Starting Your Career Off Right

With college degree in hand, new graduates now have the challenge of making themselves look good on paper. These resume tips for new grads – from recruiters, human resources representatives and career counselors – offer wisdom about how to stand out amid a sea of competition.

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Everything counts on a resume – from font to length to formatting to wording. Most important, of course, is the content. Bruce Hurwitz, Ph.D., president and CEO of Hurwitz Strategic Staffing, Ltd., says, "All employers are looking to hire problem-solvers and leaders. They are looking for potential. That is why graduates need to focus on their volunteer, association and internship experiences."

The following tips are designed to help new grads create a professional resume so they can land interviews and, ultimately, a satisfying job.

Resume must-haves

While each person's resume is very individual, Hurwitz advises that every resume contain the following:

• Contact information – Include name, address, phone number and e-mail as the header of the resume, and make sure your voice mail message is professional.
• Education – Place near the start of the resume. List school name, major/minor, graduation year and if you graduated with honors.
• Work experience – Starting with the most recent and listed in descending order, include jobs held after high school as well as internships. Note employer, location, dates of employment, brief blurb about the employer and bullet points highlighting responsibilities.
• Volunteer position – Volunteering shows character and involvement so, where applicable, note the organization(s), responsibilities, length of service and leadership roles.
• Awards and honors – Accolades show that other people think the graduate is impressive. List award name, organization/company that presented it and the year awarded.
Activities – List activities that show initiative, people skills and leadership abilities.
• Languages – Always list foreign language proficiencies.
Military service – If applicable, include years of service and rank.

What to omit

Hurwitz stresses the importance of not including personal information such as age, marital status, children, religion and so on. Do not include a photo of yourself on the resume – you're not being considered for an interview based on your appearance (no matter how cute you might be).

Unless they are specifically asked for in the initial application, Hurwitz strongly advises against including references on your resume. "Only after the graduate has met with the prospective employers, and feels she would want to work for them, should she provide references."

Also, for college grads, high school can be omitted from the education section, says Lynne Sarikas, director of the MBA Career Center at Northeastern University.

Pros and cons of including GPA

"You don't necessarily need to include your GPA; usually people only include it if it's high," says Vicki Salemi, recruiter and author of Big Career in the Big City. One way to buttress is your GPA is to show it in relation to other responsibilities. "Perhaps you were on a varsity team and were a campus tour guide while maintaining a 3.8 GPA. This shows you have the ability to not only multi-task but successfully manage your time," says Salemi.

Formatting basics

"Do not do anything strange in your formatting," says Jerri Barrett, vice president of marketing for the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology. "We had one applicant put in random yellow highlights in her resume; they didn't even make sense." A wide range of fonts, colors and formatting will only detract from your qualifications, not enhance them. (The exception is for an art-related position that calls for creativity, says Michael Trust, career and business strategist and certified executive career coach.) Hurwitz recommends plain white paper, no graphics, one-inch margins, black ink and a 12-point, standard font.

Rob McGovern, founder of CareerBuilder, CEO of Jobfox and author of Bring Your A-Game: The Ten Secrets of The High Achiever, adds that all resume formats are not created equal. "Populating your resume with bullets, boldface, indenting, etc. is fine when handing a physical resume to a prospective employer or recruiter, but not always ideal when submitting a resume online directly to an employer. In the latter case, the resume often goes into a database where formatting is stripped. Consider maintaining two resume versions: one formatted for print hard copies, and an 'e-version' for submission to employer databases that is still readable when formatting is stripped."

Another way to maintain formatting: When e-mailing your resume, save the final as a PDF instead of a Word document to ensure that the document will be easily readable on any computer.

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Be keyword savvy

Keep in mind that major corporations do not read resumes, they scan them, says Hurwitz. To make sure your resume will be found for the right job openings, keyword-optimize your resume. "Employers are increasingly utilizing resume-screening software when evaluating job candidates. The software scans resumes for specific keywords related to a job's requirements, pushing keyword-laden resumes to the top of the proverbial stack," says McGovern. "Read the job posting carefully, and weave keywords into the resume in a way that does not disrupt flow and readability." This means that the resume will have to be customized for each position, cautions Trust.

It also is time to upgrade your email. "Get rid of that college email," says David Lewis, regional director of Express Employment Professionals and author of The Emerging Leader: Eight Lessons for Life in Leadership. "JSmith@MyCollege.edu is almost as negative as SexyKitty85@Yahoo.com."

Next page: How do you make up for lack of "real world" job experience?

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