Not quite sure how to market yourself as a recent graduate? Unclear about how to position your skills and education effectively to employers? That’s okay -- you’re not the only one. Recent graduates typically struggle with what to put on their resume and in what order. Should you focus on internships or clubs? Coursework or side projects? The best bet is always finding a healthy mix of everything to include in both your resume and cover letter. Along the way, there are some rules you can default to while trying to find that balance.
Here’s how to effectively combine your college degree with your internships and wow any employer.
Resume tip: Match the job description and tone
The job description will usually clear up whether you should focus on your education or internships and work experience. If the job has a set of skills that matches your degree or the opportunity is coming from an employer that values educational pedigree, put your educational information at the top of your resume instead of the bottom. If they’re using that information to screen candidates, you’ll want to make it easy for them to pass you into the second round.
The same applies for your work experience. If some of it is more pertinent than the rest, highlight that position by adding more bullet points describing your responsibilities and accomplishments. You’ll really want to zero in on the job description and the employer’s culture to figure out what they’re looking for and emphasize accordingly.
Cover letter tip: Spend more time on your accomplishments
As you’re writing your cover letter, don’t make the mistake of telling a very long-winded story of your college years. It’s great to use a story format when applicable to talk about what you accomplished or how you’ve gained expertise, but it’s also important to get to the point: what courses, internships, work experiences, or side projects are particularly relevant, and what did you accomplish in undertaking them?
The more in-depth story-telling can come later, when you land the interview. Give recruiters and hiring managers the information that will directly catch their eye.
Resume tip: Leadership matters
It matters a lot. So if you have leadership experience with on-campus student associations, if you successfully started a club of your own, or if you were a part of student government, make sure you appropriately highlight it in your resume. Your work in student organizations, especially as a part of their leadership board, often acts as a proxy for work and leadership experience that you haven’t yet gotten out of a day job. Feature your main accomplishments as a part of clubs and organizations, like fundraising and organizing successful events, and demonstrate how they’re applicable to future success in the role you’re applying for.
Cover letter tip: Create a story of ambition
It’s important to show your ambition and drive in your cover letter. Employers want to see graduates that didn’t sit still even when summer break came around. They want to see individuals who decided to take an active role in their career before they graduated.
Show your advancement from one position to the next and how you took on more and more responsibility as time went by. Talk about how an internship expanded to include more responsibilities or how your research was cutting edge and important. Employers will appreciate that you are a proactive member of organizations you join.
Resume tip: Keep it relevant
Look through the job description to find the keywords and phrases that indicate exactly what type of person the company wants. Swap bullet points in and out of different work experiences based on what you find -- if you’re applying for an entry level marketing position, you should be describing an internship very differently than your application for entry level finance. It’s all about being savvy to the employer in question and making a custom appeal with each application.
Cover letter tip: Be passionate
It’s especially important as a new graduate to show your eagerness, passion, and excitement to join a company. Ideally, you should initially target companies that you admire or industries that you would be excited to work in. This should allow you to put together a clear and concise reason for why you want to join the company. Show your excitement, eagerness, and personality - it’s expected of young professionals. And it’s even more impactful because you’ll be telling the hiring manager that you have chosen their team and their company as the best place to start your career.
This could be because of past experience in the industry, passion for a product or service, alignment with a mission, or tremendous fit for a role. Any option you pick will set you aside from the thousand other graduate applications an employer receive that lack this sort of ambitious punch.
When crafting cover letters and resume tips as a recent grad, it’s all about taking the right job hunt best practice of tailoring each of your documents to any employer you engage with. That way, when an employer reads your application, they’ll focus less on the fact that you’re young and more on the fact that you’ve done a great job of staying focused and relevant.