In a recent survey, employers rated communication as the #1 skill they look for in entry-level employees. Since processes and platforms are often tailored to any given workplace, employers expect to provide technical training to new workers; the traits they value most when hiring recent college graduates are transferrable skills such as leadership, adaptability, and industry knowledge.
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
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.
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
Select a résumé format
Use a résumé builder to select a format. These résumé examples provide solid guidance on the three most popular résumé formats: reverse chronological, functional, or 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.
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
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.
Week 4: Select your design and customize your résumé
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.
For more help on landing the job, check out our Internships and Careers section.