In the last semester of senior year of college, students begin the quest to find their first post-grad jobs. Questions come up like, “how do I find jobs to apply to?” And, “how do I perfect a resume and cover letter?” While there are many components of finding that first job, the application you submit, which will at least include a resume, will often be what gets you in the door. So, you’ll want to make sure it shows off your skills in the best light possible.
To find out what recruiters want to see on a resume and how best to frame your experiences, we talked to two professional recruiters: Marcus Abramowitz, VP of Human Resources at Lokal Homes, and Drew Leyden, Sales Recruiter at The Leyden Group. Both offered their insight into what they are looking for when they see a recently graduated college student’s resume.
When it comes to your first full-time job post-grad, your experiences and education may not reflect a direct path yet. So, Abramowitz says he just wants to see that you’ve learned from each experience and can lay out a path of where you’re headed.
“I want to know the story. I’m fascinated by people’s journeys, so when it’s written, is it showing me a progression? And do you have a focus of what you ultimately want to do?” said Abramowitz.
In line with this, Leyden recommends that recent college graduates provide an “objective” portion on their resume, which will include goals and details about how they can help the company.
“I think it’s important to communicate that and tailor it to everything that you’re applying to,” said Leyden. “This is not about you, it’s what you can bring to an employer.”
When you first graduate college, the biggest thing you have to show employers is your degree. Leyden says that recent graduates should put this at the very top, especially if they have a particularly impressive GPA. He said that GPA is the first thing employers will look at if you’re a recent college graduate.
“On any college resume, I recommend having the degree, your school, and the graduation date or expected graduation date. Then you definitely want to have that GPA in bold, especially if it’s a 3.0 or above,” said Leyden.
Employers recognize that many students work service-type jobs to make money through college. Both Abramowitz and Leyden agree that this should not be downplayed, and actually looks good to an employer no matter the industry.
However, how you frame this job is key. Highlight the skills you gained in your job and what you learned from the experience. Abramowitz gave the example of his work at a video store in college. When he began searching for a job, he highlighted how that experience shaped how he dealt with customers, handled stress, and problem solved, as well as how these traits were relevant to the job he was applying to. On the other hand, not seeing the experience as beneficial will not be appealing to your potential employer.
“If somebody’s very negative around it, saying, “oh it was just a job,” that’s kind of a red flag for me. I want to be sure that they saw the value in that role and hopefully learned something from it,” said Abramowitz.
Having any job in college also shows your ability to multitask, which is what employers want to see. It’s always better to show that you were able to balance school with a job, as well as with other commitments both on and off campus.
“It’s how they put it in the resume and also how they frame it in the interview, how they were able to manage their time and focus on multiple things regardless of if the job related to what they ultimately want to do with their career,” said Abramowitz.
Finally, being able to maintain that balance over a long period of time will also work to your favor and show your longevity.
“Obviously if you can get an internship that’s relevant to your field, that’s like the gold mine, but it looks good just to show that you’ve been working for the same employer for an extended time throughout your college career,” said Leyden.
You may also have an entry-level job in college that directly relates to what you want to do, which is especially beneficial. Abramowitz used the example of a student who wants to work in home building, and worked part time in college as an administrative assistant for a home building company.
“That [experience] is huge, because they’re going to have a good frame of reference on there. It’s going to help the learning curve,” said Abramowitz.
Internships are becoming increasingly important as they give you a taste of the field you may potentially enter and give you real experience that you can carry into your first post-grad job.
“I do think these days you have to have some internships. The key with the resume is making sure those [internships] are highlighted and then showing the results versus just what you did on a day to day basis. That’s something that people of all levels forget about,” said Leyden.
So, you’ll want to quantify results as much as possible. For example, if you worked on a company’s social media presence, you’ll want to show the percentage by which you increased social media traffic.
So, what else? You may have been heavily involved in volunteer work or with other organizations, and this is absolutely relevant and should be highlighted.
“When I think of somebody that’s just graduating or some of the resumes that I’ve seen, the questions that kind of jumped out to me were, “were they involved in any types of organizations?” “Did they do any type of internship?” Any campus groups or any industry types of organizations that they were able to explore is great,” said Abramowitz.
Since you will not have the same level of experience as someone who has been working full-time for several years, highlighting your strengths and how you used them in these extracurricular activities is important. You’ll want to show this in, again, the results. For example, if you are financially-savvy and worked as the treasurer for an organization, highlight how much money you managed and what you were able to accomplish as treasurer.
“A lot of the times, it’s more traits versus experience just because you’re not going to have a lot of experience to put on your resume. So that’s a big thing for myself or an employer — they’re looking at potential more than experience,” said Leyden.
When you have all the components of your resume, you want to bring it all together in a way that makes sense, and you want to look at it from the perspective of the person who’s reading it.
“It can’t be too all over the place because then we’re going to think that there’s some flakiness going on, so I think that care needs to be taken as to what you want that story to be,” said Abramowitz.
This isn’t to say that you can’t include your diverse experiences, but you want to frame them in a way that shows a progression and relevance towards the job you’re applying to. Of course, when applying for your first job, you may apply to a variety of job types as well, making it necessary to have multiple copies of your resume that are tailored to each job.
“It’s okay to have multiple versions of a resume to experiment with. Whether it’s a hiring manager or an HR person, there’s no one silver bullet that’s going to satisfy all of us, so it’s just making sure that you highlight your experience, and show how it transfers over to what you want to do,” said Abramowitz.
Once you have a few paper versions of your resume, you will also want to “put it online” so to speak. This will build your credibility, as employers can fact-check you. It also allows employers to dig deeper, and see other details like your connections, portfolio, etc.
“Quite honestly if I get a resume, my first thing is to start looking at what your LinkedIn profile says, and who you’re connected to. That’s going to help me get a better assessment of who you are, and what you’ve done versus that piece of paper,” said Abramowitz.
Your resume is what gives employers a glance at your combined education, experience, and involvement. It is often their first impression of you, and can determine if you get called in for an interview. Taking the time to perfect your resume and make sure that it highlights your accomplishments and strengths is one of the first steps in landing the job you want.