Thanks to high unemployment and a shrinking job market, college graduates are having to fight hard to land a job. That makes putting together a stellar resume more important than ever before.
Joseph Terach spent seven years as a career counselor and he is co-founder of Resume Deli, a resume-development service in New York City.
On Wednesday's The Early Show, he discusses common mistakes recent grads make when putting together a resume and answers common questions such as: how long should the document be, should I include an objective, and how should a resume sent online differ from one delivered via snail mail.
College seniors are graduating into one of the worst job markets in years. According to research by Monster.com, 53 percent of college seniors don't expect any job offers when they graduate, compared to just 23 percent in 2001. Another depressing statistic: while the national unemployment rate was 6 percent in April, the unemployment rate for people ages 20 through 24 was 10.1 percent.
Employers have so many people applying for such a limited number of jobs, Terach says, that they typically spend only 20 to 30 seconds looking at each resume that crosses their desks. That means grads (and everyone else looking for a position) MUST produce a stand-out resume.
Don't Sell Yourself Short
The biggest mistake grads make is believing they don't have the qualifications to land an entry-level position, Terach said. They tend to discount the skills gained in work-study programs, volunteer positions and internships. While they usually list these items on their resumes, Terach believes that graduates don't look carefully enough at all they accomplish in these activities and downplay all they learned. You may not have worked in an accountant's office, for example, but you may have utilized many of the same skills by acting as treasurer and accountant for your fraternity. The key is recognizing the skills you've developed and then highlighting them on your resume.
Show, Don't Tell
The manner in which you highlight your accomplishments is going to determine if your resume is trashed or stashed away for further review.
"Don't say "I'm a good communicator," or "I helped do XYZ," Terach encouraged. "Show how you helped, be quantitative, use numbers, use data. That's what's going to catch the attention of employers. Once you share specific examples of the work you've done and what you've accomplished on the job, you won't have to say you're a good manager - it will be a no-brainer."
Note how Terach improves the following statement to become more results-oriented, using more and more data.
When asked if the last incarnation was perhaps a bit lengthy, Terach said absolutely not. "It's a concise statement full of useful facts," he said. It's these numbers and facts that are going to set you apart from other applicants. Several people may have been managers, not everyone upped sales by 20 percent.
Placing an objective sentence at the top of your resume is another way to get yourself noticed, but it's an optional addition. As a matter of fact, if you don't have a solid objective, it can hurt instead of help. Some graduates know exactly what they want to do when leaving school. However, the majority has no idea - and that's OK. But when applying for a job, you want to appear very focused. If you're not sure you want the job you're applying for or you're not qualified, that's going to come across in your objective statement. The statement will fall flat, and you won't land an interview.
The "Who Cares" Test
If you do choose to use an objective statement, that should be the first thing on your resume. Traditionally, graduates place their education next, followed by any professional experience. To help you decide what to put on your resume and what to leave off, try performing the "who cares" test, Terach said.
"Many people think a resume is where you're supposed to spill your guts - that you have to share everything you've ever done on your resume," Terach said. "While it's commendable that you wrote a 70-page thesis paper on the history of modern dance, is it really going to help you get a job as a banker today?"
Although it's often hard for graduates to part with some of their activities on their resumes, including them is essentially a waste of a prospective employer's time. Anything that doesn't relate to the job you're applying for should be cut.
Also, keep the resume to one page. In the rare case that you have a lot of work experience or have published several works, the document can be longer. "But 99.9 percent of graduates should only need one page," Terach emphasized.
E-Mail Vs Snail Mail
Most graduates will send at least one, if not a dozen, resumes out via the Internet. But before hitting that send button, print your resume and take a hard look. Just because a document looks good on screen doesn't mean it will print well.
"Margins, font sizes and type faces should each be re-examined in the hard copy version to make sure your resume is pleasing to the eye," Terach said.
He adds that you should always follow a cyber copy of your resume with a hard copy in case the e-mail is mistakenly deleted or lost in cyberspace.
Once grads have labored over their resume, they shouldn't skimp on their cover letters.
"Cover letters are crucial, at least as important as the resume," Terach said. "It's the first example of your writing ability, their first chance to see how you communicate - in a way, the resume and cover letter together are your first project for this employer."
When writing the letter it's important not to reiterate your resume contents. Terach suggests using the cover letter to flesh out an accomplishment you list in the resume. He said to write about a time you faced an obstacle, how you faced it, and why your solution was a success – again, use numbers and data whenever possible.
About Joseph Terach:
Joseph Terach (co-founder, Resume Deli) has seven years of experience as a career counselor, and has presented numerous workshops on resume and cover letter writing, interview coaching, networking, and online career management. His advice has been featured in The New York Times and Newsday, and he has had articles published in Money Magazine and Tech News. He is also the co-author of Crane's Guide to Writing an Effective Resume (Crane & Company, Inc., 2002). Terach holds an MA in counseling and a BA in psychology and English, both from New York University.