Searching for Substance and Soul in a Resume

Whether stuffing a freshly printed copy of their resume in a manila envelope and handing it off to the postman or simply clicking “send” to submit electronically, many first-time job seekers imagine their application landing squarely on top of a neat, short stack of resumes. But as hiring managers and recruiters know all too well, the number of resumes that often flood in for a particular requisition can be daunting.

Reviewing hundreds of similar resumes is no easy task, particularly for entry-level positions. Yes, there are key degrees we’re looking for, skill sets that will likely fit neatly into the role at hand, and of course relevant experience. That said, not all college careers are created equally. On a resume, two candidates may hold identical degrees, but their “college careers” may be vastly different. So how much of a candidate’s college career really matters? The riddle behind this question is really where we as recruiting and hiring professionals should place the greatest weight when seeking to identify great candidates.

Reconsider old standards

Yes, GPA still carries some weight, but passing up on candidates without a 4.0 is going to knock out some of the best and brightest you could be adding to your organization’s ranks. Additionally, getting straight A’s is more common than we like to believe. (This recent article geared toward job seekers lays out some interesting figures.) Unless your organization mandates a specific GPA standard, keep an open mind, as there’s more to college than simply grades. Even Einstein ran into some rough patches. (Just check out his French grades!)

Examine extracurriculars

Organizations don’t just want employees to punch clocks—they want them to be highly engaged. That’s why I tend to focus on a candidate’s extracurricular activities. Just like those activities outside of their normal scope of work, college activities can tell you a lot about a candidate. It shows you that they’re willing to go beyond simply hitting the books and getting good grades. 

An organization’s culture is dependent upon its ability to foster similar beliefs and values among its employees. Engaging in extracurricular activities in school tends to indicate a desire to be part of something larger than oneself. Additionally, consider the time management aspect of those who do participate beyond the classroom. There are very few roles that don’t require multi-tasking in one way or another, and landing candidates who can maintain course loads and outside activities have a knack for maintaining their own balance in the world.

Workforce participation

At the end of the day, those candidates who have real-world experience are simply bringing more to the table. While relevant experience is an absolute gold standard, I believe the case can be made for most part-time jobs. The first word that hits my mind is maturity. Have you ever watched a 20-something busting their rear behind the counter of a fast-food chain? Had an exceptional waiter or waitress? Picture these folks shaking hands with high-profile clients; they understand people. More importantly, they understand how to create relationships. You can provide training for skills, but you can’t train for maturity or personality.

In addition to part-time jobs, evaluate volunteer positions. Time is money, so while no paychecks may have been processed, there is still great value in volunteer experience. These gigs go beyond helping communities; they provide those volunteering a chance to put their classroom knowledge to the test and sometimes even build different skill sets one cannot gain simply by sitting in a lecture hall.

Cultural cognizance

This one is probably the most difficult attribute to identify within a resume, but cultural fit doesn’t always get the credit it deserves. Just as cultural change within n organization is a huge undertaking, so is assimilating to an organization’s culture. Paula Fernandes said it best with, “Cultural fit is a concept that’s hard to define, but everyone knows when it’s missing.” The first step, if you haven’t already figured it out, is to know and understand your organization’s culture—if you can’t describe it, then you won’t find those who fit, period!

Again, look at the candidate’s part-time jobs. Does your organization value “heroes”—those who swoop in to save the day, pumping passion and effort into crisis or difficult projects? A part-time job as a help desk agent may not seem glamorous, but for those on the other end of the line, the person manning the phone could be their hero! I could go on and on with various examples of this, however, the point is that great candidate can get overlooked if we’re not careful.

Confucius said, “Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.” Just like beauty, not all hiring managers will find perfection in the same candidate. As you seek to help your organization grow its pool of talent, remember to go beyond simply checking boxes around college requirements. A candidate’s college career runs much deeper than required curricula and grades.


Michelle Kruse has helped countless job-seekers find success as the editor and content manager at ResumeEdge. With more than 10 years of experience recruiting for companies like Novartis and IBM, she has firsthand experience of what recruiters are looking for, and she shares that insight with those who need it most. She writes regularly to provide advice on resume writing and interviewing not only because it’s her job, but because it’s her passion.