8 Tips for Better Admissions Resumes
This post is taken from The Quick Guide to Admissions Resumes. Click here to download the full guide.
Looking for solid tips for the actual writing of your resume? What should you include? What should you leave out? What sort of tone should you use? What do you need to know?
The following eight tips will guide you towards creating an impressive, persuasive, accurate resume:
1. Know your target program’s mission.
The best way to convince the admissions board to offer you a spot in their next class is to understand the goals and mission of their program. Before starting your resume, you should learn as much as possible about what sorts of candidates your program seeks. Then, customize your resume to reflect the aspects of your background that are most relevant to the program you are applying to.
2. Know yourself professionally – your skills and your accomplishments.
What skills are you particularly good at? What accomplishments are you proudest of? What have you achieved that gained you the most recognition? Interview yourself and inventory your previous jobs, the skills you acquired, and your "greatest hits" as a professional – the times when you contributed to your organization the most. Look through your formal performance reviews for glowing appraisals, scan your work files for successes you may have forgotten about, or keep a personal career folder where you keep track of new skills you’ve learned or the comments of happy customers.
Additional questions to consider: Do you fill a role traditionally filled by someone much older than you? Have you become one of only a few to transition to a coveted department or role? Have you earned awards for your work that far surpass the average rate of recognition? You can list these types of data points in a Highlights section at the top of your document.
3. Stand out personally.
Fight negative stereotypes about your profession to show that you are exceptional. If you are an accountant, admissions committees tend to assume you are risk averse, so you need to add material that shows some of the bigger risks you’ve taken: entrepreneurial efforts, motorcycle racing, etc. If you’re a finance type, you might be perceived as conceited or aloof, so you should be sure to include evidence of your social skills and humility: community service efforts, mentoring, etc.
4. Be concrete, specific, quantitative.
Don’t say "Developed e-commerce plan that was selected for implementation" when you mean "Designed $5 million e-commerce strategy that increased revenues by 12% and attracted six new clients." If you work for a private company and can’t disclose revenue figures, refer to percentage increases or improvements or cite the improved industry ranking of the organization’s product or performance as a result of your contribution. Think of numbers and other hard details as the proof that you can deliver.
5. Know how far back to go.
As a general rule, if you are applying to graduate school and have at least two years of work experience, your high school activities should not be included in your resume. However, there are exceptions to this rule. For example, if you won a prestigious national award in high school, you may consider including this important recognition.
6. Know your negatives.
The vast majority of us have screwed up once or twice in our careers: been downsized, locked in a dead-end job, or just failed to work to our full potential for a time. You can’t lie about these career plateaus (see Tip #7) but you can present them in the best possible light so you have the chance to explain them fully if they come up during the interview. It all starts with your resume. With the right strategy you can deal with everything from typecasting and job- hopping to limited experience and unemployment.
7. Don’t lie.
Making up degrees, accomplishments, and other personal and professional facts is always a bad idea. Don’t do it – it’s unethical and potentially self-destructive. Adcoms won’t hesitate to show students to the door when they learn their resume is more fiction than fact. But less brazen forms of dishonesty should also stay far from your resume. For example, if you were one of six members of a team of managers with equal rank and responsibility, don’t say you "Served as lead of six-member management team."
8. Be strategically creative.
No, we don’t mean using DayGlo ink or faux marble resume paper. We do mean bringing to the preparation of your resume the same capacity for thinking outside the box that you bring to your career. For example, if the traditional chronological resume will bury your best material near the bottom, consider using a "functional" resume format or even a combination of the chronological and the functional. Similarly, if you paid for your entire college education, add a line mentioning this in your resume’s education section. Want to let the adcom know that you’re from a minority group without committing the no-no of adding a personal data section? Add a memberships section to your resume and include the name of community organizations (for example, "South Asian Business Alliance of Ohio") you belong to so adcom readers know what groups you identify with.
The logic underlying all of these points is that your resume is not just a list of your experiences – it is a strategically assembled document that shows your impact and makes a case for what a great fit you will be in your target program.
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