For every student I meet, there are differences in personal background, educational history, work experience, communication skills, GPA, personality, and aspirations, just to name a few. But one thing that most students have in common is their concern about finding a job. The pressure of being unemployed comes down hard after students write their last exam. Therefore, questions about resume writing are guaranteed to come up more and more as the semester comes to a close.
Now, there are many different ways to construct a resume, and different employers have different preferences. However, no employer wants resumes to be carbon copies of one another. Instead, your resume should reflect you: your educational background, practical experience, skills, and maybe even your hobbies.
Work experience. Your resume should highlight your maturity, work-transferable skills, and work-relevant experience. Employers want to hire competent, confident people, not inexperienced schoolchildren. “What if I have no work experience?”, you might ask, and on that point I want to open your eyes. If you have earned your undergrad degree, you have meaningful experience under your belt already. Have you done any of the following in the past?
- worked a month or two during school breaks
- provided volunteer service
- helped out in a family business
- worked on community projects
- worked on individual or group projects in university courses
All of these are useful work-relevant experience that should be highlighted in your resume. The group project experience might fit well under education (see below).
When writing your work experience, be sure you refrain from stating duties as they are stated in a job description. Instead, list what you did as past achievements. Take a look at the following image, and see how a student might present work performed during an intern stint.
Fig. 1. You might present your work experience in this way
Your educational background. As I mentioned before, your resume should not brand you as inexperienced or childish. A resume that above all else highlights your secondary school career ties you to your secondary-school capabilities and experiences. I advocate for removing most of your secondary school highlights, once you reach the stage of having graduated from university. Exceptions exist to this, though. For example, if you are applying to a Sport Management job, it would be advantageous to include your history as the captain of your secondary school football team that is consistently in the national finals. If your educational background is less impressive than your work experience, then consider starting the resume with your work experience, and following with your educational details.
Your “Education” section usually lists your undergraduate qualification, including any graduation honours earned, majors/minors, and dates. You could include awards like scholarships and bursaries in this section or in a separate “Awards and Honours” section. Additionally, take the opportunity to really sell your competence by listing the subject areas you have learnt about. These might include Marketing Management, Operations Management, Finance and Accounting, or Human Resource Management Take a look at the picture below. Do you see how the projects you list could sell your expertise in your subject area? Caution: (1) Do not shine a light on courses and projects you absolutely disliked, as you just might get hired to work in the areas you have highlighted, and (2) Do not make claims/ report projects that you cannot back up with evidence.
Fig 2. You could include how your projects rounded out your education
Your personal information. My advice is to remove certain information from your resume. No employer should use information such as age, sex, gender, marital status, number of children, or religion to screen you, and so cut these off your resume. If an employer legitimately needs this type of information, the job advertisement will specify why it is needed, and then you can insert it. You can start off your resume with a “Personal Information” section containing your name, address, and contact information if you like. I prefer to put my my name, address, and contact information in my page header, instead. The header makes the resume feel like it is printed on my personalised stationery – a nice professional touch.
Maintain a professional image. Your resume must maintain a professional look. Your resume is not the place to experiment with myriad colours or fonts. Keep your text in black. Your page header is the only place you might be able to employ a bit of colour (maybe a navy blue?). If you are varying fonts, the most variability should come from using capitals or bold words, for example in SECTION HEADERS and Subheaders. Some formatting experts recommend staying away from even this type of variability, but I think it can help a reader navigate your resume more easily. A font like Times New Roman, size 12 is commonly used, though people say your choice of font says a lot about you and some people dare to use something else. I typically use Times, Arial, or Calibri fonts.
Another caution: please use a professional-sounding email address. Recruiters might smile if your email is UGottaHireMe@mymail.com or raise their eyebrows at SweetiePie@someemail.net, but I doubt you’ll get called to the interview, unless your resume is absolutely spectacular or you are looking for a marketing job and your creative email address impresses a recruiter! Though it may sound boring, an email address like FirstnameLastname@emailprovider.com is what I advise you to use. Finally, respect the recruiter enough to proofread your resume (and cover letter) and remove all errors. In Trinidad and Tobago, we use British English spellings, so unless you are applying to an American company, please use UK English for your spellchecks. Proper grammar is a must. If you are not proficient in this regard, please have a friend, family member, or professional review your document and help you effect changes as needed.
Other sections. Some people recommend that you start your resume by stating your “Career Objective”. I stopped doing this because I presented my objective in my cover letter. It is up to you if you want to stick to this, though I feel it tends to be quite redundant nowadays. Students also ask whether they should list referees, or insert a statement “References available on request”. I say do neither. If a recruiter wants to get info about or from your referees, you’ll be asked to provide them.
You might also include sections such as “Skills” and “Hobbies”. These can be beneficial if they highlight abilities and traits that can add value at work. Be careful that you present a well-rounded face to the recruiter. Advising that you are a licensed driver could earn you a traveling job. If you claim expertise in the Microsoft Suite, make sure you can deliver because you may be tasked with developing a stores management database (using Access) for the company that hires you. Being clear, specific, and honest is preferable to being boastful and using generalisations to imply that you have more competencies than you actually do. For example, depending on your project experience, your skills might include performing quality evaluations, identifying root causes, or crafting continual improvement plans (if you did quality management), or performing a risk assessment (if you did occupational safety and health management), or developing marketing plans and social media marketing approaches (if you did marketing management).
Your hobbies say a lot about you, too. Chess can indicate critical thinking and planning skills, but it can also indicate a tendency to work alone or be introverted (not necessarily a bad thing – I’m introverted too!). However, if you are applying to a job that requires you to be a team player, including hobbies where you also interact with others and are physically active (like hiking or cricket) could also be good.
I hope this post is useful to you. Remember that there are many resources online, in the library, and in bookstores that can help you develop and fine tune your resume and cover letter. You should be actively developing these documents at least several months before you start job-hunting, because there is often a long delay between the application, interview, and hiring stages of the job hunt.