Learn How to Tweak College Résumés for Job Applications

Employers may not seek the same information as admissions officials or scholarship judges do.

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When applying for their first "real" jobs and internships, many students are unsure how their résumés and cover letters should look.

The tricky thing is that employers are very different from colleges or scholarship judges when it comes to what they look for in résumés. Here are some of the tried-and-true methods we've found to make sure your application gets a second look.

JULIE:

Many parents today are wondering if their children will be able to find jobs in this troubled and changing economy. It's a valid concern, and college students-turned-job-seekers need every advantage at their disposal, including an effective résumé.

Here are some things to talk over with your student when the topic of job hunting comes up:

1. Remind them of university resources: Every college will have a career center that can help with résumé writing. In fact, many will have a university-level career center, as well as career centers in the individual schools of study.

Make sure your student is aware of these resources and seeks them out. They are staffed with people who have the latest information on effective job hunting and your student's best interest at heart.

2. Stress the importance of technology-friendly tools: Many—if not most— résumés today are being E-mailed instead of sent through the mail. And online professional sites, such as LinkedIn, are becoming increasingly important in job searches.

Recommend that your child start a LinkedIn account sooner rather than later, and that they keep it updated. This wouldn't be a bad time to remind him or her that employers might also be checking Facebook pages and Twitter streams, so keep them employer-friendly.

[Read more about how social media can both help and hurt a job search.]

LINDSEY:

There are several things that should set a job application résumé apart from a college or scholarship application résumé. The problem for most students is that they've never applied for anything outside of academics, so they don't understand how their résumés need to be altered for more professional applications.

Here are some tips I've gotten from career services at the University of Kansas.

1. Omit most high school activities: The rule of thumb I was given is to only include high school information on a résumé through sophomore year of college. You want to highlight what you've done since coming to college first and foremost.

Even up to that sophomore year cutoff, keep high school accomplishments minimal on your résumé. Only include activities that you spent a considerable amount of time doing or that show your leadership skills in some way.

2. Know whom you're talking to: The kiss of death with cover letters is what career counselors call the form letter. Never begin a cover letter with "To whom it concerns" or "Dear Madam or Sir." This shows an extreme lack of effort on your part, and employers likely won't even glance over it if they think you've sent the same letter to multiple employers.

Call the company ahead of time to confirm who will be reading the applications. Seeing their own names at the top of a cover letter can be a great first impression for employers. Also include specific information within the letter about why you want to work for the company and how its interests align with yours.

[Learn how to write a great cover letter.]

3. Avoid templates: Some employers will get hundreds of applications for one job opening, and it can become obvious if many candidates pulled a résumé template from the same program or website. Make your résumé stands out by creating a clean, readable, and attractive format.

You don't have to be a design whiz to come up with a great-looking résumé. If you're stuck, just search "résumé designs" online and tweak them enough to make them your own. A well-designed page can be what catches an employer's eye from the beginning of the process and may give you a leg up on the competition.

[Get more tips for altering résumé templates.]