By Ashish Datta, Partner at Setfive Consulting.
At Setfive, we review a fair number of resumes for entry-level positions, and we've always found it challenging to evaluate resumes from individuals with limited work histories. When there's not much to look at on a resume, it's difficult for any single candidate to stand out. But is it possible to stand out from the crowd if you're inexperienced? Of course!
Based on the resumes I've seen, here are my three best pieces of advice:
1. Highlight relevant coursework.
Many recent grads list relevant courses, but these usually end up as bullet points towards the bottom of their resume. And a bigger problem is that resume usually only lists the course title. Unfortunately, given how differently each institution structures its degree programs, mentioning that you took "Marketing II" doesn't convey a whole lot.
If your resume is short, help the folks reviewing it by placing your relevant coursework in a prominent spot and also providing descriptions for the courses themselves. Another good idea is to describe some of the papers and projects that you completed in the classes. For example, noting that you wrote a paper researching how too many choices hurt consumer conversion rates would pique the interest of any company with complex pricing versus just listing "Consumer Behavior I."
2. Ditch the cover letter.
This advice may be controversial, but most cover letters I see from entry-level applicants are just bad. It's obvious that you're sending the same letter to every company and the letters themselves rarely add much value. If you're going to mention that you're a hard worker and would be an asset to the team just like everyone else, you're better off demonstrating that with a strong resume.
An exception is if you genuinely do have something unique to mention that will help you separate from the pack. Two memorable examples from resumes we've reviewed are the Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) hacker and the Top Gun fan. The DFS fan mentioned that he found Rotorobot.com (our since-defunct DFS side project) on our blog and that he was also interested in algorithmic DFS. This naturally made him stand out and gave us something to enthusiastically discuss during the interview. The second applicant wrote a cover letter mentioning that she loved the quotes on our team page and that she liked the subtle Top Gun references on our site. Nothing revolutionary, but it was enough to stand out and send a positive signal about how she'd jive on the team.
3. Work the social media hustle.
Contrary to what your dad thinks, social media is useful for more than sharing cat gifs and stalking your ex. It might just help you get a job. Social media, specifically Twitter, gives you an unencumbered way to share thoughts, opinions and demonstrate that you're "plugged-in" to an industry. Twitter, with its 140/280 character limit, forces brevity and encourages lightweight interactions. And compared to Facebook, Twitter is asymmetrical, so you're free to follow and engage with anyone.
Wondering how this gets you a job? Simple. Maintaining a professional Twitter account is a great way to demonstrate that you "get" the space you're applying for a job in. Twitter is also a great way to engage with prospective employers by consuming and sharing their content and building loose connections with folks who may end up interviewing you.
Imagine you're a college senior hoping to land a gig in advertising after college. You spend an afternoon researching companies you want to work for, figuring out who works there on LinkedIn and then following anyone who has a Twitter account. Next, you make a list of digital industry publications like Adweek.com or adage.com and commit to reading and sharing one or two pieces of content a day. As you develop your own opinions, you'll be able to share those as well as join conversations people in the space are having. And don't forget to include a link to your account on your resume.
The goal of any resume is to help you get noticed in a huge pile. These suggestions are just a starting point; do your research and find out what works for you. My final piece of advice is, whatever you do, be authentic. Good luck!
Ashish Datta is Partner at Setfive Consulting, scotch drinker, adventure seeker.