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Tips for creating a resume that POPS (especially for recent graduates)

I’ve been recruiting quite a bit lately for entry level professional positions.  It is heartbreaking to see the resumes of recent university or college graduates vying for their first career job in the business world, especially when most have Mac-jobs for work experience and don’t have well-designed resumes.  Perhaps I’m noticing recent grad resumes because my son just graduated from university. I want to call them up and give them pointers on redesigning their resumes.  Of course, that is not realistic, so I’m sharing tips this way.

So what makes a resume stand out from others?  Considering a recruiter pre-screens a resume within seconds, or worse, an automated system pre-screens on key words, how should candidates design resumes that POP?

Tips for creating a resume that POPS

  • Highlight summer job experience that is related to the industry or field you want to work in. (More on this later).
  • Use relevant terminology.  If you are applying for an engineering job, for example, make sure you customize your resume to the job posting, and use key terminology that matches the competencies necessary for an engineer.  You can also take this one step further, and go to the engineering association website to conduct research. Associations offer a wealth of information including job levels, required competencies, and salary information.
  • List volunteer experience. During university there are many opportunities to sign up for volunteer activities and to join planning committees.  If you are applying for a job in the not-for-profit sector, target volunteer fundraising activities. If you want to teach, list the volunteer work you did with the reading program at a local school.
  • Sign up and list professional association memberships that are targeted to your interest and field of work.  If you are a business graduate trying to secure an entry-level marketing position, join the marketing association and attend events.
  • List the clubs you belonged to during school, and I’m not talking about “Friday Ritual” at Clark Hall – the university pub.  Join and participate in extra-curricular activities related to the industry you want to be in, such as the marketing or the engineering club.
  • Note leadership activities such as President of the Marketing Club or Team Captain of the Rugby team. If you led the fundraising event, highlight the leadership skills developed.
  • If you worked part-time during the school year list the jobs, and number of hours per week and make note that it was while attending university full-time. This shows time management and work ethic.
  • Use spell check and then double proofread.  If you aren’t good at proofreading then ask someone who is, to review your resume.
  • Make sure your LinkedIn profile is up-to-date and matches your resume. Connect to  your peers, teachers, and recruiters.  Search your parent’s LinkedIn contacts and ask them to help you connect with relevant people.

During university my son was a summer student in the office of a construction company that built highways. He conducted quarry measurements, used AutoCad, and worked away from home for those summers.  Earlier on, I taught him how to look at job postings and then to customize his resume using key terms outlined in the job posting. It didn’t take him very long to catch on that it works. Before his last year, he wanted to come home for the summer and he landed a job with a municipality where he conducted research and cold called organizations about energy incentives. He finished his last exam for his Bachelor of Applied Science – Civil Engineering degree, he came home for a week, and then started his first career job with a small engineering firm. His role includes communicating and liaising with builders and municipalities in his role as Municipal Design Engineer. I don’t think he realized how powerful his summer work experience was in helping him secure interviews for full-time work, until I pointed it out.

Many of these suggestions, of course, are not much help if you have already graduated with little extra-curricular, volunteer, or relevant summer work experience, but it’s not too late.  Join your related professional association and look for events that members of your target industry attend.  Learn how to network. Get involved and sign up as a volunteer. Take on leadership activities. And make sure you list this on your resume.

And if you are just getting your job search started after graduating, the key is to create a targeted resume that POPS, and create a job search plan.  Don’t be discouraged. Keep your spirits up. Good things WILL come if you keep at it.  Good luck.


  1. Fantastic post Joanne…great tips! I too have seen exactly what you’re talking about. Many resumes from new grads – and even seasoned professionals – leave much to desire. I don’t think that targeted job search strategies (or marketing yourself) is taught well enough (or at all).

    You make a great point…the resume is just one piece of the strategy. All aspects of the job search must align…and must be targeted. But because your resume – on paper or online – is often the first point of contact, it MUST make a great impression.


    • Hi Tim: Thanks for taking the time to read my guest blog post. Looking for a job, including a first career job, takes planning and a thoughtful approach. Sometimes with technology it is too easy to click and send a generic resume to all postings. I hope the tips help candidates understand that time spent reviewing the requirements of a position and then working to create a resume that POPS is never wasted.

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