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My first resume: a guide for fresh grads

The key to effective resume writing is knowing what your strong points are. By drawing attention to experiences that highlight these strengths -- academic, extra-curricular or even volunteer work -- your resume can be a powerful tool to land you that much coveted first job.

Jing Santamaria graduates this March with a degree in management from a large Manila university. While excited about leaving school behind, she can't erase niggling fears about her chances in today's tough job market. Can she compete with thousands of other jobhunters, many of whom can boast of years of professional experience, impressive track record and work skills she doesn't have?

Many new graduates are feeling a lot like Jing these days. But there's no need to fret. With a little creative thinking, you can greatly enhance you employment chances. The first thing to do is draft a power resume that will grab hiring managers' attention.

"The resume provides the job applicant the proverbial 'foot-in-the-door' that could later lead to an interview," says Mr Ernesto O. Cecilia, immediate past president of the Personnel Management Association of the Philippines or PMAP. "If you want the prospective employer to be interested in you as a possible employee, you better compose an effective resume. Otherwise, your 'bio-data' will end up with others in the trashcan."

So how does a new college graduate go about making that sellout resume?

The power of packaging
If you'd been a working student, your job experience-no matter how lowly you think it is-comes in handy. It all depends on how you package it. For instance, translate your six-month stint at Jollibee into effective resumespeak: "Gained valuable service-oriented experience at a fast-paced, high-volume business." Or, how would you describe your part-time job at a paging company? "Developed communication skills and customer-relations experience at a well-established telecom company." By choosing your words with care, you can show prospective employers that despite the lack of experience at a genuine career, you're not exactly wet behind the ears in the work environment.

And even without any work background, you can still apply this packaging ploy to describe your school life and how it relates to the position you're applying for. Show that though not an expert yet, you have some experience that could be useful in the workplace. Dina, who's worked as a TV news reporter for a year now, did exactly that. In her resume, she highlighted her stint as a TV intern and was hired to an entry-level position in a TV newsroom. About her internship, she wrote: "Active member of roving news team, took down notes and conducted interviews with government figures and wrote reports for the 7 p.m. news."

Another new graduate, Don, a Literature major, used his experience as a writer for the school paper to land a position in a political magazine, while Delia's stint as a part-time accountant's aide in college served her well when applying for a position at a Makati-based accounting conglomerate.

What's important to remember is that your resume should not be a mere listing of your college jobs, the courses you took, your grades, the seminars you attended. Rather, it should point to your achievements, your leadership qualities and how you performed beyond expectations. Say you headed the group that won first prize in a school debate, then highlight that as an example of your leadership skills. Or, if you took an active role organizing school plays, include that to prove your organizing and coordinating skills. You want to show potential.

Dos and don'ts
So, you've managed to package yourself well, turning what you thought was a lemon into a lemonade. But that's not all there is to a brilliant resume. Below are some dos and don'ts to bear in mind:

  • Avoid spelling boo-boos. Errors of any kind reflect poorly on the job applicant, especially simple typo blunders, says Mr Cecilia, who exhorts applicants to proofread their resumes over and over until they're perfect.
  • Streamline. Remove personal pronouns like "I" and articles like " a," "an" and "the" to create punchy phrases and save space. Don't write: "As a service crew, I was assigned to wait on customers, maintain cleanliness of the food area and cook." Better: "Acquired expertise in customer service, food area maintenance and fast-food cooking."
  • Use power verbs. Enliven your resume with action words that tell the reader what you did and how well you did it. They show that things happened when you were around. Instead of writing, "I learned to use Excel, " say, "Assisted chief accountant in drafting worksheets using Excel, cutting work from six hours to three."

The standard format
According to Mr Cecilia, a well-written resume should have the following elements in the given order:

  • Job objective, to immediately tell the recruiter whether he has a match between the applicant and the job opening. Mr Cecilia cites as good examples of job objectives:"Managerial or supervisory position in the manufacturing division of a large petroleum company." "Professional or technical position in a laboratory of a large pharmaceutical multinational company."
  • Relevant experience and skills, in lieu of work background, highlighting your scholastic achievements or job stints while in school.
  • Education and training, providing an overview of your general educational background. "Be sure this is properly highlighted by listing down in reverse order all the degrees you received," Mr Cecilia says. "You may limit your list up to your high school diploma. Enumerate the schools, the degree and the exclusive years you were in school and your scholastic honors, if any."
  • Personal background, revealing only personal information that has bearing on the job. Says Mr Cecilia. "You need not state present salary or salary desired, age, sex, marital status, health and hobbies. Leave a little something for the interviewer to ask when you are called for an interview."
  • References, with "Available upon request" normally sufficing "The recruitment officer knows that you will list down names that are very partial to you and will probably not bother calling them. But they do their own background information and believe me, they have a way of getting the right information," Mr Cecilia adds.

In essence, what it all boils down to is believing in yourself. If you downplay yourself because you think all you've got is your degree, then others will too. Think you have got what it takes, and you'll rise to the occasion.




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