An Easy 4-Week Plan to Perfect Your Résumé

In just four weeks, you can focus your research, select powerful keywords, and perfect your résumé to convince any employer you're the right hire. Here's how.

Since processes and platforms are often tailored to any given workplace, employers expect to provide technical training to new workers—so the traits they value most when hiring recent college graduates are transferrable skills such as leadership, adaptability, and industry knowledge. Employers often rate communication as the #1 skill they look for in entry-level employees. The job market’s hunger for effective communicators is good news if you’re hoping to secure a job in a month’s time. If you use the next four weeks effectively, you can craft a document that doesn’t simply say you’re an effective communicator but serves as proof of your polished writing and presentation skills. The following week-by-week schedule can help you perfect your résumé as you begin looking for your first full-time job.

Week 1: Analyze keywords and craft your header and summary

The words you put on your résumé need to be chosen carefully. Here's what you should do to get off to the right start.

Conquer keywords

Before your résumé makes it into the hands of a human recruiter, it will likely be evaluated by an automated applicant tracking system (ATS). Most ATSs are programmed to count the number of times words from the job description appear in your résumé. You should begin your process by spending two or three days looking for open jobs that interest you in your field. Once you’ve found 10–12, make note of commonly desired skills you already have. These will be the keywords you use to craft your professional summary and describe your skills.

Related: Infographic: Skills to Put on a Résumé to Land the Job 

Craft your header and summary

Your header consists of your name, contact information, and in some fields, your credentials. Once you begin selecting a design for your résumé, you’ll want to make your name stand out with a unique graphic treatment and a slightly larger typeface. Your contact information should include a link to your LinkedIn profile but not your full mailing address.

If you think of your résumé as a promotional document and your name as a brand, your professional summary is the sales pitch or tagline. As you draft it, focus on what you can offer your first employer and not on what you hope to gain from the experience. There are several ways to present your professional summary: as a brief narrative, as a series of descriptive titles and adjectives, or as a brief bullet list of accomplishments. Whatever approach you take, try to employ as many keywords from your researched list as possible.

Week 2: Choose a format and craft your skills section

Effective formatting can make all the difference! Here's what to consider and how to make the skills section shine.

Select a résumé format

The three most popular résumé formats include reverse chronological, functional, and hybrid. Due to its flexibility, the most effective format for most recent graduates is the functional résumé, as it allows you to list the skills, knowledge, and experiences you gained in the classroom and on the job as well as from campus or volunteer activities.

Related: 6 Smart Tips for Selecting the Best Resume Format 

Use skills to tell a story

As you perfect your résumé, focus on building a narrative that demonstrates how your skills will benefit your first employer. Don’t just list a skill; instead, tell a concisely worded story about how you solved a problem using that skill. Not only will this give your potential employer a better idea of what kind of employee you’ll be, but you’ll also be demonstrating what an effective storyteller and communicator you are through your writing.

Week 3: Draft your work history and education sections

You're halfway there! Here's how to make these important résumé sections stand out.

Leverage your education

As a recent college graduate, your education should appear in a prominent section of your résumé, just below your professional summary, particularly if your alma mater has a strong reputation in your field of study. If your overall or major GPA is 3.0 or higher, include it along with relevant coursework.

Make the most of your work history

Your functional résumé will conclude with your work history listed in reverse chronological order. At this stage, don’t worry if your work experience doesn’t seem relevant to your chosen field. Any job you’ve had—from cashier to lifeguard to sales clerk—can demonstrate your ability to learn new skills and interact with coworkers, customers, and clients.

Related: What Is a “Takeaway Résumé,” and How Can It Help You?

Week 4: Select your design and customize your résumé

Time to make your résumé uniquely yours—though there are still some guidelines you need to follow. Here's how to perfect the finishing touches.

Polish your layout

Because many ATSs are unable to decipher information from two-column résumé layouts, a one-column résumé will give you a better chance of making it past the first round of the hiring process. In most cases, you’ll supply your résumé digitally, so select a modern, sans serif typeface like Verdana or Tahoma.

Employ your résumé

Once you perfect your résumé, remember that it’s only a template. You’ll need to customize it for each job you apply to according to the details of each job description. Like your résumé, every job ad tells a story about a need the employer wants to address or a problem it needs to solve. Once you figure out what that need is, you can revise your master résumé to make the case that you’re prepared to provide the answer.

Related: Entry–Level Résumé Mistakes to Avoid as a New Grad

There you have it: an easy but effective plan to make your résumé the best it can be over the course of a month! By following these steps, you'll have a document that'll make a great impression on employers. Just don't forget to update it after you land the job. Best of luck! 

For more help on landing the job, check out our Internships and Careers section.

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