Resumes for new graduates

Hello, soon-to-be graduates! Congratulations on your wonderful achievement, whether that’s a high school diploma, GED, vocational certificate, college degree or something else in the same family. It’s all hard work, and you deserve time to bask in the glory.

OK, time’s up.

No, really -- ticktock, as they say. If you’re not already carrying an imaginary timer in your head, you soon will be. Even with finals and capstone projects, you’ll need to squeeze job search onto your spring to-do list.

I covered steps for new-graduate job search a couple of weeks ago; today I want to spotlight your resume. Chances are you’ve already got one, thanks to the career center at your school. It’s tough to get past the ninth grade these days without an introductory resume course.

That’s a good thing, and those school-made resumes can be good tools. But over the years, I’ve come to recognize some weaknesses in the classroom version. In a strong market, these soft spots wouldn’t matter, but when jobs are harder to come by, you need more strategy.

Let’s start with advice that you may have received at school, or elsewhere: Modify your resume for every job. Nope. The minute you start doing that, you know you’ve got a deeper problem: You don’t have a firm job target, or you’re spending too much time responding to posted ads.

It’s true that one of the few things you can control when responding to ads is how closely your resume matches the posting. But seriously, do you think you’re the only one doing that? What happens when 200 other resumes also match the posting?

Instead of moving commas around on your resume, resolve to conduct a real search by contacting a pre-determined group of employers with the one-and-only resume you’ve developed to highlight your strengths in their common field. Want to be in sales? Make a sales resume. Considering program management? Then that’s what your resume should reflect. And if you really don’t know your job goal, choose three of your best qualities -- let’s say leadership, high energy and speaking Spanish -- and make a resume highlighting those strengths.

Space is short, and so is time. Here are four tips to get your resume out of the classroom and into the job market:

Introduction: Instead of a job objective, which forces you to change the resume frequently, begin by introducing yourself to the reader and presenting your best qualities. Experiment with a headline or a Profile, or both.

For example, here’s your headline: “Spanish-speaking team leader with business management training.” And here’s your Profile: “Energetic team leader with skills in writing, presenting and database management. Recent degree in Business Management enhances natural leadership and administrative abilities. Able to juggle multiple projects while meeting customer needs; bilingual in Spanish and English.”

Education: Whether you place this section at the beginning or the end of your resume, lead with your degree and major, not your school. For example, "Bachelor of Science in Business Management, Amy's University, Bestown, IA, 2012." Unless you graduated from the employer's alma mater, it will always be the degree that matters most, not the school.

Courses: If you list courses, limit yourself to only a few of the most relevant: "Social Media Marketing. Thirteen-week course highlighting five social media conduits (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, blogging) and their best uses for marketing services and products. Learned how to use each medium and developed a portfolio of sample work."

Experience: Make the most of what you have, but don't overdo it. For example, don't present internship experiences in the same context as a full-time job, as employers know there's a difference. Just label each role clearly and explain the work performed.

If you’ve had numerous “kid” jobs, consider making two sections: Related Experience for your most impressive positions, and Additional Work Experience for everything else. The entries in the first section need descriptions, but those in the second category rate only one line each:

Server, Joe’s Grill, July 2011-present

Newspaper Carrier, Center City Press, 2004-2008

You might be tempted to omit these jobs, but you shouldn’t. At this point in your career, employers want to know that you’ve been working, even if it isn’t in their field.

The most important tip of all? Get your resume done, check it for errors, then get it out there. As you move into the job market, you’ll learn that perfection rarely matters as much as timeliness and follow-through. It won’t be your resume that gets you the job; it’ll be you.

Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul, Minn. She can be reached at or at 626 Armstrong Ave., St. Paul, MN 55102.