Resume rules: Keep it simple, specific
Hey, all you college kids! It's time to get off your butts and start applying for jobs. Do not delude yourself into thinking you can wait until next May. Top internships, management training programs, entry-level investment banking jobs, and other good jobs get filled early. After all, employers are not stupid.
What are you going to do between now and June that will enhance your workplace value? For 99 percent of you, the answer is nothing. That's why the juiciest companies beat the rush and hire the best candidates before anyone else can get to them.
Based on my experience, I'd say a good rule of thumb is that you'll get one interview for every 50 resumes you send. That's if you're great. If you're not great, double that resume number.
And God help you if you don't have a decent resume.
Even if you're great, with a lame resume, your greatness will not show. Here are the three most important rules to ensure your resume measures up:
*One page. That's it. I don't care if you're the smartest person on earth or if you've founded six companies and sold each of them for a million dollars. Think of it this way. A resume gets only about 10 seconds to impress whoever's looking at it. So every line must say that you are amazing because you don't know where the person's eye will go first (though you can be sure the person won't read every line). People with resumes that exceed one page say, "I couldn't get it down to a page." But here's what a two-page resume says about you: "No ability to see the big picture." You are so mired in the details of your career that you don't know how to summarize it. This does not bode well for future career success. Cut your resume to one page.
*Every line must quantify success. A resume is not about what you did. A resume is about what you accomplished. Don't say: "Managed two people and created a tracking system for marketing." Say: "Managed the team that built a tracking system to decrease marketing costs 10 percent." Any college graduate can do what an employer says to do. Not everyone will do it well. Show that you're a person who does things well.
Think of it as the difference between writing, "Went to my classes and took tests" vs. "Have a 3.5 GPA." I know what you're going to say next: "I can't quantify my success. I didn't have those kind of jobs." You are wrong. Everyone has successes they can quantify. Let's say you had a babysitting job, which I hope not very many of you will have to put on your resume. But for the sake of argument, let's say you took care of two kids. You could write: "Managed household in parents' absence and helped kids to raise their grades one letter." Stupid, yes, but you need to make even stupid jobs sound only marginally stupid.
*No paragraphs. I shouldn't have to list this last rule because no one should still be using paragraphs on their resumes. But recent grads do it all the time. In fact, my friend who edits my website, and who's definitely very smart, showed me her resume, and I nearly died: all paragraphs.
No hiring manager reads paragraphs. With a stack of 500 resumes in front of her, she's scanning– looking for something that stands out enough to warrant an interview. Nothing stands out in a paragraph. So by using them, you take yourself out of the running– unless the hiring manager is your dad's best friend and he has to read your entire resume.
Most of you will say, "No paragraphs? Everyone knows that rule." Good for you: a confidence booster. You'll need it because it's a tough job market out there. Now start sending out resumes. Think of each one you send as a lottery ticket. The more you have, the luckier you'll feel.