So you’re not long out of college, you’re looking for a job, and you’re worried that you don’t have enough work experience. You’re definitely not alone. But you can make a few key updates on your resume to do something about it. Here at Bright we’ve reviewed the academic literature (remember that stuff?) to find out what recruiters look for in your resumes, and what they think when they find it. The quick version:
- Highlight your GPA and academic achievements
- Highlight your extracurricular activities
- Add a few succinct competency statements that highlight attributes you want to promote (like your communication skills, motivation, or energy)
- Make your resume visually attractive
Want more details? Of course you do, teacher’s pets! Read on…
Your resume is more than just a fact sheet.
When recruiters read your resume, they make inferences about what kind of person you are, and these influence their decision about whether to recommend you or not.
“Recruiters made inferences about applicants’ job-related knowledge, interpersonal skills, GMA [general mental ability], and conscientiousness on the basis of résumé information (e.g., work experience, extracurricular activities, academic qualiﬁcations, and aesthetics), which in turn, corresponded to recruiters’ intentions to recommend the applicants.”
— Chien-Cheng Chen, Yin-Mei Huang, and Mei-I. Lee, “Test of a Model Linking Applicant Résumé Information and Hiring Recommendations,” International Journal of Selection and Assessment, December 2011
So recruiters are judging you based on the way they perceive your interpersonal skills, general mental ability, conscientiousness, and what you know regarding the job. Why? For the answer to that we turn to Michael S. Cole, Hubert S. Feild, and William F. Giles, in their piece “Using Recruiter Assessments of Applicants’ Resume Content to Predict Applicant Mental Ability and Big Five Personality Dimensions,” from International Journal of Selection and Assessment, March 2003. In this study the authors posited several hypotheses. Among other things, they found:
- “Hypothesis 3, which posited that applicants reporting GPA on their resume will have higher mental ability and conscientiousness than applicants not reporting GPAs, was also supported. These results indicate that recruiters may be justified in placing a lower priority in the screening process on applicants who do not list GPA on their resumes.”
- “Hypothesis 4, which proposed that the extent of information concerning applicants’ academic achievement would be positively related to their levels of conscientiousness, was supported….Because conscientiousness has been found to predict performance across jobs (Barrick and Mount 1991), this finding suggests that recruiters should pay particular attention to resume items reflecting academic achievement information.”
- “Hypothesis 5, which posited that the extent of information on resumes indicating social/extracurricular activities would be positively related to applicants’ extraversion scores, was also confirmed. Because extraversion is a valid predictor of performance for sales representatives (Barrick and Mount 1991), recruiters hiring for sales positions should carefully consider resume items reflecting participation in social and extracurricular activities.”
Success in class and extracurriculars makes a difference…
Students who added their GPAs to their resumes had higher mental ability than those who did not. So if you’re not sure about whether to list your GPA on your resume, do it. Similarly, if you scored other academic achievements, you may want to consider listing those, too. Especially if you’re looking for a job in sales, highlighting extracurricular activities on your resume is a very good idea. Both Chen and Cole agree on this, with the Cole study authors saying:
“…We have suggested that applicants for job openings should not only enhance their involvement in extracurricular activities during college years, but also report on their résumés as much extracurricular activity information as possible.This two-pronged approach could strengthen the likelihood that job recruiters would perceive the job applicants as highly interpersonal, in turn strengthening the likelihood that the applicants would make it into subsequent interview stages.”
But so does work experience.
The bad news is that work experience does make a difference:
“Résumés with extensive work experience information are more likely than those with little work experience information to lead recruiters to perceive applicants as possessors of signiﬁcant job-related knowledge, in turn strengthening the likelihood of a favorable hiring recommendation (Cole et al., 2007). That is, applicants who create a professional impression by reporting extensive work experience would likely be perceived by recruiters as strong possible candidates because work experience reﬂects the extent of the applicants’ professional knowledge.”
— Chen, et al., December 2011
Don’t fret, though: there’s yet more good news.
Competency statements make recruiters “like” you more.
Tell a recruiter what to think about you and they just might listen! Recruiters are swayed by positive personal statements. In “The Impact of Competency Statements on Résumés for Short-listing Decisions,” from International Journal of Selection and Assessment, June 2000, Jim E. H. Bright (no relation) and Sonia Hutton write, “The results of the present research indicate that the inclusion of competency statements in a resume significantly improved the applicant’s perceived suitability for the job, their overall ranking compared to other applicants, and the likelihood that they would be short-listed for an interview.”
They define a competency statement as “a succinct description of a candidate’s knowledge, skills and abilities in relation to a specific job competency as identified in the job advertisement, or accompanying documentation,” and their research finds that they can be useful as ways to improve people’s impression of you through your resume. Their study examined six generally vague, hard-to-verify, but positive statements, similar to and including these two:
- “Energetic: I am a person who is always on the go, as I am involved in a number of activities. These range from academic to work related to sporting, particularly team sports. I am an outgoing person and enjoy being an active member of numerous clubs and associations.”
- “Communication Skills: My diverse range of experiences at university, work and in extracurricular activities have enabled me to acquire strong verbal and written communication skills. As an outgoing person I have also had numerous opportunities to develop my interpersonal skills to a high level.”
Interestingly, the study found:
- The number of competency statements did not make a positive or negative difference in the results
- There was no advantage to making the competency statements align to the job description
With this in mind, we recommend succinctly highlighting a few of your top qualities on your resume. You don’t have to be specific in these statements, though you can certainly nod to your accomplishments (like, “I’ve won several awards for leadership, which highlights my ability to relate to people…”) if you have them.
People like pretty things.
Taking care in formatting your resume actually makes a difference in how recruiters perceive it. Chen, et al., found that “Resume aesthetics had a positive effect on recruiters’ perceptions of applicants’ conscientiousness. There was also a direct link between resume aesthetics and hiring recommendations.” In other words, if you’re taking the time to put together a resume (and why are you reading this if you aren’t?), take the time to make sure it’s clear, easy to read, and isn’t too hard on the eyes.
So nix the blinking text. But keep the GPA, the extracurriculars, and the statements about how motivated you are. Good luck!