Every year at my job we hire some summer students to do grunt work for us. At least, grunt work is what i always think i’m going to assign them. Then, when they finally get here, they become real people who need to be challenged and i find myself feeling responsible for their growth.
I’ve been in charge of students for the last two years, and the cycle is now happening again. I get a batch of resumes to go through, and then we select a few for phone screening. Phone screening is basically a check to make sure you’re not a robot, are responsive when spoken to and engage well enough in a basic conversation. I accept the truth that interviews are not predictive of performance. So basically i pick you from your resume, check you’re not a complete aberration, and you’re hired.
That makes the resume the most important thing. I looked at 30+. You have to stand out, and you have to not do stupid things on your resume. Here are some tips regarding what i looked for and what turned me off:
Note: this is advice specifically for college students applying for a technical summer job, based on my experience as a hiring manager for same.
- No objective. Don’t put an Objective section on your Resume. I won’t rule you out for this, b/c so many people have it because it’s in resume templates everywhere. But it is a useless and redundant sentence that takes up space that you might actually need.
- Cover letter. I was surprised how much this affected who i liked, but i found myself drawn to people who could write 3-4 paragraphs about themselves and why they thought they’d do a good job. It made them come to life, just a little.
- Formatting matters. It needs to be readable, and words like Job Experience and Computing Skills needs to be bolded and easily findable on a scan. Don’t be afraid to use really big fonts – you’ll have extra room for this if you get rid of the Objective (see above). Also, don’t use bullet points unless you have more than one bullet. This is something i got dinged on in 7th grade and have never forgotten. Looking at a resume with a bunch of single bullets, i can see why – it looks silly.
- Speaking of computing skills, programming languages need to be featured in a section on computing. This was the first thing i looked for, or the lack of it. I threw out someone who didn’t have any computing-related skills listed at all, then i later i happened to notice some Perl mentioned in her most recent job description. Why make it hard for me? You are applying for a computer job!
- Don’t list your GPA. Maybe. I don’t even know what GPA means anymore, as i saw many GPA’s over 4.0. What does that even mean? Definitely don’t list your major GPA unless it is higher than your overall GPA. Don’t list a GPA for high school but not for college.
- High School doesn’t matter unless you went to NCSSM or similar. Please also do not list that you received a “high school diploma” at said high school. You’re in a college. That’s good enough.
- Limit yourself to one page. You are a college student. You cannot possibly have enough content to merit more than one page. I think this is good advice for much more experienced people, too.
- Do not list your Availability on your resume. If you’ve applied for a summer job, and you are available from May – August, there is already an implication that it’s a possible fit. If you do choose to put your availability on your resume, put one set of dates. Do not put your Preferred dates followed by your Absolute dates. In general, if someone wants you, we’re going to work with you, whatever your schedule is. Don’t provide a reason for a company to exclude you before they even look closely.
- List your related coursework. I found this useful and interesting. It provided a place for me to look for questions to ask about your specific experiences.
- Work experience is important, although less important for college students than others. Anything technical is of course worthwhile. Your odd jobs can also be interesting, but don’t make them more than they are. Your job at McDonald’s does not need three bullet points. If you’re going to list your fast food service jobs, you need to also list the dates you worked. The best reason to list a fast food job is to show loyalty or a work ethic.
None of my students’ submissions were in an interesting format. I guess it is dangerous to try standing out. Despite the following eye-catching resume going viral in 2011, all of the resumes i received were in the same old boring what-you-would-expect format. A final tip for anyone who cares, check out Chris Spurlock’s advice on How to Make Your Resume Stand Out.