Graduates: Thou shalt not be generic

Posted October 11, 2013, by Marni Williams

You’ve probably seen lots of websites offering stock-standard resume advice, but it’s not enough to simply have consistent formatting and have included all the expected sections. Some experts say you should have a career objective, that you should highlight your key skills, and identify a few achievements. This is all great advice, but it doesn’t speak to particular industries – and it’s a different story for each of them.

In our highly competitive global marketplace, where more of us are getting degrees than ever before, you need to make sure you stand out from your fellow alumni. Graduates can’t simply cast a standard resume off and wait for a bite.

A sure way to get your first gig is to make sure you understand the needs of your industry and tailor your resume carefully. Do this and recruiters won’t just take a second look – they’ll think you’re answering their prayers.

We’ve consulted with recruiters and industry heavyweights to give you some clear direction. Don’t stress if your resume is a bit light in the experience department – recruiters aren’t expecting new graduates to have already done everything straight out of the classroom, but they do want to see that you have transferable skills and understand the world you’re trying to get into.

The 10 commandments of graduate resume writing:

  1. Read the job ad carefully
  2. Summarise and prioritise – they haven’t got much time
  3. Keep it to 2-3 pages
  4. Use verbs (active words) to describe what you’ve done
  5. Get someone to check it
  6. Include your achievements
  7. You can make any experience relevant in some way, paid or unpaid
  8. Consistency is key – don’t let your formatting get out of control
  9. Be honest
  10. Do not be generic, tailor for each application

Most importantly, don’t lose heart too quickly. New research published by Graduate Careers Australia (GCA) has shown that employment rates for bachelor degree graduates improve notably in the first few years after graduation.

Now that you’re prepared for the task, find your industry below to set yourself on the path to getting noticed. You can also see our sample resumes and cover letters to get you started, and don’t forget that your university careers advisor is also there to help.

Find your industry below to for specific tips for your resume.


If you’re looking to get into the creative industries then you will need to look a little deeper than SEEK. These boutique industries are looking for graduates who are connected with what’s going on in their scene and they often advertise in niche publications and on industry-specific websites. They also expect to be able to find your work online.

Top tips:

  • Showcase your work: Create an online portfolio to showcase your work. Make sure it’s easily navigated and that you’ve limited it to your best pieces. Create categories so that you can link to specific areas for related job applications. There are lots of free portfolio sites but The Loop [] is Australian and comes with a vibrant community attached, or you can always use WordPress.
  • Become a curator: You can show your impeccable taste and knowledge by curating content on Tumblr or Pinterest. You don’t have to say much, but recruiters will see that you are engaging in the scene.
  • Make sure you fit: Once you’ve actually located a job, you will need to consider whether you’re a good cultural fit. Can you relate to the company’s aesthetic, as well as its artists/performers? For these jobs you need to be comfortable that you have the right eye, the right ear, and the ability to adapt your style.
  • Your resume is not a portfolio: Don’t over-design your resume. Make it easy to read and no-fuss, and leave the visuals to your portfolio.


Accountants are involved at all levels of business. Today’s employers not only want to know that you can come up with the numbers, they want to know that you’re able to communicate what they mean. As Gavin Houchell, managing director of Ambition Finance, says:

‘Employers no longer want “number crunchers”, they are looking for a “CEO-in-waiting” and they’ll pay more to get what they want.’

Top tips:

  • Be specific: If you have experience with particular software or you studied a course that relates directly to the job, make sure you mention these by name – keywords are important for recruiters.
  • Show you’re interested in more than numbers: It takes much more than a head for numbers to get the top jobs in finance. Employers want people who can give the numbers context and see the big picture so they can make informed, strategic decisions. You can show your acumen by understanding the company’s business model and anticipating the kinds of analysis they will be looking for.
  • Discretion and ethics: From staff wages to takeover negotiations, accounts and finance staff get to see the nitty-gritty of a business. Make mention of any experiences that show you to be accountable and trustworthy.


For engineering graduates, it’s all about showing how you can apply your knowledge to real situations. Melissa Johnson from Ergon Energy gives this advice:

‘You don’t need to get distinctions in every subject. We are looking for team players, people who can deal with conflict, and can adjust quickly to new environments. We are also looking for good communicators. It is important to be able to communicate with non-technical people.’

Top tips:

  • Speak to the company: You need to speak directly to the company you are applying to. It’s also important to be able to relocate to where the jobs are on offer.
  • Do your research: Know the company’s range of projects and highlight your results in relevant subjects or any experiences that could be directly transferable.
  • Show some innovation: Was there a project you undertook during university that highlights your problem-solving skills? Talk about this.
  • Display your maturity: Engineers need to be well-rounded and able to make informed decisions. You can demonstrate your development and ability to communicate in many ways – maybe you have travelled off the beaten track or become an active member of a student association.


Over the next five years the health and social services industry is expected to provide more jobs than any other industry, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to put your best foot forward.

Top tips:

  • Do your research: Know the size and types of patients that a facility deals with and you will be able to tailor your resume to suit. If the role is across a big, busy facility then you might want to focus on your ability to prioritise, but if you are going to be working in the community then you could focus more on your volunteer or personal care experiences.
  • Teamwork, teamwork, teamwork: Clinical experiences aren’t everything. Even if you haven’t had a lot of experience working with other healthcare colleagues, you need to highlight any team experiences you’ve had. Part-time jobs, administrative experience, internships, group work at uni and student leadership roles are great ways to show that you can fit in with diverse groups.
  • Selection criteria: Government jobs will require you to respond to selection criteria as part of your application. The best answers will demonstrate experience, skills gained and outcomes achieved – it’s about picking key examples rather than just making assertions.
  • Keep up-to-date: Even if you’re a recent graduate, it pays to show that you’re keyed in to recent developments by attending conferences and signing up for ongoing professional development courses. These might be technology-driven as well as clinical.

Information technology

IT is competitive and you need to do your time working face-to-face. As Daniel Buckley from Hays IT Recruitment says:

‘Don’t try and get into contracting without some real experience behind you first … Graduate positions provide a lot of experience in terms of understanding “company etiquette”, how to work in a business, and how to get along with people, which you won’t necessarily get through academic experience.’

Top tips:

  • Technical skills are only part of the equation: You might be the best programmer or enterprise technician in town but this alone will not get you hired. Your ability to work as part of a team, to communicate and to understand the needs of a business are all important ingredients for IT workers. Even if you only provided IT support to a relative’s business, it’s showing what experiences you’ve gained that will make all the difference.
  • Prove you can communicate well: Communication skills are often highlighted as the key for setting candidates apart. If you can show how you have worked with clients of any kind, whether it’s in retail or a call centre, it will show that you can address people’s needs.
  • Don’t be too specialised: If you’re too precious about the work you want to do you may miss out on opportunities. In a fast-moving market such as IT, you need to show that you are willing to try a few different things.
  • Know SEO and SEM: These are an important part of most businesses these days. You don’t need to be an expert, but you need to be up-to-date.


For anyone with a law degree, intelligence is pretty much a given. But when it comes to getting a position after graduation, it’s emotional intelligence that firms are looking for. Brendan Bateman, partner at Clayton Utz, is clear on this:

‘Law is an evolving discipline so it does not pay to be obsessed by detail … What we’re looking for are people who can think for themselves and who can exercise commonsense and judgment … Being obsessed with saying “I am a lawyer” does not usually translate into being able to work successfully in a business environment.’

Top tips:

  • Academic results: There’s no getting around the fact that uni results are important for law graduates. Highlight academic achievements such as prizes, scholarships, or high distinctions in individual subjects.
  • Relationship-building: Uni might have prepared you to be the best ‘textbook’ lawyer in town, but to represent people and companies you will need to build trust and rapport. Find a way to talk about how you’ve developed your interpersonal skills – have you got customer service experience? Were you an active member of an interest group? Did you tutor other students? This all counts.
  • Relevant life experience: You might have been hitting the books hard for the past four years but if you’re able to show well-rounded personal development then this will stand you in good stead. Travel, volunteering, sport and other accomplishments appeal to law firms as they see these kinds of graduates as not only being able to hit the ground running, but to keep going once they do.


At this time of change there are far more communications graduates than jobs, so you need to be on your game if you’re going to get a start – and that involves writing more than just your resume. The good news is that there are more ways to get your writing out there than ever before, so what are you waiting for?

Top tips:

  • Get a voice: Blog, tweet, post – get used to communicating online and show what you’re capable of. You can even get to pull your social media data into an infographic to show what a great influencer you are.
  • Be prolific: Keep writing – create regular content for your own blog or have all of your articles feed into an automatically generated profile through or Or you can create your own website and show off some well-rounded design and web skills.
  • Submit: Contact websites you like and submit pieces to them that fit with their audience – but make sure you read the submission guidelines first.
  • Show that you’re connected: If you’re a member of a trade association or industry group then include it – it shows that you’ve got your finger on the pulse of your profession.


Science is an exacting discipline, but giving a step-by-step account of your projects in scientific detail is not going to give the recruiter what they are looking for. They need to know about your ability to innovate, problem-solve and communicate, not the details of your experiments.

Top tips:

  • Don’t be dense: You need to assume that the person reading your resume may not have the same technical knowledge as you, so be clear and succinct.
  • Showcase your teamwork and ability to learn: You can talk about the scope of your previous projects, but make sure you focus on your place in the team and the range of skills you honed by taking part in the process.
  • Stay relevant: Provide a brief list of technical skills, publications and conference presentations – but only the ones that are relevant. In fact, include any experience or research that demonstrates the skills the recruiter will be looking for, whether that’s managing a soccer team or running the astronomical society.
Marni Williams

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