If you’ve just graduated from university, it’s time to start thinking about the potential career opportunities that interest you. But, as many can attest, landing your first job straight after studying is no easy feat. You’re likely applying for a job to start gaining experience in your chosen career… but the job description requires you to already have acquired some of that experience. Professionally, you’re between a rock and a hard place. While it may feel as though academic qualifications aren’t enough alone to get you across the line, some strategic and clever crafting of your CV can prove to potential employers that you’re an asset too good to pass up.
As with any job application, there are specific characteristics that recruiters look for—even in recent graduates. Since your professional experience is limited, it’s time to think outside the box and highlight your educational accomplishments, relevant industry experience, leadership qualities, and transferable skills. Here are a few ways you can guarantee incorporating these skills into your resume.
Do your research
Careful, focused research is always the key to securing a job, whether it’s your first or your fourteenth. If it’s your first however, the research you’ll be undertaking will create an important foundation for your resume before you even begin writing it. Start the process by reading job postings that are relevant to your desired industry and experience level, making note of certain keywords as well as skills and requirements that are common among them. You can also spend some time reaching out to any contacts you might have—university lecturers or managers you’ve encountered during internships, for example—to get an understanding of the kinds of inclusions they’d be impressed to see on a candidate's resume and work your findings into your own.
Get the layout right
Don’t let an overcrowded format or poorly structured resume be your downfall. While there’s plenty of room to be creative or set yourself apart from other candidates, there are some hard and fast CV rules that should always be followed when it comes to creating an effective resume.
“A first resume should include items such as a career objective, a list of key skills, qualifications and courses, work experience (e.g. internships, part-time jobs, etc), volunteer experience, memberships, awards, interests, and references,” advises Katie Roberts, director of Katie Roberts Career Consulting.
Work your research, including keywords and skills, into these sections to show recruiters you could fulfill the role effectively.
Canva’s resume templates are already structured to optimize the communication of your skills and qualifications. Check out CVs such as Black Professional Resume or White and Minimalist Resume for simple yet effective examples.
Related article: The best resume format to try in 2020
Focus on your transferable skills
“The biggest challenge graduates face is a lack of experience,” confirms Roberts. “The job market is becoming increasingly competitive across many industries so graduates are having to compete with people who have previous experience in their field.”
Many will tell you that while you may not have the specific industry-relevant experience, that doesn’t mean you lack the skills required for the role you are applying for. In fact, all of your personal and professional skills have taught you something about working for an organization, even if that organization isn’t immediately similar to the one you’re currently applying for. These are known as transferable skills.
Transferable skills can be defined as, “the skills and abilities that are relevant and helpful across different areas of life: socially, professionally and at school.” Often, these skills can also be categorized as ‘soft’; the kind of skill that relates to your personal attributes or traits rather than something technical that can be taught or learned.
“[Include] any relevant university projects as well as internships, voluntary experience, memberships of associations or clubs and extracurricular activities,” advises Roberts. “This will help demonstrate qualities such as initiative, energy, leadership, motivation, teamwork, problem-solving, and communication skills.”
Start by brainstorming all the previous accomplishments you’ve had, from job promotions to leadership opportunities at school. Next, assess the skills that you learned from each. For example, if you were a School Prefect, this shows the skill of leadership. Some other examples of skills that could be useful to demonstrate aptitude in include marketing, teamwork, creative thinking, collaboration as well as oral and written communication.
For a clean resume template that allows you to clearly display your transferable skills, try the Black Orange Modern Photo College Resume template, or the Navy Blue Orange Simple College Resume template.
Highlight your academic accomplishments
If professional experience is lacking, consider how your educational achievements could tip the scales in your favor. When applying for your first job, outlining your academic journey thus far—especially if the job is linked to a graduate program—is a great way of demonstrating commitment and knowledge to your desired profession.
While there’s no need to go all the way back to your early school years, it’s worth including the university you studied at, and the degree you completed, as well as some of the specialist subjects (should they be relevant). This shows the recruiter the theoretical knowledge you have and may point to some necessary hard skills (or technical knowledge) that are required for the position. You’re also showing the recruiter that you have the discipline required to complete assignments and pass examinations.
Secondly, it’s important to include any notable achievements from your studies too. Whether it’s the awards you’ve received, high marks, or glistening references from your teachers, these academic achievements serve as a strong character reference.
Related article: Here’s what your resume should look like for 2020
Include leadership experience
While you may not be applying for a managerial position just yet, recruiters often look for the potential of career growth within the company and this is where previous leadership experience can show your potential.
Getting promoted in your part-time job, being part of a student representative council, or establishing new ways of doing things at your internship all show that you have the potential to grow and be taught within a company.
Employ language tricks
The language you use in your resume matters. Of course, there are the more obvious requirements like proper grammar and the correct spelling (always proofread it before you send it off!), but there are also specific language tricks you can use to make a strong first impression on the recruiter:
- Use action verbs. One easy trick to highlight your accomplishments is to use action verbs. Action verbs express physical or mental action. For a resume, words like operated, executed, coordinated, and produced provide a clear picture of your previous experience.
- Mirror the job description. With so many resumes to read, mirroring the language used in the job description makes it easier for the recruiter to find the direct links between your previous experience and the advertised job.
- Quantify when possible. When possible, include data to quantify your achievements. For example, you might say that you increased the social media reach of your college newspaper by 15,000 followers on Instagram, or that you helped an average of 60 customers per day at your previous retail job.
Related article: 100 resume power words
Use design principles to help sell your skills
Research has shown that recruiters spend as little as six seconds reading your resume. One way to grab their attention is with the design of your resume. Consider the effects of white space on readability, for example, and what the simple use of one bright color can do to grab attention.
- When planning out your resume, it’s best to edit your academic and professional experience to be the most recent and most relevant. This means that when you go to design your resume, you have all of your text prepared.
- Use a pre-designed template that is most appropriate for the industry you are applying for. If you’re going for an office job in the corporate sphere, it’s best to choose a resume that uses traditional formatting and muted hues. However, if you’re applying for jobs in the creative sector, you can opt for more unique templates that incorporate unique layouts and bold colors.
- Ensure that there is enough white space on the page. A cluttered resume can distract and overwhelm the recruiter. White space allows your resume to become easily scannable.
Write a personalized cover letter
Although not always explicitly requested, a cover letter personalized to the job is a crucial step in the application process. It’s the best way to home in on the skills and achievements that are the most relevant and that you’re most proud of, ensuring they’re not buried somewhere else in any unread portion of your resume.
Include a little about who you are and why you’re interested in the position, a summary of your relevant skills, and how you plan to effectively fulfill the role and how you align with the mission of the company. Don’t be afraid to express your personality here; while your resume is a more structured summary, this can be slightly more conversational and expressive.