Tuesday, April 21, 2015

College Résumé Tips & Tricks

I've done a fair amount of college recruiting for my job.  Over the years I've taken some notes on tips and tricks for students on their résumés and given mini tutorials on the subject.  Decided to put it on this blog and hope it helps someone out there.

List your GPA

What I often tell students is that résumé searching isn't about finding the best résumé, it's usually about eliminating the worst ones.  GPA is the easiest way to eliminate a candidate.  If you don't list it, it's assumed it's bad and your résumé will be tossed.

If your GPA is on the lower end, there are several things you can do to help your résumé still stand out.  For example, you could list a higher technical GPA or a GPA over the last few semesters.  For example, it could be something as simple as:

Technical GPA: 3.5
Overall GPA: 3.2

Noticed that I also bolded the 3.5, to highlight it over the 3.2 GPA.

No matter what, remember to list your cumulative GPA.  Some companies will later request transcripts.  The last thing you want is to have your résumé GPA not match up to it.

Underline/bold key experiences and/or skills

Recruiters may have hundreds of résumés to look through and limited time to look through them.  It's important to capture the recruiter's attention immediately so that your résumé does not get put into the "no" pile.  Highlight key experiences and skills, such as internships, research projects, or extracurricular activities, to draw a recruiter's eyes to those words and grab their attention.

Keep your résumé 1 page long

I think a lot of students think a résumé should list everything they've ever done. The résumé is supposed to be a summary of your top skills and accomplishments.  Any extraneous content that isn't that impressive is just empty filler and decreases the chance someone sees your great accomplishments.  Your best accomplishments should be whittled down into just one page.

For those who might say the 1 page limit is antiquated because so many résumé submissions are now online, the principle of a 1 page long résumé still applies.  You should summarize your top skills and accomplishments, not list everything you've ever done.  Only after you've worked for awhile (or if you're a PhD student, you may have a lot of publications) can you justify it being longer than a page.

Tell me what you did, not what was accomplished

I find many résumés with very general statements to describe work experience and accomplishments.  Candidates that add specific details to show off their own experience, knowledge, and expertise stand out.

Example Mistake: "Participated on a team that won a 20 million dollar contract from the Department of Defense."

This doesn't tell me anything.  For all I know, you might have brought the engineers coffee so they could stay up late to finish the project.

Example Fix: "Developed backend Oracle database for storing flight data from a flight simulator."

In my example fix, notice that I name a specific technology (Oracle) that someone might view as a particular valuable skill.

Let your accomplishments show your abilities, not your words

Similar to the above, there are often very generic phrases that students write to try and sell their skills. These are completely unnecessary and take away space from real skills and experiences that could be listed instead.

Example Mistake: "Excellent communication skills."

Anyone can say they have excellent communication skills.

Example Fix: "Tutored freshmen Computer Science students."

In my example fix, you showcase a specific activity you've done that gives you knowledge and experience communicating technical thoughts.

Tell me what you do, not what you can sign up for

Similar to the above, don't just list a bunch of random extracurricular activities for no reason.

Example Mistake: "Association for Computer Machinery - SigLUG 2008-2009"

All this tells me is you know how to sign up for a club on orientation day or know how to sign up for a mailing list.

Example Fix: "Association for Computer Machinery - SigLUG, Treasurer 2008-2009"

Of course, you actually need to participate in these activities to list them.  If you haven't really participated in any extracurricular activities, I would suggest not listing them.

Put an objective on your résumé

While some recruiters are divided on this, I believe it's a positive to list your objective on your résumé.  For example, if I can't tell what kind of job you're looking for (e.g. internship vs. full-time) maybe I will guess wrong and your résumé will be put into the wrong pile.  If you have a specific job interest, I think it's a good idea to list some of those interests in the objective and it can help you stand out against other candidates.

Example Mistake: "To obtain a full-time job in Computer Science where I can be challenged."

I don't see this as anything special, it's just like a million other résumés.

Example Fix: "To obtain a full-time job doing embedded systems development."

If the employer is looking for someone interested in embedded system, your résumé to will immediately stand out.

However, there are situations where it may be best to leave it off.  If you do not have a clear goal in what kind of job you're looking for (i.e. you want any job), then an objective may not be necessary.  In fact, such a generic objective may be a bad idea and that résumé space could be used for some thing more valuable. 

Don't list hobbies unrelated to the job

Some recruiters are divided on this.  I think listing hobbies is perfectly fine, but it could be replaced with something far better.  However, hobbies or interests with close ties to the job are a plus.  For example, for a software engineering position, listing mobile app development would be a good additional hobby to list.

Example Mistake: "Licensed Pilot in California"

When I see this, I think, "Pilots don't know how to program."  This particular student told me he listed this because "It takes a lot of hard work to become a licensed pilot."  However, I know absolutely nothing about flying and I viewed it as irrelevant.

Don't list awards unless they are awesome

Many students will list awards they've won on their résumé.  You're proud about them, and you should be.  However, when looking through a large number of résumés, awards generally don't stand out.  Many of them are not too notable or school specific.

Like the hobby listings above, this isn't necessarily a mistake on a résumé, but your résumé space could be used for showing something more valuable.  Unless the award is somewhat famous and a recruiter has a high likelihood of knowing it, it's better to drop it.

Don't list classes

For the young freshmen or sophomore looking for an internship, listing the classes you've taken is a reasonable thing to fill up your résumé.  However, by the time you've graduated, some skills, abilities, and experiences should be on the résumé instead.

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