Searching for work after college can be challenging, particularly as many organizations don’t share what they look for in resumes.
Here are seven common mistakes that people make on a resume that can leave employers with the wrong impression…
…PLUS simple solutions you can implement to keep your resume in the clear.
The Mistakes AND the Solutions
1. Forget to list yourself as the author of your resume.
Even if you have included your name in the title of your resume document, your resume may be visible to your audience as another person’s work.
How does this happen? The word processing software you used includes someone else as the “owner” or “author” depending on the software and version used.
You must put your name in as the Author of your resume in the “Info” or “Properties” section of your document. Otherwise, either the default or previous author listing will show instead. Make sure to check this before you finalize your resume.
2. Use an original font.
A vast majority of employers use applicant tracking software (ATS) to scan and rank applications for relevance. ATS systems are programmed to look for keywords and they frequently misread text presented in an “unconventional” font. You don’t want an “I” to be misread as an “L” do you?
To make it easy for others to read your resume, use a standard font. ATS system friendly fonts include Times New Roman, Arial, and Courier.
3. Cite all coursework as “relevant.”
For some post-graduate positions, it is helpful to have coursework that relates to the job. But most job descriptions don’t specifically ask for coursework.
Instead of assuming that your coursework is relevant and telling the employer that by saying “Relevant Coursework,” say “Coursework Highlights” or “Key Coursework.” If the job is completely unrelated to all of your coursework, you can also just leave listings of all courses off of your resume.
4. Highlight GPA.
While some employers target brand new graduates; not all do.
If you are applying for a position that doesn’t ask for a GPA but does require pre-existing experience, listing a Major GPA or GPA without Pre-medical coursework may result in an employer perception that you are “wet behind the ears” or inexperienced.
If your GPA is below a 3.0, you can always leave it off your resume. Once you are 5-10 years out, it is often no longer relevant to employers. As employer use of GPA post-college varies, check with others who are currently working in your desired field and industry. Get a sense of what the standard is before listing your own information.
If you have graduated with Honors – e.g. cum laude or “completed a thesis with distinction” – you can also put this directly on your resume in place of GPA.
5. List what you do outside of work as “Extracurricular Activities.”
Instead, consider filing your experience under a different category. Examples of different section header titles:
- Leadership Experience
- Volunteer Experience
- Leadership and Volunteer Experience
- Community Engagement
6. Listing Education first
Many college career offices recommend that students list their Education as their first section in their resume. While this is a standard practice for undergraduate students, it may undermine your chances at applying for a full-time job as it emphasizes education over any experience you may have.
Since many entry-level positions list experience in the field as a pre-requisite, a better strategy is to start the resume either with:
- A Summary header that includes keywords that are relevant to your background and the position that you seek – e.g. Project Management, Marketing, Communications
- An Experience section that highlights any relevant work experience that you may have in a related area; this can include internships or projects you have worked on as part of your coursework – as long as you attribute your work to the source where the work was performed
Instead of beginning with your education, you may want to move the Education section to the bottom of your resume — shortly before a Skills & Interests section.
While this may seem counterintuitive, the reason for this is a simple one. Ever watched someone open a newspaper? It’s a common practice to look at the back page as you open it — this is why the advertisement on the very back page of the paper is the most expensive ad space to purchase.
When you close with your education section at the bottom of your resume, you are reinforcing your relevance to the position. You are starting with a story — “here is what I’ve done, and this is how my experience aligns with your needs” — and wrapping it up by showing that you have completed some educational training that may be relevant.
7. Failing to Provide Background Information
A common mistake made on resumes is to leave out information that gives your reader a context of who you have worked for and why it matters.
For example, many employers may not have heard of the organizations that you have worked for in the past. Listing the acronym of an organization you worked for in the past is only meaningful if your reader has an understanding of the organization. The same goes for company names.
You can strengthen your resume by providing details about your past employer – e.g.
C&S Wholesale, Keene NH, Operations Intern
Largest wholesale grocery supply company in the U.S., recognized by Forbes as an Industry leader in Supply Chain Management
Here are three simple ways to gather this information:
- Do an online search for the organization you have worked for and read the 1-3 sentences that headline the search result summaries
- Read the About Us page on the organization’s website
- Contact your former supervisors and co-workers and ask for their input on how to write up what you’ve done and how your work made an impact on the organization
In summary, the resume that helped you score an internship while in college may not be an asset after graduation. You may find yourself receiving job offers sooner than you thought if you take these mistakes into consideration – and implementing strategies to avoid them.
More About Job Search for Recent Grads
- 4 Tips for New Grads to Land a Job
- Improving Your GPA After Graduation
- Competing with Older Candidates
- 3 Steps to Job Search Success
- College Student Resume
About the author…
E. Chandlee Bryan, M.Ed.(@chandlee) is a career advisor at Dartmouth College. A certified career coach and resume writer, Chandlee’s experience includes working as a recruiter, facilitating one of Manhattan’s largest job search meetups, and serving as the resume expert for a national Microsoft campaign. She is a co-author of The Twitter Job Search Guide (JIST 2010).
More about this author…
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