college: Waiter, cashier, janitor, teaching assistant, research fellow, CEO of the painting service you ran out of your dorm room.
“The seemingly unrelated jobs, the ones you worked to make the rent and to make spending money, are the positions that show you’re a go-getter, a do-er, someone who is reliable, understands how to work with other people, and can learn new tasks,” says Desmond.
When my nephew graduated from college and interviewed for entry-level finance positions, his resume was filled with an impressive list of project work, internship and volunteer experience. But what stood out to employers the most, and what was discussed more than anything during the interview process was the section of work experience highlighting his one summer of experience working in an Alaskan salmon cannery. Employers weren’t overly concerned or interested in talking about the sales and communication skills he developed in his internship with a large insurance company. They didn’t care so much about the job shadow he did with an experienced finance professional. They didn’t care about how he made the Dean’s list every semester. But they couldn’t wait to hear about his experience working 14 hour days with people from all over the world, cleaning, gutting, and processing salmon, sleeping in cramped dorms with people he had never met before and working long hours in tough, stinky, wet conditions.
“When you’re just starting out, no one expects you to have much experience,” says Desmond. “They just want to know you’re capable of showing up, getting along, asking questions, following directions and participating.”
If someone can show up to a job in a salmon canning factory everyday like my nephew did, they can certainly show up for a job that has less demanding requirements.
Here’s another tip: Your education and class work is important, but employers want to learn more about you and what you did outside the classroom. Because every college graduate went to class, earned their degree, and proved they can graduate. But those other activities – working at the school newspaper, serving on student senate, becoming president of the sales and marketing club, participating in college sports, leading an annual food drive, all show the little extra drive employers crave.
So entry-level resumes should also highlight extracurricular activities. That summer spent studying abroad will get more attention than a 4.0 grade-point-average. Did you play on the college softball team? Were you a captain or did you receive an award (hardest working, most improved)? Highlight those elements in a bulleted profile section at the top of the resume that highlights four to six key accomplishments outside the classroom. In addition, be sure to highlight any unique skills such as proficiency in Excel, knowledge of HTML, or being fluent in a second language, says Clift.
“When you’re an entry-level job seeker, it’s expected that you won’t have a ton of work experience under your belt,” says Clift. “However, hiring managers still want to see that you’ve had some hands-on involvement.”
Soft skills like leadership and problem solving abilities are coveted by employers. But don’t just list those skills, list them with an example, like this:
- Leadership: Voted team captain of 30-member NCAA Division II softball team senior year.
- Project management: As Vice President of campus marketing club, led 10-person group that volunteered to create marketing plan for annual food drive for local food shelter.
Here’s another trick: Bold key words or successes on your resume. Why? Because no one reads a resume. They scan it first, looking for relevant skills and accomplishments. Then, if interested, they read closer. Always skimming first. Bolding key words helps them stand out, and the eye is naturally attracted to those areas. Now, this won’t matter if the resume is being screened by an applicant tracking system – only if a human eye is reading it.
“Show that you’ve had a variety of different experiences and you understand how those can help you succeed in the role,” says JT Schneider, Director Human Resources, Compensation and Recruitment at FedEx.
For example, articulate how your club sports team gave you great leadership skills or how your passion for art is a testament to your creative thinking, says Schneider.
Know what the company you’re applying to is all about, and use your resume to tell them why you’re a fit.
“At FedEx, our business is literally all about connecting people, places and cultures,” says Schneider. “To serve our diverse customer base, it’s essential that we reflect diverse experiences within our teams and celebrate differences among our team members. Ultimately, employers want to see diverse skillsets and a range of experiences that show them that a candidate will bring a unique perspective to their team.”
A recent college graduates resume should also demonstrate progress, says Schneider. That freshman year, you may have just focused on getting adjusted to college life, college classes, living in a dorm, and being away from home for the first time. However, employers like to see how you progress and take on additional challenges as you advance in your college career.
“Your resume should be organized in a logical manner and really communicate how you’ve grown or taken on more responsibility with each experience you incorporate. As an entry-level candidate, being able to convey how quickly you learn and adapt is essential. It’s not always about the hard skills you have, but instead it’s how you’ll utilize what the employer will teach you. At FedEx, whether it’s a corporate job or an operational job, we teach entry-level hires the skills needed for the role once you get here. Our Diverse Intern Access Program, for example, helps us recruit talented candidates who have a wide range of experiences and demonstrate a potential to take on future leadership and mentoring opportunities within the company. Craft your resume bullets or descriptions so they convey progression, a purposeful structure, and how great you’ll learn to be a future leader within an organization.
Employers know that entry-level candidates likely won’t have as many jobs or technical skills to include on their resume right away, says Schneider. But don’t panic and start adding long lists of bullet points that take up space but don’t add value.
“Do your best to only include experiences that can directly convey your skills,” says Schneider. “If you do include hobbies or membership organizations, make sure they illustrate your accomplishments and experiences, otherwise they might come off as filler information to an employer. It’s essential to include experiences that show how your perspective can enrich a role or company culture. At FedEx, for example, we really look for candidates who can bring different perspectives to the table and who value and thrive off other team members’ differences. Make your unique attributes evident on your resume, even if you only have a few experiences to list at first.”
Focus each resume on the specific job you are applying to. And then focus it on how your skills match their needs. And remember, it’s never about you. It’s all about how you can help the employer. If you do that, your chances of moving to the next step – the interview proves – greatly increase.
And that should be the goal of every resume you ever write, whether now as a recent college graduate, or in the future as an experienced professional. To get the interview.
“Your resume needs to highlight your strength and what makes you a vital hire to prospective employers,” says Clift. “Finding a job is never easy, and this is especially true for new job seekers. However, by following the above tips, you will be well on your way to securing your next big opportunity and, more importantly, to starting on your own career path.”
Matt Krumrie is a contributing writer for CollegeRecruiter.com
About Ask Matt on CollegeRecruiter.com
Ask Matt is a new monthly career advice column that offers tips and advice to recent college grads and entry-level job seekers. Have a question? Need job search or career advice? Email your question to Matt Krumrie for use in a future column.