Resume mistakes by college students
The other day one of my juniors from DU reached out to me and asked me for my opinion on her resume, what with placement season doing the rounds. While going through it, I was reminded of the hundreds of resumes I’ve gone through for positions in DU Beat and the Moksha Foundation, the NGO I used to work for in college. I also remembered how I loved analyzing them; not just for the sake of deciding whom to interview, but also seeing what can be improved, what should have been highlighted and what could have been kept out. For my second and third year in college, I would also hold an informal session with my department juniors extending some tips on resume writing for summer internships.
While I’m obviously no professional on this, and resumes differ largely based on who you are and what you’re applying for, I thought I’d put together a list of some common mistakes I’ve seen on resumes by college students. Of course, I wouldn’t say this can really be attributed to the people writing the resumes – we aren’t exactly taught these things in college! Feel free to agree/disagree (and let me know why) and add to the list in your comments below.
Back to the basics
This has to be on the list because it’s the most overlooked factor. Now, I’m not saying someone will invite you to an interview just because you know where to use a semicolon but small errors can annoy the person reading it. Plus, it shows a lack of attention to detail. I’ve seen all sorts of errors in this category. There was one which had a watermark of a particular DU college, whereas the student was from another college altogether. Then there was another one with a black background and yellow font. And there have been numerous resumes with spelling mistakes, random design elements and inconsistent fonts.
Prioritization – what to keep, what to leave out
You might have a lot of things to list on your resume, but as always, it boils down to prioritization. A resume just needs to get your foot through the door – you don’t need to list everything out in a lot of detail. There are two ways you can prioritize what to add and what to leave out – relevance and recency. If you’re applying for an editorial position for example, make sure previous writing and editing experience is listed on top. If you’re applying for your first job outside college, consider leaving behind your accomplishments from your school years, unless it’s something stellar. Attention spans are short, so keep your resume tight.
If you feel like you’re leaving a lot off, go ahead and add a link to your LinkedIn profile in the details section. (And of course make sure your profile is up to date!)
Set the right context
We all know how “creative” competition and contest names can become in college, what with half the names being in non-English languages, in an effort to be fancy. You can’t possibly expect anyone outside your own college or university to know what the competition was about with its name alone. For example, “Won 1st position in Bad Ass Aficionado MVP competition” means nothing without context. What was this competition about? What was the scale/level? Without knowing these details, it’s hard to say whether there was anything impressive about this sentence. Similarly, if you highlight your grades without mentioning what percentage of your class you stood at or list your scholarship without giving more context on it, no one will know if it’s a big deal or not (unless you’re a Rhode scholar or something).
Accomplishments v/s responsibilities
Some would say getting a position of responsibility on a college society or youth organisation, but it’s actually more important to talk about what you accomplished after getting there. So if you lead a team to the finals of a national competition for example, don’t list it out as “Responsible for collaborating efforts of team members for Business Plan competition”. Instead, say “Lead a team of 5 in XYZ Business Plan competition and came 2nd among 20 teams nationally”. If it’s an internship, talk about the end result of the work you did. For example, “Compiled research papers on the effects of war and international conflict on national GDPs across 5 countries which was published in XYZ journal”.
PS: If you’re a college student, and you’d like me to take a look at yours for some suggestions/inputs, you can send it over at firstname.lastname@example.org.