Resume Advice for those seeking internships and first jobs

I am really, really glad I never pigeon-holed this blog and made it all about writing or reading or cooking or whatever because today I have a specific target audience I want to address and I am hoping those of you in the working world can jump in on this conversation with your own thoughts and opinions as well.

I  recently had the lovely opportunity (and I am saying this with all seriousness) of sorting through hundreds of college student resumes provided in application for a summer intern position I will be mentoring/managing.  I’ve also been reviewing resumes for some open positions in my department – I will not be managing these positions but our department is collaborative and many of us are consulted when important positions need to be filled.  In reviewing this multitude of resumes, I thought I would share some advice. Please note while I am honored and excited to manage our summer intern, especially since we all at one point needed someone to take a chance on us and this feels very pay-it-forward, I am NOT in human resources, have absolutely no HR experience, and this advice is solely from one working professional to a hopeful working professional, sort of in the vein of your friend who’s not a doctor giving medical advice.

My top resume tips for internship and first job seekers

  • Assuming you are in college, put your education at the top of your resume. No work experience is going to be weighted more than your chosen major and relevent coursework. Including your G.P.A. is great – don’t worry if you don’t think  it’s where it “should” be. We don’t get overly hung up on them.
  • Unless you are applying specifically for a graphic design job, do away with the fancy resume formatting and make your resume as straight forward as possible – I received so many resumes with dizzying amounts of design and I really had to suppress the urge to automatically put them in the “no” pile for irritating me.
  • If you have a liberal arts major like English or history or religious studies and you have absolutely no experience, volunteer or otherwise, in the field you are applying, including an objective at the top of your resume is a very good idea. Taking a moment to explain why you want an internship with my office demonstrate this is a thoughtful choice of yours and not something you are doing while totally freaking out that you are never going to get hired anywhere, ever. An objective really helps contextualize why you are seeking “real world” experience. For the rest of you…
  • you probably don’t need to put objectives at the top of the page, especially if you are going to write sentences like “my objective is to get a job that benefits my charming personality” or “my objective is to get an internship that will lead to a well-paying job with good hours.” Well, of course. That’s my objective, too.
  • There is absolutley no need to fancy-up your work experience. For instance, if you are a waitress at Claddaugh’s, you don’t need to say one of your tasks was “resolving client disatisfaction with product through consultation with management.” You can just say worked as a server – we  get it. We all worked as servers in the past.
  • Stick with one page. No, really. Stick with one page, at your age. No, REALLY. Stick with one page, no matter how badly you don’t want to. Stick with one page. Really.
  • If you maintain a personal blog and include that on your resume, make really, really sure it has content you want your future employer to see. I think some people would recommend cleaning up your facebook page and twitter accounts too but personally I don’t have the kind of time to cyber-stalk you that doesn’t matter much to me.

If you land an interview, wear a suit, even if you think it doesn’t jive with who you are. You probably won’t have to wear a suit every day for the rest of your life but wearing one to an initial interview is tremendously important. DON’T wear open-toed shoes no matter how much money you’ve invested in your pedicure. Don’t wear an over-powering perfume or cologne, especially during allergy season.  Do be yourself and not who you think the company “wants” you to be…as long as you are honest about yourself, your work and your background and approach the work with a little bit of humility you will be just fine.

Those are my initial thoughts for the newest group of rising college seniors looking for a full-time job in a semester or a year…anyone else have any advice they care to share? Or perhaps you disagree with me on one (or more) of the points?



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9 Responses to Resume Advice for those seeking internships and first jobs

  1. katy says:

    I’m teaching Written Professional Communication at Pitt this semester, and we’re just finishing talking about resumes, so this was both interesting to read and something I’ll probably share with my English major students! (It seems the rules are very different for engineers and students in the health sciences)

    Anyway, it was interesting to read your take on the objective. I usually tell students not to bother with one, because if they’re applying for the job listed, it’s probably obvious that their objective is to obtain it, right? But it makes sense to include SOME sort of line indicating why they might be applying for a job they aren’t obviously immediately qualified for…

    I also often wonder how to help students express transferrable skills if they don’t yet have direct experience. Some of them work as line cooks at the O, but really do learn things about communication and prioritizing, working under tight deadline pressure, etc. I try to help them express this when they’re applying for their first “real-world” experience gigs. Of course, the example you shared was super affected and seemed like a student using his/her “teacher voice.”

  2. Anne Camille says:

    Great tips, Courtney. The only thing that I would disagree with is wearing a suit & not wearing open toe shoes as hard & fast rules. I don’t know that I’d necessarily expect a college student to have a suit, but I would expect them to be dressed professionally. I guess it depends on the environment (type of work, area of country, etc.). If someone is too overdressed, and especially if it looks like they’re wearing something that they think they “should” wear or that they borrowed from their roommates uncle, it’s going to be apparent and can send a “trying to hard” message.

    This does not let someone off the hook for not being well-groomed. I worked (and interviewed!) people in a very casual environment. People showed up for work in clothes that I wouldn’t walk to my mailbox in — and most wouldn’t raise an eyebrow at their coworkers. But, if someone came to an interview in old jeans and a tee-shirt, & dirty shoes — even if he/she could dress like that every day on the job — it seemed way too casual and disrespectful of what the expected tenor of an interview should be.

    So, open toes shoes? Well, some are okay & some are definitely not. I have one pair that I wouldn’t think twice about wearing to an interview — and several others that I would never, ever wear to work. Similarly, I’ve seen people wearing closed toe shoes that may look cool on the runway, but are so inappropriate, not to mention impractical, for an office. If it looks like something that you wear for a night-out on the town, leave it in your closet. I think this rule works well for shoes, clothing and jewelry.

  3. Jennifer says:

    Great points, Courtney! And along the lines of having a blog that’s appropriate, I’d add that they need to start being aware of what else they are doing online, as well. The first thing I do when I meet someone new is google them. I know that may sound kind of stalker-ish, but it’s the ex-reporter in me coming out! And you can be amazed what you can find out from a simple google search. It can instantly turn off an employer.

  4. litlove says:

    I think you have it covered! I would just say, be honest. All the way down the line. It is so blatantly obvious when someone is bigging up a role or claiming experience they can’t possibly have had. It’s better to see a candidate being honest about not having much work experience than to see them edging closer to fraudulent or highly imaginative claims. I never mind a touch of humour in the covering letter – but I realise this wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea. But I do like a bit of personality – that’s what really makes one candidate stand out from the others.

  5. Pete says:

    Excellent advice, Courtney. Less is more on a resume. Honesty. Simplicity. Being straightforward. The covering letter needs to be focused and well thought-through.

  6. musingsfromthesofa says:

    I would just add (and this may be a publishing thing) that there should be no spelling mistakes or typos in the resumer or covering letter. Really, if someone can’t get that right when applying for a job, then I don’t believe they will take the job seriously. Anything with an error goes straight to my reject pile.

    And the basics – know what job you’re actually applying for, at least get the company name in the covering letter, not ‘I would love to work for your company because…’

    You are dead right about being yourself!

  7. Courtney says:

    Katy, I think an objective is nice if you are veering pretty wildly from what your background has so far prepared you for – a big leap in no way (in my mind) precludes you from an opportunity with my department but I really need to know why – and in my organization we don’t always see all the cover letters initially.

    Anne – I think you make a particularly excellent point about shoe wear – there are PLENTY of unprofessional non-open-toed shoes out there! I just happen to have a thing about people’s feet…and open-toed shoes in the summer I would probably forgive. But keep it professional, people!

  8. Courtney says:

    Jen – you are totally right. I have to admit so far I haven’t done any internet stalking but if I get a free moment I probably will – great advice!

    Litlove – yes, exactly. The only way to interview is to be honest, and be yourself….it always helps me to remember that I am interviewing them as well, in a way – that the job has to be the rightfit for me to take it as well. And I want the employer to do a little bit of work wooing me, too!

    Pete -yes, the cover letter is essential. I probably should have addressed that more specifically but I have to admit in my organization we receive a lot of resumes w/out cover letters and we can’t just toss the resumes aside because of this or we’d have no pool to hire from!

    Musings – oh, yes. the right name of the company – I’ve had that happen a few times. And know the job you are applying for – further excellent advice. Disturbing how many people don’t follow this!

  9. Pingback: About the elusive “About” Page « Smithereens

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