It’s hard to find a workplace norm the pandemic hasn’t upended. It’s increasingly rare for white-collar workers to go into the office five days a week. The definition of “workwear” is up for debate. Job-hopping no longer sets off alarm bells. And, as of right now, it’s decidedly a job seeker’s market.
But while change is everywhere in the workplace, there’s one holdout that hasn’t been updated during these unprecedented times: the résumé.
There’s no shortage of advice and services to help people condense—or in some cases expand—their work experience into a single document. Googling “how to write a résumé” yields 3.98 billion results. Even pre-pandemic, it was difficult to write a résumé. It can be hard to know where to start, and that question may feel more urgent for recent college graduates, whose relevant work experience might be short—or nonexistent.
New grads shouldn’t worry too much, says Jim Beirne, a career center adviser at Washington University in St. Louis: “The students have had such strange experiences over the past couple years, they can’t really appreciate [the strong job market].” A lack of in-person experience isn’t going to stop employers from snapping up fresh talent. But a bad résumé might.
Back to basics
The good news for entry-level employees: Résumé best practices are pretty straightforward, regardless of what kind of job you’re applying for.
Marc Cenedella, founder of Leet Résumés, a résumé writing service, gives every young person he works with three tips for putting together a résumé.
1. The simpler, the better
No matter how artistically inclined you are, you shouldn’t opt for a busy, complicated format. Stick with one column; avoid photos (including headshots), colors, or bar charts; and use a default font like Arial or Times New Roman, Cenedella advises. A résumé is not the place to show off your creativity.
2. Spare the details
Don’t include lots of information that’s irrelevant to the job you’re applying for. “Sure, you’ve got hobbies, interests, languages, favorite bands, and ambitions,” Cenedella says. “But keep the information that doesn’t address your ability to be responsible, accountable, and a hard worker to a reasonable level.”
3. Be honest.
Don’t fudge your college major or minor, any of your certifications or degrees, or relevant work experience. “One of the few things employers check is to confirm the name and date of your degree,” he says.
Cenedella references one famous example: In 2012, Scott Thompson stepped down as CEO of Yahoo after just four months when it was uncovered that he lied about majoring in computer science in college, when he actually majored in accounting.
“The résumé is no place for wishful thinking,” Cenedella says.
The most frequent mistakes
While résumés are fairly straightforward documents, it’s still easy to screw them up.
Beth Hendler-Grunt, founder of the career coaching service Next Great Step, can rattle off a list of errors she sees new grads make time and again. You don’t need to include totally irrelevant high school experiences. Don’t forget to include your email at the top—and it better be professional, with your first and last name. This is not the place for your BTSforever55@ or RaiderzFan74@.
Some of Hendler-Grunt’s best practices are more granular. She advises against saying “responsible for” at the beginning of each sentence—as in, “I’m responsible for the office filing system.” Instead, use past-tense action verbs, like “built,” “created,” or “developed,” like, “I developed a filing system that streamlined the office organizational flow.”
Don’t forget to triple-check grammar and spelling. And when listing out education—particularly if you don’t have much work experience—flesh out what you accomplished in your classes, and how they’ve prepared you for the working world.
If you didn’t have any internships, Hendler-Grunt says, focus on what you did do. “Many people don’t have internships, but you had to have done something,” she says. “Was it a club, babysitting, a class project, or just something to fill your time? Find the story behind the skills you have.”
That said, leave most of the storytelling to the cover letter. “Your résumé and cover letter shouldn’t look the same; that’s pointless,” Christine Cruzvergara, chief education strategy officer at Handshake, a career network for recent grads, tells Fortune. “Your résumé should show your breadth of experience while your cover letter shows depth.”
While the exact line-by-line format can vary, Cruzvergara sets some ground rules. “Your résumé should very clearly highlight your education and work experience, and then experiences that are relevant to whatever industry you’re trying to break into,” she says. “It’s OK if that experience is just from volunteering or a class project. What’s important is using action verbs to show what you accomplished.”
The students Cruzvergara work with often underplay their non-job experiences. “They think they’ve only worked in retail or babysat,” she says. “But the reality is, those experiences have so many transferable skills.”
Finding advice on social media
Companies might be hiring more new grads this year, but college students and recent grads still may be feeling equal parts directionless and restless.
“I think they’re just confused and following what their friends do,” Hendler-Grunt says. “That’s the challenge of this demographic. They don’t want to listen to their parents. And why should they? Often their parents are too far out of the game.”
Hendler-Grunt has found success reaching a younger audience where they are: on TikTok. She regularly posts videos like “3 Reasons Why Your Résumé Isn’t Getting Noticed” and “4 Tips to Prepare for a Virtual Interview,” in an effort to connect with young people and set the record straight about the most effective ways to find a job.
Hendler-Grunt is still getting used to TikTok, where she has to truncate her detailed thoughts and recommendations to fit the form. But she hopes the videos keep her viewers from submitting a garish, out-of-touch résumé—whether or not they ever click follow.
The job market might be hot, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t competition for the top jobs. Sure, it’s a little old-fashioned that hiring managers are still relying on these one-sheets when deciding whether to set up an interview with a potential candidate (and some companies are trying to do away with them altogether). But a good résumé can help you get your foot in the door. Next step will be nailing that video interview.
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