10 Graduate Resume Tips


As a newly minted graduate last spring I was extremely nervous about getting a job and learning all the steps to the resume/interview dance.  Everyone you talk to has different advice, and the truth of the matter is that luck plays a huge part in the process.  An administrator in a good mood that sees something they can identify with on your resume can make that simple difference.  On the other hand someone could randomly toss your resume out as they only have time to read 20 and yours happened to be closer to the bottom of the pile (yes this does happen).

I was fortunate when I entered the crazy job search jungle that I had some valuable allies.  My mom has worked in various administration roles in the healthcare field for awhile now and had a pretty good handle on how things work in the public sector as far as hiring practices go.  The other valuable resource I had was a cousin of mine that works as a high ranking aid to an MLA in the provincial government.  He is an extremely bright and well-read individual who had to go to a ton of interviews due to a very competitive job environment.  When he was job hunting he read voraciously, talked to all of his connections, and became a sort of resume/interview guru (much to his chagrin, as I’m sure he would have rather just succeeded initially).  Now, as part of his job he does the interviewing and hiring for a large variety of positions.  In addition to these two fountains of knowledge, I did my own fair share of reading and connection seeking to acquire information about those ‘magical tips’ that will get you your dream job.

Graduate Resume Tips – Make Yours Stand Out

Graduate Resume Tips
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The first thing that you have to realize is that there is no one-size-fits-all tip for resume writing.  Depending on the job you are applying for your resume should adapt.  For example, most online resume-building sites will suggest putting your education at the top of your resume.  For me, as a teacher, that was basically a waste of time.  It was safe to assume that everyone applying for the job was a registered teacher and consequently had a Bachelor of Education degree.  Unless I had a masters degree there was no use putting that information anywhere near the top.  The guidelines I provide below are general concepts that you should consider and adapt to your potential job application.

1) The vast majority of your applications will be looked at for under 30 seconds.

When administrators are screening the initial pile of applicants for a job they definitely will not have the patience to read through 100 full resumes.  Instead they will skim the first ½-3/4 of a page and shortlist a few key applicants.  Your initial resume goal is to get into that short list and then into the interview.  Keep this ‘big picture’ outlook as you put your resume together.  Ask yourself what makes you unique, what do you want to highlight about yourself relative to the other applicants?  That information should go right under your obvious name and contact information.

2) Don’t make your resume any longer than 1 page double-sided.

This is once again a reality of the current state of administration.  I have heard multiple stories of CEO-types that simply throw out stapled resumes as a way to save time.  Unless you are applying for an upper-management position chances are a multi-paged resume will simply convey that you are not concise and/or efficient enough to promote yourself in an effective manner.  View some online samples for tricks to getting it all in.  Don’t worry about making it too short, they should have all your contact info (top of your resume & cover letter) if they wish to contact you about something.  Handing a one-page resume to someone just seems more professional and ‘crisper’ to me as well, but that’s a personal anecdote.

3) Squishing information in is not worth it.

When someone is only going to skim your resume it is best not to pack the first part with line after line of text.  Ask yourself if that is visually appealing by initially looking at it.  If you feel you absolutely have to get a lot of pertinent information across do it on the back of your resume.  This part will usually only be read if you have been shortlisted anyway (so you already have their attention).  Make sure you have appealing spacing between sections, and good margins.  Experiment and see what looks best.

4) Fresh Eyes.

Get someone else to read your resume and give you some feedback, rinse and repeat.  The more opinions you get on your resume the more general patterns you can pick out.  DON’T try to incorporate everyone’s opinion because you will drive yourself crazy (you will constantly get contradicting advice).  Instead, ask about specific things and try to pick out patterns in responses.  You don’t know who the person looking at your resume might be or what their biases are, but you can plan for the law of averages by eliminating aspects of your resume that many different types of people pick out as being negative and vice versa.  Other people can also help you proofread.  This is extremely important as spelling/grammar mistakes are almost universal cause to throw out an otherwise brilliant resume.

5) Look at your resume upside down.

Perhaps the coolest and most unique tip I got was to flip your resume upside down.  Once you have looked at your resume long enough you tend to grow attached to whatever format you have invested so much time into.  This makes it very hard to look at it objectively.  Flipping the resume upside down makes it much easier to pick out organization/spacing issues (you can better focus on the aesthetics when you’re not re-reading your text for the millionth time).  It also will tell you what parts of the resume your eye is naturally drawn to.  Obviously you want to make sure that they eye is drawn to things you most want to highlight.  When we make first impressions of any object there is a lot of subconscious activity that goes into forming the initial thoughts.  Looking at a resume upside down gives you a great test run of how appealing your set-up is.

Graduate Resume Tips – The Cover Letter Is Just As Important As The Resume!

6) Draft a unique cover letter for each position.

Most people will generate a generic cover letter when they are sending out job applications.  This is exactly the opposite of what you want to do.  Your goal is not to look the same as everyone else, or give the impression that you want the job an equal amount to everyone else.  Your goal is to standout and separate yourself from the pack.  I had some key phrases that I reused in my cover letters, but I also tried to add something personal in each one even if it was something like, “I am familiar with the town of _____ because of _____ and look forward to learning more about it.”  Always make sure to list your contact information in the letterhead and at the end of your cover letter.  List multiple numbers and your email.  There is nothing more frustrating for an administrator with 101 things to do than not being able to contact a job applicant.  If you want the job, commit to being easy to contact.

7) Put a face to the paper, or at least a personal touch.

If the place you are applying to is within an hour or so from your daily routine it cannot be overestimated how much a personal appearance can mean to a potential employer.  Anytime somebody can ‘put a face to a name’ when they are reading your resume you increase the chances that yours will be placed in the shortlist pile.  Showing up in person allows you to make a positive impression on the secretary who may ultimately determine whether your resume ever gets seen or not.  By appearing humble, confident, polite and ambitious (just showing up in person communicates something) you can greatly increase your chances of a positive impression.  If you can’t make it in person (many of the jobs I applied for were well over 100km away) at least call to make sure the fax was received.  When calling, make sure to put your best foot forward and politely confirm that your resume went through.  Being polite and appreciative to secretaries is a tip for life period, and it definitely counts when a job is on the line

8) Work your connections.

In many lines of work jobs are never publicly posted.  Depending on what stats you read some claim that over half of all jobs are gotten through personal connections.  Your connections from all walks of life can help you not only in learning about the job, but in getting your resume over to the shortlist pile.  A simple walk buy and mention of your name as a worthy candidate, or a casual name drop in daily conversation will automatically make the person in charge take a closer look at your qualifications (which is what you ultimately want).  Don’t forget to thank these people.  I found a thank you accompanied by a personalized adult beverage was usually well received.

9) Use high quality paper and make sure to proofread, Proofread, PROOFREAD!!

Using high quality paper is an easy way to give your paper a slight edge in natural first impression.  Resume paper is a little thicker, a little more substantial, won’t wrinkle, and has a nice slightly-off-white colour as opposed to the bright bleach used in regular printer paper.  It may not make a difference 90% of the time, but it is an easy way to appear professional and help your chances.  Also, always make sure you have plenty of resumes on hand.  At 2-3 cents per copy it is a worthy investment to just print a hundred or so.  You never want to be caught short as it looks ridiculous.  Remember to always take multiple copies into interviews so that if you are being panel interviewed each person can have a copy.  Again, looking prepared and professional is key.  Always have one of your resumes with you when you are job hunting because you never know when the opportunity may strike.  A handshake and a resume exchange can be all it takes.  One thing to keep in mind bears repeating.  Using all these tips carries almost no weight if you have proofreading mistakes in your resume.  I refuse to give this its own tip because to me it’s common sense.  Don’t be the person that loses out on jobs because of a misplaced apostrophe!

10) Learn to promote yourself.

Most people use the cliché, “You have to learn how to sell yourself.”  Maybe I have a dirty mind, but this phrase inevitably makes me think briefly of ‘the world’s oldest profession’ so I prefer to use the term promote.  Regardless of terminology, it is important to realize that there is a fine line between being humble, and not fully representing all you have to offer.  Research proper language to use in a resume.  Try to avoid sayings that are too common such as, “Works well independently.”  Instead try something more specific such as, “My past employers recognized a strong skill set that allowed me to work independently in a variety of settings and situations.”  Paying a relatively small fee for a resume professional may not be a bad idea if you are not confident in your vocabulary and description skills.  If you do not promote yourself to sound as ideal for the position as possible, chances are that somebody else will.  Guess who will end up getting the interview?

Writing a resume can seem like a monumental exercise.  Somehow you have to boil down everything you have ever done (that you want someone to know about you) into 1 double-sided page.  This is an intimidating task for anyone.  My advice would be to start well ahead of when you need it.  In fact, start right now!  When people are rushed they make stupid mistakes and do not have time to go through the proper draft and refinement cycles that will ultimately yield the best overall product.  When I started writing my resume I hadn’t looked at it since my first year of university, so it wasn’t updated at all.  No matter where you are in your university life try to take a few minutes every now and again to update your resume so you don’t forget to include pertinent new information.  As a measuring stick, I started my resume process in December for the job applications I would be looking at in April-August.  Between December and February I probably spent 50+ hours collecting information, reorganizing, and gathering opinions on my resume.  I can’t say that I know for sure that it made a difference, but I do know that I got several interviews and eventually was offered a full-time position in a hyper-competitive job market.  For me, that is at least some proof that the time is worth it and makes a difference.  I hope these graduate resume tips will help out. Good luck out there grads!

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