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July 13, 2010 > Counseling Corner: Resume advice for new high school and college graduates

Counseling Corner: Resume advice for new high school and college graduates

By Anne Chan, PhD, MFT

This week, I spent time coaching a diverse group of recent college graduates who are out on the job market looking for work. This was truly an exceptional group - all of them had good GPA's and were passionate about the fields they were pursuing. Many had already worked or interned and thus had solid work experience under their belt. All had worked hard to lay a good foundation for terrific resumes.

This was undoubtedly a stellar group of young people. But I noticed some common threads in the problems I saw in their resumes:

No Job Objective
A resume without a job objective is like a boat without a rudder. A clear job objective at the top of your resume helps orient your potential employer as to what type of job you are looking for. Having no job objective at the top of your resume makes it difficult to figure out if you want to be a customer service representative or a CEO. The best resumes should make it very clear what kind of job you want. An employer can't and won't take the time to figure out the purpose of your resume, so be sure to be clear about your job objective.

Vague Job Objective
I have often seen job objectives that go along the following lines: "Looking for an exciting position that will enable me to use my people skills and advance in my field."

When you read a job objective like the one above, are you immediately clear on what kind of job this applicant wants? Does this person want a job in sales, marketing, or coaching? The answer is not readily obvious from the job objective given. Very few employers will want to hire someone who is vague about what type of jobs they are seeking. So be clear, specific, and concise in your job objective.

Another problem with the above objective is it wouldn't appeal to most employers out there. Employers want to know that you are dedicated to a job and will contribute to the company - very few will be willing to hire you simply because YOU want to advance your skills.

Accomplishments without Explanation
One graduate I worked with had a string of amazing accomplishments, but her resume simply listed bullet after bullet of accomplishments without any explanation of what each accomplishment meant. For instance, she was president of a charity drive, but did not describe what she actually did as President. Make sure you explain your accomplishments briefly so that the employer will understand the skills you have.

Relevant Work Experience
Recent college and high school graduates share a similar dilemma - lack of long-term experience in the fields they want to enter. For example, a new graduate might want a sales associate job, but has only done odd jobs like painting and mowing lawns. I have several suggestions for tackling this resume problem:
* Use a functional rather than the traditional chronological format for the body of your resume. This means organizing your resume by skills, rather than job history. By using this strategy, you highlight what skills you have rather than the limited work experience you've had.
* Remember that volunteer or school experiences also count as relevant experience. You don't have to be paid to work to say that you have acquired a skill set. If our aspiring sales associate headed a fund raising committee in high school, this would be valuable experience to highlight in his or her resume.
* Don't put the months of your job or internship experience; simply state the year so as to de-emphasize the duration. If you were working a summer job, you don't have to state in your resume that it was from June 2009 to August 2009. You can simply say "2009" in the resume.
* Don't put irrelevant information for the sake of filling white space. Think carefully about what the employer is interested in and tailor your resume for the employer.

References Not Required
The sentence "References available upon request" is one that many people put on their resumes simply because they've seen it in resume templates. I recommend that you leave out this sentence because it is obvious - employers will request your references whether you write References available upon request or not. Save the space for something far more important - e.g. a line about a relevant work skill.

Languages Are A Plus
If you speak and/or write another language besides English, be sure to put this down in your resume! Being bilingual or trilingual is a definite plus for many employers so make sure to spotlight this in your resume.

It Takes a Village
Last but not least, get plenty of feedback from trusted teachers, peers, and career counselors. It is a difficult task to write a resume, and no one should have to do it all by themselves. Get help and guidance at every stage and you will end up with a resume that you are proud of. Best of luck in writing your resume and I hope you get lots of interviews when you hit the "Submit" button.



Anne Chan is a career counselor and licensed psychotherapist in Union City. She specializes in helping people find happiness in their careers, lives, and relationships. She can be reached at (510) 744-1781. Her website is www.annechanconsulting.com

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