One Size Does NOT Fit All – Resume Writing Tips
“I don’t understand….. I already have a perfect resume…. I have used it in all of my job searches….. I don’t need to make any changes….. I really don’t need help with this.” This was from Carina, a prospective Master in Environmental Engineering student. I was somewhat surprised by the response since Carina clearly welcomed my assistance on her graduate essays for the Master’s program as well as interview and letter of reference guidance. And yet I was faced with almost a brick wall of resistance as it related to her resume.
When I asked her why she was so certain that her current resume was appropriate for her graduate application, she responded with silence. I told her that I could help her to create a resume designed specifically for the graduate program in environmental engineering. I calmly shared with her that compiling all of the application materials is very similar to what corporate marketing professionals do when they are preparing sales literature, making package design decisions and launching an advertising campaign to introduce a new product to the market. In this case, however, the new product that you are launching is you. Your resume is an integral piece of sales literature that, if done well, can help market you to the graduate program of your choice. So how it looks, what you include, what you exclude, how well you highlight your strengths, the order and labels ascribed to the various categories will all impact their perception of who you are and what you have to offer. I shocked her even more when I added that when it comes to resumes “One Size Does NOT Fit All”-- one resume will not be appropriate for every job and/or educational opportunity. In fact, over the years, I have helped prospective graduate students to prepare multiple versions of what they thought was the same resume.
Carina was clearly confused so I offered to provide her with some marketing strategies that could easily be applied to the art of resume writing. And here they are:
STRATEGY ONE: Consider the target audience. Just as the marketing professional does, you need to consider carefully who will be reading your resume.
• If the application materials are reviewed by committee, it may prove helpful to know how many people sit on the committee, who they are, if any of them have research interests that match up well with yours?
• If the application is reviewed by a graduate program director, then you would do well to have an understanding of how you might be perceived as a candidate based on the admissions criteria of the program. Put yourself in their place. What would impress you the most on the resume.
• Whether it is one director or a committee, get to know as much about them as you can so that you will have a sense of their area of expertise, their interests.
• Remember, when you are selling a product (yourself) you need to know what will move your audience to action.
• Prepare a prototype of a resume that you believe would “close the sale.” And then, as much as possible, model yours based on the prototype.
STRATEGY TWO: Assess your strengths in relation to all of the resume categories.
• Sit yourself down and prepare a list of your professional skills. This will include such items as work leadership positions, special licenses and/or certifications, promotions within your work setting, committee work (task force, team based initiatives project leadership, special assignments, etc.).
• Prioritize the list in terms of how important and/or relevant they are to the graduate program criteria. This will ensure that you spotlight those strengths that will impress your target audience. For example, if you are applying to an MBA or MS in Finance, you will need to highlight your internship at a major banking institution and either downplay your camp counselor experience or omit it from your resume. You are, in a sense, seeking out your “selling points.” In other words what about this product makes it so special that I would like to buy it. Remember the product is you.
• Put yourself in the place of the graduate admissions committee for this program. Then consider which of the strengths that you possess will be most impressive.
• Prepare another list of your academic achievements, research and publications, community service, special skills and talents, licenses and certifications. Once you have the list consider, once again, which will impact your candidacy for the graduate program. For example, a graduate program in architecture may not really care if you are licensed lifeguard but may care very much if you are CAD certified. So once again you must always consider your target audience.
STRATEGY THREE: Format your resume strategically.
• Make every effort to keep you resume short, direct, and to the point. Make it as easy to read as possible.
• Once again consider your target audience. If Community Service is highly valued by your graduate program, then it is incumbent on you to have a category called “Community Service.” If you list it under extracurricular activities or volunteer work, it will not make the same impact. In fact, it may not even be noticed buried among items such as “played on the tennis team”, “enjoy theater”, etc.
• Use language carefully and strategically. Check out the Mission statement of the school or graduate program as this will be a good indicator of the values and qualities that they embrace. Then make sure that this is reflected in the items that you include.
• Order the categories based on importance. For example, if the resume is for a job, you would list your current jobs first with dates of employment followed by a bulleted list of your responsibilities. Job title can be included if you believe it will make you more marketable. If your resume is for a graduate program, the first category would be education and degrees earned or expected. Again, one size does NOT fit all, so, if you are applying for an MBA or EMBA you may want to change the order especially if there is a work requirement for the program. For these programs, professional experience should precede educational credentials.
• Name the categories so that they appropriately reflect the items listed. If, for example, you have some work experience and some internships you may want to separate them into two sections. Certifications and Licenses should be a separate section.
After reviewing all of the strategies, Carina looked me right in the eyes and said, “OMG, I had no idea. You could teach a class on this.” I smiled and said, “I have taught workshops and seminars on this very topic and, from time to time, have included a unit on job interviewing/resume writing in my interpersonal communications classes.” No further resistance from Carina. She went right to work on a new and improved resume and shared that she would always remember how the phrase “one size does not fit all” helped her get accepted.
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By Carol Drummer, Former Hofstra University Dean of Graduate Admissions, who for 10 years reviewed and signed off on over 4500 admissions decisions per year and has taught communications and rhetoric since 1991. Want Carol to help your write a successful admissions resume? Click here to get in touch!
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