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Resumes and cover letters, Student Events

Here's what recruiters have to say about your resume

A recruiter shares the key to making your resume stand out.

So, you’ve just graduated or decided to switch jobs, and you have two big questions: How do I update my resume, and what will recruiters look for when viewing it?

During a recent Handshake Career Event, we heard from Megan Brooker, a corporate recruiter at PowerSchool, a leading provider of cloud-based software for K-12 education. Apart from sharing some great tips on resume building, she offered the lowdown on what you should know before updating your resume.

The good news:

  • Recruiters look at every resume they receive (but only for an average of 6 seconds, so you need to make it count).
  • Having an impactful resume is the best way to land an interview—even more so than optimizing your Handshake or LinkedIn profiles.
  • 80% of PowerSchool’s recent hires were cold applicants.
  • The power to have a great resume is entirely in your hands!

The bad news:

  • There’s no quick fix to build a great resume.
  • It can take trial and error.
  • No resume can beat an applicant tracking system (ATS). This is just a digital filing software that streamlines candidate communication and collects information for audits. A real person always scans your resume for important keywords.

Tangible steps to improve your resume

So, you might be wondering: What are the best resume-building steps to take? Here’s what Megan suggests:

  1. Identify your goals. Are you looking for internships or full-time roles? Maybe you went to school for marketing but now aspire to be a software engineer. If so, you’ll need to tailor your resume so your goal is clear. There’s nothing hiring teams fear more than being an experimental stop on a candidate’s career path!
  2. Recognize your transferable skills. It’s hard to get experience when you don’t have any experience—recruiters know that. But you may have more skills than you realize. For example, if you want to work in marketing and were involved in a school club that sent email campaigns, wrote newsletters, or posted on social media, great! You’ve done marketing, and you can show this on your resume.

So, what should you include?

According to Megan, your resume should include:

  1. A link to your professional portfolio. Resumes are always generic, but an online portfolio will let you shine. Portfolios can include code, creative examples, or anything else that shows your commitment to the field you’re applying for.
  2. Company profile (if niche). If a company you’ve previously worked for isn't widely recognizable, give a short description of it under the company name. Be sure to list what industry it was in.
  3. Numbers, numbers, numbers! This one is big, because hiring managers love measurable, objective facts. If you’ve conducted 20+ interviews, maintained 12 Excel spreadsheets, or had email open rates of 9%, be sure to include this data.
  4. Experience that ties to your future aspirations. Think carefully about your intended career path, and identify any skills you’ll need to get there. Keep in mind that there may be opportunities at your current job, internship, or school to gain these skills so you can list them on your resume.

What not to include

  1. Objective statements. Unless you’re pivoting career tracks and need to explain why, these statements take up valuable space and don’t tell recruiters much.
  2. Creative elements. Resumes with funky design elements might look cool, but they typically prevent you from sharing as much information as a standard, 12-point Times New Roman resume allows for. ATS systems may also have trouble parsing creative-looking resumes, which can block you from being seen.
  3. A generalist approach. Create your resume around the type of role you’re applying for. Each bullet should illustrate how your past skills apply to the current position. If you need to make multiple versions of your resume to fit different types of roles, that’s fine!
  4. Ineffective formatting. Remember the 6-second rule! Front load your resume with a concise breakdown of the most relevant information. Work and internship experience should come first, followed by your education.


Q: If I’m trying to tailor my resume for potential internships when I have no relevant titles or work experience, should I include coursework?

A: Listing coursework may help, but past club experience will offer more important information to hiring managers. Much of the work you do in a club will be relevant to what you’ll do in your first internship or job, so think of ways to get involved and gain these skills. If you’ve written emails, organized hackathons, or coordinated events, it will show hiring managers that you have soft skills and the ability to go above and beyond.

Q: Is it better to reach out to recruiters first via Handshake or LinkedIn, or just apply outright?

A: If you can find the recruiter, it never hurts to send a message! A lot of recruiters list the roles they’re recruiting for on their Handshake and LinkedIn profiles, so targeting the particular individual may increase your chances of hearing back. You can also introduce yourself to campus recruiters and mention that you applied for a particular role, along with a brief rundown of why you’re excited about it and why you’d be a great fit. If you have a Calendly link to share so they can book some time to chat with you, all the better!

Q: Cover letters: Do they have any impact?

A: These days, cover letters don’t have much impact on the recruiting process. While they’re still common for jobs in government and higher education, most tech companies don’t require them. While it’s fine to include one, your time may be better spent finding the recruiter and reaching out directly.

Q: When is a good time to apply to multiple opportunities at one company (and risk looking unfocused) vs. applying to one position and hoping it’ll lead to the right fit?

A: Early in your career, casting a wide net is fine as long as the positions you apply for are ones that truly align with your career goals. Recently, someone applied to 30 different roles at PowerSchool over several years. She was amazing to work with and eventually got an internship before converting to full time. If you’re later in your career, it’s often more important to be focused and discerning, because you’re usually applying for more niche roles.

Q: Is there a difference between resumes for internships vs. resumes for full time roles?

A: With full-time roles, recruiters are looking for prior internship experience focused on soft skills, club roles, and any other work experience you might have. Always lead with this when you’re applying to other internships or full-time roles. If you don’t have work experience, you can lean on club experience and course work.

Q: Are there any tools to help with resume writing, editing, or proofreading?

A: Apart from resume workshops at your college career center, software like Grammarly can be very effective. You’ll also want to include keywords specific to the jobs you’re looking for on your resume and online profiles—these will get a recruiter’s attention!

Q: Are headshots ever necessary on resumes? A: No.

Want more answers? To register for upcoming events, click here. Recaps and recordings of past events can be found here.

Image courtesy of Alex Green via Pexels

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