Joining the job market after college is tough. Most grads can’t find a job after college because they lack the experience that employers expect these days. There are more bachelor degree holders on the job market than ever before, and even entry-level roles require an unprecedented level of technical skills.
Your resume is your single best tool to help you overcome that challenge, which is why it’s so important to know what a resume should look like after college.
Your first resume after college
The truth is that most people’s first resumes after college aren’t very good. I’ve hired my fair share of people out of college and also struggled to find a job as a recent graduate, so I would know!
Most resumes after graduation are pretty rough around the edges for a few reasons:
- Students often lack relevant job experience for white-collar jobs.
- Young people tend to stuff resumes with keywords to appease application tracking systems.
- New grads don’t always have a career direction, and their resumes reflect that.
- Most resumes from young people tend to lack visual flair.
- Most of the work experience they list is just fluff to inflate the resume page count.
Even just one of those mistakes can get your resume tossed into the recycling bin. Here’s why:
- The average corporate job posting receives 250 applications, but only 4-6 resumes are selected for interviews.
- Employers only take about 6 seconds to scan a resume, so it needs to be good.
- Only ⅓ of employers think applicants are honest about their resumes, so your resume can’t give off one whiff of exaggeration.
That means you have about a 2.5% chance to be selected for an interview in any given job application, and that decision happens in about 6 seconds—with a low tolerance for stretching the truth.
Many people in your life will tell you to customize each and every resume you send for every job posting. Many websites do this, too—and they mean well, but they’re missing the mark.
What they fail to realize is that customized resumes don’t mean anything when those resumes lack legitimate and relevant experience for a given job. Building experience and networking in one area first is how you find a job after college.
What should be on your first resume after college?
I know that’s a lot of doom and gloom, but you can definitely overcome those odds and get a job with a powerful resume. Let’s start at the top!
Here’s the experience that should be on it for recent graduates:
- Retail work experience
- Internship experience (getting an internship after college works, too)
- Extracurricular experience
- Volunteer experience
- Contributions to student journals, if applicable
Your resume should also have these sections:
- Easily identifiable personal information
- Clearly defined skills
- Software familiarity
- Certifications in progress
How to write a resume after college
An eye-tracking study from The Ladders showed that resumes identified for “keyword stuffing” were among the worst-performing resumes in the eyes of the hiring managers. Think about that the next time someone tells you to “mirror the job posting’s language” closely as possible.
Application tracking systems are a reality of job searching these days, but you can usually accomplish that by tweaking the titles of your past jobs (which are also among the first things that employers scan on your resume).
Remember to keep everything honest and above-board. If you tweak a past job title to reflect experience you never gained in that role, then you’ve gone too far.
Quantify your work experience
Aside from tweaking your job titles (within reason), the next thing you should do is quantify your experience with results.
This is the single best way to land the best jobs after college, because quality matters.
Start with your tasks and responsibilities. Instead of simply listing “stuff you did,” focus on the result that you created.
Here’s how I revamped my experience as a teaching assistant:
- “Led seminars every week”
- “Marked student essays”
- “Mentored students with assignments”
- “Highly positive teaching reviews”
It’s all true and gave me experience, but none of those bullet points convey the scope of the work or the results that I achieved. I changed it because employers look for quantifiable results.
Look at this study from CareerBuilder: out of 1,100 hiring managers and HR professionals surveyed (all employed full-time), a lack of quantifiable results was the third-highest reason why they rejected resumes.
Clearly, this is an important part of what your resume should look like after college. Here’s what that same job looks like with quantified work and results in mind:
- “Mentored 40 students per semester, leading two seminars per week”
- “Raised a class average from C+ to B+ in one semester”
- “Marked, edited, and proofread 400+ pages of student work under tight deadlines”
- “Received highly positive teaching reviews for all 3 semesters of teaching”
It’s much more compelling, isn’t it? Hiring managers will notice, too.
The trick is to attach a number to the task or responsibility, which accomplishes one of several things:
- Establish the scope of the work.
- Create a metric-based result (e.g. gaining website traffic).
- Create a financial or business result.
Underrated tips for writing a resume after college
We tend to think about writing our resumes in a backward sense. Recent graduates in particular tend to fret over the design first, and then cram the work experience section with as many bullet points as possible to inflate their resume’s page count.
They think it makes them seem more experienced than they really are, but it actually hurts their chances. If you’re still deciding what to do after college, then reserve some time to revamp your resume to improve your career prospects in the short and mid-term.
Here’s the process you need to follow:
- Focus on job titles first
- Quantify your work experience second
- Frame your skills with care
- Include volunteer and extracurricular experience
- Worry about designing your resume last
Bells and whistles add a nice touch to resumes, but they are just small visual flairs. Design is the “sizzle,” but what your resume actually says is the “steak.”
Once you’ve finished including what you actually want to say, you can get designs for your resume from these sources:
Evaluating your resume after college
“The first draft of anything is shit.” – Ernest Hemingway
Don’t worry about making your resume perfect. You just need to focus on making it the best possible representation of your experience today. You’ll update this document dozens of times in your life.
Remember: “done” is better than “perfect.”
Stay in that mentality as you evaluate your own resume. Use this checklist to revise, massage, or fix anything that needs work, but never forget that this serves a job search that needs to begin sooner than later.
Without further ado, here’s how to evaluate your resume after college:
- Full name is present and spelled correctly
- Email address is present without typos
- LinkedIn profile is present (and ideally hyperlinked)
- Phone number is present and formatted cleanly
- Address, city, and postal code are present and without errors
- Profile photo is clean and professional (photos are optional)
- Core skills are listed
- Recent job titles are listed
- Professional certificates are listed
- Technology proficiency is listed
- Education is listed (briefly)
- Work experience is no more than 2 pages
- 3-4 most recent positions are listed
- All bullets are quantified or explain business value
Pro tip: If you’re living at home after college, then ask your parents to review your resume.
Don’t stress over fitting everything onto your resume–you don’t need to do that! The vast majority of recruiters and hiring managers will view your LinkedIn profile to make sure your information is accurate and to get a sense of your online activity (which is why it’s included in the checklist). They can find all of your professional details there if desired.
Follow those tips and you’ll be on the right path in no time. Happy hunting!