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  • Writer's pictureJill Medeiros

How to Write a Resume that Gets You to the Phone Screen

We just got 44 applications for our summer internship opportunity at the Trade Risk. Last cycle (winter quarter), we received 9.

Now, I’d like to think this is due to the sheer momentum and traction our small, 1.5-person startup has gained over that time and the impact our two interns have made so far throughout the course of their work, but I’d imagine there’s a bigger reason. The new c-word: COVID-19.

Summer internships are canceled. Students who had full-time jobs anxiously awaiting them once they turned their tassels in May and June have found those offers either postponed or withdrawn.

As we sifted through dozens of applications, there were simple changes that students could’ve been made to help them better highlight why they’d be a good fit — and ultimately get them to the phone screen. And I witnessed far too many students not putting their best resumes forward.

For context, I’ve worked in education for 8 years, so I’m passionate about developing students. I’ve recruited, hired, and coached interns for all 8 of those years as well. Let’s lift as we climb.

So I want to share some of the tips and easy mistakes to avoid for undergraduates going through the internship gauntlet to hopefully help you get some more eyeballs on your application — and ideally that invitation to the phone screen.

For our digital marketing and communications internship at the Trade Risk, we asked three things of applicants:

  1. resume

  2. cover letter

  3. relevant work samples (i.e., a portfolio)

Below I’ll break down the tips and pitfalls to avoid when putting together your resume for an internship application. Future series will break down the cover letter and portfolio.

Some caveats: We’re a small business. We don’t use an ATS system. We are reading through every single application, every single resume, every single cover letter. Some of these tips might not be relevant when applying to bigger companies and corporations. The most important takeaway, your TLDR; of sorts, is at the end.

The Resume

Here’s your opportunity to tie in what you’ve accomplished over the course of your college experience with the particular role you’re applying to at a company.

1. Clean, clear, and focused on your interest area

Help the recruiter or hiring manager be able to see at a glance that you fit the scope of work they’re hiring for. From a design perspective, keep things clean and simple and focus on making it readable.

2. Match your resume to the core competencies of the job description

What keywords does the internship use in its description? Do they want students to run email marketing campaigns? Manage social media accounts? Delve into reporting with Google Analytics? The job description is laying out the core competencies for you, use them to your advantage and use those key responsibilities to determine which experiences you want to call out.

3. Adding a skills section is a great way to call out those core competencies and make it really easy for the hiring manager to see why you’re a good fit

Don’t quite have those skills yet? Create a certifications section! There are tons of free learning centers to bolster your resume — and ultimately your experience — to help you stand out in the pre-screen. Check out places like Google Analytics Academy, HubSpot Academy (which has free courses and certifications in things like social media marketing, email marketing, SEO, content, and more!), and LinkedIn Learning (some universities offer free memberships) to name a few.

4. To that, your skills section should match something in your experience section!

Don’t just say web design and then not have anything to further elaborate on where you applied that skill. Anything listed in your skills section (especially a technical skill) should have some tie back to a specific role or experience on your resume.

5. Haven’t had a chance for hands-on experiences in the field you’re trying to enter? Create your own case study!

Trying to dabble in email marketing but aren’t in a club, class, or internship that’s allowed you the opportunity to do real campaigns? Look at a brand you either admire or you think would be an interesting project and just create your own upgraded version!

Maybe you want to explore website design. Mock up a redesign on a brand of your choice and outline why you took the steps you did and what you’d measure to determine its success or impact.

It also shows that you’re proactive in seeking out those opportunities to enhance your skills even if you haven’t had a traditional opportunity to do so — double plus!

6. Don’t use the blanket “Work experience” unless all your past experiences happen to conveniently align with what the internship is looking for

Break it out. We don’t need to see your experiences in one section chronologically; rather separate them by relevance and, again, by those core competencies. Applying for marketing roles? “Marketing Experience” becomes the header. Teaching roles? “Teaching and Leadership Experience” and so on.

Note: You do not need to put traditional work experience here either! Clubs, courses, and [volunteer] projects where you produced results or learned something can all go under your experience section.

By doing this, you’re helping the recruiter or hiring manager easily find why they should talk to you by clearly showcasing the relevance of your experiences!

7. Personal preference: education should be your first section

We want to see at a glance if your traditional coursework aligns with the parameters of the internship. Of course, we’ll still delve into your experience, skills, and certificates sections but this helps the recruiter find key information quickly.

As you grow in work experience post-graduation, this section can drop down to the bottom of your resume, but as an undergraduate keep it front and center.

8. List out any relevant courses to the internship you’re applying to!

This also helps bridge some experience gaps and helps you show why the team should learn more about you. This can go in your education section underneath your degree and intended major.

Some more quick tips:

  • Keep it to one-page. Play with margins, font size (keep it reasonable), etc.

  • List out skills and tools. This helped some students stand out when we could easily glance and see in a list that they’re experienced in some of the things we care about: MailChimp, Canva, Adobe, Social Media, etc.

  • No high school unless it’s something spectacular — even if you’re a freshman looking for opportunities.

  • Your resume is your talking point generator for an interviewer, it’s totally fair game — especially as an undergrad — to add your interests. Someone once listed they were a ballroom dancer and that was a key tie-in with a stock market trading book — great conversation starter!

  • Keep a master resume that you make a copy of and adapt for each job you’re applying to! Pull off irrelevant skills or tools or rearrange sections to speak best to the job or company.

But the best advice I can give you?

Get your resume and cover letter reviewed by as many eyeballs as possible!(!!!!!!!!)

To all the students we didn’t move to the phone screen, I invited each of them to email me directly to schedule a 15-minute phone call to go over their application packet.

Of the 34 students, only 5(!) took me up on that offer. I listed out the 16 names of students who I had hoped would reach out — who had some big gaps in their application packet materials that I wanted to help with — and only one of those students was in the group that reached out.

There are so many resources on campus, and as someone who didn’t utilize them when I was an undergraduate, believe me when I say you are putting yourself at a disadvantage by not taking advantage of the tools available to you.

Check out your school’s career center, advisors or mentors in your department, or even cold email or LinkedIn message professionals with the ask! You never know who might be willing to help.

Coming up next: how to maximize your cover letter

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