First Job vs. Next Job: Your Resume

On Tuesday I began a series of posts describing some of the differences between searching for your first job after college and going after the job that will take you to the next rung on your career ladder. Today I’m going to talk about how your resume will change once you’ve spent some time in your first career-relevant job.

To set the stage, however, a few tips about that resume you create while you’re still in college:
The focus is going to be on your education, so that needs to be the first section on the resume. The education section needs to include the following items:

  • The name of your college
  • The name of your degree (e.g., Bachelor of Arts in English, Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering), along with any specifics about a concentration or minor.
  • Your (anticipated) date of graduation.
  • Your GPA. Employers want to see that you have earned at least a 3.0 GPA. If your overall GPA isn’t a 3.0, list your Major GPA. If neither one is at least 3.0, leave it off, but be prepared for questions during the interview about your GPA. (And don’t lie. Many employers require a copy of your transcript before making a job offer.)
  • Any relevant courses. If you don’t have a lot of relevant work experience, you can provide details about specific courses, listing accomplishments such as working on team projects or completing specific assignments that are similar to the type of work you would do for the organization where you’re applying.

The second section on the resume should show relevant work experience. This can include internships, cooperative education experiences, part-time or summer jobs, or even volunteer work if the tasks you did relate to the job. In this section, you need to include:

  • The name(s) of the organization(s)
  • The city and state where the organizations are located
  • The dates when you worked there
  • Your job title (“intern” is fine)
  • A bulleted list of the tasks you completed. Each item in the bulleted list should start with a verb (e.g., updated the company website, trained new employees, wrot press releases).

You may also include less relevant jobs in this section (e.g., waiter, nanny, retail clerk, life guard), but you don’t need to have bulleted lists describing what you did unless there was something extraordinary about your responsibilities, such as training other employees.

Ideally, you will also include a skills section. This section can include specific skills, such as software or language skills, but also some of the “soft” skills that I’ve discussed over the past two months in this blog. If you have any certifications, you can add them in this section, changing the heading to “Skills and Certifications.”

You may also want to include a section called something like “Honors and Awards,” where you can list scholarships, academic honors such as Dean’s List, or any additional awards you have earned for academic, student organization, or volunteer work.

Finally, if you have room, you may want to add a section on Activities, so you can demonstrate your involvement in student organizations. However, keep in mind that your resume should not exceed one page unless you have a significant amount of work experience relevant to the position.

Once you have worked at your first job for a couple of years, the focus is going to shift away from your education toward your actual work experience. You will need to revise your resume to reflect this changing emphasis. For your revised resume, move the work experience and skills sections to the top of the resume. Depending on how closely your current job matches the job you’re applying for, you may want to list the work experience first. However, if it’s a peripheral move, you may want to emphasize the skills you’ve developed by putting that section first. Education can move lower on the resume, Honors and Awards may disappear unless they’re significant or you have earned them on the job, and Activities may change from school to community activities.

In the Work Experience section, you need to be as explicit as possible about your accomplishments, providing quantified data—e.g., wrote daily posts for the Twitter feed for eight months or produced detailed specifications for six product presentations.

There are numerous websites that will give you advice about how to produce a resume, but if you choose to look at that advice, be sure that the author is gearing that advice toward someone at your stage of the career. You can also find additional advice about resumes in this blog, and lots more detailed suggestions and models in my book. (See Tip 38. Create or update your resume and Appendix H: Creating a resume.)