College is a time to explore your skills, interests, and passions. Now is when you should be considering what you want to do when you enter the "real world."
Even an entry-level resume needs to show that you've been working toward your goals, so it’s vital that you take advantage of your college years to gain valuable skills through part-time jobs and internships. But how do you demonstrate your experience in the first place—when you probably have little work history to show for yourself?
First impressions count, and when it comes to your job search, your resume is your first impression. You’ve only got 6–15 seconds to make an impact, so make sure your resume floats to the top of the file by avoiding these common mistakes many college students make.
Common College Student Resume Mistakes
1. Your resume is longer than one page.
As a general rule of thumb, your resume should fit neatly onto one page, particularly early in your career. While it is tempting to want to cram every single accomplishment on your resume, remember it should just highlight your best and most relevant accomplishments. The rest you can bring up in the job interview.
The fix: Cut out the fat by only including information that’s relevant to the job. For example, if you're nearing the end of your college career, your high school activities and accomplishments probably aren’t relevant anymore. So nix that award you won as a junior in high school; a potential employer isn't going to care.
2. You’re including irrelevant information.
What’s the easiest way to cut your resume down to one page? Cut irrelevant information – like courses you took or every single activity in which you participated. Did you quit debate team after your freshman year? That’s probably not worth including either.
The fix: Recruits care more about the skills you learned, so, for example, instead of listing the three public speaking classes you took, list public speaking as a skill and note you were the emcee at an event. Also, highlight the volunteer work you did or do, rather than the club of which you're a member.
3. You overlooked the design of your resume.
Remember how we said you should keep your resume to one page? Have you cut the unnecessary details and are still struggling to hit the one-page mark? Shrinking font sizes isn't the answer; good design is!
The fix: Word processing templates are your friends—you don’t have to be a graphic design student to have a nicely designed resume. For those with the desire to learn or the know-how, consider using a program like InDesign to spruce up your resume.
4. You don't know when to use a functional resume instead of a chronological resume.
There might be some truth to the old adage you have to have experience to get experience, but there are other ways to land that entry-level job or internship if you’re lacking in a work history. As a college student, your resume is likely filled with short-term work that isn’t necessarily relevant to the career or position you’re pursuing, or you may not have any work experience at all. Enter: the functional resume. A functional resume or skills resume simply emphasizes your abilities over your experience, which can be helpful when trying to secure your first job or internship.
The fix: Use a functional resume to highlight what you’re capable of accomplishing and summarize your work experience at the end.
5. You didn’t include numbers, statistics, and action verbs.
One of the biggest mistakes even experienced resume writers make is using general or boilerplate language to describe past jobs. Instead of trying to list every single responsibility you had at a particular job, hit the highlights by specifically mentioning what you accomplished.
The fix: Highlight accomplishments, not responsibilities. For example, instead of saying that you managed multiple social media accounts, say you grew the following of five social media accounts by 15 percent in six months.
6. You didn’t use a professional email.
Don’t use your school email or something akin to [email protected] When it comes to applying for jobs, never use anything other than an email based on your name with a limited number of special characters.
The fix: Create a free email using a service like Google, Yahoo, Outlook or iCloud to send hiring managers your cover letter and resume.
7. You didn’t proofread your resume.
No matter how skilled a writer you are or how sharp your attention to detail is, a fresh set of eyes will always pick up mistakes or tweaks your work needs that you never would have spotted on your own. Although they happen to the best of us, typos are the single easiest way to ensure your resume is tossed in the trash.
The fix: Grab a friend, a teacher, your mom or any fresh set of eyes and ask them to give your resume a read. Also, take advantage of career services offerings at your school (many of which are available to alumni).
The bottom line
It's difficult to conduct a job search as a college student, especially when you have little work experience. But that's normal! Taking care to make sure your resume is in good shape can help you land that all-important internship, part-time job, or entry-level position of your dreams.
Samantha Smoak is a journalist turned tech public relations professional based in Nashville, Tennessee. For sports jokes and dog pictures, follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @samanthaksmoak.