The Step-by-Step Guide to Your Post-College Resume
Congratulations—you’ve graduated! (Or, well, are about to.)
If you haven’t quite landed a job yet, you might be wondering if your resume should look different now that you’re officially a graduate. Does your education section move down to the bottom of your resume? Should you really include relevant courses? What’s the difference between applying for entry-level jobs and applying to part-time jobs and internships?
Rest easy: Here’s a step-by-step guide to what your resume should look like when you're fresh out of school.
Unless you have significant relevant work experience outside of school—a couple solid semester-long internships, for example—then your “Education” section should stay at the top of your resume. As a new graduate, this is still your greatest qualification. Not to mention, all the companies that have opportunities specifically intended for new graduates will be looking for this info front and center.
Right beneath your university, you may currently have a line labeled “Relevant Coursework.” Only keep that subheading if the classes you list are, in fact, relevant or send a message to the recruiter. If, for example, you take the compilers class as MIT, most technical recruiters will know that’s an exceptionally difficult (and very relevant) class. Or, if you’ve taken classes outside of your major that relate to your field of choice, this section can be helpful.
Same goes for “Awards.” If the honors you’ve earned mainly serve to illustrate that you did well in school, you don’t really need this section. But if you have awards that showcase your leadership abilities or other professionally relevant skills—for example, a distinguished fellowship like the Rhodes or the Marshall—go ahead and keep it.
College is a time to explore your interests, so it’s unlikely that all of your internship, work-study, or research experience is relevant to your current post-graduate interests. So, what should that look like on your resume?
The solution: Keep your most relevant experiences at the top of your resume (under your “Education” section) by creating a section titled “Relevant Experience” and another section beneath it titled “Additional Experience.” Better yet, title the first section based on your field of interest: “Marketing Experience,” “Business Development Experience,” or “Editorial Experience,” for example.
Breaking out your most important experiences from everything else allows you to still follow the standard reverse chronological order expected on resumes, while making it easier for recruiters to see what you’ve done that qualifies you for positions you’re interested in.
Extracurricular experiences are a big part of any college experience—not to mention, they often help you develop skills that companies want. With this in mind, try branding your extracurriculars in a way that is appealing to your future employer. For example, if you’re going into a field that requires taking initiative with limited supervision, labeling your extracurricular experiences section, “Leadership” is a good way to go. On the other hand, if your position requires more teamwork and community building, consider “Community Involvement.”
In terms of format, it’s a good idea to format your extracurriculars in exactly the same way you’ve organized your work experience: the organization name, your role (president, VP, social chair, sophomore representative), the dates you were involved, and bullet points detailing your accomplishments. You want to send the message that you took your work for student organizations just as seriously as your internships—and that they should be considered as such.
Skills and Interests
This section of your resume will likely be on the bottom. Think hard skills for this section—Photoshop, SEO, wet lab skills, carpentry—not soft skills like communication or organization. You can also consider adding relevant interests. (Though, emphasis on relevant—if you’re applying for a social media job, photography makes sense. Waterskiing does not.)
One big exception to keeping this section at the bottom of your resume is if your previous experience doesn’t really show that you can do the job. For example, say you’re a political science and computer science double major and are a solid programmer, but you spent all your summers during college on Capitol Hill assisting with various campaigns and not coding. In that case, it would be a good idea to push your “Skills” section up above your “Experience” section.
Resumes, like cover letters, should really be tailored to the position you’re applying for. Think about what facets of your background are most impressive to the hiring manager, and make sure your resume tells that story. Then, get it out there!
Lily Zhang serves as a Career Development Specialist at MIT where she works with a range of students from undergraduates to PhDs on how to reach their career aspirations. When she's not indulging in a new book or video game, she's thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.More from this Author