How to Write a Resume When You’re Just Out of College
I was there quite recently… Fresh out of college: mum and dad were so proud, I was happy, life was good.
Unfortunately, in my case this blessed state lasted for about five minutes.
I soon realized that my college education took approximately four years of my life, that I need to find a job and that I have absolutely no idea how to do this.
Don’t get me wrong… I knew what I should be doing, but for some reason, I found every step of this process extremely exhausting and even, depressive.
Resume drafting turned out to be a complete challenge but not for reasons you’ll probably think of intuitively…
For me, the hardest part was to let go of my idea of a resume and how it should look like.
Namely, I believed that a resume with no relevant work experience is not a resume at all! So, I knew I needed a resume but couldn’t get myself to ignore this annoying voice telling me that I do not have anything relevant to put there.
I seriously didn’t know where to start but I knew there must be a solution!
So, I did what any other average person in the 21st century would do… I googled this situation and tried to find answers for myself and my jobless misery.
As you may presume, I found many hacks, tips and tricks one can use to draft a good resume even if lacking work experience.
Having collected much of this wisdom, I decided to try to sum up some of those advices I myself found most useful or interesting…
Therefore, bear with me and do not despair! Definitely do not hate yourself for “throwing away” 3-5 years on your college education.
You didn’t “throw away” anything and nothing is lost. You simply need to learn to…
WORK AROUND THE LACK OF EXPERIENCE!
Easier said than done. You are probably thinking: what is there to work around?
I totally understand. I thought the exact same thing while reading similar advices.
But then I started wondering… What was I doing for the past couple of years if not investing into myself? I wasn’t working full time, that is true.
However, I wasn’t having the time of my life either… I was studying like crazy, doing major and elective courses, trying to squeeze in sport and languages and fun was really at the bottom of my endless ‘to-do list’.
And thinking about all of this made me realize: I was, in fact, working during my college years. I was working on myself while obtaining priceless education. I was developing useful skills and valuable abilities and economically speaking, was investing into myself.
The idea behind it all was to utilize the obtained knowledge on the job market when the time comes and while studying, I never got the impression I was wasting my time.
So, this was a first step towards the shift in a perspective…Understanding that I really wasn’t fooling around or wasting anything.
The other thing which helped me change my perspective was imagining my resume without my education section.
I imagined work experience on that place, but the work experience I could have obtained solely with High school was not really something I would be aiming at long term.
I already had a few part-time jobs of this kind, but it was really my education that had the biggest significance on my resume.
This made my proud and partially returned my self-confidence. And that is how I actually realized what it means to work around your lack of experience.
Don’t focus on it! Don’t insist on what’s missing, highlight assets you already have.
Focus on your strengths. And definitely, try to stay confident!
Tell the world (and recruiters) what you have been doing for the past couple of years. Not everyone decides to sacrifice their time, energy and free time to commit to studying.
Therefore, you will want to elaborate on your sense of commitment but also everything you have learned during this time.
You are unique and worthy, but it is only after you realize it and learn how to market your assets, you can hope for others to realize this as well.
So, let me help you to a successful career start with a set of helpful tipps…
BEGINNING OF A RESUME: RESUME SUMMARY OR RESUME OBJECTIVE
The first inevitable question is: How do I begin? What do I write after personal information section (you always need this one)?
Resume summary or resume objective. Both are equally good and/or useful, the important question is: which one works better for you?
- Resume summary is a short summary of your background, most important strengths and simply, a way to explain what you can offer to the employer. A good summary should not be more than 5 sentences and it can also be presented in a form of bullet points as well, e.g.: “An experienced English translator with over 10 years of experience. Motivated, inter-cultural and flexible. Excited for new challenges and opportunities, especially interested in alternative learning methods.”
- A resume objective is a way to convince an employer/s you know what you want in your career. It should be a clear, structured message, e.g.: “An experienced English translator with over 10 years of experience, actively searching for opportunities in international corporations.”
If written well, both resume and objective, can and should spark recruiter’s attention and lure him/her to take a closer look at your application.
If you have a really clear career perspective or you know exactly what you want, a career objective may be better suited for you.
Also, it may be better suited for beginners because it states what you want or are aiming at and is not stressing out your prior achievements/experience.
Naturally, it is not written in stone that a career resume must focus on ones’ professional achievements. It can be a subtle way to stress out some of your soft-skills and personal qualities.
Some people like to use a quote which describes them well instead of a conventional resume summary… Personally, this doesn’t work for me as I don’t feel comfortable or professional quoting other people on my resume.
Nevertheless, I did come across a few examples where this kind of beginning made a truly strong impression and was very successful with recruiters.
Therefore, there are no strict rules.
You should decide what works better for you by taking your personality and a concrete job application into consideration… Test a few options out and simply decide what you like best!
ORDER: EDUCATION FIRST, PRIOR EXPERIENCE SECOND
Your resume should focus on stressing out your most important achievements.
For highly skilled professionals with 20+ years of experience, prior work experience is, naturally, more valuable than their university education.
The education was, of course, a necessary step but since they already got there where they are now, a future company will be much more interested to hear about what they actually did, not studied.
And this is exactly why they put their work experience section first and elaborate on that in a lot more detail than their education (except in certain very specific cases: researchers, PhD candidates etc.).
In your case, being a fresh-out-of-college candidate, you won’t have any relevant work experience to elaborate on.
Your biggest asset is your education! And this is by no means a bad thing.
Everybody must start somewhere and being a holder of an academic title is already a huge thing. For this reason, you will want a recruiter to pay attention to your education, rather than your work experience.
How will you do this?
Well, first of all, you will put it higher on your resume.
So, the next section following resume objection or summary will be the education section. And yes, this is perfectly fine and in fact, advisable for juniors, recent graduates and/or students.
With time, this order may and will change. The more experience you gain, the more important your experience section will be and at one point, you will only mention your education in a few short bullet points, below the work experience section.
Nevertheless, for now, you will want to follow this order: education first, experience second.
EDUCATIONAL FOCUS INSTEAD OF WORK EXPERIENCE FOCUS
When speaking of education, we are not done with this topic just yet…
You now know that you can place focus on your education by putting it higher on a resume, but you can additionally highlight it by adding more details and by elaborating your achievements thoroughly.
Try looking at it this way: space on your resume is limited, you need to use it wisely. Therefore, you will focus only on things that look good for you.
Here are a few things you can consider mentioning:
- Include your majors and electives, especially those courses which could be useful for the job you are applying for. Naturally, you shouldn’t list all courses you ever took and passed but you should be able to distinct a few specific employer would find useful or interesting.
- You can mention interesting courses you took during your studies: Art courses, languages, sport team memberships… Something that can draw attention to your resume.
- If you had a scholarship, you can put that in your resume as well. And especially if a scholarship depended on high performance in a specific field (grades, sports etc.).
- You can and should mention any volunteering work or membership in college organizations. Recruiters tend to find these very interesting. This shows that you have interests, organizational skills and dedication which is directed not only towards books and good grades.
- When it comes to grades average, opinions are divided. Some say you should disclose it, others that you shouldn’t. Basically, if you feel very confident about your average, I don’t see a reason why you shouldn’t disclose it.
Personally, I always considered my average good but not excellent which is why I only mentioned that I graduated with honors and skipped the exact numbers.
Furthermore, if you are applying in different countries or places where you aren’t sure they will understand how good or bad your grades average is, it may be simpler to just skip this information.
Finally: When in doubt whether an information is worth sharing, you may consider asking a skilled professional you know or a friend with more experience in this field to check your resume. A fresh perspective can’t hurt!
In any event, do make sure to stress out how valuable your education was, everything you learned and highlight anything that could present you as more qualified or skilled (in employer’s view).
ELABORATE PRIOR EXPERIENCE (EVEN IF IT SEEMS IRRELEVANT)
I have no work experience. This is such a common phrase, right? I (regularly) used it for quite a while after my graduation.
However, this phrase is rarely completely true…And I will explain why in a minute.
Part-time jobs and jobs unrelated to your studies can be a valuable experience as well. They may not sound fancy and may seem irrelevant to you now but try looking at it from a different perspective.
- A job at a bar or a coffee shop shows dedication, patience, people and communication skills.
- A job in McDonalds shows the same, plus, a very stress-resistant personality and the ability to react quickly.
- And don’t even get me started about tutoring jobs or part-time jobs on campus. The name of the institution is already sufficient to boost your profile.
Most importantly, all jobs you ever held demonstrate two remarkable qualities: Consciousness and readiness to work.
And trust me, employers do appreciate these. You may think it is completely normal to work during studies, but some people actually feel they should not be working at all during their college years.
Furthermore, people who have no prior work experience have more issues with organization, commitments and hierarchies. And employers are aware of this.
It is very simple really: Every new experience is hard. Past experiences help you predict what is going to happen and deal with new challenges easier.
If a person has no previous experience whatsoever, he/she may experience potential anxiety and will, most probably, get familiar with the job and obligations later.
Don’t get me wrong, I do not want to discourage candidates with absolutely no experience from applying for jobs.
I rather wish to say that having a work experience, regardless of what it is, can be an extremely valuable asset, both on a resume and in practice.
Therefore, if you are a student or a recent graduate, reconsider whether there is not some past experience you failed to mention.
I was a waitress, a babysitter and a tutor during my studies and no, these positions weren’t directly contributing to my long-term goals. They also weren’t very prestigious either!
Nevertheless, these jobs demonstrated my readiness to finance my studies and a few other qualities, such as: responsibility, communication skills, organizational skills and teaching abilities.
Therefore, despite my worries about some of my friends having high-scale, prestigious internships, I still decided to mention these jobs on my first resume.
There will always be someone better or more experienced than you. Nevertheless, you should always try to focus on your experience, your story and what you can offer to the employer.
Don’t be too hard on yourself. Even employers in big and fancy companies know how hard a job of a waitress or a bartender can be and they will appreciate your effort and responsibility.
Chances are they were also there once.
ELABORATE ON RELEVANT EXTRACURRICULARS, HOBBIES AND SKILLS
Having my resume updated recently, someone advised me to delete my hobbies / extracurriculars (not the skills section though).
To be honest, I am still thinking about it because the advice came from a person highly skilled in these matters while I personally, lean in favor of this section. I think it adds a bit of a personal touch and can make you “stand out” in the crowd.
Now, I am still a recent graduate but I do have a couple of work experiences and relevant skills to put on my resume so I am a slightly different category.
For those of you who do not have major work experience and are worried about what to put in there, definitely consider hobbies and extracurriculars as a separate section.
It will show your interests, it will demonstrate that you manage to find time for different things and recruiters may even feel drawn to your profile owing to common interests!
People tend to prefer similar people and a common hobby / interest could be a good starting point.
If a recruiter shares your passion, being a semi-professional cyclist can easily be a big plusfor your application, regardless of the fact you are applying for a position of a junior accountant.
It happened to me that I was chatting about my hobbies and interests on my first job interview… A recruiter asked me to elaborate my “interest in history and art” and we actually ended up discussing WW 2.
This is a true story and I did ultimately get this job!
Regardless of how insecure you may feel, you are not just your studies or your previous experience. Employers are generally interested about other things you can bring to the table and they love seeing someone with a wide range of interests, hobbies and ultimately, knowledge.
Additional Tipp: You may want to find a bit more about a recruiter or a manager you may end up dealing with in an interview. If you can find out a few things about his/hers interests and hobbies, it may be wise to consider matching these.
Of course, I would never say I like football regardless of anything. Do try to keep it real!
When speaking of skills section, this one is pretty much mandatory for both, experienced professionals and entry level candidates.
You will want to include both, “hard” and “soft” skills:
- Include anything that makes sense: languages, computer skills (esp. programming, coding, working in specific programs), driver’s license, debating skills, public speaking and writing skills etc.
- The more leverage you can provide, the better. If you participated in debate clubs, if you are publishing articles in the university papers or are writing a blog… Don’t be shy, put it all out there!
- Soft skills are also useful, and they are surely worth mentioning, especially when you have a relevant experience to back this up. This means that you should briefly elaborate why you consider yourself to be organized, flexible or inter-cultural and this is especially important in cases of candidates with little or no experience. At least think about it before an interview, recruiter will most probably ask you for examples or explanations.
Therefore, both hobbies/interests and skills sections are very useful and should be used wisely by entry level candidates.
What do you consider your genuine strengths are? What do you think other people would consider interesting about you? What is it about you that makes you proud other and people could consider price worthy?
I always mention jogging and I proudly stress out that I ran a half-marathon.
Some recruiters couldn’t care less, some love it, but most importantly, this kind of information will rarely work against you, while at the same time, can easily work in your favor.
CONSIDER ALTERNATIVE FORMATTING
Apart from minding the order in your resume (education first), you may want to think about its format as well.
There are specific resume formats customized for people with little or no experience.
Why am I stressing formatting out?
Because you can really use this to your advantage and make your resume stand out with the help of interesting templates or color use. And this can be a big advantage for junior level candidates!
It can be relevant for senior level candidates as well, however, they usually manage to stand out with the help of their experience and recruiters are generally more interested in hunting them than the other way around.
That is why you generally notice experienced professionals rather modest and plain resumes while junior level candidates appear to have dedicated a lot more attention to the resume looks and format.
This is true and it is so for the above-mentioned reason.
So, think about tricks which will help you highlight your assets not only verbally but visually as well.
Furthermore, think about the company you are applying for: You may consider customizing your resume so that colors on it match the logo or official colors of the company.
Of course, this shouldn’t be too obvious, but such subtle cues may trigger a subconscious impression that you are already fitting with the company’s image.
Finally, while still at the beginning, you may want to keep your resume shorter, so one is fine and definitely do not write more than two A4 pages. Quality should always prevail over quantity.
Give it a nice format and keep it clear and concrete.
FINAL TOUCHES AND TIPPS
You should definitely pay attention to the content of your resume, but this is not the only thing you will be focusing on.
As already mentioned, the resume looks can make a significant difference and basically, everything is important.
- Pay attention to the picture! If you decide to put it on a resume, you will want a picture to present you in the best way possible. It should be nice and professional: you should be presented on an above waist portrait with a pleasant smile, wearing a professional outfit. From my experience, investing in a resume photo done by a professional really pays off, but of course, the choice is up to you.
- Next thing: Pay attention to the font you choose for the text. Although, there are hundreds of fonts you can use, I think it is better to stick to conventional ones (e.g. Times new roman, Calibri, Ariel, Georgia etc.). It may not look so interesting but keeping it simple tends to be smarter.
- Extra Tipp: When submitting both, Cover Letter and a resume, it may be advisable to use the same font on both documents. It looks neater and demonstrates attention to detail.
- Extra Tipp 1: Even though you are still a beginner, do consider making a LinkedIn profile and using this tool to connect with potential recruiters and colleagues.
It can be a very useful tool, especially when considering the importance of reference and connections by the job hunt.
At the beginning, you will probably use it to just connect with university classmates and acquaintances but with time, recruiters may start approaching you.
Attach your resume to your LinkedIn profile and let them notice you!
Also, there are a lot of interesting articles, courses and job postings that you can check out on LinkedIn and finally, this network can help you when researching for a concrete job application.
Finally, this is something rather intuitive and logical, however, it may be useful to repeat it just in case.
- You will need to update your resume with every relevant experience or change which happens on a professional plan… Any relevant trainings, projects or successes, make sure you include it!
Also, you will want to revisit your resume with every new job application and think about what you wish to highlight and point out for that particular vacancy…
Still, let us not get too unrealistic. Rare are those who really modify a resume with every job application and especially in the case of beginners, there is really nottoo much information or experience to play with anyway…
Nevertheless, do make sure to remember that your resume can and should undergo modifications, hence, that you should update it following relevant developments in your career.
- And my final and most important advice would be: keep it positive and do not give up! Job hunt is hard, rejections are painful, and you probably already wondered whether the whole struggle is worth it.
I want to tell you that it is… Once you get where you want to be, this will all seem ridiculous and funny and you will perceive your beginner’s struggles in a different light.
Keep up the confident attitude and remember that someone out there needs someone just like you and that your worth and qualities will be recognized when the time is right.
Your only job is to present yourself in the best way possible and you can start doing that right now, by drafting or updating your resume.
Get to work, there are so many exciting opportunities waiting for you!