I’ve reviewed hundreds of entry-level résumés. Here’s what it takes to get my attention.
It’s not uncommon for sought-after entry-level roles to receive hundreds of applications. As a recruiter on the other side of that process, I had to become ruthless in my shortlisting process. If a résumé didn’t grip my attention within 10 seconds, it went straight to my trash folder. I know it sounds harsh, but the truth is, we’re always under a lot of pressure to find the right hire as quickly as possible.
But what does that mean for a keen entry-level jobseeker like yourself? To cut through the noise and make it past that initial scan, you need to ensure that your résumé ticks all the boxes—and that goes far beyond showing off your academic achievements.
Employers are looking for bright all-rounders who not only have the right skills and qualifications but also show clear initiative, strong motivation to succeed, and a great attitude to boot. With that in mind, here are the four critical factors that most successful entry-level résumés have in common.
1. The résumé makes it clear that the candidate is suitable for the job
Every entry-level role requires a unique set of skills and qualities, no matter how similar the job title may be. Successful candidates take the job requirements into account and use them to inform the content of their résumé—for every application that they submit.
A recruiter needs to see that you are suitable for the job they’re trying to fill as soon as they set their eyes on your résumé. That’s why, as a job seeker, you need to pay attention to the job requirements, company website, and any other relevant documents before setting pen to paper. Jot down a list of the core requirements and capabilities, and be sure to make them prominent in your résumé from the get-go.
This goes further than merely naming the skills that the employer is seeking—you can tailor your education and work experience sections to suit, too. What coursework, assignments, exams, or modules did you complete in college that are relevant to the role you’re applying for? Was there an aspect of your internship or part-time position that utilized a similar set of skills? Whatever it may be, make sure to focus the detail on the most relevant aspects of your experience—it’s a foolproof way to demonstrate that you’re a good fit.
2. The résumé focuses on facts, not fluff
If you pack your résumé with clichés and fluffy, generic statements, you won’t make it past the first scan. Stating that you’re an “ambitious graduate with a strategic mindset, exceptional communication skills, and a go-getter attitude” might sound impressive. However, it doesn’t do much to convince recruiters that you’re the best person for the job.
Flip the situation around, and look at resumés from our perspective. What reason do we have to believe what you’re saying? We’ll take your statements much more seriously if you base your claims on hard facts, real-world examples, and proven results.
For example, instead of listing that you’re a “great team player,” you might list that you “delegated workload between team members and used spreadsheets to track project progress, resulting in a group assignment grade of 96%.” Rather than stating that you possess strong written communication skills, you could point out that you “volunteered to write for the college newsletter and was offered a paid proofreader and editor role within two months.”
Carry this idea throughout your résumé by highlighting your achievements and results. Don’t just list your role responsibilities, and stay away from making bold, cliché claims.
3. It’s evident that the candidate has the right attitude
When I worked with employers who hired entry-level candidates, there was one obvious thing that stood out to me: a desire to learn, a strong work ethic, and aligned interests were just as essential as hard skills and experience. After all, who wants to hire someone who’ll hate every minute of the job and has no motivation to produce their best work?
That’s why your résumé needs to ooze enthusiasm and initiative. A great way of achieving this is to shine the spotlight on things you’ve done outside of your studies and standard part-time roles, which have helped you develop personally and/or professionally.
Let’s take the example of a marketing grad applying for a digital marketing role. They could share a hyperlink to their blog and talk about how their knowledge of SEO, analytics, and social media marketing practices have helped a local business gain 2,000 additional organic visitors per month. A graduate who’s keen to join an NGO can list about the successful fundraising efforts they helped steer as a committee member of a student-run organization.
Mentioning any extra responsibilities you took on while studying can also help to prove a strong work ethic. Were you the head of a college sports team or society? A spokesperson for your class? Did you volunteer to help new students settle in? It all proves that you go above and beyond. Additionally, pointing out any extra vocational or online courses or training you’ve taken outside of your degree can help to show your commitment to the field.
4. The structure of the résumé grabs our attention right away
Due to the sheer volume of applications, a lousy structure could make or break your résumé. I used to spend no more than 30 seconds initially reviewing a résumé—and if I didn’t find the information I was looking for, I’d move straight onto the next candidate.
There’s no golden rule of entry-level résumé structure and format, but you should aim to make it as easy to read as possible. This means limiting the length to no more than two pages (though one page is preferable), organizing your information under clearly signposted headings, and using bullet points, columns, and lists to break up paragraphs.
Most importantly, the top section of your résumé needs to prove that you’re a good match for the role at a glance. This is what the majority of recruiters will read first, and you need to spoon-feed them the information they’re looking for. Make sure your personal statement/summary closely mimics the critical requirements listed in the job description, and place a bullet-pointed list of your core skills underneath for added impact.
Andrew Fennell is the founder of CV writing advice website StandOut CV—he is a former recruitment consultant and contributes careers advice to publications like Business Insider, The Guardian, and Fast Company.