Career Advice for Job Seekers

What employers really want to see on a recent college graduate resume

Photo by Sora Shimazaki on Pexels
Seb Morgan
October 11, 2022


If there’s anything that dampens the excitement of graduation, it’s applying for your first job. You already have an excellent education and various skills, but how do you translate them into a professional resume and that critical first job?

When you apply for a job you’re selling your professional services. Basic sales psychology will tell you that if you want someone to buy something, you must find out what they want and offer it to them.

Here are five things employers want to see on your college graduate resume:

1. The right skills for the job

Unless you worked full-time throughout your degree, you won’t have a whole lot of experience, so your skills will be vital to your application.

Give yourself the best chance of success, by tailoring your job application to the employer’s needs. Find out what it is they’re looking for, and show it to them. 

Read the job posting carefully and list out any personal skills that it highlights. Then, pick three to four skills from your list that you think are most important to the role.

You’ll use these three to four skills to build a functional resume.

A functional resume focuses on key skills rather than the jobs you’ve held and when you held them. In other words, it’s perfect for a recent graduate because it focuses the employer’s attention on what you can do, not where you previously worked.    

Follow each skill with a three-to-five bullet list of experiences or achievements that prove you have the skill. Quantify your achievements and include certifications where possible — they’re easy to scan and will underline your expertise.

2. Practical experience

Most employers aren’t expecting you to have a lengthy professional history, but they are expecting to see relevant skills and practical experience.

Remember, you might have plenty of practical experience, even if you don’t have any formal work experience yet.

For each skill in your key skills section, include at least one bullet that shows how you’ve applied the skill practically. For example, if one of your skills is “written communication,” this might be one of your bullets:

Contributed two articles monthly to a local travel blog, each receiving 1,500 unique visits on average.

It doesn’t matter whether you were an in-house writer. You’ve demonstrated your writing skills and shown that you’ve developed this skill outside of school. The employer can see that you take writing seriously.

Your practical experience needn’t come from paid work. Volunteer work or personal projects can also underline how you can apply your skills in the workplace. If you’re applying for a creative role, consider preparing a portfolio to supplement this practice. 

3. Professionalism

Professionalism might seem obvious, but it catches out hundreds of graduate job seekers every year.

Poor font choices, incomplete contact information, and bad writing can torpedo your resume, even if you have great credentials.

Choose a clean resume template with margins between ½” and 1” and a clean, reader-friendly font like Arial or Times New Roman.

Head your resume with a professional job title that reflects your career objectives, and avoid terms that could reflect a particular rank or certification if you do not have them. For example, do NOT describe yourself as an attorney if you haven’t fully qualified as a lawyer yet.

Your grammar and spelling should be impeccable. Mistakes and typos suggest sloppy attention to detail, which will hurt your application regardless of whether you’re applying for a writing job. Printing your resume out and proofreading your work on paper is an effective method of catching errors that slip through the drafting and editing process.

4. A detailed education history

While your education won’t hold up your resume on its own, it is one of the biggest sources of experience that you can draw on — especially if your degree is relevant to the job you are applying for.

In addition to your major and GPA, include any relevant coursework or class projects that highlight your expertise.

You can also do this to demonstrate practical experience. Perhaps you created a short documentary or designed a marketing plan for a mock client. Showing employers that you have a practical and theoretical background will make you appear better prepared to take on the responsibilities of the role.

5. A strong career objective

Your career objective appears at the top of your resume. It’s the first section the employer will look at — and if you sell yourself short, it will also be the last.  

Summarize your work history and expertise, clearly state your career goals, and indicate your motivations for applying for the specific open position.

Well-written objectives are tailored to the job description and demonstrate a solid understanding of the role. For this reason, highlight one or two crucial skills that will catch the employer’s attention and encourage them to keep reading.

Article by Seb Morgan. Seb is a Careers Expert and Digital Content Writer at Resume Genius, where he writes about all things employment and productivity. Based in Taipei, he also covers stories on travel and culture in East Asia. You’ll find his bylines in NewsLens International, Time Out, and Taiwan Scene.

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