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How to Write an Early Career Resume

 Crafting a resume that showcases your qualifications and markets you as a top candidate for employers is essential in landing a job interview. Your resume is the first glimpse an employer will get of you and is often the deciding factor in whether you are selected as a qualified candidate or shuffled into the maybe pile. 

Below are steps to help you grab the employer's attention with an informative and memorable resume.

Step 1. Gather the Necessary Information

Begin by gathering the information you will need to complete your resume, such as:
  • Education—school names, degrees, diplomas and/or certificates earned.
  • Work experience—dates, employer names, job titles, job descriptions.
  • The job ad(s) to which you are applying—tailoring your resume to each position increases the chances that it will include keywords used by resume-screening software to identify top candidates.   

Tip: It is not necessary to include reference names and contact information on your resume unless an employer has specifically requested them.

Step 2. Choose a Format

Don’t worry about designing your resume to fit on one page. A single page is fine; however, it is common to see resumes at two or more pages to ensure that all relevant qualifications, job experience and skills are listed.

Customize the format depending on your career level: 
  • Graduating students. Start with education and highlight your degree, major, minor/concentration (if relevant), academic honors, and college activities or leadership roles. You might also include four to six HR classes  you've taken or a list of HR projects you've worked on to strengthen this section. These additions are also a great way to capture keywords. 
  • Young professionals. After you've worked for one to three years, you'll want to move from a graduating student resume (where education comes first) to a professional resume (where professional experience is first). Chances are you'll also want to trim down the "extras" in the education section, like activities and coursework. Ask yourself if that information really matters three years post-graduation. What value does it deliver to your resume and the people who read it?

Tip: If you've completed internships, you might include them with your education or, if appropriate, showcase them in the professional experience section. You'll have to decide based on your individual resume where the internships fit best so that you can get the most impact out of them.

See The Evolution of the Traditional Resume.

Step 3. Provide the Basics

Give your readers four important pieces of contact information at the top of your resume: 

  • Name (including professional credentials such as SHRM-CP or MBA, if relevant).
  • Mobile phone number.
  • E-mail address.
  • LinkedIn profile URL. 

Be certain that your e-mail address and LinkedIn profile are live links— that is, someone can click on them from your resume and instantly e-mail you or read your profile.

Step 4. Choose an Introductory Headline

Writing a powerful introductory headline instantly communicates who you are and the value you bring to an organization. Position your headline immediately after your name and contact information at the top of your resume and before the summary section.  See Resume-Writing Essentials: Introduce Yourself with a Powerful Headline.

Step 5. Summarize Your Skills and Achievements

Highlight your most notable skills, qualifications, achievements, credentials and other distinguishing information. There are several options for formatting this information, including a headline format, career achievements format, credentials format and others. See  Resume-Writing Essentials: Five Most Powerful Career Summaries.

Tip: Don't inflate your qualifications. Embellishing your resume is likely to backfire and most employers will disqualify a candidate who has been found to be less than truthful on his or her resume.

Step 6. Describe Your Professional Experience and Accomplishments

Job descriptions communicate what you did in each position and are flush with keywords that are essential for getting the attention of automated resume-scanning systems. However, even more important than what you did is how well you did those jobs. Consider the difference in impact between these two statements: 

  • Assisted with the implementation of a new human resources information system (HRIS) to automate the company's recruitment process.
  • Worked in partnership with the technology teams to implement a new human resources information system (HRIS) and automate the company's global recruitment process. Delivered the project two months ahead of schedule and 15% under budget. 

Tell the reader how you have contributed to business objectives, how you have made a difference, what measurable results you have produced and how you have strengthened the organization.

Step 7. Provide Education Information

In addition to professional experience, an applicant's education is often an important factor for an employer when selecting job candidates. Include information such as:

  • School names.
  • Degree(s) received.
  • Relevant accomplishments, including leadership positions held.

Tip: Including a GPA is not necessary unless specifically requested or directly related to the job.

Step 8. Include Keywords Specific to the Job and/or Industry

Keywords are the foundation for resume-scanning software within applicant tracking systems. Make sure your resume has the right keywords to ensure that you're selected as a qualified candidate.

Fit in keywords from these categories: 

  • Hard skills. These are your qualifications from work experience and education. For an HR position, these include: Human Resources, HR, Staffing, Recruitment, Onboarding, Compensation, Benefits, Training, Succession Planning, Employee Relations, Organizational Development, OD, Human Resource Information System, HRIS and Compliance.
    This category can also include technologies that you know beyond those specific to the HR profession.

  • Soft skills. These are general business skills that are essential to many HR jobs: Communications, Project Management, Organization, Leadership, Team Building, Conflict Resolution, Quality and Interpersonal Relationships. 
  • Degrees, certifications and affiliations. Keyword scans will almost always look for college degrees (BS, BA, MBA). For professions such as HR, where there are well-recognized professional credentials, searches will also frequently include SHRM-CP, SHRM-SCP and other prominent designations that instantly add credibility to your resume. A scan might also search to see if you're a member of any professional organizations. 
  • Miscellaneous. Cities, states and ZIP codes are just a few of the oddball keywords that companies might use to search for candidates that meet their specific hiring requirements. Consider the company in Chicago that only wants to hire people within the local market. In that situation, a hiring manager will almost always use the states, cities and ZIP codes that are in the Chicago area to identify prime candidates in the company's resume database. 

Tip: Include the full names of keywords as well as commonly used acronyms, such as human resources information system and HRIS. You never know which of these a company will use to search a resume, so be certain to include both to avoid being passed over. 

Step 9. Solicit Feedback

Ask a friend, professor or, better yet, an HR professional to review your resume and provide constructive feedback. Typos, confusing formatting and a lack of focus are sure to frustrate hiring managers. The more eyes you have review your resume before sending it to a hiring man ager, the better.

Step 10. Keep It Current

Update your resume regularly, adding new jobs, achievements, qualifications, certifications, presentations and the like. You never know when that next great HR career opportunity might present itself, so be prepared!


Additional Resources

Your Career Q&A: What's Wrong with My Resume?

Bring Your Resume Job Descriptions to Life: Be Interesting, Compelling and Memorable

How to Write Powerful and Memorable HR Resumes

Sample Resume 1

Sample Resume 2

Cover Letter Trends


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