If building your first post-college resume has you feeling under qualified, here’s what you need to know.
It’s the classic post-college dilemma: You apply for an entry-level job that could start you on the path to the career you really want. However, during your interview you are told that you do not have enough experience for the position.
So, you need experience to get an entry-level job, but without the job, you can’t gain experience. That makes sense, right?
The key is to broaden your scope a little when it comes to the term “experience.” You went to college, you got your degree, and you did things that have helped you grow and learn — it’s not like you’ve been hiding under a rock. You are a graduate who is full of potential. As you think about your resume, focus on that word — potential. It’s the key to building a great recent-graduate resume.
Here’s how you put that to work for you on your entry-level resume.
This space used to belong to the objective statement, which quickly spoke to what you were looking for in your career. The problem with that concept is that it’s telling prospective employers what you want, not what you have to offer.
Enter the professional summary. The professional summary in your entry-level resume should be short and sweet, and it should tell the hiring manager what kind of employee you are by highlighting your best qualities. That’s that hard part. You need to be able to brag a little here. Are you a good leader? Do you have exceptional computer skills? Maybe you are a creative problem solver. Think about the things that you do best and how those skills will make you good at your job.
Keep your professional summary to one or two sentences. For example:
Creative problem solver with a focus on goals and exceeding them. Able to communicate well with teams and provide motivation.
Don’t use a lot of buzzwords or try to pack this part with information. Just write a couple of quick sentences that you believe sum up your best skills.
Tip: Avoid using words like “punctual” on your resume. Punctuality is not a skill, it’s an expected behavior. Emphasize skills that you have developed over recent years.
You may not want to hear this, but once you’ve entered the workforce in the adult world, your education will continually diminish in importance on your resume. It may be important on your recent-graduate resume, but once you’ve been building your career for 10 years, employers aren’t concerned about what you did in college or even if you got good grades.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that for your first entry-level resume after college, it is still very relevant. List out your school, degree, and GPA. You don’t need to list your coursework, but be ready to discuss it in an interview.
You may think that you need to have a portion of your entry-level resume dedicated to work history. In most cases, that’s true. However, if you don’t have a real work history or have only held one job, you can shift the focus to your relevant experience.
Here’s where you really need to think about the last few years and what you’ve done to prepare yourself for a career:
Did you work part-time while you were in college? Even if it was cashiering at a department store or waitressing at a café, you gained experience. Think about the things you learned and how they are relevant to the job you want.
Did you have an internship? If so, that’s great! List it and describe what you learned and accomplished while you were there.
Were you a part of any clubs or organizations? What kind of work did you do? Did you hold a leadership position?
Did you do any volunteering? Volunteering is a great way to utilize your skills and build experience, and it displays character.
While you may not have an extensive work history, that doesn’t mean you don’t have relevant experience. Think carefully about what you can include in this section to make it shine.
Tip: The key word here is relevant. If you are looking for a job in sales and your baking club taught you how to make a mean cupcake, that’s not relevant. Did you sell more cupcakes than anyone else? Now you’re talking.
Here’s the section of an entry-level resume that can really do the heavy lifting for you. What were you doing in all of those classes? You were learning skills. Fill this section and show prospective employers what kind of potential you have. Don’t talk about your classes or worry about examples, just list out the skills that you’ve developed over recent years.
Computer skills: Programs, languages, etc. List them all out.
Foreign languages: Having a second language under your belt is a huge plus in today’s job market.
Communication: Believe it or not, communication skills are frequently lacking in job applicants. If you have done public speaking, group emailing, etc., make sure you’re displaying that ability.
Trade skills: Hopefully your education helped you learn some skills that are specific to the career field you want to enter.
You don’t want to go into how you gained each skill on your resume. This is a quick review of what you are bringing to the table. Be ready to discuss these skills and how you obtained them if you should get an interview.
Tip: While hard skills like being fluent in Spanish and being an expert HTML coder are fantastic, don’t overlook soft skills. The abilities to communicate, manage your time, and lead others are harder for employers to teach, so they want to see that you are already proficient in these areas.
As your career grows, it will become easier to sell yourself and your experience. The first job out of college, while you battle the experience catch-22, is tougher and requires some creative thinking. Remember, employers aren’t necessarily looking to help you build a career. They’re trying to fill a job and hire an employee that will make their company better.
You do have skills. You do have experiences. If you want to get a foot in the door at your first entry-level job, you need to convince employers that the skills and experiences that you acquired during your time in school will help you become a star employee for them. If you don’t have the experience they want, focus on the potential and show them that you can do this job and grow beyond. A well-written entry-level resume is the first step to launching your new career and building exciting new experiences.
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