One of the most important things I do is help students with their resumes. While I am not a career counselor, nor is resume development an explicit part of my job, I am in the business of experiential learning. And high impact experiences such as internships, research, and global engagement should -by definition- support students’ academic and professional goals and feature prominently in their resumes. However, I find that while students often do a good job conveying academic achievement, their resumes say little about who they are and what they have to offer in terms of skills, passion or sense of purpose, or why they are uniquely qualified for the opportunity.
How to strengthen a resume to make it more compelling? Begin with a list of categories of experiences that an ideal candidate would offer. Try the following to get you started: specialized coursework; career preparation; skill development; service or clinical work; mentored research; awards and recognition. Under each heading, list specific accomplishments and experiences, writing each in the most succinct and compelling way. Feel free to add additional categories as necessary, but make sure that they are important and aligned with both the position and your preparation. For example, you might add “publications and press” if your work has been featured or celebrated, but should not include “high school courses” even if it would add extensive entries. Each category should be individually necessary and collectively sufficient to fully convey your preparation and suitability for the position or opportunity.
At this point, step away from your list and reflect on the foundation you have built and have to offer. Please note that no matter where we are in our education or life’s journey, our resumes are never complete, but instead represent a place from which to grow. Take a moment to identify areas that are more fully developed. Perhaps you have focused heavily on coursework with extensive evidence of acceleration or mastery. Or, perhaps you have included “life experience” with unique and compelling circumstances that point to tenacity and perseverance in the face of challenge. In addition to areas of strength, however, it is critical to note categories that are particularly sparse, empty, or less compelling. But before deleting these categories, or throwing yourself into new activities or experiences, think about your emerging story, seeking sufficient clarity to guide you through the next phase of work.
What is your academic story and where is it leading you? Were you a student who came to college with a clear plan and the drive to pursue a specific career or academic pathway? More likely, you began with certain interests, talents and experiences that have led you to specific decisions and opportunities. The truth is that most of us meander and experiment, trying things, learning from our success and failures, meeting influential people along the way, making adjustments as we move toward further clarity and decision making. As you think about your own experiences, consider what you are striving for in developing your resume, consider where you have been but also where you are heading. What is the opportunity that you are seeking and why is it important to you? How are you preparing, and what do you (or will you) have to offer?
These two questions represent the soul of your resume. How are you uniquely prepared for this opportunity, and what do you offer the organization, institution, or community?
As you begin to envision the answers to these questions, you will find yourself seeking activities and experiences that will help make your story- and resume- even more compelling. And as you internalize these stories, opportunities will begin to emerge- or more accurately, begin to reveal themselves- and this is the magical place where growth will find you.