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5 crucial resume tips for new college grads

Writing your first resume after graduating is tough. Here are some tips for doing it right.

When your college years come to a close, you start the next chapter of your life: adulthood. This is an exciting time, but entering the real world can be a tough transition to make. Now that you’re a full-fledged adult, you have to find a job.

The good news? The job market in the U.S. is the strongest it’s been in nearly a decade. According to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for new college grads is just 2.5%, down from 5% in 2009. In addition, the average starting salary for a 2017 college grad is projected to be $49,785—the highest starting pay for new college graduates ever, according to a recent study global organizational advisory firm Korn Ferry.

To find a great first job, however, you need a great resume. Fortunately, “you don’t need to be a Rhodes Scholar” to craft a solid CV, says Lisa Johnson, a recruiter based in Sydney, Australia.

Here’s how to make your CV shine so that you can kick-start your career.

Take stock of your achievements

Before you update your resume, you have to reflect on your accomplishments. This entails looking at your internship experience and college courses and highlighting your biggest achievements. But don’t overlook volunteer work. In fact, 82% of hiring managers say they prefer candidates with volunteer experience, according to a recent survey from Deloitte, a global consulting firm. “List your major accomplishments, what you learned during your involvement, and any relevant skill sets that you used, same as if it were a paid position,” says Bunny Robinson, a principal at Minnesota-based HR consulting firm Robinson-Robinson & Associates.

Also, since you’re just starting out in your career, it’s still appropriate to include your GPA on your resume, “especially if it’s high,” says Deb Hornell, a career coach based in Illinois.

Focus on hot skills

You should look at job postings in your industry to find out what skills are currently in demand; after all, relevant skills can change over time, especially as technology evolves. Granted, there are certain skills that are excellent to have in your repertoire—and on your resume—no matter what field you’re in. A recent Payscale.com survey found that writing proficiency, public speaking, critical thinking/problem solving, communication, and leadership are five skills that hiring managers look for among recent college graduates. Having these skills on your CV can help set you apart from other entry-level job seekers.

Proofread, proofread, proofread!

We can’t emphasize this enough. Attention to detail is a requirement for many jobs. Therefore, the last thing you want is for a hiring manager to spot a typo on your resume. A survey by staffing agency Accountemps found that it takes only one typo for hiring managers to rule candidates out.

In addition to spell-checking your resume in Microsoft Word, you should ask a friend or family member (someone with a critical eye) to proofread your CV. (You may also be able to get a career advisor from your college’s career center to proofread it for you.) Pro tip: Microsoft Word, by default, doesn’t spell check words in uppercase letters, so make sure you adjust the settings before running your resume through spell check.

Don’t futz with the formatting

If you’re trying to squeeze a ton of information onto your resume, you might be considering using a smaller typeface or shrinking the margin to get everything to fit. But playing with the formatting can be dangerous, since you don’t want to visually overwhelm the reader. You should opt for at least a 10-point font and use a standard typeface, like Cambria, Calibri, or Georgia, so that your document translates between operating systems. As for margins, “the top and bottom margins don’t matter as much, but the side margins need [to be] at least 0.75 inches,” says Susan Ireland, a San Francisco-based resume writer and career coach. “A document with narrow margins makes the line lengths of the text too long to be read easily.”

Moreover, unless you’re applying for a job in a creative industry (e.g., graphic design, advertising, performing arts), you should be mindful of over-designing your resume. Putting your CV on hot pink paper, for instance, can distract an employer and make you look unprofessional.

Tailor your resume to the job

It’s OK to create a “master resume” that you use as a template for job applications, but you should tweak your resume to match the position that you’re applying for. Indeed, a 2015 survey by U.S. staffing firm Addison Group found that 90% of hiring managers say they’ve noticed when a resume isn’t tailored to the position.

An important aspect of customizing your resume ie ensuring it contains the right keywords. This will optimize your resume for applicant tracking systems, which is software used by many employers to pre-filter resumes based on keywords and phrases. Your best approach is to mirror the language that appears in the job posting: “The most effective way of ensuring the right keywords are in your CV is to carefully review the job advertisement and job description,” says Lis McGuire, a resume writer in the UK. “What words is the recruiter using to describe the role? These are the words they’ll be searching CVs for using the ATS.”

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