They say a blank page is an opportunity. For college students, a blank page very well may be a path to a first job in a long, fulfilling career.
It is also an opportunity to screw up. A resume represents the first impression companies have of an applicant, and many human resources departments get hundreds, so the impression has to be easily digestible and mistake-free.
Your resume is a big deal, and if you’re just starting out in the world, you might not know what to put on that blank page. But first, you should know what to leave out. Here are a few pointers.
1. An Objective
An objective is what people used to put on top of their resumes. Having one makes you look antiquated, Vicki Salemi, career expert for Monster, said.
Instead, applicants should write an executive summary. Where an objective says what you’re looking for in a job and a career goal, an executive summary is more of an elevator pitch saying what you’re good at, including some of your applicable skills.
2. Irrelevant Work Experience
Lifeguarding at the local pool is a fine way to spend a summer. It’s a big responsibility, you get a great tan and your friends at the snack bar hook you up with free hot dogs.
Prospective employers don’t care about that. By the time you graduate college, an applicant should have relevant experience, whether through internships, volunteering or course work, Salemi said.
Including these internships isn’t enough either, Salemi said. A resume should show that you did more than make coffee.
“Get into detail with each role you had, so this way it looks to the employer that you were a valuable asset to the organization,” Salemi said.
If lifeguarding or working at the mall is all you’ve done, try to highlight experiences that would help at your current job. For example, if you worked at the Gap and put up with angry shoppers all day, you might say you learned to deal with a range of emotional customers on your resume.
3. Your Address
You can usually leave off a snail mail address, especially if you’re applying somewhere far, as many college graduates are, Salemi said. Recruiters spend seconds looking at each resume, so a distant address might make them think the company will have to shell out relocation costs, the former corporate recruiter said. (Here are the cities where new graduates should have the best luck looking for work.)
Simply an email and phone number will suffice, she said. A distant area code is less likely to tip off a recruiter about where you live. Also be sure your email address is professional, not something like firstname.lastname@example.org — unless you’re applying to be a baker.
If you do live far from the job, you obviously can’t hide it forever, but your resume isn’t the place to let your potential employer know.
“Let them fall in love with your skills and experience first,” Salemi said.
4. A Second Page
Perhaps a day will come when your experiences, skills and accolades can’t help but spill onto a second page. But unless you are a truly remarkable college graduate, that day has not come.
Having a two-page resume at the start of your career is more likely to be seen as a sign that you don’t know what’s actually relevant to the job.
“You should be able to tell your story of who you are and what you’ve done on one page,” Salemi said.
Make sure your resume is free of errors. Marc Cenedella, CEO of Ladders, a career website, said their Resume Reviewer tool picked up grammar, spelling and style errors in 80% of resumes submitted.
Such mistakes jump out at employers once they see them. You want your resume to jump out because of all the cool stuff you’ve done and can do for your future employer, not an unfortunate typo.
Want more job advice? Here are 50 things recent graduates can do to score a job. And while you’re cleaning up your resume, make sure your credit report is blemish-free, since some employers will pull a version of it as they vet applicants. (You can get a free credit report snapshot on Credit.com.)