How to Build a Strong Resume: A Guide for Students
Great resumes don’t just happen: They are carefully orchestrated.
Anyone who has talked to me or read any of my writings on hiring should know that I think attitude should be a major consideration in the hiring process. The logic behind this is simple: The skills needed to be successful in a position can be taught, but attitude cannot. Furthermore, bad attitudes can be destructive to an organization. An attitude is like a virus that can spread, good or bad, through your organization.
Having said all that, my particular message today is aimed at college students and those who are just starting out in their careers. I believe attitude is incredibly important, but I also know that you need a strong resume to catch a company’s attention.
And the only way to build a strong resume is to actively seek employment experience in your desired field.
Develop a Plan
Increasingly, it seems that when I talk to college students and recent grads about job opportunities, their resumes contain only fast food or waitstaff experience. The fact of the matter is that these students and grads should be looking for jobs in their desired career fields. Not only will such roles give them a better understanding of their chosen fields, but they will also help these students gain the sort of valuable knowledge and experience they need to impress potential employers.
It is easy to understand why so many college students and recent grads have resumes that don’t quite align with their careers. It is much more difficult to find part-time jobs in traditional disciplines like finance, marketing, and accounting that have hours to accommodate student’s schedules. It is also harder for students that may be supporting themselves to get enough hours at traditional disciplines, since these businesses do not operate at night or on the weekends, when most students are free.
Put In the Effort
Even though this situation is understandable, it still my opinion that students need to put in extra effort to find positions that are in the industries and disciplines in which they may want to eventually work. While most skills are teachable, it is advantageous to at least have a basic understanding of the terminology and the flow of work in particular fields.
For example, let’s say you are a marketing student. A good marketing candidate needs to know how to figure out and design a strong marketing campaign using all the resources they might have available to them. While you may not be an expert when you’re still in school or fresh out of college, you still need to have some basic skills, like copy editing, Web publishing, using newsletter tools, running webinars, and so on.
You can’t pick these skills up if you’re not working in your field, and if you don’t have these skills on your resume, marketing firms will be hesitant to even bring you in for an interview, much less hire you.
It is also helpful to be resourceful. I had a finance professor who would always give us tests that contained open-ended questions — and we had to handwrite our long answers in those days. His favorite saying was, “Life isn’t multiple choice.” His position was that you need to be able to think critically, not just choose from a list of five short answers.
While this was a pain, it did teach us how to be resourceful. Opportunities to gain experience will not always come to you or be easy to obtain. While you may have to go looking for them and get creative to land them, they will be well worth it in the end. Be resourceful when looking for opportunities. Approach prospective employers and give them a great reason to let you work for them.
Make It Happen
If you’re in high school, college, or just starting out your career, please keep these tips in mind. Go out and gain that experience, even if you have to volunteer a few hours a week to make it work. If you do this, a few good things can happen.
First, you can decided if you even like this type of work. By gaining real-world experience, you will eventually find a profession you enjoy, and then you can concentrate your efforts on learning the tools of the trade.
Second, you will pick up the industry lingo and job-specific skills that will make your resume strong. Couple this with your awesome attitude, and you will be the candidate of choice for employers in your field.