The structure of your resume is important -- a good resume is designed to tell a story, and the way you choose to order the major sections can either help paint a clear picture of who you are or confuse the reader. Your educational background is an essential part of your resume, but you’ll hear conflicting opinions about whether it belongs at the top or the bottom. Here’s our two cents:
The first section of your resume is going to to provide context for the subsequent sections, so think about what lens you want the recruiter to view your resume through. If you are a college student or recent grad (less than two years of work experience), you should list your education at the top of your resume. This way, you can call attention to the fact that you’re a recent grad, making the recruiter more sympathetic to an experience section that may not be 100% in line with the job posting, or may be heavy on internships and extra-curricular activities. It will also show that you’re responsible and motivated -- you were able to take on internships and leadership positions while managing a full course load. By listing education at the top, you’re framing what would otherwise be a lack of experience as strong work ethic and high ambition. It also gives you the opportunity to lead with relevant coursework and campus leadership if your professional experience is limited.
For those a little further along in their careers, it’s best to move the education section down after experience because hiring managers will be looking at what you have been doing for the past few years. Hopefully, the position you list at the top of your resume is a natural precursor to the job you’re applying for. If not, find a way to showcase the most relevant skills in your bullet points. Regardless, once you’ve been out of college for a few years, your work experience becomes the more significant part of your story, and while it’s still important to list education, putting it at the top will make you appear young and inexperienced, especially as you apply for jobs that call for numerous years of professional experience. The fact that you earned a degree will just be a bonus for the recruiters as they reach the end of your resume. Once you move the education section down, you should also trim it to exclude relevant coursework and leadership so that you don't seem trapped in the past
You’d be amazed at how many cover letters we see that look more like a college admissions essay than a professional job application.
Ever since I was a young boy, I’ve dreamed of working in film. As a child, I used to write scripts and perform them for my family in the yard…
If the opening of your cover letter sounds anything like this, you’ve got some work to do. This type of cover letter typically comes from undergrads applying for their first internship, and if they’re lucky, the hiring manager will look past it -- ”Oh, they seem smart but just didn’t know any better.” But in most cases, this cover letter will get thrown in the trash, or worse, printed out and passed around the office for all the assistants to laugh at during a stressful day.
College admissions essays and cover letters are meant to serve completely different purposes. Colleges are looking for well-rounded individuals with unique backstories who can contribute to a diverse community. Employers, on the other hand, want candidates who have targeted goals and meet specific qualifications. Furthermore, unlike college admissions departments that dedicate months to carefully identifying the perfect freshman class, hiring managers are quickly filtering through tons of resumes to fill a variety of different slots. If you’ve wasted two paragraphs with flowery language about your love of film, they’re never going to get to the relevant part of the cover letter that lists your actual skills. Instead, you should keep your cover letters concise and to the point and show that you’ll easily adapt to a busy office setting. An office isn’t the same type of nurturing environment as a university campus, so it’s time to grow up and save those college admissions essay-writing skills for when you have kids.
You know that saying “less is more?” It’s certainly true for the skills section of your resume. Many resumes list every possible “skill” a person might possess -- time management, works well with others, types 85 wpm, good memory, a self-starter. This discounts some of the more significant skills you have by essentially saying, “My resume was too short, so I needed to take up space!”
Your skills section is not a direct response to the “Required Skills” section of a job posting. Instead, it’s a place for you to be clear about concrete skills, like what computer programs you know and what languages you speak. The bullets describing your previous job duties are there to prove your experience with organization, leadership, teamwork, etc. It’s easy to say that you have excellent time management skills, but who’s going to believe you without clear examples? And for things like “thick skin” or “a people person” -- that’ll be clear when they meet you face to face.
Your resume is perfect. You’ve followed all of our tips, had a second pair of eyes review it, and your friend who’s an assistant at WME even looked it over to make sure you included the right Hollywood buzzwords before you sent it off. But you’re still not getting calls!
Maybe it’s because you’ve saved the file in Word, and it’s showing up with wonky formatting when your potential employer opens it in Google Docs. Or, it could be because you’ve saved it as “John Smith’s Agency Resume7/15/16,” which implies that you are applying to many types of jobs and have a different resume for each one. This may suggest to the hiring manager that you're not as hungry as the hundreds of other hopefuls vying for the same position. You should absolutely have different resumes for different job applications, but save them in specific folders on your computer that only you can track. Most hiring managers want someone who comes across as all in, even though they probably assume that you’re applying to whole UTA joblist. A simple "John Smith Resume.pdf" is the way to go.
One bonus tip: Use variations of your name and the word "resume" to differentiate files on your computer -- like "John_Smith_Resume.pdf" or "Resume_JohnSmith.pdf." Just be careful you know which is which. Another option is to save all the clearly marked "John Smith Resume_Agency.docx" and "John Smith Resume_Development.docx" files separately on your desktop in Word, and just have one "John Smith Resume.pdf" file that you replace with the resume you're sending out each time.