Looking Past the Experience: What a Student’s Resume is Really Saying

By Victoria Robertson on November 24, 2019

When it comes to reading a student’s resume, there are a lot of considerations to keep in mind. For one, students that are applying to the position that you’ve advertised are typically applying for their first job out of college. As such, you should be taking that into consideration when looking at their resumes.

Basically, there are a lot of variables when looking at the resume of a college student. Not only are they looking to get an entry-level job in the industry of their choice, but they are also looking to start their career, attempting to make the best choice for themselves in the process.

All you need to do is take a look at their resume and see it for what it is. In most cases, employers will breeze through a resume and move onto the next. With a college student, it’s important to pay attention to the smaller details that they choose to include, as every decision they make is for a reason.

To help you field this, and similar questions when looking through a student’s resume, here are 10 things that a student’s resume is really saying.

Photo Via: Pixabay.com

1. When they list part-time jobs

First and foremost, when you are looking through a resume and all you see are part-time jobs, you are likely looking at someone that doesn’t have work experience outside of these jobs. While this isn’t a red flag, per se, it’s something to be mindful of, as it can take some getting used to a corporate setting.

For many, this is the norm, as internships are limited and working while in school is rather difficult. So if you have a student that lists all of their part-time work, they are trying to showcase the fact that they have working experience (though it likely isn’t relevant) and also that they are hardworking, as they have completed school and worked part-time, all at the same time.

The most important thing you can look for in a resume where the student lists part-time work is the information that comes after. How are they relating this experience to the position at hand? Are they making any effort to showcase there are transferable skills, or are they simply trying to fill space? This will give you the difference between a worthy candidate and one that’s potentially not in it until the end.

2. When they list internships

This is a great sign, as it shows that the student is driven enough to look for internships in the field of their choice while also attending classes. That being said, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the student did well, or even that the internship experience listed is true internship experience.

The best way to get to the bottom of these questions is through an interview. Still, if you’re interested in this student and their experience, look at the bullet points that follow this job title.

What exactly did they do in this internship? What were their day-to-day tasks? If this information isn’t immediately apparent in their bullet points, this could be a situation in which the student didn’t actually perform the tasks that they say they performed.

If they actually performed an internship, and did so successfully, they’ll be able to articulate it to you, both in writing and in person.

3. When they list program competencies

Whether they call this section “skills” or “technical expertise,” the meaning is the same; this is where a student will go to showcase all of the programs they have ever worked with, most of the time not listing their actual competencies in said programs.

For instance, an individual might put Excel and Word as programs in this section, but their experience in both could be beginner level. Just because an individual puts these programs in their resume does not mean they have the experience in these programs that you need.

A well-written resume will include a student’s competencies in the programs that they list. For instance, if a student has relatively advanced skills in Excel, they might say (intermediate) or (advanced).

It’s important to check these levels, either on the resume or in an interview, as there is usually more than meets the eye here.

Photo Via: Pixabay.com

4. When they don’t list an address 

Remember that, when a student is applying for a job, they are typically still in college in their last few months. As such, many students will list an address that’s not local, or perhaps leave it off entirely. The reason for this is typically that students are not in a permanent residence, which is why they don’t want to list their current address.

You may also get some students that aren’t sure where they will be living post-graduation, so they don’t want to list an address on their resume for this reason. Basically, this shouldn’t be a red flag, but rather something to ask about in a follow-up if the student is a fit otherwise.

5. When they include a cover letter

Not all job postings require a cover letter, but if the student takes the initiative to write one anyway, that’s saying something about their level of interest in the position. Cover letters are essentially a final pitch from a student to the position they are applying for, letting the interviewer know why they want the position, how they are qualified and how available they are for interviews.

While again, this should not be the sole basis for whether or not you deem a candidate a good fit, it’s something that you should certainly take into consideration.

6. When they don’t list their references

When a student doesn’t list their references, this is not a red flag, but something to keep an eye on and ask about in an interview. Typically, all this means is that the student has not yet reached out to their professors to garner the references that they need.

Additionally, a student might put “references available upon request.” This is the same general idea, in that a student will only share reference information when they are confident they have a good chance of getting the job. In this case, they will choose the references that best speak to their experience for the given position, which could vary based on the position they are applying for.

In other words, just because a student didn’t list their references is not to say that they won’t be a fit for your position, just that they haven’t yet gathered the references needed to impress you.

7. When there are typos

Typos should be taken as a red flag. While all other points on this list are relatively minor, typos are important, as it showcases how much time a student spent on their resume. A dedicated, truly interested student will have read their resume over several times, as well as had other individuals read it over.

For this reason, if there are typos, it means they likely threw something together and sent it in without proofreading, which can show their level of interest in the position.

That all being said, a one-off typo, such as a missed comma or slight spelling error, shouldn’t cancel a candidate from consideration. However, several of the same errors, or a multitude of entirely different errors, should be taken under advisement and paid attention to in the interview if a student is otherwise qualified.

Basically, if a student is frequently making mistakes in their writing, this could lead to typos and other errors sent via email to co-workers, clients, etc. Again, it’s not the end of the world, but something to definitely pay attention to.

8. When they don’t list their education dates

Many students will simply miss this information, as they are still in college and don’t think it necessary to include the dates of attendance. However, attendance dates can provide you with a large amount of information about a student and their college experience.

For instance, was the student enrolled for 3 years? Or were they enrolled for 5 years? Did they have a clear path in terms of what they wanted to do, or did they take a little longer to decide? Who is more likely to enjoy what they do?

Simply providing dates of enrollment will showcase how dedicated and driven a student is, no words required. That being said, some students will leave this off as they are still in attendance, so having these dates are useful to let you know when their anticipated graduation date is so that you can more accurately plan for them to join you in the new position.

If the student doesn’t list their education enrollment dates on their resume, this is definitely something you should be following up with them on in the interview.

Infographic Via Canva

9. When they don’t list employment dates 

Along this same line of thinking, when a student doesn’t list their dates of employment, it’s something to keep an eye on. Basically, their employment dates give you information regarding their longevity in a given position. Did they jump around from position to position? Or did they hold the same job throughout their college career?

There are a few reasons this is important to track. For one thing, these employment dates can showcase whether or not a student is a dedicated employee. If they frequently held short-term positions, this is something to ask about in an interview. Were these contract positions? Summer or winter break positions? Why so short-term?

The more information you’re able to gather regarding a person’s employment dates, the better. This background information might seem unimportant, but it provides you with more insight than most of the resume will, so it’s important that it’s present and that you have a full picture of this individual’s employment history, from tasks down to the dates that they performed them.

If a student is missing these dates, make sure to bring it up in an interview and don’t let it go. This is information you will both want and need during the interview process.

10. When they don’t share metrics-based information

Last, but definitely not least, not all student resumes show metrics-based information. What this essentially means is that a student isn’t quantifying their experience. For example, rather than listing their highest quarterly sales numbers, they say, “highest quarterly sales numbers every quarter during my employment.”

While this is impressive and worth noting, it’s also important to read between the lines in what the student isn’t saying, which could be that they had the highest, but how high were they actually?

Sometimes, students will wait to elaborate on this information until during an interview, which is fine, but quantifying this information on a resume showcases a student that knows what they are doing and that has quantifiable accomplishments they aren’t afraid to articulate, both on paper and in person.

A student’s resume is more than meets the eye. Just because a student is applying to your job doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ve laid out their entire breadth of experience for you to look at. They are not only trained by seminars in college to be specific to the job they are applying to, but they have also elaborated on the limited experience they have in order to obtain an entry-level position.

If you’re truly looking to gauge a person’s experience, competence level and ability to perform the tasks at hand, the best measure is through an interview.

That being said, before you decide who you will and will not be bringing in for an interview, the above ten tips are a great starting point for learning more about a student through their resume. The details you need are all present, it’s just a matter of looking for and paying attention to them.

So follow the above 10 tips and you’ll be well on your way to hiring the perfect person for the job at hand. Happy hunting, and make sure to listen to those resumes!

By Victoria Robertson

Uloop Writer
University of Illinois
Victoria is a dedicated writer who graduated from the University of Illinois with a Bachelor of Arts in English. She currently writes freelance pieces for various sites and works in Marketing for Myndbee Inc., promoting their current mobile app, Picpal.

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