By Ruthie M. Counter
For recent college graduates, finding a good job during the pandemic is tough already. Why multiply that toughness factor by sending potential employers a weak resume?
Over the years, I have rejected many job candidates, not only because they lacked the required skills, but because misspellings, grammatical errors, unprepared layouts, and misplaced emphases screamed at me from their resumes. Alternatively, I have kept a few applicants longer in the search process even though they lacked certain qualifications because they made a great impression on me with their resumes and cover letters.
It does not take a lot of time or money or a Herculean effort to make a great impression, either. Here are some quick tips to help ensure your resume competes with those of all the other candidates in the pool.
Spelling/Grammar. As soon as you finish your resume, perform a spell check, but do not stop there. Next, read every word of your resume aloud to catch any undetected spelling or grammar gaffes. For example, if you misspell the word "their" by writing "there", spell check will not catch the error, but a thorough reading likely will. Additionally, after you read the resume yourself, ask a friend or family member with good English or writing skills to read it over for you. Having a fresh pair of eyes critique your resume will only help polish it further.
Layout. A resume typed on plain white paper with no stylization to it may have served applicants well enough in decades past. However, in the digital age, such a resume barely gets noticed (unless you are one of those rare individuals whose mad qualifications render resume design irrelevant). So, use the Internet to your advantage; search for "award-winning resumes" or "resume templates" and go exploring! You will find images of smart-looking resume styles you can adapt in your design or free templates you can download and customize in minutes. Moderation is the key, here; add some style to your resume, but be mindful of flashy gimmicks.
Emphasis. What should you emphasize in your resume? Work experience? Skills? Education? It all depends on where your strongest features lie. What you do not want to do, however, is to emphasize the wrong features for the job you are seeking. Say, for example, you have recently earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry but worked your way through college flipping burgers. If you are applying for a pharmacy or chemistry lab assistant position, do you place work history at the top of your resume? Probably not, if that work history only consists of jobs within the burger joint. Your potential employer will read your resume left to right and from the top down. If your work experience does not relate to the job you are seeking, emphasize your academic credentials closer to the top and in greater detail instead.
Crafting a solid resume can garner the attention you desire from employers and keep your application from getting quickly ignored. The time and effort you invest in making your resume competitive can pay dividends without being a burden on you.
Ruthie M. Counter is Associate Director of Marketing and Public Relations at Parkland College in Champaign, Illinois. Former roles at the college have included faculty in Communication and News Writing.