How to write a resume as a recent graduate or student
We have all been there. You have just completed your studies and you are ready to jump into the working life. But most recent graduates lack the one thing that is so important: work experience. So, what can you do to make sure you can compete with other job applicants (with more experience)? In this guide, we will help you craft the perfect resume as a young graduate or student.
Creating the resume plan
Before we can even think about creating and writing your resume, we will need to map certain things. By mapping, I mean writing out. This mainly relates to your ambitions, motives and the things that distinguish you as a person and that will make you successful in the role that you want to fulfill. For some this might be easier than for others. Ultimately the goal is to create a clear image of yourself and what you want to achieve. Writing this out can help you tremendously. You will want to ask yourself the following questions:
- Where do I see myself in five years?
- What are my strong points?
- What kind of skills did I gain during my studies that will help me in my next job?
- How do my personal strong points and skills connect with my dream-job?
- On which skills do I want to develop myself? And how will I do that?
- What have I been doing in the past years to develop myself?
Answering these questions will help you with writing a resume that is aligned with your ambitions and personal skills. The reason why this is the first step in creating a resume is because in the end your resume will need to resemble the perfect version of yourself. In order to compete with candidates that have (more) relevant work experience, it is important that you emphasize your (unique) combination of skills and knowledge.
Building the foundation
Before we head on to the content, we will need to think about how we want to format your resume. Most people make the common mistake to make their resume flashy and colorful. However, most recruiters and hiring managers prefer resumes that are clean and easy to read. Content is more important than the visual layout. As a young graduate it is important that you follow a few basic rules:
- Use a simple and clean resume template. This means a template that only uses colors to highlight sections of your resume. Furthermore, it is not recommended to add a lot of pictures or logos to your resume. They only form a distraction to the reader and do not possess any significant value.
- Your resume will need to be in chronological order, so your latest experience will be on top.
- Don’t overdo it. Nobody likes to read a resume of six pages. Keep it to the point and simple. Let’s say a maximum of two pages for now.
- All these points come down to one thing: make your resume pleasant to view and read.
As a young graduate you will obviously not have as much experience as workers that have been active in the work field for a long time. This results in a completely different focus on your resume. You cannot focus on your work experience as you will probably not have much of it. So, what can you do?
Be different. Stand out from the crowd.
I know, it’s easier said than done. But we are here to help you out. The best thing you can do is to emphasize the things that make you interesting as a candidate. You can use the following structure for your resume when you have just graduated or when you are still studying:
This resume structure puts focus on your education, relevant internship experience and there is room to elaborate on your skills and extracurricular activities. Of course, there is no such thing as a blueprint for successful resumes. But using this layout will certainly help you put the attention to the right things in your resume. In the following sections we will take a closer look at the different parts of your resume.
Adding a photo on your resume has always been a tricky thing. This because in most countries it is not recommended to use a photo on your resume. The reason for this is that, especially in the US, recruiters and hiring managers tend to fear being accused that they discriminate candidates (based on race, looks or other things that can be derived from a picture) in their hiring process. However, the same often goes for candidates. The fear of being rejected simply due to your physical appearance plays a significant role.
From my personal experience, I prefer resumes that include a headshot photo. Not so that I can judge them by their appearance but simply because it makes a resume more personal. Besides that, most recruiters or hiring managers will look at your online social profiles nonetheless. Unless you are completely anonymous or never uploaded pictures of yourself online, it is inevitable that companies will have an image of you when they judge your profile.
For job positions such as customer service, recruitment or hospitality it is often expected that candidates include a photo with their resume. In those (and similar) roles appearance is an important aspect of the job. In conclusion: adding a profile photo is up to you, where do you feel comfortable with? In some countries it is recommended not to do so but, in the end, they will find you on the internet anyway. May you decide to add a profile picture to your resume, make sure it is a professional one. For more information regarding this, check out our article here.
This section is quite straightforward. There are a few mandatory things that are important to include in this section:
- Full name and gender
- Contact information (phone number, email)
- Address, postal code, city and country
- Driver’s license
- Date of birth (although this one is up for debate as well)
Make sure all these points are included, so that there can be no questions regarding this. Especially your contact information and address are crucial, so double check those whether or not they are correct. Some people argue that adding your date of birth is unnecessary because it might lead to age discrimination. Of course, this would be a possibility. But at the same time most people don’t need your date of birth for that. Looking at work experience or graduation year will most of the times be enough to get an indication of the candidate’s age. So, I would recommend to add your date of birth as well.
Your resume summary is like your personal story. It tells the reader who is behind the resume, what you can offer and for what kind of job and work-environment you are searching. In order to get the most out of the limited space you have for your summary (it is called a summary for a reason!), you will need to know what is relevant and what is not.
In my work as a recruiter, I always tell candidates that it is important to connect their skills, ambitions and work experience with the requirements and tasks that are necessary to be successful in the job you are applying for. The same goes for personal values and those of the company. The end goal here is to convince the reader that you can be of value for the company. Why should they pick you and not any other candidate? That’s what your added value should be about. You can read more about writing a professional summary here.
You should put your most recent finished (or ongoing) study on top. I advise to use the following structure:
Jan. 2015 – Jul. 2019 | Name of study | University name | Location
Below this you can elaborate on subjects you have followed during your study period, the minor or major you have chosen and your graduation thesis. Another option is to emphasize on certain success you have achieved in your study that are relevant for the job you are applying for. All in all, you can keep this section clean and simple. Do not add the elementary school you have attended, just stick with your two latest and relevant forms of education.
As a young graduate, when applying for your first real job, you will probably not have much relevant work experience. If you do, it is in most cases mandatory internships you have follow during your studies. Recruiters spend an average of only six seconds looking at resumes. This means you will need to catch their attention within that short time span. Your summary helps a lot in that, it is a big attention grabber. But at the same time, you will want to show the reader that you already have some experience that is relevant to the job. That’s why we put internships above work experience for now. Of course, this changes when you have had jobs during your study that are relevant or when you are not a young graduate anymore.
Once again, it is common practice to write your work and internship experiences down in chronological order. This mean your most recent experience should be on top, as that would be the most relevant one. We will be using our structure from before again:
Jan. 2015 – Jul. 2019 | Job Title | Employer | Location
Now comes the time to tell more about what you have done during your internship. I often tell candidates that it is more important to show what you have achieved instead of what formally your responsibilities were. As a recruiter I want to see what you managed to do in previous work/internship experiences. So, let me give you an example:
“I have been responsible for managing the social media accounts of company X.”
This doesn’t really tell me much. I now know that you managed their social media accounts but still do not know whether you were successful. Changing this text to the following sentence will give the reader a lot more information:
“During my internship I was responsible for managing the social media accounts of company X and managed to increase the official Facebook page with 10.000 new likes as well as growing on Instagram with 5.000 new followers.”
Focusing on metrics and achievements tells a lot more about the successes that you have achieved. You need to see your resume as a way to ‘sell yourself’ to potential ‘buyers’. In order to convince a recruiter or hiring manager into inviting you for an interview, you would need to show them what you can bring to the table and ultimately how you would provide value to the company.
For most parts what has been said regarding internships experience applies for work experience as well. You can use the same structure and focus on achievements and metrics. Even if your secondary jobs are not directly related to your professional field, they can still be of value. For example, if you have had a team lead role in retail this often says something about you as a person. It tells me someone is enterprising and ambitious. So, be sure to add side jobs to your resume that might be of added value.
This is just a fancy word for the things that you have done during your studies that are not part of the regular curriculum. You can think about being part of a sports club, academic activities or community service. When people talk about these kinds of activities, they often mean activities that have allowed you to develop certain skills that might be useful later in your life. The most common skills and characteristics associated with extracurricular activities are: leadership, involvement, social, responsibility and ambition.
Most organizations won’t take a hard and long look at this section. However, for large enterprises it can be a deciding factor in the hiring process. This often applies for organizations that are popular with young graduates. Because there are a lot of applicants, the hiring process is stricter. As a result, recruiters tend to favor candidates that have shown ambition or leadership inside as well as outside their studies.
Hard & soft skills
Especially as a young graduate it is important to highlight your hard and soft skills. Hard skills include specific knowledge or abilities. For example, you can think about knowledge of HTML, Java, Ubuntu or accounting. They are often teachable and technical of nature. Soft skills are also known as ‘people skills’ and are more focused on emotional, personal and social skills.
Choose soft skills that truly represent who you are. Don’t put on your resume that you are ‘social’ when in reality you find it hard to start conversations with colleagues or new people. Some job-seekers tend to a scale to their hard and soft skills. This is kind of a grey area. When you use to define your own skill set on a scale of 1 to 5, this also means you determine what qualifies as a 1 and what qualifies as a 5. Therefore, it doesn’t really say much to the reader. Because having listed Java as 5 stars on a 1-to-5 scale can mean something completely different for you than for the reader. And of course, it goes the other way around as well. My advice is to be really careful with this and only list skills on a scale when you are really confident of your own abilities.
Publications and certificates
If you have written publications that are relevant to your field of expertise, you should include them here. The same goes for certificates. Relevance is the key here.
The last part of this guide is dedicated to adding hobbies to your resume. It makes your CV a bit more personal and can be used in interviews to create connections with the interviewer. At the same time, having interesting hobbies and passions tell a lot (mostly in a positive way) about someone. Only add hobbies that tend to be socially accepted and are not off-putting.
This guide covered the most important aspects of creating a resume as a young graduate or student. You now know what kind of resume structure is the best to use and how to write content in such way that it grabs the attention of the reader. If you follow these basic set of rules and advices, you will find your dream job in no-time. In this last paragraph, I would like to take the time to emphasize on the fact that the most important thing of finding a job is to be yourself. Find your passion, be genuine and find an employer that values you as a person.