TUN sits down with Katie Seitz, a career coach at Stony Brook University’s Career Center, to discuss tips and keywords that you can use to make your resume stand out.
TUN: Katie, thanks so much for joining.
SEITZ: Jackson, thank you so much for having me here today.
College students and recent graduates have to compete for jobs and other employment opportunities with professionals who may have a lot more experience than they have. That makes it even more important for students and recent graduates to create well-crafted resumes so that they can stand out from the competition.
Are there any specific words or phrases that you would advise students to try to keep off of their resumes?
There are four main things that students want to avoid.
The first one is, avoid having long paragraphs. I tell students that bullet points are really great to showcase skills. Long paragraphs can take up a lot of space, and recruiters usually take about 6–30 seconds to look at a resume.
You want to make sure that you’re utilizing as much of the page as possible. That means maybe taking the entire page laterally and making sure you don’t have too many blocks of different paragraphs.
The second thing that you want to make sure you don’t do is, include words like “objective” at the top of your resume. In the past, a lot of students might have explained that their “objective” is to gain a full-time job. That’s very straightforward.
Instead, we encourage students to change the title. A great example is saying something like “key accomplishments,” “key strengths” or even something like “core competencies.” Again, you’ll want to use bullet points.
For example, you might want to quantify how many years of experience you’ve had in a specific industry or highlight great transferable skills that might align with the job posting that you’re applying to.
In that “key accomplishment” section, you might emphasize what we call “power skills” — those transferable skills like communication, being detail-oriented or organized. You might want to highlight that in the first section of your resume.
Another thing is that, a lot of times, students will put “references upon request” at the bottom of their resumes. I personally think that is a space filler. The candidate will be able to provide a separate document with references, so you don’t need to put that on your resume.
The third thing that I tell students to avoid is, having bullet points that start out with words like “responsibilities” or having words like “duties” and then listing all of the responsibilities that were on the job description when they applied for the position.
Instead, you might want to just demonstrate more accomplishments that you’ve been able to fulfill in that position or more of those key strengths.
I’ll give you an example. A lot of times, students have customer service experience. So, instead of just saying you were responsible for providing outstanding customer service skills, you might want to have a bullet point saying something like:
- “Demonstrated adaptability while providing excellent customer service as a shift leader in a busy retail environment and managing other priorities”
See how you’re explaining your accomplishment rather than just saying that you have customer service experience.
The fourth thing that you might want to avoid is, saying pronouns like “I” or “my.” You never really want to write in the first person on your resume.
If a job calls for specific skills like strong organizational skills, for example, you want to include that in your resume. But, simply saying that you have strong organizational skills is pretty cliche and boring. It doesn’t stand out.
So, I want to go through a few skills that employers often look for and ask you how they can be rephrased to sound more compelling.
Let’s start with communication skills. What are some ways that students can explain that they have good communication skills without simply saying it bluntly?
Great question. Think about how you can utilize your action verbs. Also, students sometimes forget where they can show skills like communication.
Think about class projects, internships, volunteer work or also even part-time jobs.
In the eyes of the recruiter, rather than telling me that you have communication skills, show me where you use those communication skills.
I’ll give you an example. You might want to use strong action verbs on those bullet points like “conveyed” or “engaged.” You may be “connected” or “influenced.”
I’ll give you a perfect example of a bullet point that you can use for communication:
- “Served as a liaison to the campus community as president of the creative arts club and presented various campus groups to increase awareness to over 100 students”
Not only are we as the recruiter seeing your communication with different groups of students, you’re also quantifying how many people you’re able to reach. That’s a perfect example of communication.
How about organizational skills? How can students better explain on their resumes that they have good organizational skills?
We’re now living in this virtual environment. It’s very important for students to show that they have organization skills
Think about action verbs like “cataloging” or “manage.” You could even use words like “arrange.” Another great phrase to use is “meet deadlines.” That shows transferable skills with organizing.
For example, we can use a bullet point like:
- “Developed agenda, scheduled speakers, and facilitated discussion groups as coordinator in a four-day international student conference”
See how you’re able to juggle different things with that description and you’re utilizing different practitioners as well? You could be organizing different things, including your time, tasks and deadlines, for example.
How about interpersonal skills? How can students better explain that they have good interpersonal skills on their resumes?
Interpersonal skills are very important for candidates to be able to represent on their resumes.
A lot of times, depending on the industry, employers also want to see critical thinking skills. How quickly can you think on your feet?
As an example of interpersonal skills on your resume, you can say something like:
- “Tutored and mentored high school students at youth works, an after-school enrichment program for underrepresented youth”
See how you’re able to serve different populations? This demonstrates global understanding as well as tutoring and mentoring skills.
Interpersonal skills are very important to recruiters. They want to make sure that you’re able to talk to different co-workers and to different employers. So, you want to make sure that you’re really highlighting how you’re able to effectively understand or relate to other people.
How can students relay that they have good management skills? Of course, students might not be going straight into managerial positions. But, it’s still a good skill that students should be able to portray.
Even with management, I can give you a perfect example. Students might not be going directly into management. But, we even think about competencies like career management. How are you managing the path you want to take in your future? Are you networking with people? Are you utilizing resources to identify different career paths?
That’s one example of management. There are also digital tools, such as Microsoft platforms, that help with management. Outlining that you know how to use digital management tools can show transferable skills.
A perfect bullet point that you might want to use to showcase management is:
- “Provided organizational support to staff, including managing schedules, supply purchasing, filing, preparing development materials, and coordinating meetings”
See how you’re able to really balance your time and manage different projects while also understanding what your specific responsibility is?
How can students relay that they have strong research and planning skills?
When it comes to research and planning, we can think about some action verbs like “calculating,” “project,” “anticipate” or even “outlining” and “create.”
A perfect example of a bullet point you can put on your resume for that is:
- “Prepared annual budget-based analysis of previous year’s costs and revenues as the student assistant for operations manager on campus”
For research and planning, you might want to use specific planning techniques. So, if you have a responsibility like budgeting, you might want to show that you’re analyzing your tools — maybe you’re taking a look at last year’s budget.
Are you taking specific action steps to help you plan? What type of tools are you using to help you search? That could be database research tools or involve asking other people for informational interviews.
Do you have any other tips to help students improve their resumes that we didn’t go over?
When students ask, “What’s the main purpose of a resume?” we’ll tell students the purpose of your resume is to get you to that interview. Your resume should be a representation of who you are on paper.
You really want to make sure that you’re tailoring your resume to fit the specific needs of what the recruiter is asking for. You want to make sure you’re going beyond just the job description.
That might entail some research on the actual company. You want to make sure you’re looking at the values and the mission statement, and you want to make sure you’re aligning yourself with that specific employer.
It’s appropriate to have a master resume and duplicate it to make sure you’re tailoring those bullet points to the specific skills that they’re looking for.
Again, you want to make sure that you’re showing your accomplishments. You want to make sure that you’re really representing yourself. Think of this as a marketing tool.
You want to make sure that you’re really utilizing bolding, italicizing and maybe even underlining if you want to use lines to separate different sections of your resume.
You have full autonomy to really change the words of the different sections. So, if you’re looking to go into healthcare after education, you might want to characterize your healthcare experience.
If a recruiter is going to take 6–30 seconds to look at your resume and you have prior experience in that field, definitely highlight that in your resume. You want to make sure you’re really identifying yourself and proving that you can really be a competitive candidate.
Thanks, Katie, for speaking with us today.
No problem! Thank you so much.
This interview has been edited for clarity. Watch the full video here.