This time of year, I get calls and emails from graduating students that are creating their first professional resume. They feel overwhelmed about creating a 1-page document to summarize their skills, education and experience. This is something many of us do several times during our career, so now is a good time to learn how to do it.
The Pandemic has added a new level of challenge. Students are off-campus and may have less access to their career offices and on-campus recruiters. So, this week, I am offering some suggestions for graduating students. My ideas should also help parents that find themselves playing career coach to graduating students sheltering in place at home.
I encourage you to read on even if you are not a graduating student or a parent of a graduating student. Our suggestions largely apply to anyone that has to start a resume from scratch.
A resume is a record of business accomplishments, so you may feel you have nothing to build on when you create your initial resume. Most of us have accomplishments, even if we do not have a record of salaried employment or entrepreneurship yet.
Your resume is a business report.
A resume is a short business report. You will create innumerable reports during your career, so this is a good opportunity to start honing this skill.
There are three steps to preparing an outstanding report:
- Gather the data,
- Prepare worksheets, and
- Write the report.
Gather your data.
The data for your resume is information about your education, professional experience, and professional skills or competencies. Assemble whatever documents you have such as school transcripts and records of summer jobs, volunteer work, or internships. Scan them or put them in a binder for easy access. This will save time later even if you do not need all of the detail now.
Professional experience includes activities that were not part of salaried employment and classes. These could include volunteer work, internships, and school projects such as student consulting.
A great way to create an accurate and complete report of any kind is to build it from worksheets. You can create worksheets for the major topics on your resume, including education, skills, reverse-chronological experience, and accomplishments.
The education worksheet will be short, despite the time, effort, and money you have devoted to school and training. You should record the official title of your degree or diploma, any honors you received, and the award date for the degree.
The skills worksheet will be more challenging for some of us. Create a 3-column table in MS-Word or a similar program and fill in as many “hard” core competencies as you can. Hard skills or core competencies are terms such as retail math, GAAP accounting, portfolio analysis, process improvement, legal research, etc. Employers search for candidates that have done portfolio analysis, for example, but they don’t necessarily search for people that say they have “great communications skills.”
Employers will want to know how you applied your core competencies in professional situations, so focus on skills you used at student jobs, internships, and volunteer projects instead of skills you only studied in class.
Next, prepare a reverse-chronological work history even though this seems simple. For example, it is helpful to make certain you know the recognized names of places where you worked, completed internships, or performed volunteer service, and when you worked at each of these places. You do not need names and phone numbers of supervisors for your resume, but you will want to have that information for job applications.
The most important and detailed prep document is your accomplishment worksheet. Create three-columns to describe each business problem or opportunity you were asked to address, the specific actions you took to address that opportunity, and the results you achieved.
My clients that are recent graduates usually find the accomplishment worksheet I send them to be their biggest challenge. The accomplishment worksheet is essential because employers know or can find your job descriptions. They do not know what you contributed.
Last summer, I worked with a new law school graduate that was preparing to sit for her Bar exam, and then seek employment. She performed many legal research tasks at her internship, but had difficulty articulating her results because she was at each assignment for a short time. For example, one of her assignments was to create a new HIPAA authorization form for her University’s hospital. We reviewed her internship performance evaluation with her and learned that the supervising attorney found that the form ensured the University complied with HIPAA authorization requirements. That became one of her accomplishments.
Write your resume.
You are now ready to write the resume. Put your name and contact information on the top of your page, then fill in your work experience and education. You may want to consolidate brief experiences such as internships under a heading such as University Internship Program so the document reads better. We consolidated four internships under one heading for our law school graduate client to create a smoothly-flowing, accomplishment-based presentation for her. This is analogous to combining several brief freelance projects under an “Independent Consultant” header for a mid-career professional.
Then, place a brief summary including a headline under the contact information, but write it after you write everything else. The headline could be something like “Entry-level Financial Analyst,” or “Legal Research Professional.” The summary should be a few lines describing your position and the industry you are in, your expertise and a few accomplishment highlights. Then, paste in a 3-by-3 core competency matrix using the nine strongest skills from your worksheet. (Make the gridlines invisible)
New grads often place education under the summary. You should consider putting experience above education if you have already done relevant work in your field. We usually place the education above the experience section if relevant work experience is limited to internships and other short projects.
Look at our resume examples for ideas on formatting your core competency and summary sections.
The resume will be relatively easy to write if you did your “homework” first. Save your worksheets. They will help with interview prep, too.
Additional Help is Available.
We will gladly spend 15 to 30 minutes on the phone with you to review your resume and make constructive suggestions. We can also develop a resume with you from your worksheets. Just click our free consultation link below to get started.