Practical advice for writing a good résumé that will actually get you a job
To the typical college student, reaching graduation is like crossing the finish line after a marathon of homework, test-taking and late-night study groups.
After all that effort, most of us just want to take a long rest and maybe drink a few margaritas. But what many students don’t realize is that graduating isn’t the end of the line—it’s the beginning of the real world. Entering the real world means finding a job; finding a job means having a top-notch résumé.
Emerging from the ivory tower of higher education, you may not yet grasp the finer details of résumé writing, and that’s understandable: college students are expected to write term papers, not bulletted lists. There are plenty of mistakes you may not even be aware of that can cost you a potential interview.
Hiring managers aren’t going to call you for an interview if your résumé bored them to tears, or if you used Comic Sans font on electric yellow paper, or if you included a picture of your dog. Your résumé should reflect your personality, but not at the expense of professionalism or readability.
Many people lose sight of the real objective of a résumé—it’s not supposed to land you a job. No, its purpose is to land you an interview, where you can impress your personality and achievements on a hiring manager in person. So don’t get too fancy with your résumé; avoid “creative” fonts (instead, stick with tried-and-true Arial or Times New Roman), don’t be tempted to use color, and don’t use decorative effects like borders.
Pictures—of you or anything else—are almost always a bad idea. A recruiter doesn’t need to know what you look like unless you’re applying for a modeling or acting job, so don’t bank on your ravishing good looks to get you in the door. You can always get personal appearance points by looking groomed and professional at your interview.
Don’t lie on your résumé. This seems like a no-brainer, but it happens, and if you’re found out it will cost you. Just consider the case of Quincy Troupe, California’s one-time poet laureate and co-author of The Pursuit of Happyness (you know, the movie with Will Smith): he lied about graduating from Grambling State University, and when a background check exposed the truth, he was forced to resign his teaching position and his poet laureate status. Fortunately for him, he’s a millionaire—you may not be so fortunate.
Avoid irrelevant information, like a list of your hobbies. (Take this gem of an example from Fortune magazine’s website: “Personal interests: donating blood. Fourteen gallons so far.” Can we say icky?) Unless it contributes to the position you are applying for, the fact that you like to collect fossils is not going to help you get an interview.
In fact, any information a hiring manager might deem “weird” is going to land your résumé right on top of the reject pile. The same goes for misplaced humor; it’s almost impossible for you to correctly identify who will be reading your résumé and what their sense of humor is like, so just let it go. Understand that acting like a clown is only going to make you look unprofessional, which is the last thing you want. Save the humor for the water cooler, after you get the job.
So now that you know what to take out of your résumé, what should you fill in all those blank spots with? The best résumés are simple, easy to read and give the reader a brief, but distinct, impression of who you are.
“Your résumé is not an autobiography, just the highlights reel,” said Gregory Flores, associate director of Career Services at Portland State. “You want to give the employer the information they need to want to interview you.” Use numbers that reflect your achievements if you have them; at least back up your listed skills with real-life examples and potential benefits to employers.
Make sure your résumé looks clean and organized. Strike a balance between black text and white space, and use bullet points rather than paragraphs when you can so your achievements stand out. Use action verbs like “supervised” and “coordinated” to portray yourself as an active and productive employee.
And if you can, name drop! If you know someone in the company or the industry (someone a hiring manager will have actually heard of), now is the time to exploit that connection—with that person’s permission, of course.
Tailor your résumé to the employer; even though the time investment will be greater than if you send a standard résumé, you will see better results, and that’s what matters. You have to prove to a potential employer that you actually want the job you’re applying for.
Finally, proofread your résumé. Proofread it once. Proofread it again. Read it backwards. Read it out loud. Give it to a friend and make them read it. Jeanne Ellis, internship advisor in the Career Center, suggested that you have someone else review your résumé and cover letter to give you an employer’s perspective.
Your résumé is your first, and sometimes only, contact with a hiring manager—don’t let them think you’re sloppy. Major mistakes on a résumé include spelling errors, grammatical errors and punctuation errors.
These are all easy fixes. Grab a dictionary and check the definitions of any words you are uncertain of—using a word incorrectly is embarrassing and avoidable. Edit for length: you don’t need to list every summer job you’ve had since you were 16, just the relevant or recent ones. You should also cut down your “fluff” words, like “dynamic” or “visionary”—a better strategy is to include keywords that will help your résumé turn up in database searches.
You can write a great résumé, and you don’t have to do it alone! A quick Google search will get you mountains of résumé-writing advice and examples. PSU offers résumé workshops and advising in the Career Center in the University Services building; visit www.pdx.edu/careers for more information.