Resumes For Recent Grads: Translating Campus Experiences Into Real-World Skills
If you’re a recent grad, I hope you've snagged the job of your dreams with a great company, perhaps after having completed summer internships or cooperative work programs with your current employer. But you may be in the midst of a job search (or as a rising senior, getting ready to launch a campaign) and wondering what should be included on your résumé and what is best left unsaid. Will the bartending gig make you seem unsuitable for corporate life? Will employers avoid those who have spent summers on church mission trips? I’ll share ways to translate class projects, volunteer activities, and campus involvement into real-life skills valuable in the workplace.
So, should you include the bartending job and church mission trips? It depends…on your career goals and other experiences. If you hope to land an event planning position with the community affairs department of a major corporation or want to build a career in the hospitality industry, then your stints tending bar for black-tie galas are relevant; but if you’ve spent the last two summers orchestrating formal dinners with guest lists exceeding 500 people or running a bed & breakfast while the owners took an extended vacation, then the bartending jobs may be eliminated in favor of more significant experience.
For the mission trips, consider your duties and the working environment. Your experiences may be impressive to a hiring manager if you helped provide medical attention to people in a foreign country and want to work in a hospital with a large immigrant population, if you tutored at-risk children and want to be a teacher in an inner-city high school, or you repaired houses and hope to start a career in construction.
To figure out what’s relevant, it’s helpful to do 3 things:
- Clarify what kind of position you’re hoping to find and/or what type of company might have such a position;
- Define the capabilities that the person in this position will need in order to excel and/or what types of skills the company values;
- Determine the relevance of each experience (paid job, volunteer work, campus activity, or class project) to your target position and its significance relative to all of your qualifications.
Then, think about experiences that can be applied to the needs of a potential employer. If you majored in fashion design, you may have researched seasonal trends, conceptualized design themes, and selected color palettes. The computer science major may have led a system conversion, written and tested programming code, evaluated new technology, and provided technical support to users.
If you’re not exactly sure what you’d like to do after college or your dream job is not yet attainable, then consider general abilities that most any employer will find useful, such as the ability to:
- Research information, draw conclusions, and present findings;
- Communicate effectively through written and oral presentations;
- Collaborate with people on multi-disciplinary teams;
- Manage projects by setting goals, defining project components with timelines, making assignments, reviewing progress, resolving issues, and bringing projects to conclusion.
Is it necessary to have acquired these experiences in a paid position? No! You may have built skills by completing a class assignment, going on an outing with your sorority, or hanging out a friend. While you don’t want to overstate the value of the all-nighter you pulled helping your roommate study for a big exam ("provided remedial instruction to underperforming student"?), it’s okay to discuss meaningful experiences.
Examples of what you might include:
- Campus club project: planned and directed a 5K fundraiser; led club members in securing business sponsorships and in-kind donations, promoting participation among students and community members, and supervising race-day activities.
- Student competition: designed and built an unmanned aerial vehicle that performed specific tasks by interpreting GPS navigational data, working in collaboration with a cross-functional team.
- Sorority/Fraternity: participated in community service projects that included hosting a health fair for an underserved population.
- Class project: created a business plan for a proposed retailer specializing in licensed athletic apparel; developed budget for start-up and ongoing operations; devised marketing plan to drive store traffic.
- Other: contributed to the development of a proposal for an art exhibit involving theme selection, identification of relevant works, feasibility analysis, and budget preparation, yielding $50,000 in grant funds.
Should grades, high school activities, interests, or other stuff be included? Consider sharing on your résumé if the item
- is spectacular;
- sets you apart from other students;
- sparks a conversation.
Examples are earning academic honors such as Phi Beta Kappa; finishing 5 marathons in 5 months; earning the Eagle Scout or Gold Award (Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts); or competing on a high school team that placed first in a national science competition.
Hopefully, you'll uncover a few experiences that will be meaningful to hiring managers. Tell about your internship but don't forget the leadership skills you acquired as soccer captain or head of a class project. If you're a recent grad who has impressed employers with traditional work experiences and/or campus experiences, share your story.